Although we all are living through challenging and trying times during the pandemic, the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) is still receiving collections to add to our archival holdings in order to capture history and ultimately make available to the public. Earlier this summer, Dennis Daily, the ASC department head, received the papers of the late Donald D. Stern. In this post, I will share information on the recently acquired papers as well as provide a glimpse of the Stern family.
Donald David Stern was born on August 9, 1925, to Eugene and Mabel Stern. The Stern family was an influential family in the Mesilla Valley – they were Jewish merchants and farmers, and assisted in civic organizations around Las Cruces. Eugene and Mabel had six children and the papers housed at the ASC reflect the personal and military life of Donald. Donald was a 1943 graduate of Las Cruces Union High School and upon graduating, enrolled at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU). While attending college, Donald enlisted in the military. He served in the Air Force during WWII, and became a prisoner of war, held captive by the Germans. The bulk of the archival materials is made up of correspondence to and from Donald’s parents and siblings while enlisted in the military during 1940s. Interesting enough, in the papers are telegrams notifying Donald’s parents of his missing in action status, as well as the Las Cruces Sun-News 1945 newspaper clipping covering the story of Donald disappearance.
In 1949, Donald married Estelle Lee Mann and together they had three children, all raised in Las Cruces. Donald worked as a loan officer for the State Finance Company Inc. He was a member of the Las Cruces Boys and Girls Club, the New Mexico Finance Association, and the Temple Beth-El as well being a 33rd degree member of the Scottish Rite. On August 30, 1993, Donald passed away in El Paso; he is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces.
While diving into the Stern collection, I could not help to do further research. I conducted a Google search to acquire further information about the family and came across an online exhibit made available by the Jewish Museum of the American West.
Below you will find further information on the Stern family and the impact they had in the Las Cruces area.
Background information on the Stern family
Donald’s father, Eugene was originally from Hungary, but made the move to the United States in 1903 where he made his way to New York City. Eugene found work along the east coast at a travel agency. Working at a travel agency suited him since he spoke several languages, which was a good skill set to have in the field. A few years later, Eugene found his way closer to the desert land of New Mexico. In 1914, Eugene and his wife became homesteaders of a section of land in northern New Mexico in Las Vegas. While living in Las Vegas, he worked in the insurance industry and obtained title to the homestead in 1917.
Soon after the land was under his ownership, he sold it and saved enough to move to Las Cruces. Upon moving to Las Cruces, Eugene worked for a dry goods store. Then during the course of a year or so, he purchased his own stores known as the Popular Dry Goods Company and the White House Mercantile Store. He eventually left the mercantile business and focused on farming.
In the late 1920s, Eugene changed up his profession and pursued farming in the Mesilla Valley. He owned a good amount of land where he employed help to cultivate it. Eugene and the Stern family were involved in various civic affairs. Eugene assisted in establishing the Salvation Army, the first county fair and the couple helped start the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and several other organizations.
On a side note and a bit of local trivia – if you are familiar with downtown Las Cruces, chances are that you have seen the bronze lions situated outside the city hall. I came to learn while processing and researching this collection, that the lions were named after Eugene and Mabel.
Overall, the Donald Stern papers provide a glimpse into military and civilian life in Las Cruces during the 1940s.
If you are interested in viewing the finding aid to explore the Donald Stern papers it is available via ArchiveSpace. For further questions regarding the collection, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.