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Longest-serving MainStreet director honored

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Bill Wolf, left, says a few words about his longtime friend Dusty Huckabee during a Thursday morning ceremony in Roswell on Dusty Huckabee Day. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Just about everything current Roswell residents associate with the city’s downtown culture and activities can be traced back to Dusty Huckabee.

The city of Roswell proclaimed Thursday “Dusty Huckabee Day,” and a small group of people gathered in the morning at his West College Boulevard home, known as the historic Howard Mansion, to pay tribute and listen to the official proclamation.

Edwin “Dusty” Huckabee, now in his 70s, has lived in the city since he was 3. He has recalled during his many press interviews such activities as playing on a little league baseball team that went to the national championships, roaming the streets of Roswell during the days and participating in boxcar races.

He graduated from Goddard High School in 1966 and went to work in the production department of KBIM TV and Radio, where he stayed during the 1970s and 1980s. Later he helped start the KOBR TV station. He also worked a time as the head of the Roswell Convention Center.

But his most recognized professional achievements were as executive director of MainStreet Roswell for 22 years, from 1992 to 2014.

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That makes him the longest-serving director of a MainStreet organization in the United States, according to current Executive Director Kathy Lay. In 2015, he was named executive director emeritus by New Mexico MainStreet and given its Innovation Award.

MainStreet Roswell volunteers coordinated the effort to recognize him Wednesday, with one of the board members saying the date itself was not selected to commemorate any specific event.

During Huckabee’s work with the downtown group, he led efforts to secure more than $1 million in grants that rebuilt the downtown business district. He also launched some of the city’s best known community events — including the UFO Festival that garners international attention each year, the Chile Cheese Festival, the Holiday Electric Light Parade and the Farmers’ Market — and is credited with work that led to a high occupancy rate of downtown buildings by 2002, having started with about 48% occupancy in the 1990s.

Lay said his work not only changed downtown and the city’s economic profile, but also influences the current MainStreet Roswell team.

“It is part of a vision for how much can be done by working together as a team. To see that kind of transformation is unbelievable,” she said. “It gives us ideas and inspiration for other renovations, like the railroad district renovation we are getting ready to work on.”

Asked what he considered to be his most important contribution, Huckabee said, “We just rebuilt downtown.”

His wife, Heidi, said the Chile Cheese Festival, which promotes the area’s dairy and agricultural industries, is “totally his.”

Lifelong friend Bill Wolf, now head of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico, recalled a time that Huckabee decided to spice up the Chile Cheese Festival. He arranged for some people riding horseback to stop the tour bus and drag off a person who was accused of being a horse thief. A mock hanging then occurred.

“A couple of ladies about fainted,” Wolf said, “and that was the last year he did that.”

Huckabee’s work also involved other community groups. He was among those who led the efforts to create the bronze sculpture of Robert Goddard that stands in front of the Roswell Museum and Art Center. He advocated for the creation of the Woof Bowl Dog Park and helped get the electronic scoreboards for the Wool Bowl. As president of the local Sertoma Club, he took part in the effort to create the Alien Playground at Cielo Grande Recreation Area and to introduce the annual Fourth of July celebration.

Huckabee also served as a Ward 1 city councilor from 2010 to 2014, saying during a re-election bid that promoting sports tourism was a top priority. One of the achievements of the governing body during his tenure was the renovation of the Charlie McVay Memorial Softball Complex.

“We wanted to make Roswell special,” Huckabee said, “and it is special.”

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