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Family, friends remember local centenarian hero

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Alex Ross Photo Hughes celebrates his 100th birthday at the Country Club Church of Christ in October 2019.
Submitted Photo
Lowell Hughes, during World War II service in the U.S. Army.

Lowell Hughes, one of Roswell’s most recognized World War II veterans — a man who helped the U.S. Army liberate the Nazi death camp in Dachau, Germany — has passed away at age 100.

“Those horrible memories were never gone for him,” said his friend Bonnie Montgomery, who shared Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with him for about 10 years. “Yet he was very generous. He would give talks at the Historical Society (for Southeast New Mexico) and tell people about his experiences.”

She said he was a founding member of the World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, and often spoke with local middle and high school students about his war experiences and his memories of a difficult life growing up on a farm in Oklahoma and surviving the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

Hughes passed away Thursday night at his home in Roswell, said his nephew, Bob Barnes, who grew up in Roswell but now lives in Las Cruces.

The family is planning on a funeral and graveside service in the coming days, but details have not yet been decided. The family also would like to hold a community memorial service later in the year.

“He was very active until about two years ago,” said Barnes, “Then he began to have some problems, but he was mentally alert right up until the end.”

Hughes was perhaps best known to the general public for his war service, for which he received a Bronze Star, but he accomplished a lot more in his life, according to Barnes.

Hughes’s story began on Oct. 12, 1919, in Poteau, Oklahoma, where he was one of four children raised on a farm. He arrived in Roswell in late 1940 and took a job with his brother-in-law servicing electric motors.

In late 1940, he joined the U.S. Army and spent a couple of years training stateside before being sent to Europe, for sometimes grueling combat, for about a year and a half. His duty included fighting in the Battle of Anzio in Italy, which saw many U.S. casualties.

He returned to Roswell in 1945 and started his own company, Hughes Electric. He was married twice, to Anna Smolander and Christine Ranft, who both preceded him in death.

Barnes said Hughes never had any children of his own, but stayed close to him and other family members, including taking some of them on international trips. World travel was something he enjoyed a lot after his retirement in 1988, whether he was by himself, with wife Christine or with other family members.

Although he never finished high school or college, he did receive an honorary high school diploma from Roswell High School in May 2018.

“You won’t believe how this feels,” he told the young graduates gathered at the Wool Bowl.

The day was also special to Amy McVay-Davis, the executive director of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico.

“Words cannot express my admiration for his service and commitment to our community and nation,” she said. “I will never forget having the privilege of being by his side to receive his Roswell High School honorary diploma — a precious moment in history honoring his legacy while also celebrating the future. … May the Lowell Hughes legacy live on impacting the lives of future generations.”

Another friend, Connie Holstun, said she and her husband, Paul, and several others used to gather each week to talk and share memories. At first, they met at Morgan Nelson’s home, but, after Nelson’s passing, they gathered at Hughes’ residence.

“He remembered everything in such great detail,” she said, “the names of streets, dates, people’s names. He made us laugh and cry. He was a wonderful man.”

Some people also knew Hughes because of his love of classic cars. He was a member of the local Valley Vintage Car Club and the Mustang Club of America.

Twice Hughes traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, where his classic Mustang was displayed on a decommissioned aircraft carrier and Hughes was recognized as the nation’s oldest classic Mustang owner.

Neighbor Tony Robles went with him, with Hughes driving one year and the Mustang being towed the next.

Robles said he and Hughes used to eat together every Saturday and that they became great friends over 45 years, including traveling to many car shows.

“He was a loving guy, kind-hearted,” said Robles. “He helped a lot of people. Over the years I knew him, he helped anyone he could, however he could.”

Hughes’ contribution included donations to the Historical Society to help with its projects, said Chief Archivist Janice Dunnahoo, who said she considered him a father figure and spent many hours recording his experiences and memories.

“He was the epitome of the Greatest Generation,” she said. “He was honest, caring, generous and kind. He was just huge, and I am going to miss him a lot.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.