AlamogordoTownNews.com Community Spotlight: Debra & Joe Lewandowski “Getting it Done”, in Historic Preservation

When one looks at a small-town community like Alamogordo, Otero County, New Mexico or any town for that matter; there are those that stand back and point to what needs to be done, there are those that criticize but never add value to the community, there are those that work discretely behind the scenes to fund and work the cogs of the bureaucracy to get things done, and then there are those that are “doers” that work daily, each and every day with passion, conviction and purpose in “getting it done.” 

When one looks at every major historical preservation project in Alamogordo over the last decade plus, Debra & Joe Lewandowski are “Getting it Done” in Historic Preservation. Taking a drive around the community, one sees the fingerprints of a passionate conviction and the “get it done” commitment of Debra & Joe Lewandowski.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Mr. Shaw would be impressed by the conviction to historic preservation of Debra and Joe Lewandowski. 

When one looks at the Tularosa Basin Historical Society; it is backed by a volunteer board of directors, that are passionate about preserving the stories, and the structures, that make up the history of Alamogordo, and of Otero County. This platform has allowed Debra & Joe Lewandowski to find their passions and to shine.

These two individuals daily do the legwork or grunt work to bring about results in historic preservation. Long hours of mental and physical hard work, from research to actually building walls, nailing, painting, garbage removal, leading volunteers, interfacing with government officials, bureaucrats and the business community, building bridges and partnerships and doing it daily – is all in a day’s work for Debra and Joe Lewandowski.

A bit about Deb and Joe:

Joe and Deb Lewandowski were Alamogordo Mid-High School sweethearts. After graduating in 1974 and 1975, Joe joined the U.S. Army starting their adventure of moving around the world. This opportunity allowed for them to visit historical locations in the areas they served. After 6 1/2 years, they returned to Alamogordo, starting their first business in the solid waste collection business in 1981. 

Over the years, they started other businesses and continuing their involvement in solid waste consulting and management. Both have always had a love and curiosity of the true history story not the way it may have been portrayed. As Joe says, “Hollywood History”. 

In 2012, they started their involvement with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society. Working with great volunteers, they have been honored to be involved with the renovation of the “Plaza” and the La Luz Pottery Factory, two significant projects that put the Tula Basin Historic Society on the map, preserving two iconic buildings that otherwise could be derelict. 

The two are aggressively working on two more very visible projects in partnership with the Tularosa Basin Historic Society, the city of Alamogordo and the business community of the New York Avenue Business District. 

The first project is evolving, as previously reported by AlamogordoTownNews.com, on the corner of 10th Street and White Sands Blvd, as the Alamogordo Railroad History Park. The evolving park that will have artifacts and photographs from the early days of Alamogordo as a railroad town dating to the early 1900’s. The planning for the city and its roots date to 1898. 

Background on the importance of the railroad to Alamogordo, thus the park.

In 1912, incorporated Alamogordo, was founded as a company town, to support the building of the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad, a part of the transcontinental railway that was being constructed in the late 19th century.

Initially its main industry was timbering for railroad ties. The railroad founders were also eager to find a major town that would persist after the railroad was completed; they formed the Alamogordo Improvement Company to develop the area, making Alamogordo an early example of a planned community. The Alamogordo Improvement Company owned all the land, platted the streets, built the first houses and commercial buildings, donated land for a college. The early days of Alamogordo was driven by commerce around the railroad.

A modern park evolves under a partnered approach.

This walking park will showcase the influence of the railroad, across from the Tularosa Basin Museum and Walgreens. The park upgrades and preservation work are a joint historical preservation project between Alamogordo MainStreet (which secured a $20,000 grant from Union Pacific), the city of Alamogordo, and the design, implementation and oversite of the building project is being done by Joe and Debra under the umbrella of the Tularosa Basin Historic Society, and Operational Consultants.

Debra is tasked with creating the photo essay on the walking path that will tell the story of Alamogordo as the railroad town it once was. Joe is tasked with managing the buildout. Together the new park is evolving, and they are “getting it done via community partnerships.”

Dudley School Preservation Project:

The next project, the duo of Debra and Joe, recently kicked off, was a well-attended public meeting seeking volunteers is the Dudley School Preservation Project. Since kickoff there have been two volunteer days where a large amount of cleanout has begun. The work is ongoing and will need volunteers again in the upcoming weeks.

Alamogordo’s Hispanic History, A Story Getting Representation Through Preservation:

Dudley School was the historically Hispanic School. Dudley School was built in 1914 and had four classrooms. Dudley School was set up as part of a segregation plan at the time and specialized in children that did not speak English being educated in a separate school facility. Hispanics could not go north of 10th Street or into the “plaza” at the time. The city of Alamogordo, New Mexico with its proximity to Texas was a racially divided city until the 1950’s. The Dudley School project is important in that it is a historic structure from the early 1900’s, and it was one of the two schools that served students of color during the years of segregation. The project will bring the building back to its origins of 4 rooms and will be a community center as well as a museum telling firsthand family stories of students that attended the Dudley School. The revitalized school will also have playground equipment and will be available to the public for rentals. This is another community partnership effort led by the duo in working the process of partnerships between the city, the Tularosa Basin Historic Society and the public in volunteering to assist in the grunt work of preservation.

According to Joe and Debra, “helping with the setup and planning of these projects, supporting the history, gathering and educating public on the stories of the Basin has been and continues to be very rewarding.”

Both have served at different times on the TBHS Board of Directors.  Debra serves as the TBHS Manager which oversees the daily operations of the museum on White Sands and 10th Street, schedules with Joe the tours and preservation of the Pottery Factory and of course these other multiple projects. 

Passion, Commitment, Heart:

As one drives around the city of Alamogordo and Otero County from the La Luz Pottery Factory to the Plaza, the Dudley School and beyond; the commitment, passion and hard work ethic of Debra & Joe Lewandowski can be felt. Steve Jobs the founder of Apple said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

It is apparent, in each interaction with Debra & Joe Lewandowski, they are creating a legacy of historic preservation. Each puts the elbow grease and hard work into the projects, and they have found the work “they love.” 

We as a community in Alamogordo, and Otero County are fortunate to have them as leaders in our community. From our hearts on New York Avenue and beyond, Thank you!

Byline Chris Edwards, AlamogordoTownNews.com, Influence Magazine

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AlamogordoTownNews.com Railroad History Park Evolving on White Sands and 10th Street

The Tularosa Basin Museum in partnership with the merchants and partnership of Alamogordo MainStreet and the City of Alamogordo have come together to create a new park at the corner of 10th Street and White Sands. Just across from the Tularosa Basin Museum and Walgreen’s within eyeshot of the New York Avenue Cultural Arts and History District is the corner lot owned by the City of Alamogordo. 

Thanks to the leadership of Joe Lewandoski of the Tularosa Basin Historic Society in the leadership role of this project, working in collaboration with Brian Cesar, the City Manager for the City of Alamogordo, a dream of a City of Alamogordo Railroad Park is coming to life. A $20,000 grant facilitated by Alamogordo MainStreet granted by the Union Pacific Foundation was a kickstart for the new city park.

The park design at the Southeast corner of Alameda Park is in the near location of the water tower, view of the tracks but a safe distance and has the advantage of parking within the zoo parking so no need to cross street or railroad tracks. This portion of the park is historical, going all the way back to the founding of Alamogordo by the Eddy brothers.  This property is adjacent to the zoo which is the oldest continuing operating zoo in the southwest.

As people enter the park on the newly created concrete walkways, they will first view a semaphore (track switch/signal.) The signal to be on display was located at Alamogordo’s second railway depot. The unit was donated to the Tularosa Basin Museum from a donor from Belen who had acquired it. The unit is complete with all parts for installation. 

A park visitor to their right will eventually observe an excursion car similar to what was used on the rails going to Cloudcroft. The plan is to acquire one from the salvage yard of Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. It is an 80% replica of what once ran on this line but not an exact. The plan is to modify it replicate the photo below…

Continuing on the newly created pathways of the park will be historical pillars with photographs and story boards telling the history of the railroad and photographs of the buildings and support history of the railroad areas of Alamogordo as seen in the early 1900s. Each pillar along the pathway will take the park goer back in time with a photo and history lesson of the past specific to the railroad.

During the years of the early railroad another historic structure that no longer exists is a water fountain that was an attraction for passengers in the early 1900’s that had a layover. The fountain of the early 1900’s represented an oasis in the desert and passengers in the early 1900’s saw Alamogordo as a modern and bustling oasis in the middle of the city. A replica of that fountain will be part of the new park.

Another feature of the park is a beautiful piece of metal work created by Larry Berry, a local business owner (Basin Pipe and Metal.) In the work are components and events from the Tularosa Basin, the railroad, the Mexican Trestle, the Avis Building etc. It is 16 feet long and 9 feet high and will serve as a beautiful display of public art on the site.

Landscaping and benches will enhance the park. The park is under construction under the leadership and project management of Joe Lewandowski with great assistance from Debra Lewandowski and a host of community partners.

Alamogordo is fortunate to have the talents of these individuals that can bring together a variety of community interest in the name of community to tell the history of Alamogordo and to further enhance the quest of developing the New York Avenue 10th Street corridor into the New York Avenue Cultural Arts and History District. 

Stay turned for a story later in the week on the Tularosa Basin Museum, an update on the Dudley restoration project also under the leadership of the Lewandowski’s and to learn more about these two passionate individuals that are driving the preservation of Alamogordo’s history forward with concrete action. 

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