The Huning Family

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The village of Los Lunas experienced its greatest growth spurt during former Mayor Louis Huning’s 27 years of service.

Huning family photo: The Huning Mercantile in Los Lunas was one of the first general stores in the village.

He served from 1982 to 2009, and helped shape the character and charm of this New Mexico town, but he was not the first Huning to do so. He learned from three generations before him.

America was the land of hope for many Europeans in the 20th century, and two young Huning brothers, Louis and Franz Huning crossed the Atlantic in the mid-1800s in search of adventure and a chance at a better life. In the process, Louis Huning Sr. and his family created a legacy in the sleepy, rural village of Los Lunas.

Many of the immigrants who landed on U.S. shores were leaving behind economic hardship and tyrannical rulers. They came for greater economic opportunity and found it, because the country was young and undeveloped. It was paradise for entrepreneurs spurred by the industrial revolution.

A fourth-generation Huning, Louis was the second Huning to serve as mayor of Los Lunas, and it was no accident the village grew. Louis had a hand in it.

“Louis brought a new viewpoint to governance,” said Los Lunas Village Councilor Charles Griego. “Basically, more on a business level than it was in the past, and no doubt, Louis was more aggressive in looking for funding and looking at planning.”

The village started to grow when Louis sold a parcel of land to Walmart for a distribution center. As more jobs were created, more residential and commercial development followed, said Louis.

“Before that, Los Lunas was a one-signal town,” he said.

Other acreage was sold to Curb South developers. That started the Huning Ranch subdivision in 2000.

Louis’ great-grandfather, Louis Bismark, and great-uncle, Franz, came to America not long after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo opened New Mexico Territory to American settlement.

They left Germany to get away from the kaisers, Louis said.

“They landed in New Orleans and described how dirty and stinky it was,” he said. “They made their way up the Mississippi by pile boat to St. Louis — there must have been friends or relatives there — then they made their way to St. Joseph, Missouri, and got hired on to an oxen train as bullwhackers.”

The wagons went down to Santa Fe on the Santa Fe Trail to bring merchandise into the New Mexico Territory.

Franz and Louis Bismark stayed and worked in the territory, and were soon followed by two more brothers, Karl and Henry.

Like most immigrants, his relatives came to America to build better lives, and to see the West, Louis said from his Los Lunas office at the old mercantile store his great-grandfather built.

During the Civil War, which broke out around the time of their arrival, Karl’s Confederate leanings got him into trouble. He was arrested as a Confederate sympathizer, and Franz had to bail him out of jail.

Karl was acquitted, but because he didn’t like the arid climate, he decided to go back to Germany.

Louis Bismark built a store on Main and Los Lentes streets in Los Lunas, and raised cattle on the nearby mesas and llanos. In 1878, he had 82,000 head of sheep.

The Huning Mercantile sold farm implements, hardware, grain, household goods and groceries. Later, his brother, Henry, joined in a partnership, and they called the store, the L and H Mercantile.

Cattle drives to major stockyard cities were replaced by shipping the cattle by rail once the trains came in 1880. He could ship his cattle to Chicago, said Nancy Schmierbach, Huning’s cousin.

Louis Bismark also built a flour mill, powered by water from the Rio Grande, in Los Chavez. He was a Valencia County commissioner before Los Lunas was incorporated and, in 1876, he built the first courthouse with Jesus Maria Chavez.

That same year, he married Henrika “Henny” Busch, from the Busch brewery family, and they had four children, Emma, Fred D. Jr., Louis Bismark Jr. and Delores, whose pet name was “Lolita.”

“She was the baby of the family,” Louis said. “She was about 10 years younger than her brothers and sisters. She grew up to teach Spanish and German at the University of New Mexico.”

An early challenge for the growing Middle Rio Grande Valley community was chronic flooding. In heavy snow pack years, spring runoff would inundate the valley, destroying homes and properties as well as obscuring land grant borders.

The Bosque Farms area, then called Los Piños, was a virtual swamp land for many years until the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District was created in the 1920s.

Louis Bismark Huning’s son, Fred Demetrio was a principle organizer of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

“He was a prime mover,” said Schmierbach. “But there were people against it, even though they would benefit from it.”

The district’s purpose was flood control, irrigation and drainage, but in order to finance it, bonds were sold and a land tax was imposed.

Some land owners rejected the effort, but most people wanted help when their lands flooded.

Fred Demetrio was under periodic attack and threatened physically for his role in organizing the MRGCD, said Schmierbach.

According to an interview with Jack Huning conducted by Patty Guggino, one evening Fred D. Huning Sr. and a fellow engineer had to take cover in the drag line, a power shovel on a cable with a bucket. They spent the night in the bucket to protect themselves from gunfire, swinging the bucket back and forth to keep people away.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District was formed and approved by the state Legislature in 1923, and built 150 miles of levees for flood control along with 1,200 miles of drains, laterals and irrigation canals.

Fred was the mayor of Los Lunas from 1936 to 1952. He and Henrika had four children, Fred Jr., Jack, Lucille and Betty.

“The impression I got was that they didn’t want to be in politics,” said Nancy Schmierbach. “But they wanted to help the community to advance and be a better place for the people.”

Her father, Jack Huning, brother of Fred Demetrio Jr., served on the Livestock Board, and was on the first board of directors of the Production Credit Association that gave loans to farmers and ranchers.

Jack was also on the highway board, and the first paved road in New Mexico was built from Los Lunas to Albuquerque, Schmierbach said.

By networking with nonprofit organizations and businesses, such as the Urban Land Institute and the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, he helped bring improvements to Los Lunas.

Jack’s brother, Fred D. Huning Jr., was an engineer who helped build Hoover Dam, Louis said. When Fred Jr. got back to Los Lunas in the 1940s, he took over running the mercantile store, and ran it until 1990.

On Feb. 5, 1948, he married Ruth Ellen Dils from Belen. They had three children, Louis, Katherine and Charles.

Fred Jr. ran for mayor one time, but he wasn’t successful, and preferred to stay out of the limelight.

“He had a phenomenal gift,” Louis said of his father. “He could meet you once, like if you came in the store, he’d get your name, converse with you, then never forget your name. He always remembered you.”

Fred Jr. was involved in many organizations such as the March of Dimes, where he was the district chairman, and the Rotary Club. He was a big supporter of the Boys Scouts of America, and helped develop a Boy Scout camp in Chimayo, north of Santa Fe. He was given the Silver Beaver award for his distinguished service. He died in 1992.

During the 134 years the Huning mercantile was in business, the family held many an annual customer appreciation events that became an unofficial village fair.

“My father really loved that store,” Louis said. “He loved the Hispanic and Indian people, and was very fluent in Spanish.”

The Huning family has always had great pride in their home town, he said, and were very careful when selling land. They always wanted to make sure they found the most solid investors and the best developers who cared about the environment as well as the people of the village.

“Louis was very protective and concerned about the long-term impacts of projects,” said Village Councilor Charles Griego.

The Hunings donated El Cerro de Los Lunas and the surrounding 2,200 acres to preserve the hill and its scenic landscapes, so others would be able to enjoy it as they have over the years, Louis said.

The park is managed by the Los Lunas Parks and Recreation Department.

Louis says what helps make a good mayor is a good wife and a good secretary, and that, over the years, he has served with some of the best. They include Councilors Frank Gurule, Henry Perea, Rubin Saiz, Gene Saiz, Charles Griego, Cecilia “CC” Castillo and Robert Vialpando.

“He worked well with the council to get our viewpoint,” said Griego. “He was very inclusive in his outlook and approach to being mayor.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.