By Karl Terry, PNT Managing Editor
Tommie Bennett is a bonafide Roosevelt County pioneer and her family has photographic proof.
During Thursday’s Pioneer of the Year banquet, hosted by the Roosevelt County Old Timer’s Association, the Bennett family showed a photo of their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother winning the milking contest at the 1931 Roosevelt County Fair.
Tommie Bennett said she was 10 years old at the time but she later acquired 26 years experience milking cows on the dairy she and her husband operated in the Longs community near Rogers.
“I always looked forward to coming to the fair,” Bennett said. “We didn’t get to go (anywhere) that much. Coming to the fair was a heyday for us.
Bennett, along with a woman known for her civic work in Portales, Margaret Smith, were honored as Pioneers of the Year at the 2008 Roosevelt County Fair.
Smith was born in Clovis in 1919 and moved to Portales in 1928 where her fathered opened a Hudson car dealership on Main Street where the Reflections Beauty Salon is now located. She married C. Wayne (Cheto) Smith in 1941 and during World War II the couple owned and operated a dairy. Smith said it was the largest herd of Jersey cows in the state at the time. She admits a lot has changed in that business and in Roosevelt County since then.
“There are more people and more dairies,” Smith said. “Dairies are seen differently now though. We used to milk for butter fat, now its for volume.”
Bennett has lived on the same place homesteaded by her grandparents a good part of her life. Even though she’s been widowed for 37 years, at 87 she still keeps cattle on the land and checks them every day. She said a few broken bones over the last few years have threatened her rural lifestyle but she said she worked hard and did the rehab required to get back home.
Bennett said her grandchildren and others of their generation have trouble grasping what rural life was like when she was a young woman.
“It was hard work,” she said. “At that time you’d better have some cows, chickens, a garden, orchard — everything you needed to get by.”
She said there was no electricity on her farm until 1942 and no running water or indoor plumbing. Food was canned and root vegetables were stored in a hole lined with straw to feed the family through the winter.
“Everybody had to do something to live,” Bennett said. “But it seems like we had more time to visit.”
She said community meals and gatherings, church and organized singings provided the social connection for the farming communities.
Smith has been an active member and past president of both the Portales Woman’s Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She has also been active in various capacities at Central Christian Church. She is also past worth advisor for the Portales Rainbow Assembly, a member and past president of Beta Sigma Phi sorority as well as numerous other clubs and organizations.
“She has totally given herself to anybody who needs anything as long as I can remember, said Smith’s granddaughter Sindi Davis. “She’s so involved in so many aspects of the community.”
Smith was also recently honored at the State Legislature for her part in helping to write the salute to the New Mexico flag, a project that the UDC completed in the 1960s.
Bennett has been active as a 4-H member and later a leader as well as at the Causey Baptist Church. She’s also served as the registrar in recent years at the Old Timer’s Association gathering. She felt that experience along with her survival on a farm qualified her to offer a few words of advice to the younger generation.
“Stand on your own two feet and get busy,” Bennett proclaimed.