A look back at one of Los Lunas’ mayors
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
Ricardo “Rico” S. Gonzales, author of this month’s column, is an employee of the Village of Los Lunas at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts. He conducts the oral histories of persons and families in Los Lunas and Valencia County. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and holds a B.A. in philosophy.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns in La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
As part of the mission at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts, we seek to document the oral histories of members of our village and county. For this project, Rico Gonzales interviewed Barbara Anne (Simpson) D’Spain, daughter of Howard C. Simpson, the seventh mayor of Los Lunas, who served three terms, from 1962 to 1968.
Early life in New Mexico and Texas
Howard C. Simpson was born on Nov. 20, 1911, in Datil, NM. Later in his life, Simpson wrote “The Early Memoirs of Howard Simpson,” an account of his childhood and family’s beginnings in West Texas and their journey into western New Mexico and Arizona during the pre-depression era.
In his memoirs, Simpson recalls from this era the modern advent of automobiles, electricity and the railroad with clarity and imagination.
He wrote, “It (the car) was out of this world to the children. They emitted quite a bit of smoke, the mufflers were not so good and they were quite noisy.”
He also mentioned his impression of electric lights that he saw on his first train ride, “the fastest ride I had ever experienced,” which went from Duran, N.M., through Carrizozo on to Deming. “I shall never forget how many electric lights there were in El Paso and at Camp Cody near Deming. I had never seen such a sight in my life before. We didn’t even have a single electric light in Duran at the time.”
Simpson went to grade school in Duran and graduated from high school in Meadow, Texas, where he was a standout basketball player. He attended college briefly at Plainview Baptist College and played some professional baseball to help support his widowed mother and two orphaned cousins.
Simpson married 19-year-old Edna Justiss in 1936. Howard D. Simpson Jr., was born on May 30, 1937. Barbara Anne Simpson was born in Carrizozo, N.M., three years later, on June 15, 1940.
Until Barbara was about 5 years old, her father worked as the foreman of a railroad track maintenance crew for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The family lived in a railroad car during some of his employment.
While working one day, Simpson discovered a finger and searched for the owner, only to find out it was his own. He had severed it after dropping a rail on it. From this accident, Howard developed his one-finger knuckleball, which was difficult and frustrating for batters to hit against.
Arrival in Valencia County
In 1946, shortly after World War II had ended, the Simpson family moved to Peralta, where they established a chile farm. Barbara remembers the Otero, Cornelius, Baca, Hayes and Armijo families as some of their good neighbors. Unfortunately, Simpson suffered a heart attack. He recuperated at his sister’s farm in Peralta, just off Chughole Lane.
After recovering, Simpson worked at the Fluorspar Plant in Los Lunas and was later employed as a carpenter at Sandia Base (now Kirtland Air Force Base). He built his family a new block home on a road north of Chughole Lane, now known as Honeyfield Lane.
In 1953, Simpson began working with Lloyd Ball, who had a gas station in Los Lunas on Main Street, just east of Los Lentes Road, currently the property of Henrietta’s Restaurant. Along with Felix Baca, he drove a truck for Ball. Simpson eventually bought the truck and started his own company.
Known as Hub Oil, Simpson’s company provided gasoline to service stations from Albuquerque to Socorro, with two retail outlets in Los Lunas and El Cerro. Through Hub Oil, Simpson hired young men in the area so they could develop their work skills and discover trades to make a living.
Mayor of Los Lunas, 1962-1968
The Simpson family relocated to Sandoval Road in Los Lunas in the early 1950s. In 1962, Simpson ran for mayor, edging out Fred Huning Jr., in a close election. Barbara points out that people took a liking to her father because he was a fluent Spanish speaker and was forward thinking in his ideas for the community.
Even though he beat Huning in his first mayoral race, Mayor Simpson collaborated with Huning on local residential and commercial development. Both were instrumental in the Interstate 25 project that brought the freeway to the west side of Los Lunas. By the time his tenure as mayor was over in 1968, almost all roads in the village limits were paved.
Some of the other modernizing leaders that Barbara Simpson mentioned were village Councilors Telesfor Archuleta, Art Sais, Rumaldo Artiaga, Trinidad Gurule and clear-treasurer Agustin Archuleta.
Although none of the councilors were paid for their public services, the village council worked with Mayor Simpson and accomplished a great deal for the community.
Barbara says one of her father’s biggest accomplishments as mayor was assisting the Los Lunas Jaycees initiate the construction and dedication of Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park. Mayor Simpson, along with the Los Lunas Jaycees, the Lions Club and other members of the community, helped plan, establish and improve the park to commemorate fallen Vietnam War hero, Daniel Fernandez, after his heroic death in 1966.
The park was a priority project for the village with many village mayors and councilors contributing to the project. Even today, new improvements are constantly being made.
As mayor, Howard Simpson oversaw the construction of a new sewer plant, the first in the United States under the Federal Accelerated Public Works Program. With his strong encouragement, the community was able to attain much-needed water and sewer improvements through purchasing general obligation bonds.
Mayor Simpson oversaw Los Lunas’ first comprehensive plan, its first zoning ordinance and its first subdivision regulations. He helped found the Los Lunas Public Library and appointed a library board to help manage it.
Mayor Simpson served as the mayor of Los Lunas for three terms, from 1962 to 1968. In 1964, he defeated Councilor Trinidad Gurule, and in 1966 he ran successfully against former Los Lunas Police Chief William Place.
During his third term, Simpson decided that it was his last and that he wouldn’t be a candidate for a fourth term.
Los Lunas baseball
Howard Simpson is known as one of the founders of Los Lunas baseball, at least for many boys of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the boys that he, Lloyd Ball and “Hack” Mitchell coached later became players on the first Los Lunas High School baseball state championship team in 1955 under coach Beltran Sedillo. Three players on that state championship team were the sons of the three coaches. Barbara was the scorekeeper.
This group of dedicated players, coaches and friends introduced night baseball to Los Lunas by going to the mountains, cutting down trees to make light poles and installing them at the Los Lunas Grade School, now Raymond Gabaldon Elementary School.
When Simpson’s grandson, Bob D’Spain, was 8 years old in 1968, he organized Little League baseball in Los Lunas. Simpson coached four different teams at one time, until the league grew and more parents became involved in coaching.
Other leadership roles
At the state government level, Simpson, a Democrat, was appointed aide-de-camp by Democratic Gov. Jack M. Campbell in 1965. In 1967, Republican Gov. David F. Cargo, popularly known as “Lonesome Dave,” appointed him to serve on the state’s Committee for Economic Development.
Somehow Simpson found time to be a member of the Lions Club and the Los Lunas Jaycees. While mayor in 1964, he served as the president of the New Mexico Senior Citizens. He was also an ordained Predestinarian Baptist Elder (preacher) who continued the family tradition of ministry which began with his father in the early 1900s.
Howard Simpson was just 66 years old when he passed away on Feb. 6, 1978, in Jacksboro, Texas, where he had moved for his health and to continue preaching and serving his church. Community residents in both Jacksboro and Los Lunas mourned their loss.
As Los Lunas celebrates its 85th year of incorporation as a village, it is important to remember Simpson and all the energy and efforts he and his family put forth in their adopted hometown. A community plan, zoning ordinances, paved roads, an improved water and sewer system, a public library, a town park and Little League baseball is quite a legacy for the Simpson family and for all of Los Lunas to appreciate and be proud of.