LAS VEGAS, NM – New Mexico Highlands’ will have a new football field thanks to a couple with a long history of giving to Las Vegas and the university.
Leveo Sanchez and his wife Patricia donated $500,000 to replace the football field along with another $100,000 to renovate the Stu Clark athletics building.
“From my point of view, it was clear,” said Sanchez who serves as chairman of the university’s Board of Regents. “We might not have had visiting teams willing to play on our field because of potential danger to the athletes.”
The New Mexico Highlands University Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for the university’s needs, launched the Home Field Advantage campaign to raise money to replace the 14-year-old artificial turf, which is past its life expectancy. Aside from the Cowboy football team, the university’s soccer team and rugby team use the field along with the Las Vegas community. The campaign is the first step to upgrade Highlands’ athletic facilities. Funds from other donors will be used for any unexpected costs in the upgrade and other facilities upgrades to enhance the fan experience.
“The new field and renovated Stu Clark building will help us better recruit student athletes,” said Bob Clifford, Highlands’ athletic director. “Many of our alumni have stories of how participating in Highlands athletics allowed them to develop lifelong relationships and prepared them for the opportunities they have faced after college. With these upgrades, we can better continue that tradition.”
Prior to the donations for the Stu Clark and turf replacement, Sanchez and his wife Patricia have donated approximately $1 million to New Mexico Highlands for initiatives ranging from scholarship funds to helping the university’s marching band to Washington D.C. to perform at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
“Highlands is very special to me,” Sanchez said. “Las Vegas and Highlands University had a tremendous impact on my mother and me. It was the initial stage that got us going both nationally and internationally.”
Sanchez’ first encounter with Highlands University was when he was 2 years old, while his mother, Victoria D. de Sanchez, was taking classes at the university, then the New Mexico Northern School, in 1932. She would later become one of the university’s first New Mexico Hispanic professors and a pioneer in teacher education throughout the Americas. The university’s School of Education building is named in her honor.
In 1946, Victoria started working in Guatemala as a rural education adviser for the Inter-American Education Foundation. In her memoir, In the Footsteps of an Educator, Victoria wrote that Leveo had been angry with her for taking him out of Las Vegas City Schools.
“By the time he was 15,” Victoria wrote, “he had become quite an athlete and didn’t want to give up his sports program just to move to Guatemala.” The experience, however, had a great impact on Leveo and shaped his life’s trajectory, leading to his later work in the Peace Corps. Victoria and Leveo moved back to Las Vegas so Leveo could graduate from the town’s high school. For his high school graduation gift, Victoria paid for a trip back to Guatemala. In the fall of 1948, he became a Highlands student.
“I always knew I was going to Highlands University,” he said. “I had been running around the campus since I was 2.”
When he was a junior at Highlands, Sanchez left school and joined the Army during the initial stages of the branch’s racial integration. In the course of his Army tenure, Sanchez was assigned to an African-American battalion as a second lieutenant, an experience that later enhanced his ability become the regional director in 1967 for the Mid-Atlantic region for the Office of Economic Opportunity under Robert Sargent Shriver.
“Sarge told me, ‘Leveo, you’ve never worked with blacks, and the ability to work with blacks is important in this region,’” Sanchez said. “I said, ‘Sarge, have you ever been a detachment commander in an all black unit? I have.’”
When Sanchez left the Army, he returned to Highlands, earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, followed by a master’s degree in foreign affairs and Latin American studies from George Washington University School of Government in Washington, D.C.
Sanchez started working at Highlands in 1945 in the university’s maintenance department as a dandelion digger earning 34 cents an hour. Later, he dug ditches for the university’s new central heating system and hauled sand from Tecolote, New Mexico for the university.
“Highlands had one dump truck,” Sanchez said. “An older man named Ben and I would fill up the dump truck with hand shovels.
“People who hired me in Las Vegas knew my mother,” Sanchez said. “But that’s not why they hired me. They hired me because I was a good worker.”
He later founded and served as chairman of Development Associates, an international consulting firm specializing in social and economic development. Under Sanchez’ leadership, Development Associates became one of the largest minority-owned and operated consulting firms in the country with offices in eight U.S. cities and work in more than 100 countries. He sold the firm in 2005.
In 1971, Sanchez was part of a group of entrepreneurs who founded the Hemisphere National Bank, a minority-owned bank that addressed the needs of a growing Hispanic population. Sanchez served as the chairman of the bank’s board and president until the bank sold in 1981. In addition to numerous other boards, Sanchez served as chairman of the Quincentenary Development Board of the Smithsonian Institution.
“Leveo Sanchez is a true son of Highlands with a lifelong affiliation with our institution and certainly deserves our thanks for such a generous gift,” said Highlands President Sam Minner. “He was an early member of the Highlands Foundation and helped the university secure much-needed funds for building projects and scholarships.”
While the name of the Highlands stadium will be changed to reflect Sanchez’ gift, the Stu Clark building will continue to honor the man who served as Highlands’ football coach, basketball coach, athletic director and faculty member during the 1930s to 50s.
“Stu Clark was loved by his athletes, and he turned out some tremendous teams,” Sanchez said. “I took a health class from him. He was ethical, very pragmatic and very kind.”
Sanchez said he feels historic names for campus buildings is an important way to remember the work of members of the Highlands family, many of whom Sanchez knew personally.
“Some of the early faculty members had an impact on the university and the community,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said his mother Victoria and he are indebted to Las Vegas and Highlands University and the opportunities their education provided.
“When I think of New Mexico, I think of Las Vegas and Highlands University,” Sanchez said. “It’s part of me.”