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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Journalism prof immerses herself in book project and weekly newspaper

Beverly Merrick, associate professor of journalism at New Mexico State University, recently returned from a busy nine-month sabbatical in Nebraska writing a book and working for a weekly newspaper.

Beverly Merrick immersed herself in rural Nebraska life during a working sabbatical. (NMSU photo)

Merrick originally went on sabbatical to work on a book about Henry Nuxoll and his family of Comstock, Neb. The Nuxolls represent the story of the American farmer and rancher.

More than five generations of the family had lived on the land before they lost most of it to a bank because of high interest rates in the 1980s. To get their ranch back, the family collected windmills from hundreds of failed rural operations and erected them on what was left of their land.

"Through his charismatic approaches in marketing the windmill display, Nuxoll was able to not only buy back his farm, but the bank building that took his land," Merrick said.

Each year the Nuxolls hold the Comstock Rocks Festival, the Comstock Windmill Festival and the Comstock Christian Rock and Country Festival on their land, which they named the Comstock Windmill 2nd Chance Ranch. Up to 45,000 people annually attend the concerts, which are held in a cow pasture. The events feature such performers as Martina McBride, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Blue Oyster Cult, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden.

"With his unique marketing skills, Nuxoll has wed the old traditions of farm family with the newer tradition of high cultural rock and country -- and has become an American success story," Merrick said.

She said she hopes to publish the book by next summer. The release will be in time to advertise the five festivals the family organizes -- one in Sioux City, Iowa, one in Estes Park, Colo., and the three festivals at the 2nd Chance Ranch. The book will focus on the marketing strategies used by the Nuxoll family in advertising the windmill display and annual concerts.

"People in Nebraska and people in New Mexico all have a similar rural heritage, so my research will also benefit New Mexico State University," Merrick said.

During her sabbatical Merrick also worked as managing editor, features editor, photographer and columnist at the Custer County Chief, a weekly newspaper in Broken Bow, Neb.

She wrote articles about railroad conductors and engineers, farmers and ranchers. Merrick also worked on the craft, beef and home and garden tabloids published by the Custer County Chief. She attended a cow branding and castration, watched a calf being born, interviewed a woman who raised sheep and even got a lamb named after her.

"The most fun part of my experience there was that I was able to practice immersion journalism and photography," she said. "I was able to spend time with the people I interviewed and talk to them about where they have been and where they are going."

Merrick also spoke at the Nebraska Book Festival in Grand Island, Neb., about marketing the rural heritage. Her family was one of the first 12 homesteading families in the Platte River Valley and their story is documented in the museum's archives. The families were German-born masons who built many of the first brick buildings in Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.

Merrick learned how important a community is to the people in it. She said that if people in Nebraska see someone walking, they offer them a ride and will even drive them into the next town.

"They feel a great responsibility to other people," she said.

While Merrick was in Nebraska, she inherited an old building located in the middle of a prairie, which had been used as a restaurant and meeting place for people who lived nearby. The building, which was made from the metal of old Ford Model A and Model T cars, was in need of repairs. Because of the building's importance to the community, she repaired and renovated it.

"There are many things we can do to keep history and tradition from dying," Merrick said. "I think the biggest threat in our society is letting old buildings and the traditions of our ancestors deteriorate and fall into decay."

Merrick was the first woman to earn tenure in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at New Mexico State. She was named "Outstanding Woman of New Mexico" by then-Gov. Gary Johnson in 2001. She teaches introduction to mass media writing, mass media ethics and writing for magazines. She is a member of the steering committee for the Department of Women's Studies at New Mexico State.