The “most memorable dinner party in the Old West” just may be Julius Rosch’s stag dinner in Deming, New Mexico, in 1913.
To show off the home he had just built for his family, he hosted a dinner for men who had been living in Deming for 30 years, like him. A total of 28 men came that night.
Last April, more than 600 people showed up for the 100th Deming-Luna County Old Timers’ Association dinner that is the legacy of that party. Tommy and Delia Perez, co-presidents of the association, were the reigning couple this year. Delia’s people have lived here since the early 1900s.
The original demand of a 30-year residency for dinner attendees has eased up. Now you have to be at least 30 years old and lived in Deming at least 10 years.
A few other changes occurred along the way. During Prohibition, the residents held the meetings in Palomas, Mexico, where liquor wasn’t illegal. And while this was an all-male party for the first 17 years, in 1930, women were permitted to attend. Now the women are an integral party of the organization.
What hasn’t changed over the last 100 years? Dues are still $1, and people still gather to swap stories, to share in the memories and laughs and sorrows.
These days, the Old Timers’ event is also the all-class reunion for Deming High School, bringing back folks who might not have come home if not for the storytelling, a great catered meal (this year by Fancy Fixin’s) and a dance (always by the Delk Band, in its third generation of musicians).
“This is a very valuable group because it brings people back to their hometown,” says Sylvia Ligocky, head archivist at the Luna County Historical Society. “It enriches the history of Deming. If we don’t keep doing this, young people won’t know our history.”
Ligocky herself has lived in Deming 61 years and has a startling admission—this was the first time she had actually gone to an Old Timers’ meeting. She admits she had a good time.
“Delia had these wooden windmills made for centerpieces, just like the windmills the ranching families in this area all had,” Ligocky says. “One person at each table got to have the windmill. But the person at our table didn’t want it, so I got it!”
Besides the centerpieces and memorabilia, everyone says the best part of the Old Timers’ centennial meeting this year were stories folks told about growing up in the area, old ranching stories, of hardship and of triumph over the elements, stories of cows and gardens and children, stories of how many of those old ranches have still survived and are doing what they have always done, since the railroad first came into these parts in 1881 and Deming was founded.
Tommy and Delia know lots about that. They still live on her family’s original ranch—once 700 sections; now 35 sections—and they don’t sound like they plan to live anywhere else in the world.
“What the Old Timers’ mean to me is that we honor the people of the past,” Delia says. “It brings back lots of memories, lots of values.”’
Jana Bommersbach has been Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is the author of two nationally-acclaimed true crime books and a member of Women Writing the West.