By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer
Patrice Caldwell likes to tell a story about the first people to attend the fledgling Eastern New Mexico University back in the mid-1930s. About how they were dazzled by the idea of having an educational opportunity beyond high school in the area.
From interviews with two former students, Caldwell has developed a fairly clear picture of what it was like when ENMU first held classes 75 years ago.
Now, Caldwell and others are trying to turn that picture into reality. Even if for one day.
On June 28, Eastern will be hosting a Founder’s Day Picnic near the campus’ Administration Building.
Organizers are hoping to include a fried chicken lunch for participants as well as games, speakers and music in front of the building that was once the only structure of the college.
“This is the kick-off for, basically, what will be a year-long anniversary celebration,” said Caldwell, executive director of planning and analysis at ENMU.
Eastern New Mexico University came into existence with a summer session in 1934, thus the timing of the Founder’s Day Picnic. During a six-week session, 145 students were ENMU’s first and they attended classes in the Administration Building – an edifice in the middle of empty fields that had not yet been completed.
As Eastern staff members prepare to recreate those days, to the extent it can be done, they’re actively soliciting help from community members.
Musicians capable of playing bluegrass or jazz are being sought for the Founder’s Day Picnic, as are classic cars to add to the ambiance.
Bryan Hahn, a graduate student, said a dearth of students around for the current summer session is making it difficult to find musicians.
“That has been a struggle, partly because of the time of year. We talked to (the ENMU music department) and, of course, they expressed great interest in doing it,” Hahn said. “But not a lot of the faculty or students are here at that time.”
Hahn said if anyone is interested in contributing to the picnic, through musicianship, classic cars or otherwise, he can be contacted at email@example.com or at 562-2778.
A secretary for the Department of Art, Hahn said he first got involved in the Founder’s Day Picnic planning as part of a public relations class he took during the past school year.
“You only have one 75th anniversary. To be a part of it is a thrill and an honor in and of itself,” Hahn said. “We started talking about what they did back in the thirties and it kind of took off from there.”