Friends of Eastern pay tribute to alumni, Gov. Richardson

Tony Parra

The Eastern New Mexico University Homecoming festivities began with the 28th Annual Friends of Eastern Foundation Breakfast honoring Gov. Bill Richardson and four ENMU alumni at the Campus Union Ballroom on Saturday.
ENMU presented Judge Robert C. Brack with the Outstanding Alumni Award. Brack graduated from ENMU in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in business.
Brack was recently sworn in as a U.S. District Court Judge in Las Cruces. He was named the 9th Judicial District in 1997. The Clovis native received the Clovis Chamber of Commerce’s A Heart Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2001.
“I am humbled to be here and I am humbled to receive this award,” Brack said. “I’m loving Las Cruces, but I miss home (Clovis and Portales area). It’s great to be home.”
Albert Smith, who earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from ENMU in 1954, received the Outstanding Alumni Award to a standing ovation.
“It’s good to be back and to receive this honor,” Smith said. “This is America the beautiful. The Native Americans thank you America.”
Smith was one of the 400 Navajo Code Talkers who helped the communications effort when he served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.
Smith taught in New Mexico, Oregon and Alaska before returning to the Navajo Reservation where he directed an agency adult education program until his retirement in 1989.
Two alumni received the Distinguished Service Award from ENMU. Jimmy Joe Robinson received one of the awards. Robinson earned his bachelor’s degree from ENMU in 1959 and his master’s degree in 1964. He was in basketball, track and rodeo and was named, “All-Around Cowboy” in 1959.
“I remember when we had our undefeated (football) season in 1957,” Robinson said. “We had the whole football team at our (basketball) games and we were at their games. We had 1,700 students and we knew everyone on campus.”
Robinson taught and coached for 39 years in the west Texas and eastern New Mexico area. He compiled a 528-213 record as a basketball coach during his stint in the Grady, Melrose, Clovis and Lubbock, Texas schools.
Juan Nekai Babauta, who is the governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, earned his masters in political science and American History in 1976. He returned to Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, located 250 miles north of Guam, after receiving his degree.
Babauta talked about his bus trip from Vermont to Portales to attend ENMU.
“The bus from Amarillo arrived in Portales at dusk,” Babauta said. “I heard all of the stories about the tumbleweeds and then I saw one pass by and I thought, holy … I wasn’t sure I was going to last, but I did. Eastern gave me a life and a future.”
Babauta began his career in public service when he was sworn in as a Senator of the Fifth and Sixth Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature. He also served three four-year terms as Northern Marianas’ representative to the United States in Washington D.C.
Gov. Richardson received the Honorary Lifetime Alumni Award. ENMU president Dr. Steven Gamble accepted the award on behalf of Richardson, who could not attend the event.