Association honors square-dance couple

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

If there is square dancing in heaven, James Pettus is probably calling one right now.

The Portales resident, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2003, and his wife Wanda were the heart and soul of square dancing in eastern New Mexico for three decades, according to local square dancers. The couple was recognized for their dedication to the pastime May 12 in Ruidoso as the New Mexico Square and Round Dance Association enshrined them in its Hall of Fame.

“That caught me completely by surprise,” Wanda Pettus said.

Norene Weigl, a member of the Starlight Swingers square dance club in Portales for approximately 20 years, said she didn’t know of anyone more deserving of the honor than the Pettuses.

“They have both committed their lives to the promotion of square dancing,” Weigl said in her nominating letter. “James called for the love of it and not the money, as many, many times, he called for free or at least very little money.”

Wanda and James met while working at the Portales News-Tribune.

“He already knew how to square dance and he wanted me to take lessons,” Wanda said of her late husband. She was unsure about it but took the lessons and loved it.

Weigl and Wanda described James as shy until he had a microphone in his hand. They said his personality changed with his clear twangy voice effortlessly calling out the moves. In between, he had no problem cracking a joke to keep the fun flowing.

“He always wanted to sing but he didn’t want to do it in bars,” Wanda said. “And the people; there’s some great people out there square dancing and he was just comfortable with them. He could get up there and call all night long and never realize he was shy.”

Besides the Starlight Swingers, they were active in the Fort Sumner Kids, Clovis Circle 8 and Muleshoe Squares clubs.