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Deming man’s secret wealth benefits New Mexico university

February 5, 2017

DEMING, N.M. (AP) — Cy Cress was a world traveler who visited exotic places and wrote stories about them for U.S. magazines in the years following World War II. He settled down in Deming in 1985, where he lived quietly until his death on Jan. 27 at age 96.

“I was going to try Silver City, and I didn’t realize that the kids were coming into college then and rentals were pretty tough to find,” he recalled. “So, I went down to Deming.”

He lived in a home that had been converted into a duplex. The landlord used the front end for storage; Cy lived in the back. By all appearances, he was like so many others in Deming, living modestly on a fixed income. That was how he wanted it.

“He didn’t want anybody to know who he was,” said Jag Cheema of Wells Fargo Bank. “He had no TV and no phone. He just read a lot. He was just a very humble man. And, until the day he died, he was well alert.”

But Cy had a secret. He had done quite well during his travels. So well, in fact, that in late 2014 he was able to make a $1 million contribution to the New Mexico State University Journalism Department.

He didn’t want anybody to know about his wealth. So, when he met with the Sun-News to discuss his donation on Jan. 28, 2015, he did so only on the condition that we would keep his secret until his death.

An Illinois native who grew up in Colorado, Cy was serving in the Pacific during WWII when he made a fateful decision.

“I made a little prayer that if I ever got out OK, I would like to drive,” he said. “I heard about the Pan-American Highway being built, and that sounded so darned good.”

The bridges were in, but the road wasn’t finished the first time Cy headed south of the border. He worked for a while in the late 1940s for the Mexican commission in charge of combating cattle disease.

“Mexico is an amazing place, I think. The things that they’ve built are every bit as amazing as the things in Egypt,” Cy said. “The only bad part of their excellent civilization was tossing young virgins into volcanos.”

He was working for the Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii when it achieved statehood.

During a trip to Costa Rica, Cy stopped at a cantina for a beer and heard two guys talking about a new penal colony.

“I thought, by golly, I’m going to check on that when I get into town. I went to see the head of the penal colony there and he said, ‘yeah, sure, we’ll send you over there,’” Cy said. “I just wandered around there, and it was surrounded by sharks in the water, so nobody could escape — I mean, without donating a foot or something.”

His story was published on the cover of Argosy magazine.

“There were prostitutes that were allowed to come over and visit these guys, and that kind of curled up the toes of them at Argosy,” he recalled.

He thought about settling down in Costa Rica, but continued travelling. He spent time in Honduras, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Philippines, sending back stories from each location.

“United Airlines had a 100,000-mile club, and I was in that in 1951,” he said.

When asked how he had acquired his wealth, Cy responded, “I’ve been a saver, and I hit the stock market a few times.

“I just had some wonderful breaks, and I just met a lot of good folks along the way.”

Deming Headlight Editor Bill Armendariz was Cy’s neighbor. He had no idea how wealthy Cy was, but was well aware of his love of writing.

“In my conversations with that dear man, he was all about newspapers,” Armendariz said. “He just loved everything about the written word. We would talk about his world travels. He just did so much, and was just fascinated about the written word.”

“I could sit out there and chat with him for hours about newspapers.”

Cy said his older sister, Lois Cress, was the women’s editor at the Denver Post. They both shared a fascination with writing.

“In my personal view, the most abstract thing that mankind has ever been involved in is the written word,” he said. “To try to transfer feelings or emotions — joy or comedy or happiness — into these little things that we have developed. Transfer the feeling to the person who is reading it is just an amazing thing. And, I hate to see any diminishing of the written word.”

The Cy Cress Excellence in Journalism scholarship has been started at NMSU in honor of Cy’s sister, said Hwiman Chung, head of the Journalism Department. Chung said the $1 million will help the university provide students with the technology they will need in the new world of journalism.

“We expect it will have a huge impact because our department is very equipment heavy, with computers and software. People think it’s just writing,” he said.

Chung said they plan to name the journalism multimedia center after Cress.

Cheema said that in addition to the donation, Cress left “a substantial amount” to the university.

Floyd “Cy” Cress was preceded in death by his parents, Floyd Henry Cress and Alma Prenevost Cress, as well as his sister, Lois. A celebration of his life will be announced at a later date.

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Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com

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