Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
KENNA — About one-third of the way from Portales to Roswell along U.S. 70 is the most noticeable thing about Kenna, its Midway Service Station that earlier this year was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another noticeable area exists nearly 200 yards to the north, on the other side of the highway. It is the Kenna Community Center, a building with a similar amount of history. Saturday saw it filled with people who reminisced on a town that has shrunk in population but grown in memories.
The bi-annual Kenna Reunion, also referred to as Old-Timers Day by some of its organizers, brought about 60 people to the community building. Inside, people reminisced over newspaper clippings and photographs of relatives, or maybe even themselves.
On one table was a picture of the old Kenna School house, taken in 1930. The building itself no longer exists, having been destroyed by a 1943 fire. The building that replaced it taught grade school classes for 11 more years before the school system was consolidated with Elida, and it was renovated in 1986 to become the community center where reunions and town meetings are now held.
The process started in March, when Verdine Howard (formerly Crume) sent the first of nearly 250 invitations. Howard said 90 people replied, and about 60 of those were able to make it to the community center for a morning of music, a barbecue lunch and an afternoon of door prizes and reminiscing.
Howard’s family made many of the arrangements, and brought door prizes for miscellaneous awards — youngest and oldest people in attendance, most distance traveled and the largest family.
“We may win that one; there are 12 of us,” Howard said of the Crumes. “We may win the prize I brought.”
The Crumes did indeed win a prize, as many others did.
The unspoken reward, however, was that emcee Bud
Bilberry allowed winners to take the microphone and talk of their experience in Kenna.
“When I was 3 years old, we moved to the L7 ranch,” said Fran Welch, who was known then as Francis Vaughan. “That’s the only home I knew until I got married at 18.”
Welch joked that her husband said it was cheaper to marry her than to drive more than 30 miles both ways to take her out for dates in Portales.
Kenna was established in 1906, six years before New Mexico became a state. In 1908 — nine years before it was added to Roosevelt County — the town boasted local and long distance telephone service, a U.S. Commissioners office for land permits, a bank, two lumber yards, several grocery stores, a newspaper, a jeweler and numerous other buildings.
Still, the town halfway between Clovis and Roswell didn’t impress everybody. About four years after it was established, Charles Good’s grandfather Frank came through via train.
“He said you’d have to go broke to live here,” Charles Good said from the stage between laughs. “Two years later, he was broke and he ended up in Kenna. I’m glad he did.”
Good admitted that he has less than perfect attendance at the reunions, since he is usually competing in rodeos across the country.
The final item of business was naming somebody else to take care of the arrangements for the 2007 reunion.
Cora Stroud, who grew up 18 miles northwest of Kenna where her grandfather Levi Dearing homesteaded, volunteer.
Stroud was rewarded with applause from the crowd, which included members from as far away as California and Louisiana.
For all of its memories, new technologies are helping to make the reunions better. Stroud advised everybody to supply e-mail addresses for faster delivery of the next reunion’s invitations, and Jim Meadows provided pictures of the event to people on their way out, thanks to a digital camera and a photo printer that he brought to the community center.
Kenna has mostly dwindled in population over nearly a century, down to about 10 to 20 right now. One of those current residents is Alma Bilberry, who called the area a state of mind.
“Although Kenna’s not the metropolis it once was,” Bilberry said, “it’s home to all of us.”