Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
History in the making
Readers’ Choice Award for Best Vision Columnist 2019
By Christina Stock
With a lead of 44 votes, the winner of the first Readers’ Choice Award for Best Vision Columnist 2019 is Janice Dunnahoo. Dunnahoo writes her column Historically Speaking on behalf of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico (HSSNM). Her stories cover local historical treasures she finds in the HSSNM Archives where she works. They are found in news clippings, postcards and letters that are given to her at HSSNM Archives to preserve for future generations. These are real events from Southeast New Mexico’s rich past.
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Reaching out to Dunnahoo by phone to let her know about her winning the award, she said, “I thought, no way, there is so much good competition. I do get a lot of people telling me that they like it and it always makes me feel good, that they like the topics that I choose. A lot of times I get phone calls or emails and people are either looking for information or wanting more information and want a little extra research. They tell me they’re related to so-and-so who was in the article.”
In a phone interview, Dunnahoo talked about her roots, her family and her passion for history.
“I grew up in Roswell,” she said. “I was born here in St. Mary’s Hospital. The passion for history grew over the years. However, I mentioned it in several of my articles, growing up, it was a big thing for my family to make picnic lunches, and we would either drive up to the mountains or go out to Bottomless Lake. My dad, he really loved history and we’d go to Lincoln a lot, way back when I was a little kid, and we talked about Billy the Kid and go to the cemetery up there, go to the pageants.”
Dunnahoo said that she would visit her father’s brother Lam Sallee as a young kid. Sallee had a riding stable for tourists. “He would give them horses and take them on trails in the mountains,” Dunnahoo said. “My uncle was pretty invested in the history around there, too. So being around him a lot, growing up riding horses, you are a part of the Old West. My uncle was one of the guys who took the original planners for the ski run for the Apaches. He knew the land so well.”
Asked about her upbringing in Roswell, Dunnahoo said, “I lived on the east side, on Eldora Drive when it was a brand new subdivision — it was just being built when the base was here. I went to Edgewood Elementary, which was my grade school. When the missile silos were going in, all schools in Roswell were overcrowded and I had to go to an old school on East Fifth Street, it was called East Side School; it still had the old desk, the inkwells, pulldown seats with the little cubby underneath the desks. Then I went to Mesa Junior High and Goddard High School.”
To continue her education, Dunnahoo went to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, a decision that would be for her the beginning of her very own family, and her first story — her wedding announcement — in the Roswell Daily Record.
“I met my husband at college through my cousin who was good friends with him. My cousin introduced me to my husband at Eastern and we dated,” Dunnahoo said.
Asked how her first impression was, she said and chuckled, “I just thought he was really cool, he was a surfer boy.”
Dunnahoo was working for the Roswell Independent School District while going to college. “I was an associate and then, after I got married, a year later, I was starting to get babies and that was my main focus. Family always comes first.”
Asked about her name being listed in the Roswell Daily Record’s sports section under bowling, Dunnahoo said laughing, “Oh my word, yes. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I had a good friend who was also a stay-at-home mom and it was mainly her mother, sister and a friend — Thursday night was our night to get out of the house and away from our kids and go bowl. We went to a few tournaments and got pretty good, nothing overly to brag about, it was more because we enjoyed each other’s company and to go bowl and hang out and visit.”
Asked how she got involved with the HSSNM, Dunnahoo said, “I retired early because my mom was needing quite a bit of assistance, and so I retired to help her. We moved her in with us, our house. I was stuck at home a lot with my mother because she was pretty housebound. She was still able to be at home by herself, but she needed a lot of assistance, help showering, meals and that sort of thing, so it was at that point that I started going down to the archives and hanging out with Elvis Fleming.”
Fleming had been chief archivist for HSSNM and published historical books as well as being Roswell Daily Record’s Historically Speaking columnist before Dunnahoo took over when Fleming’s eyesight didn’t permit him to write anymore.
“The Chewnings and Dunnahoos had given me all those records that I felt needed to be archived. I would gather up stuff and take to Elvis and he loved it all and wanted to make copies and save pictures for the archives, because there is so much history in their family records that he wanted to save and along with it — I didn’t know how it happened — I just took an interest in saving old postcards of Roswell and Lincoln and this whole area I had accumulated. That was when Roger was still the director — Roger Burnett.”
When Fleming retired, Dunnahoo started volunteering her time to answer questions, helping authors and private individuals doing their research at the archives.
“Basically, I’ve been the one opening and closing the archives for five and a half years, three days a week,” Dunnahoo said.
She continued finding stories for the Historically Speaking column in the Sunday edition of the Roswell Daily Record. “What I want to mention, too, is I have stories in Wild West Magazine, True West Magazine, the Border Archives, which is Texas, New Mexico — I contributed some stories to them. I felt very honored to do that.”
Asked how many people help out in the archives, Dunnahoo said, “Right now, the main two helpers I’ve had is a gentleman named Jim Crowl and he is wonderful. He just recently retired, so he is able to spend a lot more time with me and is really good with technology, so that’s been a great addition. And Beth Hansen helps. She inputs the pictures that we haven’t in the Past Perfect System yet. Past Perfect System is an online system that the foundation pays for, so that we can backup every single thing we have in the archives and have it online. Those are really important jobs. Beth inputs all the pictures and Jim has been pulling all of our records, all of our files, all of our stories and paper records that we have in the file cabinets and inputting at least where the records are and what they are about.”
This year, Dunnahoo said, the HSSNM board members are going to help hands-on by opening and closing the archives for her.
Asked about what she is working on right now or planning to do, Dunnahoo said, “I have been asked to contribute to a book, it is still in publication about the notable Black women in Texas. The gentleman is out of San Angelo. He asked me about John Chisum’s wife and to contribute to it. It has been just interesting and fun and keeps me busy and helps me focus on things that I feel are important.”
One of these important things is a box with surprising material that popped up in August. “A box appeared on the table in the archives that had been mailed from the Ginsberg family. I’m talking about a box that was probably 2-3 feet tall and probably 2 feet across; it was filled with old family albums and letters and documents. Hannah Ginsberg was related to one of the founding families here that had a mercantile store,” Dunnahoo said.
Dunnahoo said that it is hard for her to go through the material and to decide what to keep and what to let go. “Especially when they are love letters between people,” she said and chuckled. It’s interesting and sad and a lot of it can be a little heartbreaking. It is neat because you can get lost in that world. Especially these past months with COVID, it’s something you can do by yourself and away from people.”
Dunnahoo’s biggest passion is to preserve the unique small stories that get so easily lost among the big stories of history, such as where the name Comanche Hill came from; that John Denver was born in an apartment building on Richardson Avenue; the prisoner of war camp and all the amazing people who called Roswell their home at one time or another.
Anybody who is interested in exploring the HSSNM Archives or to volunteer either at the archives or museum, may call HSSNM Executive Director Amy McVay Tellez at 575-622-8333 or Dunnahoo at 575-622-1176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A drawing took place on Jan. 25 and out of all readers who sent in their vote, Barbara Corn Patterson was the lucky winner receiving a Roswell Daily Record tote bag, coffee mug and T-shirt.