Small college home to great professors

By Lynn Moncus

Because of the recent deaths of a couple of my college professors, I began to reflect about some of the outstanding professors I was fortunate enough to have at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as New Mexico State University.

Although we took pride in being known as the “State Cow College,” we actually had some top-notch professors from major universities and certainly were offered an outstanding education in the event we wanted to take advantage of it. In order to do a little reviewing, I pulled out a 1988 publication, New Mexico State Un iversity College of Arts and Sciences Centennial History, to which I had contributed the chapter on the history of the English Department.

Because that department played such a large part in my life as an undergraduate and later as a professor, I wanted to recall stories about two outstanding professors who had helped me so much. Neither had a Ph.D., but both were nationally and internationally known for their work. “Professor Jessie Miller was one of the amanuenses (a manuscript copier) of Sir Alexander William Craigie in the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary.” With but a bachelor’s degree, Miss Miller was the outstanding grammarian on campus and in many areas of our country. Although she talked far above my head in her classes, she became a good friend with whom I spent much time trying to learn a little.

“Col. Alexander W. Chilton, a soldier, scholar, graduate of West Point and head of the English Department there, a writer of English textbooks and novels, a teacher of President Eisenhower, the military editor for the Merriam Webster Company, came to this campus first to direct the Department of Military Science.” After WWII, he retired again from the military and began teaching in our English Department. Just listening to his lectures was a major treat. and later becoming a close friend was a major privilege. The Colonel remained active in the community long after he retired the last time and continued to treat his friends to lectures and teas. His last ambition was to become the oldest living graduate of West Point, and he achieved that a few months before his death. He was another professor to whom many of those with lofty degrees turned when they wanted answers.

His knowledge of Victorian poetry was boundless, and he could recite hundreds of those poems from memory. I used to forget to take notes in class because I would be watching him recite without a book in sight and listening to his resounding voice as he punctuated the works.

Our college was a small one, but it was mighty in the numbers of outstanding mentors for its students. We had the best of all worlds if we chose to explore them and had some of the best of all professors if we chose to listen to them. I now understand what the Colonel meant when he told me never to forget “A.H.I.P.,” “age has its privileges.” You should remember that as you move over the hill.