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Spotlight: Denim and Diamonds

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Submitted Photo Spring time means hard work because it is the prime time for sheep to get shorn. It is important that the sheep are dry, not a problem in arid Chaves County. If the sheep are not completely dry, their shorn wool can get moldy, which ruins it for any use.

Honoring the sheep and wool industry

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Altrusa International of Roswell presents Denim and Diamonds, in the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, 912 N. Main St., on March 6, with doors opening at 6 p.m.

The evening includes a silent live auction, dinner and dance, with music being provided by the popular Yarbrough Band.

Denim and Diamonds’ purpose is to celebrate families who are the historic backbone of Roswell and Chaves County. This year, an entire industry is going to be honored, the sheep and wool industry, which was at the core of the early pioneer days of the area.

Altrusa fundraising committee chairperson Kate Groesbeck took some time in the midst of organizing the event, to talk about this year’s honorees.

“Sheep really is a large part of history of Roswell,” Groesbeck said. “When Bernard (Treat) suggested to honor the families in the sheep industry — those families are what started agriculture and came to this area — we just fell in love with the idea. We thought it’s such a cool concept. The reason why we reached out to Bernard was we knew his family had been involved actively in the community with agriculture.”

Treat suggested to celebrate all families. “Then, I also worked with Mike Corn,” Groesbeck said.

Corn was named by the New Mexico Wool Growers Inc. (NMWGI) Sheepman of the Year 2018 for being an advocate for the sheep industry in New Mexico and nationally. The Corn family has been well-known in the area, with a history in the sheep industry going back more than 135 years — four generations. According to NMWGI Roswell Wool Warehouse, which Corn co-owns and manages, is the largest wool warehouse by volume in the U.S.

“We want to have as many families who started in the sheep industry at Denim and Diamonds,” Groesbeck said. “You see the Wool Wear House, but you don’t know the impact wool had for Roswell as a growing industry in Chaves County. Wool was a big thing.”

Capt. J.C. Lea, known as the Father of Roswell, started the LEA Ranch northwest of Roswell in the 1880s; he brought the first sheep to the area in 1877.

Many followed his example, though some were a bit of a wild lot, a law had to be put in place to make sure that the sheep wouldn’t go where they weren’t supposed to, such as private watering sources.

Laws in place, the sheep raising became a stabilized business and sheep ranchers began to improve the quality of their stock by buying higher quality breeding stock from the Northeast.

During unstable political and financial times for farmers and ranchers, sheep were a dependable income.

The late Elvis Fleming, chief archivist of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico and columnist for the Daily Record, wrote about the history of the sheep industry, which was also published in his book, “Treasures of History IV.” In one chapter he writes, “During the World War II era, the wool warehouses in Roswell shipped three to five million pounds of wool per year; state totals showed that the value of sheep and mohair exceeded the value of cattle. Chaves County became the leading county in New Mexico in sheep and wool production and one of the top counties for mohair and beef cattle production. Some of the world’s best award-winning wool and mohair are produced in Chaves County. The production of sheep, wool, mohair and grass-fed beef continued as mainstays of the economy of Chaves County.”

While the ‘60s and ‘70s brought a decline in demand for sheep and shorn wool, Roswell remained the center of industry in the ‘80s with Roswell Livestock Auction holding the largest auctions.

Today, the industry sees a rejuvenating trend, Mutton and leg of lamb is becoming a popular delicacy again; real wool is back in fashion as well.

The impact of the wool and sheep industry is also reflected in the name of Roswell’s Wool Bowl. The Wool Bowl itself was the brainchild of Bob Fowler, father of a New Mexico Military Institute cadet, who suggested in 1965 to the NMMI Athletic Department the idea for a post-season junior college bowl game to be held in Roswell. Of course, the newly minted bowl needed a name. The following naming contest chose “Wool Bowl.” Cooperation was pledged in 1966 by the New Mexico Wool Growers Association and with Miss Wool of New Mexico 1966 to serve as the Queen of the Southwest Grid Classic Wool Bowl, and two years later the Wool Bowl football stadium opened.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, a time of hardship that would have been even tougher for Roswell and Chaves County if it wouldn’t be for the resilient families working in the sheep industry.

Groesbeck said, “There are so many families that we are sure that we have missed several. That was not on purpose, just due to the magnitude of the amount of families involved, it was impossible to list everyone.”

Here are the names of the people and ranches representing the families that will be celebrated this year, sent in by Groesbeck:

Brad Jeffers and Debbie Jeffers (Debbie Jeffers is the daughter of James Goodrum and PeeWee Goodrum); Kim Joyce, Roswell; Jim Ball, Roswell; 9H6 Ranch with Bill Liakos and Samantha Liakos, Roswell; Charles and Irma Corn, Roswell; Troy Floyd, Roswell; Roadrunner Ranches with Mike Carrica and Sandra Carrica; Jeff Witte, Las Cruces (Secretary of Agriculture); Willie McGinnis; Brainerd family, Roswell, Flying H Ranch; Bronson Corn family; Cauhape family; David Kincaid; Phelps White family; Treat family; Phelps Anderson family with the Diamond A; Casabonne family; Cooper family; McKnight family; H.C. Hendricks family; Naylor family; Runyan family; Jennings family; McNally family; Bob Armstrong, Roadrunner Ranch; Marley family; Bogle family; W.E. Corn family; Russell Leonard; Bill Ball; Lackey family; Dale Rogers family; Gary Key; Paul Taylor Family; Chesser family; Studdard family; McCrea family; Vicente family; Lee Corn family; Fred B. Corn family; Ronnie Mayer; Ron Merritt; Kap Kelley family; Truman Pierce family; Kim Hibbard; Lewis Livestock; Eppers family and Jones family.

Asked about the evening’s entertainment, Groesbeck said, “We always have the Yarbrough Band that performs for us. Everybody loves them, they are just so good.

We keep them coming because we get such a good response.

“It is $100 a ticket or a table for eight is $800. All the profits we make go to Altrusa and to our local projects for Chaves County; our literacy, our scholarships, we’ve been donating to Horizon Park and Boys and Girls Club, and we even venture out to schools that we try to help with backpacks and things like that. The funds that we raise, they are definitely going to good causes and being used pretty well in the community,” Groesbeck said.

“We are officially now the captain of the ship. We always keep in mind, that they (Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico) gave this to us, so we asked the committees to remember that when there are some extra funds to be determined, to remember our Historical Society/Foundation and if they have any need to help them in any way, obviously, because they gave us a huge gift to be able to do this fundraiser, not only because it’s cool but because we are able to still keep the fundraiser going. The transitioning year, when the civic center was closed, people were missing it. It was just cool to be able to bring it back; have these families honored and also to be able to help our community as well. It’s definitely more than just a one dip kind of event. We are going to do a lot. We like that as well,” Groesbeck said.

The evening itself has more to offer, “Everybody knows each other, Groesbeck said. “When I first moved here, that was one of the first larger events that I was able to go to. Somebody invited me to be at their table. It was cool to meet friendly faces that I may have met around town for and just get to know the who’s who of Roswell. That’s nice too. It is such a large event, you see a ton of people. It is fun and some of the people you don’t see all the time either.”

New this year is that the organization is taking credit cards.

For more information, call or text 806-662-8254.