Eugene Stern: Jewish Merchant, Farmer and Philanthropist of Las Cruces; New Mexico

Eugene J. Stern

Eugene Stern with E.J. The Lion in front of City Hall, Las Cruces, New Mexico. #WS0450

Eugene Stern with E.J. The Lion in front of City Hall, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
#WS0450

 

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Eugene J. Stern was born in Galszecs, Hungary in 1885.

In 1901, Eugene Stern started college in Homona, Hungary.

A conflict between his career goals (engineering) and his father’s career goals for him (physician) prompted Eugene Stern  to journey to America.

He arrived in New York City in 1903.

 

Along the way . . .

Eugene Stern worked for a travel agency.  Because he spoke 4 languages, Eugene Stern dealt mainly with clients of European descent.

His company soon promoted Eugene Stern and he relocated to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  His salary was $4 per week.

 

In 1904, Eugene Stern moved to El Paso, Texas, where he got a job with the Joe Nation Company as a deliveryman for the retail/wholesale meat and produce firm.

He earned $35 per month as well as free room and one meal ticket per week for a Chinese restaurant.

Eugene Stern received regular promotions and salary upgrades.

 

In 1910, Eugene Stern moved to Trinidad, Colorado, where he sold life insurance for the State Life Insurance Company of Denver.

In 1912, Eugene Stern purchased a Model T Ford.

 

Businesses in New Mexico

In 1914, Eugene Stern and his wife, Mabel, became homesteaders on a quarter of a section of land (in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Eugene Stern continued to sell life insurance while “proving up” on the homestead land.

 

In 1917, after he had “proved up” on the land, and it legally became his, Eugene Stern sold it for $2,000.

This brought his savings to $2,500.

Eugene and Mabel Stern moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he worked for a dry goods store.

 

One and a half years later, Eugene Stern purchased his own store, which he operated for the next year and a half.

 

In 1920, Eugene Stern opened a fancy dry goods and clothing store called Popular Dry Goods Company.  He sold it in 1927 to an El Paso family.  The store operated continuously in Las Cruces, New Mexico for at least fifty seven years.

Eugene Stern's Store min Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1920s. #WS0447

Eugene Stern’s Store min Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1920s.
#WS0447

In 1926, Eugene Stern founded the Las Cruces Mutual Building and Loan Association.

In 1927, the Stern family traveled to Europe to visit with his Hungarian relatives and friends.

In 1928, Stern returned to Las Cruces where he built a two-story business called The White House.

Eugene Stern sold The White House in 1947 to the Dunlap Company of Texas.  While Stern sold the store, he retained ownership of the land on which it operated.

 

In 1928, Eugene Stern began to develop the farmland of the Rio Grande Valley.  With 50 laborers in his employ, he developed 1,600 acres of land.

 

In 1954, Stern sold 800 acres, then divided the remaining 800 acres into 6 units for his 6 children.  After ten years of working these parcels of land, Eugene Stern provided each his children’s families with approximately $40,000 in net earnings.

Eugene Stern retired from farming in 1964.

 

Civic

Eugene Stern set up a student loan fund at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  This money helped 25-30 students per year to attend college.

Mabel Stern donated 250 dresses to girls ages 6-14 at Christmastime.

During the 1930s, Eugene Stern donated funds to every church in Las Cruces.

After the stock market crash in 1929, Eugene Stern and four other businessmen gave $10,000 each to keep the First National Bank of Dona Ana County open.

 

Eugene Stern also helped establish the Salvation Army in Las Cruces.

In 1952, Eugene Stern helped establish the first Dona Ana County Fair.

In 1965, Eugene Stern founded a chapter of the Boy’s Club of America, providing the property and facilities.  The building still houses the club (now the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of America) at 330 W. Las Cruces Ave.

In 1967, Eugene and Mabel Stern helped establish the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.

They donated the bronze lions outside of City Hall.  In 2010, the lions were named E.J. and Mabel after the Sterns.

 

 

Community

When Stern’s children were young, Eugene Stern drove them to the El Paso Synagogue (Temple Mount Sinai) for Sabbath school.  This was a 100 mile round trip journey.

In 1960, Stern funded 65% of the cost of a new synagogue in Las Cruces; Temple Beth El was dedicated in 1962.

 

Fraternal

Eugene Stern was a member of the local Kiwanis Club for over fifty years.

Eugene J. Stern in his later years with his collections. #WS0449

Eugene J. Stern in his later years with his collections.
#WS0449

In 1970, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his membership in the Kiwanis Club, Eugene Stern donated $500,000 to build a new Scottish Rite Temple in Las Cruces.

 

Family

Eugene Stern married Mabel Lull in 1914.

They had six children, among them Lt. Com. Eugene J. Stern, Jr. (1916-2005) and Donald David (1925-1993).

 

Eugene Stern brought five immediate family members to the United States from Hungary.

He helped many younger family members to earn college educations.

 

Eugene Stern died in 1981 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

He was interred at the Masonic Cemetery in Dona Ana County, New Mexico (Section B, Plot 19, Block 35), next to his wife, Mabel Lull Stern, who died in 1966.

 

Information on Eugene & Mabel Stern can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Stern, Eugene J.; Eugene J. Stern: Merchant, Farmer and Philanthropist of Las Cruces; New Mexico; Richard J Lease; 9/2

Samantha Silver is the Curator for this Eugene Stern Exhibit.

Click on Pictures to enlarge.