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Local ‘giants’ honored as they reach 99

Lowelll Hughes, left, and Morgan Nelson were honored by family and friends Saturday. Both men recently turned 99. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Two well-known Roswell citizens spent a part of their weekend celebrating their 99 years on Planet Earth with dozens of friends and family.

A joint birthday celebration for Lowell Hughes and Morgan Nelson was held Saturday in the Museum Archives Building of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico.

“They are so loved by the community,” said Bonnie Montgomery, one of the event organizers and a member of the City of Roswell Commission on Aging. “I call them our silent giants.” Nelson is a member of the so-called Silent Generation, and Montgomery explained both are humble men unaware of the significance of their contributions to the area.

Hughes, who turned 99 on Oct. 12, is a retired business owner and a World War II Army solider and Bronze Star recipient.

He often visits local schools to talk about his experiences as part of the combat engineering division in Europe during the war and being one of the men who arrived at Nazi death camps to free prisoners.

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In May, he received an honorary diploma from Roswell High School. Although he had wanted to return to school after the war, school officials in Roswell told him that was not allowed. Instead, he worked as a mechanic for his brother-in-law in Roswell for years before opening his own business, Hughes Electric Motors. He retired in 1988.

Nelson, honored in April by the Roswell Association of Realtors as Citizen of the Year, has been a guiding force in the community for most of his life, having moved here with his family in 1924 when he was 5.

Born Sept. 27, he was a farmer and a former state legislator for 16 years. He also is a veteran of two wars, serving as an Air Force engineer in World War II in the Middle East and England and in the Korean War.

He was one of the leaders in establishing community colleges in New Mexico and served on numerous committees and boards to create and build Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. He also was a founding member of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces, a water rights activist who helped create a legal fund to defend local users’ rights to the water in the Artesian Basin and an active participant with the Historical Society who has helped New Mexico historians write and publish books.

Jodie Green Keyes, 100, attended East Grand Plains Elementary with Nelson and also has a family connection with Hughes. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

On hand Saturday to help celebrate the two was Nelson’s former elementary schoolmate.

Jodie Green Keyes, now of Ruidoso and a Ruidoso Hospital auxiliary volunteer for 46 years, was in the second grade at East Grand Plains Elementary when Nelson arrived as a first-grader. They went through all their school years together and have remained close, she said, with Nelson coming to a celebration for her 100th birthday, which was May 22.

Keyes also has a connection to Hughes, she said, as he is the uncle of her daughter-in-law.