Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Whether helping boost academic outcomes for New Mexico Military Institute cadets, working with middle school students to develop local history projects or participating with national professional and local civic groups, Heidi Huckabee has put her expertise and heart into Roswell for decades.
Her 30-year teaching career is coming to its conclusion this month as she retires from the New Mexico Military Institute after 12 years. She previously had worked at Mesa Middle School and University High School.
She said that Thursday was her final day in the classroom with students before weekend finals, although her official retirement will occur Dec. 31. The Institute is planning several different recognition events for her in the coming weeks.
Huckabee said she can look back on a career that she is proud of for its “nontraditional, out-of-the-box” ideas. She also said her final classroom day with students went well.
“They were having fun with me because it was ugly Christmas sweater day, so I have this sweater I have every year that is from the TV show ‘Stranger Things,’ and of course the kids are into that,” she said. “And I tell them ‘Well, you know, there’s no stranger thing than freshmen.”
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Dr. Huckabee, an English teacher who holds the rank of colonel at the Institute, has taught both college courses and high school students at the school.
Col. Orlando Griego, dean of academics, called her a “cornerstone” of the English Department. He said she helped increase the SAT scores of cadets so that the average scores are above the national average. Yet she also was the type of teacher who brought her students cookies or snacks during finals, said friend and colleague Annemarie Oldfield.
Lt. Col. Valarie Grant, a close friend who taught with Huckabee at both the Institute and Mesa Middle School, said Huckabee is known for having high expectations for her students.
“She is just a solid teacher that has always been behind doing the best in the classroom, being 100% proactive, to get students motivated,” Grant said.
During Huckabee’s 17 years at Mesa Middle School, she collaborated with her students on oral and written projects that resulted in five published works. Grant was involved in some of the projects as well.
One book is a collection of folktales and rhymes from the local area, a project that also was developed as part of her dissertation for her doctoral degree at the University of New Mexico. Another is a history about four families in the area. Two others are histories about Mesa Middle School. The fifth is a history of South Park Cemetery and some of the more prominent or interesting people buried there. The books can be found at the city of Roswell, NMMI and Mesa Middle School libraries. A self-guided walking tour brochure for the South Park Cemetery based on the research from the book can be found at local funeral homes.
Huckabee said that she stays in contact with many of her former students from Mesa Middle School.
“We call and I talk and I follow their careers and families, and that is really fun for me because I love seeing them succeed and blossom,” she said.
Huckabee began her teaching career somewhat later in life. She had grown up in the Chicago area but came with her parents to Roswell in 1975, after already completing high school. In 1978, she married Edwin “Dusty” Huckabee, who was known to many as the longest-serving MainStreet Roswell executive director. He held the position from 1992 to 2014, and many in Roswell have said that several of the city’s annual traditions and festivals can be credited to him. He passed away May 14.
After marrying Dusty, Huckabee worked in banking and at a cattle sales company. She decided to return to school and, in 1991, received a bachelor’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University. She began teaching at Mesa Middle School and received a master’s degree in English from ENMU in 1998. Then she received a prestigious $25,000 Christa McAuliffe scholarship, just one of several honors she has been given as an academician and teacher. The scholarship enabled her to receive her Ph.D. in 2006.
Oldfield, now vice president of academic and student affairs at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, went to school at ENMU with Huckabee.
“She is dedicated to taking students from where they are and helping them grow, and she uses whatever creative methodologies she can to get them there,” Oldfield said.
She recalled that they worked together on the High Plains Writing Project, which coordinated Roswell Reads projects involving local schools and teachers. They also worked together on National Education Association grant projects and attended many professional conferences together.
“She would get ideas and come home and immediately do interesting things in her classroom with her students,” Oldfield said. “She was always looking for new and better and more engaging ways to help students be successful in the classroom.”
Lt. Col. Patricia Matchin, associate dean of Humanities, wrote in a tribute that Huckabee’s “guidance and expertise” was essential when they both taught a senior English Capstone course at the Institute.
“She brings a wonderful perspective on the historical importance of literature and exhibits (an) equally vibrant passion for teaching that literature,” she wrote.
Her friends said Huckabee also is known for her community work.
Grant remembered that her friend often was seen downtown watering the plants that MainStreet Roswell had placed outside the stores and that she advocated to have lights installed near the bike path of Cielo Grande Recreation Area. Oldfield recalled that Huckabee acted as an ambassador for Roswell whenever they traveled to national conferences.
“She would take a sack of Roswell pins,” Oldfield said, “and when she would meet people from other places, she would give them one of those pins.”
Huckabee said that she plans to spend her retirement traveling a bit, but mostly expects to work on the historical home on West College Boulevard that she and Dusty bought. She also will continue her volunteer work for Roswell, describing herself as a “lifelong volunteer” for the annual Chile Cheese Festival, which was her husband’s creation as a way to promote the area’s dairy and agricultural industries.
“I want to carry on my husband’s idea about ‘the city doesn’t work unless we have a lot of volunteers,’ so I want to volunteer,” she said. “And I love Roswell, so gonna have to keep making it better, carry on some of these traditions.”
Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.