Janice Baca-Agrabright was honored by Western New Mexico University with an honorary doctorate.
Courtesy of Frances Fuller | El Defensor Chieftain

SILVER CITY – At spring commencement on May 5, Western New Mexico University awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to Janice Baca Argabright, a former university Regent and long-time educator, educational administrator and restaurateur.

In a press release from WNMU, Baca Argabright said that the honorary degree has particular resonance for her as a former educator.

“I have always set goals for myself,” she said of her professional career. Her 20-year goal was to get a bachelor’s degree; her 30-year goal was to go to graduate school and become a principal; at 40 years, it was to become a superintendent; and at 50 years, it was to become a university regent.

Baca Argabright said she considered working toward a Ph.D. but never got around to it as she was “raising kids and grandkids, working, and [now] running a restaurant,” but that earning the honorary Doctorate makes her feel that she has achieved her 60-year goal.

“It is such an honor for me,” she said.

Baca Argabright received her B.A. in elementary education from New Mexico State University and her M.S. degree in educational administration from the University of New Mexico.

In addition to being an elementary school teacher for many years, she also held several leadership roles, including serving as Director of Bilingual/Special Education and Support Services, Special Programs Coordinator, Teaching Principal, and Associate Superintendent of Socorro Consolidated Schools.

Most recently, she served as a Western New Mexico Board of Regents member from 2011 to 2023, during which she saw numerous changes to the university’s campus. In particular, the university renovated Light Hall, built new dorms and generally beautified the campus.

Her start on the Board of Regents coincided with the beginning of WNMU President Joseph Shepard’s career at the university.

“Dr. Shepard had a very good vision for the campus and especially for academics,” Baca Argabright said, noting the successes of the Schools of Social Work and Nursing, in particular.

Of her time at WNMU, she said, “Academically, we have striven in a lot of areas…. I am just so proud to have been a part of that.”

Shepherd characterized Baca Argabright as being a lifelong servant to New Mexico.

“First as an elementary school teacher, then as a teaching principal and associate superintendent, and finally, after proving successful in the field of education, a member of our university’s Board of Regents,” Shepard said. “Earlier this year, she completed 12 years of service, steering WNMU in the positive direction you see today. In her two terms, she has been a remarkable steward of your taxpayer dollars [and] of your desire to see that our graduates are properly educated.”

Currently, she is the fourth-generation owner of the Owl Bar and Café in San Antonio. Started by her great-grandfather as a small grocery for locals that eventually (and unexpectedly) served the scientists working on the first atomic bomb, the Owl Bar and Café today continues to serve the Owl Burger. The legendary green chile cheeseburger has been featured in national magazines.

“I just try to keep the legacy going,” she said.