Oliver E. Owen, M.D.
Class President 1953
write-up of Roswell, New Mexico, was derived largely from memory. It
represents both vague and vivid recollections and may inadvertently
contain some inaccuracies. Some of the comments regarding the pioneers
were extracted from Carole Larson's book, Forgotten Frontier.
is located in the dry, high plains of New Mexico, just west of the Pecos
River. This region of the United States is relatively poor in natural
resources, especially water. Nonetheless, during the early 1900's Roswell
was an oasis for farmers and ranchers who controlled the lands east
of Mount Baldy (Sierra Blanca). It, however, became relatively rich
in human talents. From this sparsely populated region of the nation
some interesting characters emerged whose impacts have been permanently
imprinted on Roswell as names of streets, parks, statues, etc.
the Civil War, the southern plains of New Mexico was open grazing land
for cattle and sheep. Cattle barons like John Chisum emerged with strength
and charisma to acquire wealth and influence. Chisum was astute and
both aggressive and defensive, protecting his cattle and other properties
as he produced livestock for the market. He moved into the house located
on South Spring River in 1875. As youngsters, we would drive by the
farm/ranch site and admiringly look at the green trees and fields and
pastures, capped by the large house and barns in the distance. The property
always had a charming mystique and seemed to have more water and be
greener than the adjacent farmlands. The grandeur of open social events
was conjured up in our minds. Chisum's forceful and dynamic physique
is beautifully displayed in a massive bronze statue in Pioneer Plaza.
the start of the Roswell community, some of the pioneers were civil
minded. Joseph C. Lea promoted Roswell from day one. He was an analytical,
diplomatic businessman who was politically influential. Lea arranged
to have Roswell surveyed and arranged perpendicular streets leading
to a well block-designed town. His son started the Roswell Daily Record,
a newspaper where many years later our friends and classmates served
as paper delivery boys.
J. Hagerman was a college-educated entrepreneur. He amassed a fortune
from gigantic mining operations. Unfortunately, he developed life-threatening
pulmonary tuberculosis and eventually moved from the Midwest to the
Southwest to recover his health. He was a generous idealistic philanthropist
who promoted both his personal welfare and the welfare of society. However,
his fortune was largely lost in his adventures related to unsuccessful
attempts to dam the Pecos River for irrigating farm lands.
started the Goss Military Academy in Roswell, which became defunct.
Later, Hagerman donated a 40-acre parcel of land on a northern Roswell
hill, and a new campus was opened near the turn of the century. The
school was renamed the New Mexico Military Institute. Its highly organized
buildings of yellow brick have become landmarks in Southeastern New
Mexico. It attracts interesting students from local, national and international
places. During our high school years, the students at NMMI were all
male cadets. There was intense competition among the older Roswell high
school boys and the military cadets for the affections of the high school
girls and for victories in sporting events. Many of the town youngsters
had a lack of appreciation for all of the wonderful endeavors undertaken
by the Institute. In spite of our shortcomings, we enjoyed sneaking
into the school's heated swimming pool during the winter, using the
gym facilities, sharing the basketball courts, watching the polo matches,
enjoying performances at the Pearson Auditorium, and cracking disparaging
comments upon the disciplined cadets. Now, as older adults, we realize
that our behavior was most uncivil.
VanBuren Corn left a legend that is obvious in Roswell. He was a disciplined
and hard working farmer who established his farm/ranch north of Roswell.
His first wife died after the birth of her 10th child. Corn remarried
a young woman, and they had 11 children of their own. Their last child,
Poe, was born in 1909. The Corn progeny became prominent in the Roswell
community. Poe Corn became a fabulous local athlete, subsequently the
head coach, and later the supervisor of physical education of Roswell
High School. His children were admirable RHS graduates. His son now
serves Senator Pete Domenici.
the wealthy cattle barons, land management companies and multiple business
enterprises, none was more obvious to our group than James Phelps White.
Maybe this is because the remnants of his empire were still standing
when we were in high school. Most, if not all, of 1952 and 1953 classmates
have passed the sturdy yellow brick J.P. White mansion on the corner
of Lea and West Second Streets. The large business office building on
West Third Street and the feed mill out toward East Grand Plains reminded
us of his vast fortune. He enriched the southeastern corner of New Mexico
with profits garnered from raising beef cattle and managing land. Further,
his grandchildren were schoolmates, and they shared our enthusiasm for
the Roswell culture.
characteristics of these pioneers were among seminal forces that generated
the intangible infrastructure of the current Roswellite personalities:
bold but fair, shrewd but honest, hard but charitable, opportunistic
but sharing, revengeful but forgiving, tough but loving.
1940 Roswell was a town with a population of about 5,000. Most of the
inhabitants were connected to the farming, ranching and tourist industries.
After the start of World War II in 1941, Roswell began an explosive
expansion phase. The Walker Air Force Base was developed south of the
town. Major construction of office buildings, roads, airplane landing
strips, hangars, barracks, and houses was started and continued for
some 10-12 years. The B-29 bomber that transported the first atomic
bombs to Japan, the Enola Gay, flew out of Roswell. Walker became a
Strategic Air Command facility in 1948. This air force base employed
highly technical warfare instruments and weapons personnel. Among the
wartime immigrants to Roswell were sophisticated commanders, army and
air force engineers, mathematicians, and educational and training experts.
Some of the male personnel were accompanied by their talented wives
and children. Roswell became a vibrant city. It began accumulating an
interesting form of wealth. A new influx of schoolteachers joined the
grade school, junior high and senior high faculties. These puritanical
and devoted educators brought a wide spectrum of new information to
a country town. They inspired civility and promoted literature, music,
art, theater and craftsmanship. They stimulated the receptive minds
of the Pecos Valley people and helped high school students obtain scholarships
ingrained prejudicial walls began to fall. Imaginations flared and ambitious
dreams developed, some of which matured into development of substantial
careers as businessmen, politicians, sports celebrities, entertainers,
public servants and professionals.
the influx of people related to the armed forces and support staff,
the population increased from about 5,000 in 1940 to 40,000 in 1950.
The Roswell community was prosperous. Jobs were available and the pay
scale was good. Roswellites became expressive. They wanted and could
enjoy life. There was time to have fun, be loved, and be healthy. Personal
relationships were generous and forgiving. The Anglo-Hispanic-Indian
tri-society generated a creative and stimulating environment. The local
radio stations were playing the hits of Tony Bennett, Perry Como and
Frankie Lane, as well as those of Lefty Frizzel and Hank Williams. The
Roswell High School boys dressed in Levi pants and jackets; the girls
wore skirts that hung below the knees, bobbysocks and saddle oxfords.
They (we) participated in all kinds of extracurricular activities. There
was room for everyone to do something challenging, be it student council,
school plays, band, homecoming parades, athletic teams (state basketball
champions), parties, dances, and/or social organizations. The Roswell
environment was not constrictive. Opportunity was abundant. All you
had to do was to grasp it and go. Of course this Camelot period slowly
dissipated, but not until most of us developed gratifying careers and
matured into successful spouses, parents and grandparents.
reunion for our 1952 and 1953 classes will be held October 1, 2, and
3, 2002. Humorous jokes, deep loves and fistfights can be recalled during
personal conversations at the reunion. Classmates can come together
with contentment but without pretense. However, we should be cognizant
that aging modifies personalities. It amplifies individual traits. In
essence, older people are caricatures of their younger selves. Based
upon my premonition, we will be more considerate and extraordinarily
attracted to and supportive of each other. The anticipated mental anguish
associated with trying to recall names should quickly fade into laughter,
handshakes, hugs and kisses. We must take advantage of this opportunity
while there is still time to greet those who remain dear to us. We can
celebrate during the reunion festivities.