Service Above Self:
History of the Las Cruces Rotary Club

This history is from a pamphlet commissioned by the Rotary Club of Las Cruces in 1989.  It was written by Jennifer L. Holberg, who was an NMSU undergraduate at the time. 

Acknowledgments  Introduction: Rotary  The Early Years  The War Years
  The Post-War Period   The 1950's  The 1960's  The 1970's and 1980's 
Food, Fun, and Fellowship  Charter Members  Presidents

The 1950s

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The 1950s proved to be a time of unprecedented growth in membership and unparalleled community participation.  In fact, many of the activities begun in this decade have continued until the present time and still serve as the core of the Las Cruces club’s efforts.  In 1951, the club’s fifty-six members conducted many activities, including donations to the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, the New Mexico Society for Crippled Children, and the club’s own Student Loan program; sponsorship of a boy to Boys’ State and a Little League baseball team; distribution of baskets of food, clothing and toys to needy families at Thanksgiving and Christmas; and acquisition of band uniforms for the high school and signs for the highway.  Surviving annual reports from 1952-53 and 1953-54 document the increased commitment of the Las Cruces Rotary Club to these activities as well as several others.  In addition to the programs carried forward in 1951, the club helped transport boy scouts to their camp near Ruidoso, New Mexico and they “selected, purchased, and forwarded to Mas Luz Library, Havana, Cuba, a copy of the book entitled New Mexico by Erna Ferguson.”  Junior Rotarians began attending luncheons and the “Harry Stair Memorial Christmas Gift Program”, which provided a Christmas gift to an underprivileged child designated by the Child Welfare Department, was established in memory of the deceased Rotary member.  The club began presenting gold honor keys to outstanding high school graduates and tried to educate young people in the duties of citizenship by sponsoring six talks, given to approximately 2,000 students in grades six through twelve at nine area schools.  Rotarians helped plan and conduct the all-night party given for the graduating class at the high school and additionally, provided great support for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd’s orphanage at Mesilla, New Mexico.  In 1956, the club awarded its first scholarship for students at New Mexico A&M.  Soon after, the club increased its commitment to this project to eventually provide four scholarships.

In 1954, Rotary International celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and the local club joined in the festivities on its thirty-first birthday.  Entertainment was provided by the “Silent Foursome” and P. M. Baldwin, who gave a talk on the early days of the club.  It had come a long way in those thirty years—membership was now nearing sixty and according to Bill Erwin: 

The Rotary Club had its interest in most anything, most everything that has happened in Las Cruces and because it is a classified organization, we could always find somebody who is capable of doing most everything that needed to be done….We’ve gotten done most every job we’ve tackled. 

By that time the club’s weekly newsletter had changed as well; although no definite date can be established, by 2 December 1950 Spokes and Cogs had replaced El Ro-Toro.  Early Spokes and Cogs were merely typed sheets of paper announcing the program of the previous week, the current week, and the coming week.  By the late 1950s, however, Spokes and Cogs took on its current form.  In relation to the district, Las Crucean Carl Conlee was elected to serve as district governor in 1955, but was unable to fulfill his duties due to ill health.  Secondly, the district was renumbered to 552 on 1 July 1957. The Silent Foursome

Programs in the 1950s were as varied as they are today; as usual, each week the program committee tried to provide something that was informative as well as fun.  Thus, programs ranged from book reviews by Dr. Marion P. Hardman, Professor of English at the college, to intercity meetings with neighboring Rotarians from Juárez, Mexico.  Leo Valdes remembered one program in which: 

… we had nothing but fun—no one could be serious—they had to be fun!! We even played musical chairs.  It was silly, and yet, it was fun, it was entertainment and that is what develops fellowship. 

Other programs included talks about the newly created White Sands Missile Range, the Physical Science Laboratory, and astronomy, given by Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto.  With the club’s emphasis on youth, it is not surprising to learn that occasionally the weekly meeting was held at the high school, where Rotarians were served by Home Economics classes and entertained by the school’s musical groups.  In 1957, the tradition of hosting crippled children at a December meeting of the club was established.  At these meetings, Christmas presents were distributed to the children by Santa Claus, Leo Valdes; this annual event was a popular one with both children and Rotarians. 

As varied as the program topics were, however, the singing at these meetings was, according to long-time song leader Bill Erwin, “poor”—or so he said.  In fact, the 4 September 1957 Spokes and Cogs reported Erwin as remarking to members after a particularly disappointing choral performance, “I’ve heard music played on white keys and music on black keys, but this is the first time I’ve heard a group sing in the cracks.” 

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