Enchanting People of New Mexico - Quesenberry Lane: Honoring the Sacrifice

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Quesenberry Lane: Honoring the Sacrifice

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Hit subscribe to automatically get these Podcasts. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical and New Mexico cultural Podcasts. Wednesdays, today, we celebrate people important to our area.

Normally on Wednesdays we talk about one person, but I want to talk about several people this week before the 4th of July. If you are driving near Picacho Hills, you see a road, Quesenberry Lane. For most people it is just a place name. But there is quite a bit more. If you are on Madrid Avenue east of Solano Drive there is Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3242, honoring Captain Joe Quesenberry, the first New Mexico Aggie to die in World War One.

I am also going to honor Joe’s brother George Robinson Quesenberry’s son, Second Lieutenant James Slaughter Quesenberry who died in World War II at age 28 in the crash of his B-25 D where he was the Navigator/Bombardier. This Quesenberry family lost part of their heart in both World War One and World War Two with these two deaths. James was born in Las Cruces in 1916 a few months after his uncle Joe joined the Army and went to war.

Joe Quesenberry was born in Las Cruces in 1894 amid four boys and two girls in the Quesenberry family. He was a very popular student at the local college, known today as New Mexico State University. The stories about him show a born leader who was captain of the football team and a spirited member of the ROTC unit. The college then and now is a land grant college, now university, which has a connection to the military. In 1898 the Las Cruces college received the designation of Land-Grant College and was the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. In 1960 the name changed to New Mexico State University. While Land-Grant is focused on Agriculture research and education, one of the pillars of the Land-Grant institutions is the military training in the Reserve Officer Training Corp units.

Partly personal. I, Michael Swickard, studied military science for two years starting in the fall of 1968 as an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp cadet and frankly I enjoyed it very much. My father was a combat photographer and photography instructor from 1942 to 1966 at which time he retired. Not that it matters, I have the distinction of having been born at Holloman Air Force Base and lived on base at several military bases. I was raised with the military all around me and frankly it was great growing up that way.

Back to Joe Quesenberry. In June 1917 then Captain Joe Quesenberry was on one of the first ships in the convoy to France with General John Pershing’s American Expeditionary force as a member of the First Division also known affectionately as The Big Red One. There were 14,000 military members in those boats answering the call of duty.

In an odd coincidence, My grandfather, Horace Swickard, came to the border area in 1916 as a member of the Montana National Guard to help with the unrest in the border area. After General Pershing turned his attention to Europe at the start of the First World War, my grandfather was absorbed into the First Division, the Big Red One and was on one those same first ships to France though I never found any personal connection of him with Joe Quesenberry but both were in the 18th Infantry of the First Infantry Division at the battle where Joe lost his life. My grandfather was a machine gunner and Joe Quesenberry was an officer who at the time of his death was actually a major, but all the paperwork had not been completed before his death.

Let us fast forward to his nephew James Quesenberry who married his wife Margaret in 1939. So, his untimely death in war left a widow. Years earlier Joe Quesenberry was engaged to be married to Era Rentfrow, who after Joe’s death never married and was the College Registrar at the Las Cruces college that we now call New Mexico State University. In fact, there is a Rentfrow Building on Stewart Street named for her along with the Football Field known as Aggie Memorial Field commemorating Aggies who gave their lives in defense of our country.

In the 1918 college yearbook under the name Era Rentfrow is several comments. Her nickname the yearbook disclosed was Pud and her aim in life was to marry a soldier. Yes, the yearbook was out before the sad news made it back to Las Cruces. And as I just noted she never married.

Now let me take a step back and personalize a bit of these stories. I knew and interviewed Era Rentfrow many times about the history of the college but never mentioned Joe Quesenberry to her and she never brought the name up but as I have reflected, I believe she still thought of him often. In the 1980s she was sharp as a tack and very interesting. As an aside, she came from the Carrizozo New Mexico area to Las Cruces to go to college and my family’s ranch was just south of Carrizozo, so we talked at times about the early people in the Carrizozo area including my Grandmother, Freda Greenberg McKim who was a teacher for many years in the area starting in 1908. As I was doing a history project in 1986, she was wonderful at telling me stories of the people who had their names on buildings such as Former College President Luther Foster and Former College President Harry Kent. Of interest was that she knew and liked Ralph Willis Goddard, no relation to the rocket designer Robert Goddard from Roswell, New Mexico. This Goddard was an Engineering Professor and the designer and implementer of the first radio station on campus which was KOB. Yes, the station moved to Albuquerque after his death in 1929 which I will cover one of these days. Know this: when you see the name, KRWG-FM and KRWG-TV, that’s Ralph Willis Goddard. Oh yes, and Era Rentfrow knew Hiram Hadley who started the college and ran the 25th anniversary celebration in 1915. She was a great resource.

I did meet a Quesenberry several times. She was the sister of James who died in WWII. Her name was Lelia Jane Quesenberry Collins. We had interesting historical conversations as we talked about people in our little slice of paradise, and I got some insight into several people who made Las Cruces what it is today.

As an interesting connection, she married another Las Cruces icon, Seaborn Collins who was in the Army Air Corp in WWII and was when I met him a member of the NMSU Board of Regents. Happily, for how I felt when NMSU changed presidents of the university, Regent Collins was one of the ones that pushed the Board of Regents, I was told, to select who turned out to be my favorite NMSU President, Gerald Thomas in 1970. In one of these podcasts is my story about Dr. Gerald Thomas whom Thomas Hall, the Agriculture Building is named after.

The loss of Joe and James Quesenberry was a tragedy for the large Quesenberry extended family and real loss to our community because we do not know what these two men could have done back home and sadly, we never will know.

At one time the football field at New Mexico State University was Joe Quesenberry Memorial Field. Era Rentfrow had a hand in making sure that NMSU Aggies who gave their last full measure of devotion to our nation would be honored and remembered. The current football field is Aggie Memorial Field, but I haven’t seen that the Quesenberry name has continued.

One time at the football home game the announcer said that halftime would be a little longer because there was a special ceremony to honor former NMSU President Gerald Thomas for his service in World War Two as a Torpedo Bomber Pilot. A young student started griping that he wanted the game to start the second half and most of us between clenched teeth hissed at him to honor Thomas for his actions in the second world war. The kid protested that he wasn’t alive at that time so he didn’t owe Thomas any respect. I shook my head sadly and wrote a scorching editorial that week since at that time I was a weekly columnist. We must celebrate the ones who go to war for us.

And we must recognize the sacrifice that not only the military members make but also the family members. Whenever I am somewhere and I see someone who has identified as a former member of the military or just as great if someone is in uniform I always step up and say, thank you for your service to our country. And I turn to the spouse and say thank you for your service also.

I am aware of several families that have given members of their family to several conflicts such as former New Mexico Governor Ed Mechem had a brother Jesse who died in WWII and a son Jesse who died in Vietnam. The last full measure of devotion for a family was their loss of two loved ones.

So when you drive in Las Cruces and see a Quesenberry Lane, know that it is not just a place name, it is not just a name someone put on a road to have a name on a road, rather, it was not one but two people born in Las Cruces with many family members… two men who served this nation years apart and both gave their lives in the defense of our county. They are part of a family of Queensberry that gave so much for our freedoms. My gratitude when I see the Quesenberry name overflows. On this 4th of July week and every day I give thanks for them.

Let me speak of something from our sponsor, The Fresh Chile Company of Las Cruces New Mexico, the sponsor of these podcasts. Soon, in the next month or so, there will be 2023 Big Jim Hatch Green Chile available in a jar. It is a special reserve release of the Hatch Green Chile varietal Big Jim in a 16-ounce jar.

Varietal means that this product will only be made with Big Jim Chile, which is sweet and has a medium heat level. Big Jim is very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. The harvest of the Big Jim crop is anticipated to be in the middle of August 2023, with the first product available a few weeks later. Customers can preorder this product now at The Fresh Chile Company website: freshchileco.com

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. These Podcasts are sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get the Podcasts. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical Podcasts and on Wednesdays, today we celebrate someone important to our area.

Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise.

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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