Chamber nurtured early Clovis growth

Don McAlavy

A lot of people in Clovis today may not remember Bob Spencer. He was manager of the Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, from 1957 to 1982. We have a file of his notes of the history of the chamber, donated to the High Plains Historical Society by his wife Helen in 1983.

Spencer retired as executive director on June 1, 1982, having fallen ill at age 63 with a disease called dermatomyositis. He died Dec. 5, 1982. The 1982 Pioneer Days Balloon Fiesta was named in his honor and the sports complex on the northwest edge of Clovis was named for him, too.

The eight-page history he wrote of the chamber, contributed by himself and others, is virtually a history of Clovis.

The organization came into being in 1908 when a small group of pioneer businessmen gathered in the real estate office of Fred W. James to discuss the affairs of the new town and affect such organizations as were needed in the process of building a city.

Out of this meeting came plans for a town governing body, a town council, and the forerunner of what today is the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce.

Clovis Downing was the first secretary of The Commercial Club of Clovis, a name soon discarded in favor of its present name. The organization was first incorporated on April 9, 1909, under the laws of the Territory of New Mexico, becoming capitalized as a non-profit corporation for $3,000, with G. W. Singleton as president and O. L. Owen as secretary.

“The chamber,” said the late Jack Hull, an early Clovis newspaper editor, “has always played an important part of the development of Clovis. Money was a scarce commodity and what was done and accomplished was literally dragged along by what the few businessmen could spare from their own endeavors.”

Highways were Hull’s main thrust and became the chamber’s, too.

Most old-timers know that the highway from Texico to Clovis was south of the railroad track and came out on East Brady at the Portales highway. When the chamber officials saw the traffic turning off of East Brady and going south they saw to it that the highway was built north of the track, thus throwing all the traffic into Clovis.

One story has been told that a state legislator in 1928 told a chamber manager that Clovis could have a junior college or a paved highway to Grady. The manager chose the paved highway, as the tale goes. The junior college turned out to be Eastern New Mexico University.

Around 1937, a group of progressive citizens determined that Clovis should have purpose and direction in its voluntary leadership. They reorganized the Chamber of Commerce and hired a full-time secretary.
Reese Cagle was elected president; J. Albert Burran, vice president; and K. C. Lea, the secretary.

Prior to 1937, the chamber was situated in the Mesa Theater building. After the reorganization, it moved to the Hotel Clovis, where it remained until moving into its present location at 215 Main in 1955.

Starting in the mid-1930s, the chamber started the Running Water Draw project, which is now Ned Houk Park.
In 1935, the chamber pushed the development of the stockyard area. During WWII, and following, the chamber was the action group that promoted the air base, commercial aviation, agribusiness, water resources and industrial expansion.

This brief history goes up only to 1982 when Bob Spencer died.

“If echoes out of the past are any criteria,” Spencer said, “the work and effectiveness of the chamber is now being felt. Just as certainly, our future is being cast in the image of present-day volunteer civic leadership.”

Spencer was born May 12, 1919, in Waxahachie, Texas, and had worked for Dunn and Bradstreet. He was married to Helen Day in 1943 in Houston. They moved to Clovis in 1945 and was employed with the Clovis News Journal until 1957; when he began working for the Chamber of Commerce.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: donmcalavy@plateautel.net