Home News Local News As new year begins, a look back at 2018

As new year begins, a look back at 2018

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A retirement celebration for Ufologist Stanton Friedman was held during the UFO Festival in July. (Alison Penn Photo)

Editor’s note: The list that follows recaps a number of important events that occurred locally throughout 2018. This list, pulled from the archives of the Roswell Daily Record, is by no means meant to be comprehensive. It could easily be twice as long, if not longer, when one considers the number of key events that take place in the community over the span of a year.

Rather, as we now begin a new year, it’s intended as a general overview of the things people discussed, at times debated and certainly took note of during the year that was. And this list focuses on news — the RDR sports department has already published its countdown of the top sports stories of 2018, complete with the Coyotes’ state championship on the gridiron. So without further ado …

Retirement party held for Ufologist Stanton Friedman

During the 2018 UFO Festival in July, around 100 people joined Stanton Friedman, nuclear physicist and renowned ufologist, for his festival-opening talk “Traveling through the Stars” — and another audience gathered later in the day for a retirement party in Friedman’s honor.

Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center was abuzz for the morning talk. A smaller crowd came at 4 p.m. for the retirement party in the North Library, which included an impromptu question-and-answer session that covered Friedman’s lectures and personal life. Friedman will be 84 on July 29 and said he has contributed more than 60 years to using science and collecting data in the cause of UFO research.

In the morning lecture, Friedman guided the audience through the famous 1947 Roswell Incident, his career as a nuclear physicist — and then his research.

As a believer in the existence of extraterrestrial life and its visitation to earth, Friedman said, “Man is not alone and our kids will grow up, grand-kids, great-grandson will grow up knowing that — and that’s good.”

In March, it was announced Friedman intends to retire from the UFO Festival circuit. He estimates that he has done 700 lectures on this subject in all 50 states and internationally.

Vice President Mike Pence visits Roswell

Vice President Mike Pence was in Roswell in late October, 11 days before the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The appearance was Pence’s first in Roswell since the 2016 election, and was organized by the campaign of Steve Pearce, then-U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Roswell.

Pearce was the Republican candidate for New Mexico governor. He was defeated by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.

An estimated 700 people were in attendance at the event welcoming Pence to Roswell, though people were still arriving when that number was provided. Pence, who served with Pearce in the House, praised his former colleague. He also stumped for other Republicans on the ballot.

Carson named to federal court

Roswell lawyer and part-time magistrate judge Joel Carson III was sworn in Sept. 7 as a judge of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nominated in December 2017 by President Donald Trump, Carson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June.

“I’ve known him as a friend and I’ve known him as a lawyer, and I just think that we are privileged to have him sitting on the Court of Appeals,” said Gov. Susana Martinez, who was one of many state and local elected officials who attended the investiture ceremony in Pearson Auditorium on the New Mexico Military Institute campus.

Becoming one of 10 federal judges that have hailed from southeast New Mexico, Carson replaced Paul Joseph Kelly Jr. of Santa Fe, who retired in 2017 after 25 years on the court.

Yucca Center demolition gets underway

Demolition of the Yucca Center began last month. (Alison Penn Photo)

The Yucca Recreation Center’s demolition began on Wednesday, Dec. 5 and various social media platforms were flooded with images of the south wing of the building coming down.

In August, the Roswell City Council had voted 8 to 2 to demolish the structure after two requests for proposals, to buy and redevelop the center, were posted and drew little response. The demolition contract was awarded by the council to Custom Construction & Roofing LLC for $91,043.66.

Located at 500 S. Richardson Ave., the original structure was built in 1911 and was once a high school and junior high school, according to J.D. Shinkle’s history book on Roswell schools. It became a city-operated recreation center in the 1970s, according to “100 Years of Dreams and Realities: A History of the Roswell Parks System.”

Powell chosen as ENMU-R president

A Wyoming community college vice president and retired Air Force officer was named the new president of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell July 31 and arrived on campus in late August.

Dr. Powell had been vice president of academic affairs at Casper College in Wyoming. For 30 years, he served in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard and taught for a while at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

He replaced Dr. John Madden, who made a sudden announcement of his retirement in March, effective June 30, after almost 10 years in the position.

Council votes against naming rec center for César Chávez

The Roswell City Council in September voted against a resolution for naming the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center (RRAC) after labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez. The council retained the name Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center.

Councilor Savino Sanchez remarked during the meeting that the debate over the rec center naming had caused “the good, the bad and the ugly of Roswell to come out.”

During the council meeting, some in favor of naming the center for Chávez shared what his legacy meant to them, along with personal anecdotes, while some opposed to the measure said Chávez was an important figure, but the rec center should be named for the community. Some were of the opinion that naming the center after him would prove divisive.

The council’s final vote was 7 to 3. Mayor Dennis Kintigh thanked councilors and the audience and said he was proud of the community for how the situation was handled.

Jury acquits one, DA dismisses charge against another in cold case

The arrest in 2017 and 2018 of two men in connection with the 1997 murder of Edward Raymond Sanchez of Roswell made national headlines. One defendant, Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 41, of Roswell, was acquitted by a jury in August on the charge of being an accessory to first-degree murder. Then, on Oct. 9, 5th Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce filed to drop a similar charge against Gonzalo David Bonilla, 44, of Haltom, Texas. The dismissal was “without prejudice,” which means charges could be refiled at a later date.

Four felony charges remain against the alleged shooter, Hector Dominguez, 42 to 44, who authorities have said is living in Mexico. He was originally charged in 2000 but has never been apprehended.

Edward Sanchez was found deceased in a ditch off River Road near Bottomless Lakes State Park on Sept. 20, 1997, having been shot twice in the head, with two different types of guns used.

County races include election of woman commissioner

Republican Dara Dana will be the only woman seated on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners starting in January following her election to the District 1 seat in November. Dana, a former state legislator, narrowly defeated Democrat Michael Trujillo.

Other election results included the upset victory of former Chaves County Sheriff’s deputy Michael Herrington over incumbent Britt Snyder, both Republicans, for Chaves County Sheriff.

County Assessor Mark Willard, Chaves County Magistrate Judge E.J. Fouratt and State Rep. Greg Nibert (District 59) were re-elected to office, having defeated primary or general election challengers. Those who will take office or return to office having run unopposed are Clarke Coll for Chaves County probate judge, Chaves County Magistrate Judge K.C. Rogers, Chaves County District 5 Commissioner Will Cavin, State Rep. James Townsend (District 54), State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (District 58) and State Rep. Phelps Anderson (District 66). All those elected are Republicans.

Zoo master plan approved

The Roswell City Council, with the endorsement of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in March approved a zoo master plan. The council vote was unanimous. After the meeting, Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods said, “To be part of this is amazing.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, director of administrative services, said in voting to approve the master plan the city was not committing to any costs but rather the vision of the master plan, for which a budget would be created in the future.

Brittany Peet, Captive Animal Law Enforcement for PETA, said the organization supports the zoo master plan. Peet said PETA had raised concerns related to the zoo in 2016, but with the new master plan, along with upgrades at the zoo and new local leadership, the situation had improved.

“PETA supports the objectives of the master plan and agrees with its conclusion that the current condition of the zoo cannot remain. The zoo must either change or close down. The zoo and community have shown their commitment to modernizing the zoo for the benefit of the animals.”

Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb spoke about the level of commitment required to keep the zoo.

“The zoo will not survive without community support,” he said. “It will take some sponsorships. It will take donations in order to make this facility succeed. In order to do that, they need to have an understanding of where we are headed with this … and so that master plan will become very important to us as we try to go and solicit support from the community in order to understand what we are trying to accomplish.”

Roswell voters keep Kintigh as mayor

Roswell voters in March decided to keep Mayor Dennis Kintigh for a second term.

Meanwhile, Jacob Roebuck, Caleb Grant, Judy Stubbs, George Peterson and Angela Moore either won or retained (in Grant’s case) their respective seats on the Roswell City Council.

A group of around 30 people watched from the large conference room at City Hall as unofficial election results were reported. The results were live-streamed on Facebook by city staff as well.

The first city meeting for the new group of elected officials was March 15.

Kintigh was challenged by former mayor Del Jurney, former Ward 1 City Councilor Natasha Mackey, and Sergio Gonzalez.

Air authority legislation stalls after governor’s veto

Roswell business leaders and area legislators succeeded in drafting and passing enabling legislation in February 2018 to create an independent regional governing authority for the Roswell airport and some of its surrounding properties. The measure was recommended by the Roswell City Council and the Chaves County Board of Commissioners before passing the New Mexico House of Representatives and Senate in February with only six dissenting votes. An independent governing body had been recommended by separate marketing and feasibility studies in 1998 and 2017 as a key element in efforts to boost economic and business development.

Gov. Susana Martinez surprised many with her March 7 veto. She issued comments indicating that she supported the economic potential of the airfield but disagreed with some aspects of the proposed legislation, including provisions related to tax exemptions and giving non-elected officials the right to decide issues of eminent domain. The Roswell International Air Center Task Force, which consists of local business leaders, has indicated its plan to introduce revised legislation in 2019, with the Roswell City Council and Chaves County Board of Commissioners voting again to support the effort.

Local educator named 2019 New Mexico Teacher of the Year

Jessica Sanders, Berrendo Middle School science department head and sixth-and seventh-grade teacher, was named the 2019 New Mexico Teacher of the Year during a surprise announcement at BMS in October. Sanders said she felt “empowered, excited, totally awestruck” when it was announced. Sanders said her students were just as excited as she was.

As Teacher of the Year she will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition and is considered the spokesperson for teaching in the state for one year.

Awards are not new to Sanders, who earned the 2018 Golden Apple Fellow Award and was also the New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year.

Sanders said being an excellent teacher requires taking care of the whole student, not just the educational process, and one of her best practices in the classroom is to supply “engaging and meaningful” activities for her students.

“Everything is science,” Sanders said. “I want my kids to understand, no matter if you are shooting a basketball or bending over to pick up a book that fell off the table, it’s all science — every bit of it and that they can do science all the time.”

RISD school board hires McIlroy as superintendent

The Roswell Independent School District School Board in April hired Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy as superintendent. McIlroy was previously superintendent at Loving Municipal Schools.

“I want this to be a district where our kids are flocking to and not running away from,” McIlroy said. “Every single face, every single name, every single little soul matters and they count — and we are going to be counting on them because when you start them in pre-k and 14 years later, we want to see them in cap and gown and getting a diploma and ready to take on the world …”

“Until we get one hundred percent of those kids doing that, our job is not done. That’s my commitment …”

McIlroy was one of the six finalists for the job. The superintendent search began following the resignation of Tom Burris, who stepped down after five years citing his eligibility for retirement and his desire to spend more time with his children.

International brands announce Roswell locations

Two separate companies announced during 2018 their plans to introduce major international brands to the city.

Roswell Hotel Co. LLC, which consists of investors from California who own two other Roswell hotels, broke ground Oct. 29 on a $10 million downtown hotel. The Home 2 Suites by Hilton is to be located at 700 N. Virginia Ave. and is planned as a four-story, 82-room building. It is expected to be completed in about a year.

A Dunkin-Baskin Robbins restaurant also has come to the Roswell area. NMR LLC, based in Chicago but with Albuquerque locations as well, has built the $1.5 million drive-through and eat-in location at the corner of North Main and West Eighth Streets. Grabbing attention with the 26-foot green alien that holds up its sign, the restaurant was due to open by the end of December.

Local Kmart to close in March

The intention to close the Kmart at 1705 S. Main St. in Roswell, by the end of March, was announced to store employees on Dec. 27 by Sears Holdings, Kmart’s parent company. The Roswell location is the only one in New Mexico affected by the round of closures that includes 80 stores.

The local store has about 30 to 35 employees now, a manager said Saturday. He added that Sears Holdings Corp. has not provided any information beyond what was announced publicly.

“They are closing all the stores that I have shopped at all my life, Sears, Kmart,” said Stephanie Alley. “Where are we supposed to shop now?”

Sears Holding Corp. previously announced the closing of the local Sears store at 1000 S. Main St. in January 2017. That resulted in the loss of about 20 jobs, as well as the disappearance of a retailer that had been a Roswell staple since 1957.

Memory Lawn cemetery gets new owners

A California investor group took over the troubled Memory Lawn Memorial Park cemetery on East 19th Street in March after approval of 5th District Court Judge Freddie Romero. The cemetery was put into receivership in 2010 following the bankruptcy of the previous owner and the filing of a lawsuit in 2009 by relatives and friends of people buried at the cemetery. Plaintiffs alleged that the cemetery was not properly maintained and that funds intended for the cemetery were not properly used.

The investor group is headed by Henry Mayhew, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, who has relatives buried at Memory Lawn. Some improvements at the cemetery have occurred, with the new owners announcing their intent for many future efforts.

Appeals court rules for NMMI; alumni group disbands

A five-year legal battle between the New Mexico Military Institute and a nonprofit alumni association ended after the group, the Institute Alumni Association, decided to dissolve and to forgo any further legal appeals. The group’s board of directors made its decisions in early November after the New Mexico Court of Appeals decided Oct. 22 to uphold a lower court ruling in favor of NMMI.

In the original suit filed in June 2013, NMMI said it had the right to end its contractual relationship with the group, which previously had been known as the New Mexico Military Institute Alumni Association, and that any money raised on behalf of NMMI should be transferred to the school. Without finding any wrongdoing on the part of the alumni association, a 5th District Court judge ruled in NMMI’s favor in 2014.

NMMI leadership had been concerned about the lack of audited tax returns or financial statements by the nonprofit. Board members and the executive director of the nonprofit have remained steadfast in their views that they were acting appropriately and rightfully on behalf of alumni and that memoranda of understanding between the group and NMMI were ended needlessly. But the association turned over about $4 million in funds and physical assets to the school after the District Court ruling. According to the group’s executive director, the board of the association decided that further litigation would be expensive and unlikely to result in a different outcome.