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Some 50 years ago, a gravel pit covered a stretch of land near I-25 and Montaño Boulevard.
It’s about the same part of town where Chavez stood on Wednesday, amid hot tubs and granite kitchen counter tops, holding a check he’d written for $1 million. It was made out to the University of New Mexico with a promise of $9 million more to come over the next 10 years.
The owner of Dreamstyle Remodeling has always loved the Lobos. He loved them before he got an accounting degree from UNM, before he snuck into the first game ever played at University Stadium in 1960.
In a couple of months, UNM is going to slap his business’ name on that stadium – and on the Pit, too.
“It’s a great university and it needs some help,” Chavez said.
Larry Chavez was born in Springer 69 years ago, only because that’s where his parents wanted him to be born. They lived in Albuquerque, but when it was time for Larry to come into this world, they returned to their Springer homeland. A couple of months after his arrival, Larry was brought to Albuquerque, which, with the exception of a brief venture to California, is where he has made his residence since.
The Chavezes lived on North 11th Street.
“There were a bunch of kids my age and we played football in the streets,” Chavez said.
When he was about 5 years old, his father took him to Carlisle Gym to watch the Lobos play basketball.
When he got older, he and three friends would gather in one of their kitchens on Saturdays when the Lobos played football. They would each throw a couple of quarters on the table, turn on the radio and keep stats. At the end of the game, whoever’s stats were closest to the official numbers was the winner of 2 bucks.
He rattled off his favorite Lobo basketball players – Petie Gibson, Mel Daniels, Marvin Johnson and Ron Nelson.
“Remember Stretch Howard?” Chavez asked.
Chavez went on to play a little basketball himself, helping Valley High School beat Roswell 73-67 for the Class AA title in 1965.
“I used to like to fiddle around, get underneath the basket and put some English on the ball,” Chavez said.
During the course of that state title game at Johnson Gym, Chavez drove to the basket only to find Roswell’s 6-foot-9 Mike Barber headed right for him.
“I got underneath, flipped the ball and spun it off the board,” Chavez said. “And it went in. I think we were tied, so the crowd went wild. I remember that like yesterday.”
Chavez’s brothers, Jerry and Judge, were also Vikings and went on to teach and coach at Valley. Judge is the school’s football coach today.
But Larry was bent toward business. For a while, he manufactured and sold sunrooms.
Then he entered into a part of his life that he once described to the Journal as his “country-western song” phase. He put on some of the greatest Super Bowl parties in Albuquerque history. But ultimately, he also lost his business; he lost his wife.
Still, the lessons he learned in athletics served him in life.
“Absolutely,” Chavez said. “You have to be able to get up when you get knocked down. A big attribute of our company is the ability to deal with adversity. It’s around the corner at all times.”
He and his current wife, Joyce Hitchner, created their remodeling business in 1989.
“We started this company with her $500-limit credit card,” Chavez said.
Now they’ve got 500 employees in facilities in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Idaho.
His fortune is fortunate for UNM.
Chavez is a student of people. One of the persons he watched last football season was athletic director Paul Krebs’ wife, Marjori. He saw as she twisted her fingers, then twisted more fingers, then her arms and then legs during crucial moments of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. He marveled at how she knew the players’ names without aid of a roster, how she knew their injury history. Her passion fueled his passion.
In his negotiations, Chavez wanted to make sure some of his millions would go beyond athletics. UNM’s Children’s Hospital, the Anderson School of Business and Popejoy Hall also will benefit.
“We think it’s a great university,” Chavez said. “It’s been very good to me and many members of our team. Like anything else, it could always improve. But it needs support during difficult times. I’m really hoping what we’re doing will prime the pump and bring more support, not only to athletics, but to the rest of the university.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column.