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Chapel restoration, started in 2009, complete thanks to campus-community effort

NMSU history professor emeritus Clarence Fielder

Thanks to the efforts of some 200 volunteers, the restoration of Las Cruces' first African-American church is complete. Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church dates to 1911. It was built by the grandparents of NMSU history professor emeritus Clarence Fielder, a driving force behind the restoration of the adobe structure.

Fielder and an NMSU graduate student nominated the building to the State Register of Cultural Projects and the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Restoration began in 2009 with help from NMSU and Doña Ana Community College professors and students and volunteers from the community working together.

Last year, the Phillips Chapel Preservation group received the 2013 Heritage Preservation Award in the category of Heritage Organization. Anthropology Professor Beth O'Leary travelled to Santa Fe to accept the honor, which recognized the group's efforts over the past four years to raise money and engage community volunteers to restore the 102-year-old church.

"The award is for the grassroots preservation of a one-of-a-kind resource in New Mexico, Phillips Chapel, C.M.E.," said Rick Hendricks, chairman of the state's Cultural Properties Review Committee. "The preservation group's outstanding job of enlisting professional preservationists, students and faculty and community volunteers over the last four years is exemplary."

"This award belongs to all the people of Las Cruces who volunteered their time," said O'Leary. "It has truly been a labor of love for the entire community."

As the work neared completion, Fielder spoke of "looking forward to that glorious moment, when we enter the restored church."

"I've attended Phillips Chapel all my life," he added.