On February 7, 1991, Lincoln County voters approved a mill levy to fund a branch of Eastern New Mexico University. The Ruidoso Center opened in a small building on Sudderth five months later. Four hundred eighty students registered for the first semester. Increasing enrollment during subsequent semesters forced the use of alternative sites including the Coronado Center, Ruidoso High School and area businesses. Faced with paying rent and crowded conditions, finding a permanent home for the instructional center became a priority for Director Jim Miller.
Meanwhile, Littlefield, Texas, businessman Dale Walthall wanted to make a difference in his adopted home of Ruidoso. His family owned property at 709 Mechem at the south end of the Sierra Mall. The property consisted of 2.6 acres and a 40,000 square foot building; home to a True Value hardware store. Unfortunately, the effects of the West Texas oil bust reverberated into Ruidoso, and, as sales suffered, the Walthalls considered other options for their property. The building was offered to ENMU in August 1994, and after a year’s worth of renovation, ENMU President Everest Frost dedicated the “University Center, ENMU.” The center consisted of administrative offices, a library, a reception area, computer lab, one classroom and a conference room. The price tag for the land and building transfer totaled $28,000 of taxpayer money that was quickly repaid by ENMU.
The ENMU-Ruidoso main campus underwent several changes over the years. The original renovation transformed the open-floor plan of the hardware store into small, utilitarian rooms. During Labor Day weekend of 2006, the water-saturated ground under the south wall gave way as a result of an exceptionally wet monsoon season. Despite the damage, work to clean up and re-build began immediately, and students were allowed back into the building the next week. Later that month, Senate Bill 827 passed in the legislative session and ENMU-Ruidoso received $800,000 in desperately needed appropriations for facilities improvements. Additional General Obligation Bonds allowed for further expansion and renovations turning the original building into the state of the art facility it is today.
On January 3, 1995, Dale Walthall died of a sudden illness in Texas. While he did not live to see his building transformed into a campus, his gift lives on. Dr. Miller established a memorial scholarship in his honor. More importantly, the legacy of the Westhall family lives on in Ruidoso not just as the owners of a former hardware store, but as donors to a place of higher education, hard work, renovation and rebirth.