The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Don McAlavy: For 84 years, he made history

 

January 12, 2016

McAlavy celebrated his 80th birthday at a family friend's ranch in Florida.

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Most of eastern New Mexico knew Don McAlavy as an actor, a prolific writer, a painter and the unofficial historian of Curry County for decades.

McAlavy celebrated his 80th birthday at a family friend's ranch in Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Kim Siewert always thought of him as a storybook hero.

“He is my cowboy,” she said in announcing her father’s death from pneumonia at age 84 on Monday.

“He married my mom and she had five kids. We were in California, living in poverty, and he brought us to New Mexico. He saved me from being a pot-smoking, hippy surfer girl.”

Siewert said she was 4 when her mother, Katherine, married McAlavy in 1969. He had worked for Katherine’s grandfather at City Printing in Clovis and they’d known each other for years before getting together.

Siewert said some of her first memories of McAlavy were of him performing melodramas he’d written.

His life was consumed with acting, writing and keeping regional history alive, she said.

One of McAlavy's favorite paintings he called "Billy's Last Ride." (Courtesy photo)

“I remember asking as a kid, ‘Where’s Daddy?’ and he was out counting headstones at a cemetery somewhere,” she said.

“We’d go on a trip, pass a grave yard or tiny little gravestone on the side of the road, and he was stopping, documenting all the time.

“He would go with his friend Harold Kilmer to old cemeteries and dig through the sand to find the headstones.”

• • •

Much of the cemetery documentation can be found in a book McAlavy and Kilmer wrote in 1980, “Eastern New Mexico High Plains History.”

They also teamed up to write, “Curry County, New Mexico,” in 1978.

In addition, McAlavy wrote, “Those Who Made the Music,” documenting legendary — and more ordinary — musical performers with ties to eastern New Mexico.

He wrote about a dozen books in all, hundreds of newspaper columns about regional history, and what he called “mellerdramas” that he helped act out at the Lyceum theater or on city streets during community celebrations.

He was instrumental in securing funds to build the Caprock amphitheater near San Jon in Quay County, where he and others, for most of the 1990s, performed an outdoor drama about the life of Billy the Kid.

And don’t forget his art work. He painted hundreds of old-West scenes. Siewert said he was seldom paid for the paintings — “My mother wouldn’t let them out of the house,” she said — but they were good enough he traded several in exchange for dental work from Clovis’ Dr. Jerry Crook.

“He’s done more in his one lifetime than most people I know do in 10,” Siewert said.

• • •

Clovis funeral home owner Russell Muffley drank coffee with McAlavy for years.

“I really enjoyed being around him just to listen to his stories,” Muffley said.

“He knew the history of all the old buildings and he knew who shot who on the corner of where and he knew what that was all about.

“He had such a plethora of information in his head and I never knew him to get anything wrong.”

• • •

McAlavy and Kilmer organized the High Plains Historical Foundation in 1972.

It became dormant after McAlavy moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2004, to be near family and Kilmer died in 2015 after a lengthy illness, but was revived late last year and held its first public meeting on Monday.

Siewert said her father died at 1:26 p.m. MST, about 20 minutes after the newest generation of history buffs began their meeting.

Wilma Fulgham, a longtime friend and a board member for the new High Plains Historical Foundation, said most of Clovis considered McAlavy the go-to guy for anything historical.

“You could go to him for facts and know that what he told you was right,” she said. “And he was always accessible. He always had time to answer your questions. He had such an appetite for history.”

• • •

McAlavy, born in Clovis in 1931, lived most of his life in Curry County before moving to Florida.

With all of his contributions to community, Siewert said family was always his priority.

He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease the last five years and Siewert said it seemed a particularly cruel fate for a man devoted to keeping history alive.

“I couldn’t imagine why God kept Daddy around like that for so long,” she said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I kept asking, ‘Why would you take away his memory and leave him here?’”

But he did have “sparks” of memory, she said, when he seemed to know family members at least briefly.

One example came just a few months ago when new grandson Orion came to visit McAlavy at a nursing home.

“My dad saw him, he sparked up, he reached out on his own to hold him,” she said. “It was just a priceless memory we will hold onto forever.”

Siewert also has taken comfort in her dad’s art work these past few years, especially one he called “Billy’s Last Ride,” created in 1974.

One of McAlavy's favorite paintings he called "Billy's Last Ride." (Courtesy photo)" widt

The painting depicts the Kid riding horseback across the prairie, a blazing sun as his backdrop.

She looks at the painting and can see her dad passing into his next life.

“He just rode off into a New Mexico sunset,” she said.

Siewert said family members will scatter McAlavy’s ashes near the Caprock in Quay County sometime in the spring.

 
 

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