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Nelson, Zeck Inducted into NMSU's Sam Steel Society

LAS CRUCES - Quay County leader Travis Hughs Nelson and internationally known chef and restaurateur Maurice Zeck were inducted into New Mexico State University's Sam Steel Society May 9.

Travis Hughs Nelson of Nara Visa, left, and Maurice Zeck of Santa Fe meet after their induction as honorary members of New Mexico State University's Sam Steel Society. The society honors outstanding alumni, supporters and graduates from the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. (05/10/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

The society honors the memory of Sam Steel, who would have been the university's first graduate and the first college graduate in the New Mexico Territory had he not been killed weeks before graduation in 1893.

Nelson, a Nara Visa resident, earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from the university in 1941. She worked as a home demonstration agent in Grant County for three years, then served as associate state 4-H club leader from 1945 to 1952. To bring 4-H activities to children across the state, she traveled many miles in a van loaded with volleyball nets, softball bases, a generator and a bedroll.

After teaching and earning a master's degree in Illinois, she returned to New Mexico's Extension Service in 1971 as home economist in Quay County. After retirement in 1976, she helped establish the New Mexico 4-H Foundation and the Extension Support Council. She was the first female commissioner elected in Quay County, and served two terms, including two years as chair. She still represents Quay County on NMSU's renamed Extension and Research Support Council.

Nelson served for many years as a 4-H leader and started a club in Nara Visa. She also organized support to renovate a building for 4-H club meetings, and the facility was later renamed in her honor. In 2001, she helped organize the 60-year reunion for her graduating class at NMSU. In 2002, she was inducted into the New Mexico 4-H Hall of Fame.

Zeck, a veteran chef and restaurateur, has devoted 36 years to promoting culinary excellence around the world.

The California native served four years as a U.S. Marine. He earned an associate's degree in arts and sciences from Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., before joining Sheraton Hawaii Corporation's culinary apprenticeship program.

As a chef with Sheraton International from 1969 to 1977, he helped open hotels worldwide. From 1977 to 1990, he was executive chef at hotels in Florida, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

In 1990, he moved to New Mexico to open Don Fernando Holiday Inn in Taos. He taught culinary arts at Santa Fe Community College, and from 1993 to 1999 he served as executive chef and director of food services at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe.

Since 2000, he has been national accounts director and head of international sales for Dynamic Foods in Lubbock, Texas, and president of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. He is currently a specialist with Sysco Food Services of New Mexico, where he directs the new "Born in New Mexico" program to purchase fresh produce from local growers.

Zeck is a member of the prestigious Order of the Golden Toque, a world-renowned culinary society. He was 1994 Western Region Chef of the Year, 1999 New Mexico Restaurant Association Chef of the Year and 1999 Santa Fe Restaurant Association Restaurateur of the Year.

He serves on the boards of the Tourism Association of New Mexico and the New Mexico Lodging Association. He is an advisory board member for NMSU's hotel, restaurant and tourism management department, helps teach NMSU food and wine classes and chairs the annual Gordon Heiss fund-raising dinner.