At right, Isabelle "Belle" Eckles, better known around Silver City as Liz Mikols, spoke about being the first graduate of the Normal School in 1895.

Below, the Western New Mexico University Pep Band, led by Bryant Chaffino, played for the audience.

Article and photos by Mary Alice Murphy

On Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 11, Western New Mexico University celebrated Founders Day, the university's 121st birthday.

Abe Villarreal, public relations, served as the moderator.

Isabelle "Belle" Eckles AKA Liz Mikols spoke as the first graduate of the Normal School in 1895.

"I graduated in one year," Eckles said. "My girlfriends and I started together as students, and we all became teachers."

She said in 1911, she was elected Grant County superintendent She also served as acting president of the board, because "there was no man to do it."

In 1922, she became the New Mexico education superintendent and brought education to small towns in the state. She also worked with the Works Progress Administration and dedicated her life as an educator.

"Western, WNMU or Teachers' College, whatever you want to call it, it is a wonderful institution," Eckles said.

Villarreal said because February is also Black History Month, Danielle Greene would read a poem by Anita Scott Coleman. Coleman and Maggie Banks, Johnny Banks' mother, were the first black students to graduate from the Normal School in 1904.

Greene read "The Shining Parlor" by Coleman.

A black-and-white video created by Western students featured snippets of people around Silver City wishing WNMU a Happy Birthday.

To end the celebration, the WNMU Pep Band played several short numbers and invited the audience to participate in singing Happy Birthday, followed by a jazz rendition of the same song.

Cake and punch were served in the Miller Library lobby.

Live from Silver City

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