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

Values Codes I – E – L – P


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

In 1901, Stern started college in Homona, Hungary.

A conflict between his career goals in engineering and his father’s career goals for him in meicine prompted Eugene 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 four languages, he  dealt mainly with clients of European descent.

His company soon promoted him 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, he moved to Trinidad, Colorado, where he sold life insurance for the State Life Insurance Company of Denver.

In 1912, Stern purchased a Model T Ford.


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.

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

In 1917, after the land legally became his, Eugene Stern sold it for $2,000. This brought his savings up to $2,500.

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

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

In 1920, Eugene opened a fancy dry goods and clothing store called Popular Dry Goods Company.

He sold the store 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, NM, 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.

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

He sold The White House in 1947 to the Dunlap Company of Texas, but retained ownership of the land on which it operated.

In 1928, 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.



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.

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

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

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

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

In 1965, he 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.



When his children were young, Eugene Stern drove them to the El Paso Synagogue (Temple Mount Sinai) for Sabbath school. It 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.



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.



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.



  • Richard J Lease, “Eugene J. Stern: Merchant, Farmer and Philanthropist of Las Cruces,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 9/2.

Samantha Silver is curator for this Eugene Stern exhibit.