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Gerald Thomas Hall: Building named for long-serving NMSU president

Date: 06/17/2020

Built in 1963, Gerald Thomas Hall is home to the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. It houses classrooms, laboratories and faculty offices for the departments of Agricultural and Extension Education, Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, Family and Consumer Sciences and the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. Other areas such as Plant & Environmental Sciences and Animal & Range Sciences are housed in separate facilities on campus with both classrooms and laboratories. The hall was named to honor Gerald Thomas, former NMSU president for 14 years during the 70s and 80s. The hall was named to honor him four years after he retired.

Black and white photo of man holding a book
Gerald Thomas was the president of New Mexico State University from 1970 through 1984. The facility on the main campus that houses the College of Agriculture was named in his honor in 1988. (Photo courtesy NMSU Library Special Collections)
Black and white photo of building with students
The Agriculture and Home Economics building in the 1960s. The building was eventually named for NMSU President Gerald Thomas in 1988. (Courtesy Photo NMSU Library Special Collections)
Color photo of Gerald Thomas Hall with pond
Gerald Thomas Hall expanded in size with another wing and now has a pond and other landscaping elements in 2020. (NMSU Photo by Josh Bachman)

About Gerald Thomas

Gerald Thomas was born on a ranch on Medicine Lodge Creek, Small, Idaho, on July 3, 1919. After moving to California to finish high school and get his Associate of Arts degree, Thomas joined the U.S. Navy serving as a carrier-based naval torpedo pilot during the war.

In 1945, Thomas married Jean Ellis and they were happily married for the next 67 years while raising their three children.

After completing his Masters and Ph.D. Thomas went on to serve as dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Texas Tech University before moving to NMSU in 1970 as president.

Thomas retired in 1984. During his tenure, NMSU’s main campus enrollment went from 8,155 students to more than 12,500. Sixty-eight percent of all the graduates from 1888 to 1984 earned degrees during his tenure.

He authored or co-authored of numerous books and more than 200 other publications. In 1984, NMSU named a million-dollar chair in agriculture in Thomas’ honor and in 1988 the Agriculture and Home Economics building was named after him.

Thomas made a lasting impact on the university both during his time as president and in the years that followed. He also helped organize the building of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. He and his wife Jean were enthusiastic members of the Las Cruces community who considered the move to southern New Mexico one of the best decisions of their lives.

The former NMSU president passed away peacefully on July 31, 2013, at age 94.

Gerald Thomas Hall replaces building destroyed by fire.

Wilson Hall was the original Agriculture and Home Economics building. It burned down in the 1930s and for the nearly 30 years, the College of Agriculture was housed in thirteen different locations across the main campus and spread out over four farms.

The board of Regents began discussions to replace the facilities after the Wilson Hall fire but the push to move forward began in the 1960s. In the original design by Wolgamood and Millington Architects, Gerald Thomas Hall was designed as a “hollow square.” Four wings were to be constructed in a square formation creating a courtyard in the center so the building could then be completed one wing at a time. The entire project was estimated to cost $2 million. Funding for construction was to come from a bond issue. The north wing of the facility was built in 1963 and cost $624,177.

Additions and renovation over the years

Gerald Thomas Hall has undergone several renovations and improvements in its nearly 60-year history. One of the most significant projects was in 1968 when an addition to the west end of the building. The project cost more than $420,000.

Later, the “Sam Steel Café” was built inside the east wing of the building. The “Sam Steel Café” is a student-run café and a part of the curriculum in Food Science and Technology. It provides students with opportunities to apply principles of food science and technology to the invention of new food products.

Soon after, the west end of the building was renovated to accommodate a kitchen facility for the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. Located inside the west end of Gerald Thomas Hall, 100 Café West is a working restaurant open to the public, where students gain hands-on experience running a restaurant from cooking to serving guests during themed lunches.



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