A community’s beating heart

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By Sherry Robinson

It’s Christmas. Let’s talk about love. Specifically, love of community.
Last month, a friend and I had our noses pressed to the glass of the Artesia Public Library, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Peter Hurd mural rescued from Houston’s former MD Anderson Cancer Center, which was demolished last year. The construction foreman spotted us and invited us in for a tour.
The Hurd, even shrouded in protective plastic, was magnificent, and the rest of the library, with its inviting children’s area and computer stations was also impressive.
The mural, all 58,000 pounds of it, was trucked 840 miles to storage in a Midland hangar until the library was ready. Our guide explained how they removed a portion of the roof to lower the 46-by-16-foot painting on its original curved wall, ever so carefully, into place. It’s the largest fresco ever to be moved successfully.
Of the library’s $12 million cost, half is shouldered by private donations, and the name we kept hearing was Estelle Yates. Artesia’s first library was her doing, we were told, and she was the prime mover of this one.
I know what you’re thinking: A member of a prominent oil family, Mrs. Yates could afford to do this. But that’s not the point. The Mrs. Yates could have bought herself a castle in England, but she chose to invest in her own community. Sadly, she didn’t live to see the finished library.
That’s love.
You don’t have to be rich to make a contribution. Jim Harris is a retired educator with a passion for history. As director of the Lea County Museum, he could see Lovington’s pretty plaza emptying out, store by store. He took a leap and, with help, bought an old building and created the Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame. Then another building became available.
Harris combined his passion for old storefronts with another love, music, and found a new use for these properties — concerts and other entertainment, which have brought people back to downtown Lovington.
That’s love.
Then there’s George Applebay in Moriarty. A gliding enthusiast who spent a career in aviation after his service in World War II, he wanted to do something for his town and the gliding community by building the Southwest Soaring Museum.
Once the facility opened, people with important glider collectibles were pleased to donate them. Most recently, a Houston enthusiast gave the museum his sizable collection of historical models, flying wing models, and WWII military models.
The soaring museum is also the nexus of events, like the Vintage and Classic Soaring Rally, which brings people to Moriarty. The museum, by the way, is on old Route 66 on the east side of town.
I’m sure Mrs. Yates, Harris and Applebay would all say, oh, I didn’t do this by myself, and they would be right. But the ball usually starts rolling with an energetic, motivated and selfless individual. Before you know it, they’ve created momentum that draws other community-minded people and, hopefully, financial support.
Their efforts prove again the movie maxim: If you build it they will come.
We spend a lot of time talking about budgets and streets and cops and infrastructure, and I think sometimes we take for granted the beating heart of the community. That’s the people who are passionate enough to throw themselves into the community’s history, arts, education and culture and the fundraising and volunteer work that go along with it.
One of the most positive trends in recent years is the desire to give back. We can’t all give like Estelle Yates, but giving is an option for all.
By the way, the title of Peter Hurd’s mural is “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for It.” How appropriate.