Alumna recalls ENMU’s beginnings

Living a few blocks from her alma mater — Eastern New Mexico University — 1937 graduate Lois Cantrell recalls the days when the school had a tenth of its current enrollment and not even a handful of buildings.

Cantrell earned an associate of arts in music and English as well as a teaching certificate from ENMU three years after its 1934 opening.

At the time of her graduation, the school was called Eastern New Mexico Junior College, and she was Lois Black.

“It was a very happy two years for me out here,” Cantrell said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Cantrell’s connection with Portales began when she was 6 years old. Her family moved to town for her father’s health, but returned to Kansas a year later.

However, Cantrell’s brother, Ralph Black, kept in touch with friends in Portales. As an adult, he moved back to open a printing shop and take classes at the junior college, which was also one of his customers.

Black offered to help his sister if she moved from Kiowa, Kan., to Portales and went to school.

Because of The Great Depression, Cantrell had already delayed her education for two years after finishing high school, She took the opportunity her brother offered.

Cantrell started classes in the summer of 1935 at age 19.

“The first year I was here, I stayed in a private home because there wasn’t any girls dorm,” Cantrell said. “And everybody walked everywhere.”

Few cars were on campus. Students held their assemblies at the Methodist Church.

When Cantrell began attending, the college had an unfinished but usable administration building, plus two temporary buildings. In the fall of Cantrell’s second year, a girls dorm opened.

The Chase student newspaper reported that 412 were enrolled at the junior college in the fall of 1936, according to Black’s unpublished autobiography.

When she first came, Cantrell worked in the school supplies and novelties store her brother and his friend had started.

The next year, the junior college paid her $20 a month as a piano accompanist for whatever production needed her services. Cantrell played for two operas, solos and more.

Cantrell remembers the faculty as friendly and good at their jobs. She learned under piano and played violin in the orchestra under instructor Gillian Buchanan, the namesake of Buchanan Hall in the music building.

“She was a lovely person, and very interested in her students,” Cantrell said of Buchanan.

Cantrell speaks well of the school’s current state.

“I think it’s really done a lot, and the campus I think is beautiful,” she said.