By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
PORTALES — It was a few moments spent reading a book to a 4-year-old boy, but it changed Portales resident Kenneth Hubbard’s outlook on life.
His uncle, an administrator of the Portales Children’s Home, was reading to the boy when the young Hubbard stopped by for a visit.
“My uncle asked me to read to the boy as a payback for all the times he had read to me as a young boy,” Hubbard said. “It was a lesson I’ve used ever since. If everybody pays back then our lives will be better, and the lives of the future generations will also.”
The lesson helped shape much of the 83 year old’s life.
In 1941, Hubbard quit what is now Eastern New Mexico University to join the Army. He said it was an opportunity to give back to a country that had been good to him.
When Hubbard returned to Portales from World War II, he never went back to school to complete the 20 hours needed to earn his degree. But that didn’t stop the former business major from supporting Eastern with financial assistance that goes to student scholarships through the Friends of Eastern program.
Now Eastern is giving back to Hubbard in the form of an honorary degree, which he will receive at fall graduation on Dec. 18. He is the first person Eastern has ever awarded the honor.
“I always regretted never completing my degree. My years at Eastern meant a lot to me,” said Hubbard, whose wife and daughter attended Eastern.
To be considered for an honorary degree from Eastern, an individual must still be living and must have served in World War II or the Korean War. Furthermore, individuals must have attended Eastern in good standing at the time of their enlistment and must have been within 30 semester hours of completing degree requirements.
Portales attorney Stephen Doerr nominated Hubbard for the degree.
“I always thought Ken was a graduate of Eastern, the way he was always talking it up,” Doerr said.
And talk it up he does, especially the school’s athletic teams.
Hubbard, former owner of a shoe and department store in Portales, said when he was younger he attended all the games. Now, with his ailing health, Hubbard typically listens to games on the radio.
Besides Eastern, Hubbard has also been active with the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce since the 1950s and with First Baptist Church in Portales.
His priorities are as such: God first, then family and then community.
Besides the lesson his uncle taught him, Hubbard believes the difficult times he faced in the Great Depression prepared his generation to be more giving. Back then, he said, several college students at Eastern dropped out to join the Army during World War II — something that is rare today.
“Young people just don’t want to get involved, the baby boomers and the baby busters,” he said. “Our generation, we went through rough times. We didn’t know we were poor because everybody else was poor.”