Morgan Nelson is greeted by well-wishers during his 94th birthday party at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, Friday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Morgan Nelson arrived at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico’s Archive Building Friday to a room filled with well-wishers to help him celebrate his 94th birthday.
“We haven’t had a party for him for a long time,” said his grandson, Ricardo Eichwald, of Burbank, Calif.
The lifelong farmer, water-conservationist, former state legislator, ardent Democrat and historian of all things Roswell and Chaves County said he was pleased to see his friends.
“It’s quite nice,” Nelson said. “I think it’s great. I love to see every one of them.”
After spending time catching up with several friends and associates, the group sat around Nelson as he shared memories of his life to the cadence of black-and-white slides that flashed on the far wall.
Nelson was born in Cottonwood Falls, outside of Artesia, in 1919. His family moved to Pecos, Texas, then to Grand Plains. He moved to his current residence in 1925. He attended school in Roswell, and later earned a degree in engineering at New Mexico State University. He received an honorary doctorate from NMSU in 2009.
Nelson’s family farmed cotton, then later chilies. Nelson joined the service in 1941, where he earned the rank of major by the age of 28. He stayed with the military either as a reserve or in active service, for 28 years and returned to active service during the Korean Conflict.
He was stationed in Egypt for a year during World War II.
Nelson was elected as a state representative in the New Mexico Legislature from 1940 to 1963.
“He’s been very active in agriculture locally and nationally,” said his daughter Ann Houghtaling. “He was in the Legislature for 12 years. He is a big education advocate.”
He was one of the driving forces behind the building of Eastern New Mexico State University-Roswell in the community, Houghtaling said.
“I’ve always thought of him as being a Thomas Jefferson,” she said. “As in, he does everything. He’s an inventor, a politician and an historian.”
Nelson married his wife, Joyce, in 1950, and had two daughters. She passed away in 2008.
Nelson keeps busy. He lives on his own and stays active most days. He continues working as a member of the Chaves County Flood Commission and other committees.
“There’s no use stopping, because after all, you’ve got to keep active in the things you do,” Nelson said. “As long as I’m physically and mentally able, I’m going to.”
Former State Sen. Tim Jennings said Nelson is a wealth of historical knowledge about agriculture, farming and water issues in the region.
“He was here when they signed the compact with Texas,” Jennings said. “He knows where the wells were drilled. He’s seen all the effects of the artesian wells.”
Nelson was a decision- maker when the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservation District was implemented.
“He has all of that knowledge,” Jennings said. “He’s just of wealth of knowledge. He’s on top of all of that. He knows the whole history of the floods and any kind of crisis we might have had. And he’s still very active.”
Eichwald said the birthday party was long overdue.
“He’s like my hero,” Eichwald said. “He’s accomplished so many things no ordinary people have not been able to do. If I would be able to accomplish half of what he’s done, I’ll be happy.”