Class of 1948
Roy Minoru Nakayama was born on Sept. 11, 1923, to John K. and Tome Nakayama, who emigrated to the U.S. from Japan. John and Tome began their family in Nebraska where John worked on a farm. After he sustained an injury, the Nakayamas decided to relocate to a warmer climate and headed to the Southwest. The family came upon the Las Cruces area and eventually planted some roots. They had eight children, including Roy, who was to become known as “Mr. Chile.”
After two years at New Mexico State University (then New Mexico A&M), Roy Nakayama enlisted in the United States Army and was called to active duty in 1943. He participated in the Battle of the Bulge and was captured. He spent seven months in captivity before being liberated.
Nakayama returned to NMSU, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He went on to attend Iowa State University and earned master’s and doctoral degrees. Returning to Las Cruces, Nakayama taught and conducted research in agriculture and horticulture at NMSU for 32 years before retiring in the mid-1980s.
Nakayama developed chile varieties that greatly advanced the industry and helped make chile a commercial crop. His endeavors included releasing the chile cultivars NuMex Big Jim, the NuMex R Naky (the “R” is for his wife, Rose) and the Española Improved, which was released in collaboration with Frank Mata, then superintendent of the NMSU Agricultural Science Center in Alcalde.
In addition to his work related to chile, he dedicated time to research on pecans. Nakayama is credited with developing two pecan types, Sullivan and Salopek. He also served as a consultant for the NMSU-U.S. Agency for International Development joint program in Paraguay, setting up horticultural research and teaching programs at the University of Asunción.
When not busy with research and service, Nakayama enjoyed playing golf, bowling, fishing, and, of course, judging chili cook-offs.