Water is everything when you are trying to build a community in the desert. Thanks to the foresight of many of our past and current residents, Carlsbad is well positioned now and will be in the future. Joe Stell was one of the figures who made that all possible.
Stell, the former state representative of District 54, passed away last week. Joe was a legendary figure in Carlsbad who found success in everything he pursued.
Joe was first elected in 1986 to the position, which is now occupied by Jim Townsend. During his 20 years as a legislator, Stell was recognized for his rangeland conservation efforts and was considered an expert on water issues in the state. Stell received the Humanitarian Award from the Carlsbad Community Foundation in 2015.
Jim Stovall, who serves as Pecos Office district manager in Roswell, said Joe was the first rancher in the area to partner with the BLM and the effort improved the watershed and water resources. He participated in other partnerships with the BLM on issues related to prescribed burns and antelope habitats and received the organization’s Rangeland Stewardship Award. Former Governor Bill Richardson referred to Stell as “Mr. Water.” Stell was the pivotal figure in representing the area’s ranchers and farmers for decades.
Prior to his career as a legislator, Joe was a highly successful educator and coach. While in high school, he made All-State football and basketball and competed in numerous track and field events. He was the captain of the University of New Mexico football team his senior year. He graduated from UNM with a bachelor of science and held a master of science degree in school administration from Western New Mexico University. Joe took his first teaching and coaching job in Deming, but came back to Carlsbad just three years later. He coached with legendary coach Ralph Bowyer during a period where the Cavemen won four state football championships. He also coached basketball and led the Cavemen to the state tournament four times. Many former players and students fondly recall Joe’s leadership and approach.
Stell later became the principal at Alta Vista Middle School for 11 years, retiring in 1987.
Asked what he considered his greatest accomplishment in his long career as a legislator, Stell once replied, “Water issues and protecting our waters from over-reach by the state and federal government. Water is life,” he said. “It’s finite and there is only so much of it.”
Joe was 92 years old when he passed away. We offer his wife Verna and family our condolences. Joe left behind a long-lasting legacy that made this community a better place.
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway
Thank you to the Carlsbad Community Foundation for their assistance with this article.