Joe M Stell Jr., an exemplary athlete, pioneering rancher, educator, and legislator who worked tirelessly, humbly, and honorably to serve his family, community, and the state of New Mexico for more than 80 years, passed away peacefully on Friday, October 30th at the age of 92.
Born in a 500 square-foot house in Lynn County Texas in 1928, Joe was the oldest of two children born to Joe M Stell Sr. and Mary Louise Stell. Shortly after Joe’s birth, his family moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico. As a youth, Joe idolized the hardworking and pioneering ranching families that first settled in the area around Carlsbad. He grew up working on ranches alongside many of these old-time ranching paragons, and the perseverance and humility they imparted was reflected in Joe’s lifelong commitment to hard work and unwavering personal integrity.
Growing up, Joe was an exceptional athlete, and he made All-State football, basketball, and track and field in his junior and senior years at Carlsbad high school. “My Grandfather was a farmer during the Depression and I knew I didn’t want to be a farmer,” Joe said. “I had athletic talent and was offered scholarships to a number of schools and so I went to college.” Joe first attended Southern Methodist University on scholarship in 1946, but missed his native New Mexico and his high school sweetheart, Verna Renfro, so he transferred to the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 1947, where he was a football letterman and co-captain of the team his senior year. He received several offers to play professional football, but declined. His heart was in teaching, coaching, and establishing a family with Verna, whom he married in 1948.
Joe earned a Bachelor of Science degree in language arts from UNM and went on to earn his Master of Science degree in school administration from Western New Mexico University. By that time, Joe and Verna had started their family, which included four children; Jim, Cathy, JoBeth, and Linda. Joe took his first teaching and coaching job in Deming, NM in 1950. Three years later, he was asked by his former Carlsbad High School football coach, Ralph Bowyer, to return to Carlsbad and help work with the Caveman football program and teach accelerated English classes in the high school. For thirty-seven years, Joe worked for the Carlsbad schools as a teacher, coach, and principal. During his seven years coaching the Caveman, the team won four state football championships. Joe also coached basketball and took his teams to the state tournament in four of the five years he coached the team.
In 1986, Joe was elected as a state representative of District 54. Joe was a quiet, humble, and understated man who seldom turned away anyone who asked for his help. During his 20 years of service as a legislator, he was recognized at the local, state, and national levels for his rangeland conservation efforts, and was also considered an expert on water issues in the state. He played a critical role in the implementation of a set of sensible water policies for NM, earning him the title of “Mr. Water” from former NM governor, Bill Richardson. He also helped revise the Election Code, and contributed to issues on farming and ranching, education, and public safety. Regardless of the issue, Joe’s influence on the state and national level was marked by his commitment to education, quiet competence, humility, and fairness and respect for all that made him a champion in the eyes of everyone who worked with him.
In addition to dedicating his life to public service, Joe was a pioneering rancher who worked with government agencies in order to protect our environment for future generations. In 1992, Joe was the first rancher to partner with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to develop and implement a strategy for remediating shrub-dominated desert land on his ranch so that it could become fertile grassland—a strategy that dramatically improved the watershed and water resources. Joe’s work with the BLM blossomed into the bureau’s “Restore New Mexico” efforts, which has resulted in the improvement of over a million acres of watersheds and water resources back to their natural state. He considered his greatest legacy, apart from his family, to be having left the land and water resources on his ranch—and the state in general—in better shape for future generations.
While Joe dedicated his professional life to the betterment of his community, he was also a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Joe was supportive, loving, and set a powerful example in his patience and unwavering loyalty and acceptance for all. Joe lived his life without outward judgement or criticism, without complaint, and without wishing to inconvenience anyone, even in the smallest way. It is rare to find a person whose every word and action reflects an unyielding commitment to the highest possible standards for himself, while being so gracious in his love and respect for the land, and all people and creatures that he met in his long and wise journey on this earth. Joe was a shining light and source of strength and determination to all that knew him. He has inspired thousands as a teacher, coach, principal, rancher, humanitarian, family member, and exemplar of a life lived with the utmost integrity and excellence.
Joe is survived by his wife, Verna, son Jim (and Janine) Stell of Gainesboro, TN, daughter Linda Stell of Carlsbad, NM, and sons-in-law Grant Kinzer and Jim Hawk. He is also survived by six grandsons; Jeremy, Jimmy, Kye, Drew, Cody, and Jordan; four granddaughters, Jennifer, Endee, Kacie, and Jacquelyn; four nieces and nephews, Rhonda Stell, Phil Stell, Diane Peachey, and Jere Stell; as well as 16 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brother, Phillip Stell, and daughters Cathy (Kinzer) and JoBeth (Hawk).
Services to honor Joe’s life will be set for a time in which family, friends, and the broader community can safely come together and celebrate in a manner befitting his legacy. If you wish to be notified of plans for this celebration of life, please follow the Joe Stell Legacy Page on Facebook, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you will be notified when a date is confirmed. In the meantime, the family is seeking to gather photos, stories, and other remembrances and share them more widely with the community. If you would like to share a few words about Joe’s life or legacy, please post at the Joe Stell Legacy Page on Facebook, or send an email to email@example.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Joe & Verna Stell Charitable Fund within the Carlsbad Community Foundation Inc., 114 South Canyon, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220 or online at www.carlsbadfoundation.org
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