While you splash in the Laabs and Frenger swimming pools this summer, you just may wonder who they were named for. These two pool boys have very different stories to tell.
Written by Bud Russo
Meet Kermit “BUD” Laabs
Kermit, better known as Bud, was born in 1906 in Wausau, Wisconsin. He attended Beloit College and Central State Teachers’ College in Stevens
Point, where he earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree in 1929. Apparently a young man of substantial athletic ability, he lettered in four sports in school and even played for the Green Bay Packers football team in 1929. The Packers reported he was “a good passer, due to his basketball ability…and he appears to know his football mighty well.”
He moved to Belen, NM, in 1937, where he owned an automobile agency. The Depression and his love of sports probably played a role in his decision to relocate to Las Cruces and become the athletic business manager at New Mexico A&M. He was later named athletic director, served as the football coach during World War II, and was voted the most popular faculty member in 1942. The yearbook that year described him as a “breezy, cigar-loving” man.
In 1946, Bud left the college to establish a sporting goods department in Myers Company. While a successful businessman, he also devoted considerable time to community service. He was New Mexico’s first state recreation commissioner. He was a member and chairman of the Las Cruces Park and Recreation Board and instrumental in setting up the summer recreation program, which became the model used by other New Mexico communities. He was also active in the Elks, the Aztec Masonic Lodge, and the Shriners.
Along with Rudy Camunez, Bud fought tirelessly for Las Cruces’ first public swimming pool. Named for him, Laabs Pool was built in 1949 on Picacho Avenue at Melendres Street. Kermit “Bud” Laabs died at age 58 on May 26, 1964 and was buried in the Masonic cemetery.
The aging swimming pool was closed and filled in 2008, but his name lives on in the new Laabs Pool on Melendres, just south of the Lion’s Park tennis complex. It features zero-depth entrance, a water slide, a splash area, lap lanes, and a shaded deck.
The Laabs Pool is open Tuesday to Sunday from noon until 6:30 pm. Per-session admission fees are $2 for ages 3 to 59 and $1 for seniors 60 and older. Thirty-visit punch cards are also available.
Meet Numa Frenger
Numa Frenger was born in Socorro in 1876. He was raised by his uncle, Numa Reymond, a wealthy Las Cruces man involved in the shady side of the Murphy-Nolan gang during the Lincoln County War. Numa was one of the first five students to enroll at the New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts (today’s New Mexico State University). While a good student, he was once disciplined for ball-bouncing, a college infraction at the time.
During the Spanish-American War, he served in the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, as a corporal in the Rough Riders. Following his military tour, he earned a law degree in Michigan, was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 1901, and established a law practice in Las Cruces. Perhaps the highlight of his law career was a case he argued—and won—before the U.S. Supreme Court, guaranteeing the rights of married women to own property separately from their husbands.
At age 45, Numa was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives, the first in a line of public-service positions he held. He was elected to the Third Judicial Court in Las Cruces, where he served three terms as judge, to the Las Cruces City Council, New Mexico Board of Water Commissioners, and Las Cruces Board of Education. He was also appointed to the college’s board of regents and served as secretary-treasurer.
Numa Frenger died at age 69 on January 12, 1945. His namesake, Frenger Pool was built nearly a decade later in 1956 at the north end of Frenger Park, just east of Las Cruces High School. Originally an open-air pool, the city later built an enclosure over it so it could be used year-round.
Now showing its age, Frenger pool is occasionally closed because of equipment malfunctions and may soon be replaced. On May 7, 2016, Diana Alba Soular filed a story in the Las Cruces Sun-News about the city’s proposed $148 million in capital spending. Among the projects is a $6.2 million, Olympic-size outdoor pool at the Las Cruces Regional Aquatic Center.
In the meantime, Frenger pool is open Monday to Friday from 6 am until 10 am for lap swimming and exercise only. Per-session fees are $2 for ages 20 to 59 and $1 for seniors 60 and older.
Special thanks to Martha Andrews, associate professor at the NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections, for assisting in researching this story. Additional information was found in Pioneers of the Mesilla Valley, by Paxton P. Price.