By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico
It may have been a little slow going at first, but Eastern New Mexico University has evolved into the institution envisioned by its founders. That would be one providing higher education to the residents of the east side of state and, this weekend, many former ENMU students are taking in the campus one more time as the university celebrates homecoming.
Eastern started as a one-building college in 1934 after five years of construction. That building in Portales still exists — now, it’s known as the administration building on the north end of campus.
Conceived initially as a teacher’s college, one that was within the guidelines of the New Mexico constitution to qualify for state support, Eastern New Mexico Normal College had an enrollment of 145 students.
There was one little problem, though, and one that would persist for over a dozen years.
In order to get a teaching certificate, even graduates of the school would have to attend an accredited university to take classes. In an age of no Internet or video, that generally meant physically going to another school.
Problem solved, however, in 1947 when Eastern New Mexico College was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
How big of a deal was it? When then-president Floyd Golden returned by train from Chicago on March 28, 1947, he was greeted by about 300 students who hoisted him to a car on their shoulders before staging a torchlight parade led by the band.
Eastern was renamed into a “University” in 1949 and the school’s enrollment began steady increases.
“It was certainly a highlight in the 1940s when we went from offering two-year degrees to four-year degrees,” said Steven Gamble, the current president at ENMU. “That obviously was a major step forward here.”
Though residents of Clovis have always made the trek south to attend Eastern, the institution also was the reason higher education took root in that city as well. In conjunction with Clovis Municipal Schools, ENMU began offering night courses at the high school in 1961 and later moved them to the old Eugene Field Elementary building.
In 1980, ENMU-Clovis opened its doors on the eastern edge of the city. That would eventually be known as Clovis Community College in 1990.
Today, Eastern has campuses in Roswell and Ruidoso. At the main campus in Portales, ENMU boasts 4,685 students from 40 states and 20 countries.
“They put Eastern here for a reason. That reason was to provide the best education it could for the citizens of our area,” Gamble said. “We’ve done that well for 75 years. For 75 years, we’ve sent off graduates who have made a difference in their communities.”
Aside from academics, ENMU has had some highlights in the world of sports.
In 1984, just as the school was celebrating its 50th homecoming, Eastern’s football team was having some pretty heady times.
For the first time in school history, the Greyhounds seized the No. 1 ranking in the national NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) football poll.
Coached by Bill Kelly and led by quarterback Kevin Kott, the ‘Hounds lost the next week but bounced back to the top-spot in the poll following a 70-13 bludgeoning of Southern Colorado.
In track & field, standout Mike Boit led ENMU to the outdoor NAIA national titles in 1974 and 1976.
Earlier in the decade, Greyhounds’ freshman Rex Maddaford ran the fastest two-mile race in the world for 1970 and beat the reigning track star of the day — Jim Ryun — in the process.
Still, the minds of Eastern alumni always seem to go back to March of 1969 when asked about the school’s biggest athletic achievement.
That’s when Eastern New Mexico University won the NAIA national championship in basketball. The Greyhounds clinched the tournament in Kansas City on March 15, 1969, by beating Maryland State 99-76 in the championship game.
The ‘Hounds were coached by Harry Miller and had standouts such as Greg Hyder, a 6-4 All-American selection out of Victorville, Calif. Hyder’s brother Jerry was also on the squad, as were double-digit scorers John Irwin and Jim Guymon.
Larry Vanzant, who led Portales High to back-to-back state titles in ‘65 and ‘66, was a point guard for ENMU and forward, Dale Severson, who would later coach the girls at Clovis High for 21 years, was a constant contributor in points and rebounds.
On Friday, Severson joined the two Hyder brothers, Guymon and Pete Norris for a 40th reunion of the title-winning squad at the Eastern campus.
“We were just fortunate that we were part of something we didn’t know would be that big,” said Severson, who moved to Portales from DeKalb, Ill.’ to play ball. “At the time, we were just a bunch of guys from all over the country that a good coach put together.
“We did this during a time of turmoil too, during the ’60s. This was during the civil rights movement, with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy,” he recalled. “To do what we did, with the type of great, great people we had, it’s just something we’ll never ever forget.”