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NMSU professors, students, volunteers receive historic preservation award

A group including professors from New Mexico State University and Dona Ana Community College, students from both schools and community volunteers were honored by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division for their work to preserve Las Cruces' first African-American church, built in 1911.

NMSU anthropology professor Beth O'Leary (left) and Stacia Fine, a volunteer and recent NMSU graduate, pose with New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer Jeff Pappas after receiving a 2013 Heritage Preservation Award on behalf of the Phillips Chapel Preservation Group. (Photo courtesy New Mexico Historic Preservation Division)

Members of the Phillips Chapel Preservation Group gathered in front of the chapel in Las Cruces while work was underway to restore the adobe building in June 2011. The group was awarded the 2013 Heritage Preservation Award at a ceremony in Santa Fe on May 10. (Submitted photo)

NMSU history professor emeritus Clarence Fielder sparked the effort to restore Phillips Chapel. Fielder was among those in the Phillips Chapel Preservation Group honored for their accomplishment. (Submitted photo)

Anthropology professor Beth O'Leary and Stacia Fine, a volunteer and recent NMSU graduate, represented the Phillips Chapel Preservation group in Santa Fe May 10 to receive the 2013 Heritage Preservation Award in the category of Heritage Organization. The group, spearheaded by NMSU history professor emeritus Clarence Fielder and O'Leary, was honored for its efforts over the past four years to raise money and engage community volunteers to restore the 102-year-old church.

"The award is for the grassroots preservation of a one-of-a-kind resource in New Mexico, Phillips Chapel, C.M.E.," said Rick Hendricks, chairman of the state's Cultural Properties Review Committee. "The preservation group's outstanding job of enlisting professional preservationists, students and faculty and community volunteers over the last four years is exemplary."

NMSU associate dean of engineering Sonya Cooper also lent her expertise to the project along with professors at DACC Ron Taylor, Pat Taylor, David Chavez and Dominic Fuimara, whose students learned the art of making adobe bricks and lent a hand in restoration of the building. DACC professor Faith Hutson was among the founders of the group, which also organized a number of fundraisers including concerts by NMSU's Gospel Choir under the direction of Bobbie Green to support the restoration.

"This award belongs to all the people of Las Cruces who volunteered their time," said O'Leary. "It has truly been a labor of love for the entire community. We are grateful for every dollar donated and every hour of volunteer work because we are almost there. The chapel is very close to being finished and we appreciate the recognition from the Cultural Properties Review Committee."

This is the second time NMSU has been involved with a project that received a Heritage Preservation Award. The last was in 2007 for the creation of the Summerford Mountain Archaeological District. The Summerford Mountain Archaeological District was listed at the highest level of significance in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.