Writer: Victor Venegas
When first approached about coming to work at New Mexico State University in 1988, Ron Cox didn't know if the change was going to suit him.
"I was on the East Coast and I liked to be near the ocean. Getting out to Las Cruces the first time, I wasn't sure if I could take all the desert and no water," Cox said. "I liked the people, but I was reluctant. The dean at the time asked me to at least come back on a monthly basis and help start a hospitality program."
After his fourth visit, the Land of Enchantment had worked its magic on him.
"I changed my mind after I had driven to Albuquerque to talk to the Indian Tourism Board," he explained. "It got me thinking, 'This is really beautiful country.' Before I left, I told the dean, 'You know, I'll take that job if you want me.'"
Cox retired from NMSU in 2002 and lives in Pennsylvania. Now, almost five years later, he's returning to see what's become of the hospitality and tourism program he helped create.
On Nov. 28, he will have lunch with students from the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management and be the inaugural speaker in the Gordon Heiss Lecture Series. The series is named after the late New Mexico restaurateur who founded several businesses in Santa Fe and was a great supporter of tourism in the state. He also served on the HRTM board of directors prior to its elevation to school status at NMSU.
The session is set to begin at 3 p.m. in Gerald Thomas Room 190, where Cox will discuss the beginnings of the program, followed by a question-and-answer session.
The program has undergone extensive change since Cox helped establish it in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, including a name change and an expanded curriculum.
"My emphasis at the beginning was on tourism development, instead of a specific hotel/restaurant-type program, because New Mexico had a need in that area," Cox said. "That's why we decided to call the program Hospitality and Tourism Services."
He added the program has been adjusted as the needs of the state have changed. He said the opening of the school's state-of-the-art food production lab this semester and the opening of the technology lab in January are examples of how the school is moving in the right direction.
"Looking at what they're doing now, the next step is to get a major benefactor," he said. "These facilities are great and it's a step in the right direction, but the school still has further to go."
"They need to have a fully functioning hotel training/laboratory facility on campus that can be a showpiece," Cox explained. "Every school should have a name, a major contributor to make the school more attractive, maybe a big firm in the hospitality industry that can give five to ten million dollars as an endowment."
Although he left the program as it was beginning its growth spurt, Cox said he doesn't look back with regret.
"You can't do that in life, it's a no-winner. You can never second-guess yourself. I came, I did what I could. For anyone to be happy in life, you have to know when to move on," he said. "It was time to move on. I had brought in as many good people as I could; we got the foundation going and had overcome a lot of obstacles. I saw it as an opportune time to move on and let the younger people come in and flex their muscle."
Although he made plenty of decisions during his time at NMSU, Cox said it was one of the first that still stands out in his mind.
"I had only been there a couple of months when I hired (HRTM associate professor) Priscilla Bloomquist," he said. "It was tough because there were some other pretty strong candidates. At the time, the dean asked me, 'Why are you hiring her?' I told him she was a diamond in the rough and that we would never be sorry for bringing her on board. I had a gut feeling she would prove to be a huge asset to our program. I couldn't have been more right in this decision than in any other I've made in my career."
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