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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Memorial Tower: 70-year-old tribute to courage, reminder of Aggies lost to war

Date: 07/16/2020

New Mexico State University’s Memorial Tower was constructed in 1950 as a permanent monument to honor the lives of the 126 Aggies who died in World War II. The construction was made possible through private donations from family members, friends, classmates and businesses.

Black and white building
Memorial Tower was originally part of the stadium when it was built in 1950. (Photo courtesy of NMSU Library Special Collections)
woman standing by a desk in black an white
Era Rentfrow, registrar of the New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts between 1922-1962, spent years gathering photos and biographies of Aggies who died in World War II to create a memorial at the university. (Photo courtesy NMSU Library Special Collections)
Color photo of building.
The first floor of the three-story Memorial Tower at New Mexico State University houses the memorial room in which photos, biographical information about 126 Aggies who lost their lives in World War II are displayed. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

Originally the centerpiece of old Aggie Memorial Stadium, the tower was renovated and incorporated into the new building for the College of Health and Social Services in 2003.

About Era Rentfrow

The collection in the Memorial Tower is the work of Era Rentfrow, college registrar from 1922 -61, who spent years researching photos and biographical information to preserve the memory of NMSU Aggies who sacrificed their lives in the war. The photos are displayed in the rededicated Memorial Tower to honor their memory.

Rentfrow was born in 1898 and moved to Mesilla Park at an early age. She attended the college's preparatory school, graduating as president of her class in 1915. She then enrolled at the New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts as one of 23 entering freshmen.

After graduation in 1919, she began a lifelong career of service at the college. In 1922, Rentfrow was promoted and became the college registrar.

The source of her dedication to the memory of Aggies who died in war was personal. Rentfrow had been engaged to Joe Quesenberry, a student at New Mexico A&M and captain of the football team when he went to war. Her fiancé was the first Aggie killed in combat during World War I and she never married.

In 1962, after 40 years as university registrar, she retired. She is credited as having one of the biggest impacts on the lives of students during this period. Shortly after her retirement, Rentfrow Hall was named in her honor.

Community comes together to raise funds for a memorial

In January 1942, conversations began to build a war memorial for the college. The dean of students, William O’Donnell appointed a planning committee with Professor W. Earl Beem as chairman, and Rentfrow to draw up plans for a memorial building.

Once the war ended, the growing Aggie Memorial Committee, which included New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts’ faculty, students, alumni and Las Cruces business owners, spent more than four years in deliberation before finally approving the concept of the tower and stadium as an appropriate memorial.

In 1946, the committee began a rigorous drive to get donations with a goal of $165,000. An all-out effort was made to collect contributions and obtain pledges for the memorial. Construction began soon after they reached their goal. In September 1950, the completed stadium and tower were officially dedicated before a football game by university president John W. Branson.

Memorial Tower and Stadium early history

The heart of Memorial Stadium was Memorial Tower. Built on the west side of the stadium, it housed the original Memorial Room with pictures, plaques and records to honor 126 Aggies lost to war. Electric chimes were placed in the tower and were used for the daily campus call-to-classes and for playing melodies on holidays.

Directly above the memorial room were two press boxes, the upper for radio and lower for the newspaper and publicity men. They were some of the best press facilities in the state at that time.

The stadium served NMSU for 28 seasons before it was replaced with an expanded athletics complex. After the new stadium was built in 1978, the old stadium was torn down. However, the tower was left intact and used as a mid-campus snack bar and dining area until it was renovated.

In 2003, plans were finalized to build the College of Health and Social Services building on the site of the old stadium, incorporating Memorial Tower. The interior of the tower was gutted for a complete stabilization and renovation.

Memorial Tower today

Since 1950, NMSU’s Aggie Memorial Tower has stood as permanent tribute to the names, faces and lives of Aggies who sacrificed their lives, but the tower has seen many transformations over the years.

After its major renovation and incorporation into the new College of Health and Social Services building in 2003, during NMSU’s homecoming week in 2004, the tower was rededicated. Today, the tower has three levels.

The first floor of the tower houses the new Aggie Memorial Room, that displays photos of most of the 126 Aggies killed in action during WWII that Rentfrow gathered and preserved. It also functions as a study lounge. The second level of the tower houses a 900-square-foot computer lab. The third floor is the “Tower Room” that is used for college events, private meetings and special gatherings.



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