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‘It’s all about the kids’

'Mother Hubbard’ dedicates 97th birthday to scholarships


What better way to celebrate your 97th birthday than by raising money for “the kids” to whom you have devoted a lifetime of service? For Las Cruces icon Barbara Hubbard, there is no better way.

Hubbard plans to celebrate her birthday on July 12 with a raffle to raise money for the American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS) scholarship campaign. Hubbard conceived of ACTS over 50 years ago as a way to help students break into the entertainment industry and get the education she believes is so vital to their futures.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Hubbard, who retired (for the second time) in 1998 as director of NMSU’s Pan American Center after decades of bringing some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to perform in Las Cruces.

Hubbard is still booking top-level entertainment at NMSU and other venues across the United States, and continues to work — without compensation — for her beloved ACTS.

“When young people tell me they love me,” Hubbard said, “that’s my paycheck.”

Hubbard regularly receives calls on her birthday, Mother’s Day and other times from students who have benefitted over the years from the 16 ACTS scholarships, including those bearing the names of Bob Hope, Stevie Wonder, George Strait, Brooks and Dunn, Keith Urban, Glenn Fry, and Hubbard herself and her late husband, among others.

The ACTS endowment is currently funded at a little more than $800,000; Hubbard’s goal is to reach $1 million before her mid-July birthday.

Hubbard said she got the idea for ACTS in 1972 while attending a National Entertainment Conference talent showcase that followed a Linda Ronstadt concert in Pittsburg, Pa.

“It was like a lightbulb went on in my head,” Hubbard said. “Why aren’t we putting our top collegiate kids into a showcase to help them? I came home so excited.”

The first ACTS showcase was held in 1978 in Springfield, Mo. Hubbard chose a central location so participating students wouldn’t have too far to travel, no matter what part of the country they lived in. The showcase included the top three college acts selected from those who auditioned nationwide, opening for the legendary comedian Bob Hope, who Hubbard said “opened the door for us.”

It was also Hope who gave Barbara her well-known nickname, “Mother Hubbard.”

“We pulled it off,” Hubbard said. And, with support from NMSU, she has kept ACTS going and growing for more than 45 years.

Wealth of awards, memories

Hubbard came to Las Cruces in 1954. She was Barbara Johnson in those days, before marrying Peirce Hubbard in 1959 and becoming a teacher at Las Cruces High School. She joined NMSU in 1966, first in the athletics department and then as the first-ever director of special events and director of the Pan American Center.

“I’ve been booking shows ever since,” Hubbard said.

The list of performers Hubbard brought to Las Cruces is long and diverse, including Paul McCartney, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Taylor Swift, George Straight (who has performed for Hubbard 17 times), Reba McIntyre, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham (an ACTS student in 1983), The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Kenny Rogers, the Bolshoi Ballet, Ike and Tina Turner, Garth Brooks and many more.

Barbara Hubbard’s Las Cruces home is a repository of decades of memories, which she proudly displayed to a reporter on June 10.
Barbara Hubbard’s Las Cruces home is a repository of decades of memories, which she proudly displayed to a reporter on June 10.

The walls of Hubbard’s west Las Cruces home are covered with posters and photos, many personally signed to her. One of her favorite mementos is artwork by entertainer Red Skelton of his Freddie the Freeloader character, that Skelton painted for her.

Hubbard also has directed Lawrence Welk’s orchestra, played gin rummy with John Wayne and even written the words to a song for Minnie Pearl. Hubbard fondly remembers partnering with a former ACTS student, Steve Dixon, who went on to work for Steven Tyler and the rock band Aerosmith, to fly two ACTS students from NMSU to Las Vegas to work “8 a.m. to loadout” at an Aerosmith concert.

Hubbard helped open both Pan Am – sometimes referred to as “the house that Barbara built” – and the NMSU Aggie football stadium. Her name is enshrined on Mother Hubbard Avenue at Texas Tech University and Barbara Hubbard Way at NMSU. She has endowments at both universities, along with Mississippi State University, the University of Miami Ohio and Henderson State Teachers College in Arkadelphia, Ark. (Hubbard is a native of Benton, Ark.)

Hubbard has received many honors over the last five decades, including Pollstar Magazine’s first-ever lifetime achievement award, Billboard magazine’s Golden Circle Award and Venue Today magazine’s first Women of Influence Award. She received NMSU’s third-ever Presidential Medallion in 2017, along with the NMSU Distinguished Alumni Award. The NMSU College of Arts and Sciences gave her a lifetime achievement award in 2023. Hubbard also received NMSU's James F. Cole Memorial Award for service.

Local business leader Marci Dickerson, who will host birthday raffle, said looked on Hubbard as a mentor. “Barbara has received every award that is possible in her field and some awards they made up just for her,” she said. “Here is a woman who almost entirely created the concert promoters industry and female involvement in that industry, and she did it from little old Las Cruces.”

Kathy Stout, one of the raffle’s organizers, said Hubbard “truly wants to see people succeed, to get educated and excel in whatever they’re being called to.” Stout’s parents, Tom and May Salopek, were long-time friends of Barbara and Peirce Hubbard.

And Hubbard’s work is far from done.

Barbara Hubbard gazes with delight as she and New Mexico State University professor Ross Marks are elevated 30 feet above Plaza de Las Cruces to light a Chanukah menorah on Dec. 10, 2023.
Barbara Hubbard gazes with delight as she and New Mexico State University professor Ross Marks are elevated 30 feet above Plaza de Las Cruces to …

She is assisting NMSU School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management director Jean Hertzman, Ph.D., with teaching a class at the university on the entertainment business and venue management. Hubbard also continues to advocate for a long-standing plan to build a 55-acre multi-use amphitheater complex near the foot of A Mountain she hopes will become home to the NMSU Rodeo Team. Country music superstar George Strait is the honorary chair of the project.

If you meet “Mother Hubbard” for the first time to talk about ACTS, the amphitheater, her amazing career at NMSU or how much she loves “her kids,” don’t be surprised if she hugs you. “I was raised by a blind father,” she said. “I learned to use touch.”

Information about the American Collegiate Talent Showcase, including how to contribute, is available online at MotherHubbardsACTSprogram.com.