Driving into Portales for the first time during a dust storm in 1982 – the evening before all-day interviews the next day –I almost made a U-turn and headed back to Dallas. This wasn't the New Mexico I'd imagined.
I was the State Media Representative for The Salvation Army in Texas, but I wanted to work at a university. So, the next day I went through the eight-hour gauntlet of interviews – including with Winston Cox, Dallan Sanders and B.B. Lees – to be the News Services/Sports Information Director at Eastern New Mexico University.
I had never worked in sports information before and had been told it was about 25 percent of the job. After being hired, I found out it was about 60 percent of the job, and I put in 60-70 hours per week for the next 12 years.
This was before computers, cell phones, email, digital cameras and even FAX machines.
I spent many long rides back from out-of-state ballgames in back seats updating old typed statistics with a pencil, calculator and flashback so I could get home by 4 a.m. then get up at 6 a.m. to call in the updated stats to the conference office. (Never once did we get ticketed for speeding or having any prohibited items in the car.)
At home games, we kept statistics by hand, then made copies on a mimeograph machine. As soon as games were over, the media descended into our room in the press box like polite but ravenous wolves pressuring us to finish the stats as soon as possible to meet their deadlines.
We also had to call them in over the phone to numerous newspapers and TV stations.
After night games, I seldom got home before midnight – my stomach full from cold pizza and my hands completely blue from the mimeograph machine.
When FAX machines first became available, it seemed almost like cheating to not have to call in statistics after every game to media and the conference office. (Of course, for years now statistics have been kept on computers at games – giving instant printouts.)
Over the years, I must have spent at least a thousand hours in our darkroom in the attic of the Administration Building processing and printing thousands of rolls of film and photographs of players, sports teams, faculty, staff member sand campus events.
To send out a press release, we typed it, made corrections with whiteout, sent it to duplicating for multiple copies, then mailed it with photos to the media.
The happiest day of my life came in 1994 when ENMU – the only school in the conference without a full-time sports information director – was finally able to hire a full-time one and gave me the choice of being the News Services or Sports Information Director.
My decision to choose News Services took less than a second. Being able to only work 40-50 hours per week (not counting attending campus events in the evenings and on weekends) made it feel like I was on permanent vacation. Without games to worry about, I was even able to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Of course, for decades now I have used computers, email, digital cameras, shot and edited videos, and utilized numerous other software and social media programs.
(Excuse me for not being overly sympathetic when younger employees think they are overworked. I have never missed a deadline, and still accomplish what needs to be done each day – but know when to call it a day.)
Eventually, my title became Director of Media Relations. My duties include writing, editing and distributing news and feature releases, taking and editing photos and videos, writing and producing radio and TV spots—often with KENW-TV--handling paid advertising, ghost-writing for others, working with students to improve their writing and public relations skills, responding to inquiries from the media and public, being editor of the Greyhound Gazette, and "other duties as assigned."
If anyone remembers the old duplicated Monday Memos containing only dry announcements that were sent out in intracampus (not intercampus) mail each week, the online
Monday Memo was originally intended to be only an online version of that. Then I made the mistake of adding photos, features and videos, and it became an expectation every week – now extended to the Greyhound Gazette. Making it entertaining was the biggest mistake I ever made.
One fond memory of producing a TV spot with KENW-TV a number of years back involved using my LeBaron convertible filled with students for a Highway 70 road trip to promote all three ENMU campuses. Although our budget was zero, the spot won first place from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education against universities such as Rice and the University of Texas that spent up to $50,000 on their spots.
When I was first assigned to be the editor of the Monday Memo in 2002 and had to learn Dreamweaver, that was a steep learning curve. Bless Jennifer Poyer's heart for patiently tutoring me for hours since I didn't know the difference between a folder and a file.
For a few months, I returned to working 60-70 hours per week – including working until midnight on weekends – to make sure the Monday Memo was ready to be distributed to campus first thing on Monday mornings.
Jennifer's patience paid off when in 2011 the Monday Memo won first place in the nation for online newsletters in a competition sponsored by the National Federation of Press Women.
A few of the most fun stories I have written went viral around the world after being picked up by the Associated Press. One was about an anonymous former student who sent a case of toilet paper to ENMU to make up for what he had stolen as a student, another was about a duck who followed a professor around campus, another was about a class ring missing for decades being discovered in a Portales yard, and another was one I edited for student writer Amy Waltner about the Child Development Center pumpkin patch being vandalized. (It was Amy's first assignment for me.)
Although I will humble-brag about winning some writing, advertising, radio and TV spots and publication awards over the years, what I am most proud of is – with Doc Elder – starting the Noon-Time Hoops group over 20 years ago.
Doc and I are the only remaining original participants, and still hold our own against students, employees and community members several times a week. Doc and I became so proficient at running the pick-and-roll the students claimed we were cheating with "old-school stuff" and begged us to stop.
The only experience I've enjoyed a much as noon-time hoops was being a single sailor on Guam in my early 20s with a steady paycheck. (Yes, I really was an electronic spy.)
When I first arrived in Portales in 1982, I didn't know a single person in New Mexico. So, I started an intramural coed softball team consisting primarily of players from the Administration Building. For five straight years we made it to the championship game, and lost every year. Still, that was an accomplishment playing against student teams and considering some of our women had never played before.
Although Ronnie Birdsong disputes my title, I am also Eastern's self-proclaimed hula hoop champion. The only time I ever lost was to the nine-year-old daughter of Mike and Trish Maguire at halftime of a Greyhound Basketball game. She looked at me with steely eyes as if to say, "You're going down!" (In my defense, I was forced to use a child-size hula hoop – but still beat all the college kids.)
Of course, it goes without saying I added a few Wellness Tennis Champion plaques to my hardware collection over the years. I've also set the Homecoming and Alumni Golf tournaments in Portales and Albuquerque, respectively, back a few hundred years by putting from the fairway up to 125 yards from the pin. I've even teed off with a putter from par 3s, and parred the hole.
Over the years at Eastern, I organized and participated on many intramural teams – basketball, softball, football, volleyball, kickball, badminton. Our basketball teams even won several championships in the "B" division – with only a few verbal confrontations with students.
Although I have actually written entire articles without making a single typo, I suppose what I will be most remembered for are wearing brightly colored socks with color-coordinated pants and shirts, and starting "The Shoes of Graduation" photos and videos tradition sometime around 2004.
What started out as a one-time joke became an obligation I tried to get out of for years – until I finally put my shoe down at this year's spring commencement. Even so, I still had to assign a student to continue the tradition. (If I hear one more joke about having a shoe fetish, I am going to need bail money.)
My saddest memories – besides deaths in my own family and close friends since I've been at Eastern – are the many faculty and staff who have passed away. I have attended too many funerals of awesome people who were relatively young when I arrived and helped form the fabric of this friendly, caring university.
You may have guessed by now this is my final work day as a full-time employee at ENMU. In my new quarter-time gig as a "Feature Writer," I will concentrate on spotlighting faculty, staff and campus stories.
My media relations responsibilities are being passed on to my former student writer Desiree Cooper, who has been the new media coordinator, and is becoming coordinator of media relations (and will continue social media responsibilities).
Most importantly, I will continue my position as commissioner of noon-time hoops.
Although not connected to my job, I also intend on continuing to rattle cages with my Sunday column in The Eastern New Mexico News.
Overall, I've had fun at Eastern, and appreciate the school for giving me an enjoyable career.
I've also enjoyed working with media members. Many have become long-time friends, and all have been professional and fair in covering ENMU. The only possible exceptions may have been a couple just getting started in the business who assumed everyone they covered was trying to hide something.
All the presidents I have worked with were cooperative in dealing with the media, and trusted me in advising them to allow me to give the media any information that is a public record. It is always the cover-up that gets you.
President Steven Gamble has been exceptional in cooperating with the media in an open and transparent way. He has even allowed me to give them his cell number. He has made my job so much easier.
Warren Armstrong (1975-83) was the president when I arrived, and Jeff Elwell is becoming president on my final official day on Saturday. In between, presidents included Robert Matheny (1983-89), Thomas Bond (1989-91), Everett Frost (1991-2001) and Steven Gamble (2001-17).
People have asked if I'm sad about retiring. I say, "Sure, except for being able to sleep in every morning, not being cooped up in an office all day, not having to deal with occasional unpleasant situations, not having to deal with constant sales calls about advertising, having the freedom to write pretty much any ENMU-related story I want, not having to generate content to publish the Greyhound Gazette newsletter every week, being able to take off and go to the ocean anytime I want, and making more money by not working full-time.
What was the question again?
I want to thank all the students, employees, community members and media members I have worked or played with over the years – and have made working at ENMU more fun than work.
I still hear from students – many asking for references – who worked for me years ago and are now in successful careers. Several, at one time or another, have even become co-workers.
I also want to thank my cousin, Chef Juandel, for baking many "homemade" cakes for me to take to office potlucks. Although some looked store-bought, they must have been made from scratch because they always arrived at potlucks in Tupperware from my house. I also want to thank my other cousin, The Angelo Mariachi Cowboy, for allowing me to wear his multi-hued jacket from Juarez when I could not find anything to match my socks.
Since I will still be working part-time from my office for a year, I am not really saying goodbye just yet. (And when I do, we'll always have Facebook.)
After that, The East Texas Cowboy will ride away.