Eugene O'Connor, Distinguished Service Award 2001

SOCORRO, N.M., May 15, 200 1 -- Eugene O'Connor, a 1953 graduate in metallurgical engineering, was presented with the New Mexico Tech Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award for 2001 at commencement ceremonies on May 12.

Gene has long been an active supporter and vocal advocate of New Mexico Tech. In 1984, he founded an award to be given for scholastic achievement at graduation, and ever since, he has added to the fund and expanded the number of departments to whose graduates it is awarded. In addition, Gene, a Socorro resident, is active in attending open meetings concerning Tech and vocal in expressing his opinions.

Gene and his wife Milly returned to Socorro in 1993, as retirees. They first moved to Socorro in 1948, as newlyweds, when Gene enrolled as a student at the School of Mines.

"I was from Syracuse, New York, and I got my first taste of the desert climate in Texas, while I was serving in the Army Air Corps," recalls Gene. "Milly suggested I use my GI Bill to go to college, and I said, 'Let's find a school in the Southwest that teaches metallurgy.' We wrote away for college catalogs, and the one from the School of Mines showed the students wearing blue jeans and flannel shirts. I said, 'That's for me!'"

Gene was a B-29 radio operator in 1946. In spite of all that training, he did not see combat. He says, "They called the war off before I really got into it. I was disappointed. I was young and I really wanted to see action!"

Gene did not attend his own graduation, because he finished after the fall semester of 1953 and immediately went to work in a steel mill in Syracuse. His career as a metallurgist took him many other places, including Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and Brazil, but most of his career was spent working for Lockheed Missiles Division and living in Palo Alto, Calif.

Milly had a varied career. Since Socorro had a lack of jobs for schoolteachers during Gene's student days, she worked for Socorro Drug Company and the Security Title Abstract Company, learning a lot about the people and property in Socorro and Catron counties. After their daughter, Cathy, was in high school,Milly went back to school and became a registered nurse. She worked for Stanford Hospital and later for Red Cross Blood Services, from which she retired.

In the early 1990s, while looking for a place to retire to, the O'Connor's found themselves visiting Socorro frequently, since their daughter was attending Tech at the time (she's a 1996 graduate). They moved back in 1993.

"Socorro was different and yet almost exactly the same as during our student years," Milly says. "And we liked the climate."

Gene started the award program because he thought that academic achievement ought to be honored. "While I was a student, awards appeared to be becoming based more on need rather than on scholarship," he says. "I wanted to give an award based on GPA, period. I started by giving a $100 check to the top graduating metallurgy senior, since that was my major. Then it went to the best student in what became the Materials and Metallurgical Engineering Department.

Over the years, I've added to the fund and expanded it to include more departments. As more departments were added to the list, 'The Eugene O'Connor Scholarship' seemed a bit ostentatious and the name was changed to 'Alumni Scholastic Award.'"