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McElyea Courtyard at NMSU Honors Couple for Lifelong Support

LAS CRUCES - Upbeat Dixieland jazz played for a crowd of almost 200 who came to honor the memory of Hazel Hall McElyea and Ulysses "Doc" McElyea Sr. with the dedication of McElyea Courtyard on the New Mexico State University campus Saturday morning.

Ulysses McElyea Jr. (center) and Eula Fern Thompson unveil a McElyea Courtyard plaque at NMSU in honor of their parents as Jerry Schickedanz (left), dean of New Mexico State University's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, looks on. The courtyard was dedicated in honor of the late Hazel Hall McElyea and Ulysses (Doc) McElyea Sr., who established a major endowment to fund water research at NMSU. (10/19/2002) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

The couple was lauded for their lifelong support of the university and community by Jay Gogue, university president; Lou Henson, Aggie basketball coach; and Lowell Catlett, Regents' Professor.

"This is such a special thing for us, because our parents were humble people who would never have requested it for themselves," said daughter Eula Fern Thompson, who attended the ceremony with her brother, Ulysses McElyea Jr., and other family members.

The courtyard, flanked by the wings of Skeen Hall, features a streambed fountain and glass refractive relief sculptures by Ken Leap titled "Ondas del Seno" (sine waves) that evoke water ripples and agricultural furrows.

Ulysses McElyea Sr. donated $1 million to the College of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1999 before he died, the largest donation NMSU had received at the time from a living person. The money established the Hazel and Ulysses McElyea Endowment for the Sustainability of Water Resources, which generated nearly $206,000 in interest in its first three years, said Jerry Schickedanz, dean of the college.

"This donation provides sorely needed permanent funds to do research on issues not specifically funded through grants, contracts or legislative appropriations," Schickedanz said. "That flexibility is essential to reorient research as new needs arise."

Some funds will be used to study alternative, low-water-use crops in the Rio Grande Valley next spring, he said. The project, the first to draw on the endowment, will analyze the drought's impact on current crops and estimate water savings with alternative crops.

"That's exactly the kind of research my dad wanted to support," Thompson said. "He lived through the drought of the 1950s, and he wanted farmers to be prepared for more droughts, like the one we're experiencing today."

Catlett reminisced about the rough veterinarian life of Ulysses Sr., who was bitten twice by rabid dogs, hospitalized for mule bites and butted so hard by a cow that he prepared the bystanders for what he thought was his imminent death.

"Both (Hazel and Ulysses Sr.) lived a life about living, doing and getting on with it, and helping others get on with it," Catlett said, before invoking Lincoln's Gettysburg address as he said, "We can never forget what they did here. We must take what they have done and move forward."

Catlett noted that Ulysses Sr. signed the note that enabled the establishment of the Aggie Sports Association. In the 1970s, the McElyeas established the Aggie Scholarship Association McElyea Family Endowment, the second-largest endowment benefiting Aggie athletics. In 1977, they were inducted into the Aggie Sports Association Hall of Fame.

Henson, who first knew the McElyeas in his playing days, reminisced about the constant support of the McElyeas for Aggie athletics, which extended to hosting teams for meals, bringing cookies to players and always being at games, even when few others were.

"The old saying goes 'apples don't fall far from the tree' and that is certainly true in the case of the McElyea family," Henson said. "Junior, Eula and their kids are great supporters."

Hazel and Ulysses McElyea Sr. were married 69 years and lived nearly their entire lives on a homestead in Fairacres. They farmed about 250 acres of cotton and alfalfa in the 1950s and 1960s and raised about 200 head of beef cattle.

In the 1940s, Ulysses Sr. opened a veterinary practice on North Main Street. In 1976, after Ulysses Jr. earned his veterinary degree, father and son went into business together, operating the oldest continuous veterinary practice in Las Cruces.

Some of the McElyeas' children and grandchildren also studied at NMSU. "We have a long family history with the university," said Thompson, who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's in school administration from NMSU. Her husband and daughter both earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education from NMSU. Ulysses Jr., who attended veterinary medical school at Colorado State, is currently the university veterinarian and an adjunct professor at NMSU.

Hazel McElyea died in September 2001, and Ulysses Sr. in May 2002.

"The McElyeas were an inspiration to so many people," Catlett said. "Above all, they were teachers who led by example. We'd like to see all our students emulate them a thousand times over."