80 years, immortality and snake dancing


link David Stevens


Eight things you might not know about Eastern New Mexico University, which celebrates its 80th birthday this year.

• Actor-musician Ronny Cox — the ill-fated dueling banjo player in "Deliverance" — may be Eastern’s most famous graduate. He finished up in 1963 with a double major in theater and speech correction. But its most distinguished alumnus is probably Katherine Davalos Ortega, the 38th treasurer of the United States.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University in 1957 and was appointed treasurer in 1983 by Ronald Reagan.

“Being treasurer gives one a certain immortality,” Reagan said, “because it’s the treasurer’s name which appears on all new paper currency. I can’t think of a better name to have on our money than Katherine Ortega.”

• Portales first learned it had been selected as a teacher-training school about 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, 1927. At least that’s when the Roosevelt County Herald found out. Gov. R.C. Dillon approved a bill about a week later, but no funding was provided. Thus, classes did not begin until 1934.

• Eastern New Mexico Junior College’s first graduating class in 1935 consisted of 14 women and three men. By 2008, Eastern New Mexico University students represented 20 countries and had 700 students taking graduate classes.

• About 4,000 people attended a dedication of Eastern’s administration building on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 30, 1933. About 5,000 pounds of beef was provided and Gov. A.W. Hockenhull spoke about “the cause of education, which I hold in high regard.”

Following the dedication and feast, many of the participants stayed to watch the annual football clash between Clovis and Portales high schools. Clovis won, 52-0, but not all Wildcats fans had a good time. Four were injured when a section of the bleachers collapsed, the Clovis Evening News-Journal reported.

• The college has had only nine presidents in its history. The longest tenured was Floyd Golden, from 1942 to 1960, followed by Steve Gamble, who’s had the job since 2001.

• Eastern’s first president, Donald Mackay, resigned after seven years amid allegations of “some disagreements” and “clannishness” between college faculty and townspeople, the Portales Daily News reported.

• The first day of registration at Eastern New Mexico Normal exceeded all expectations, the Clovis newspaper reported on June 2, 1934. More than 100 had registered by 10 a.m.

But the big story of the day in Portales may have occurred at the pool hall, where J.D. Craig, a Valley farmer who had only one arm, attracted a large crowd.

“Craig used the rail of the table and his corduroy cap to guide his cue in what spectators said were rather remarkable shots,” the paper reported atop page one.

• On March 26, 1947, Eastern New Mexico College received accreditation from North Central Association in Chicago. That meant graduates would no longer have to take classes at other colleges to earn teaching certificates.

The Portales Daily News reported students were so enthusiastic they began a “snake dance” downtown.

When President Golden returned from Chicago by train, about 4 a.m. two days later, the newspaper reported 300 students met him at the station and carried him around on their shoulders. Led by the band, students then marched to the dining hall for coffee and donuts.

David Stevens is editor for the Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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