Reminiscences on South Texas

Thanks to the research and publication of materials on South Texas Junior College by archivist Melissa Torres, the shadow that has long hung over UHD’s predecessor is lifting. The results are a pleasant surprise to many, rather like learning that a vaguely known relative was a solid citizen and not the feared drinking uncle.

The founding of what was once the largest private two-year college in Texas represented a bold concept, fashioned in the heady aftermath of World War II. It opened its doors in 1948 in the beautiful ten story Italian Renaissance-styled Young Men’s Christian Association building at a somewhat remote 1600 Louisiana. The newest center of higher education in Houston shared a couple of floors with South Texas College of Law, the remainder of the space housing dormitories and activities of the parent YMCA.  The two schools constituted a planned family, as the YMCA sought to provide the law students with a fuller college agenda.  The times proved propitious for an even brighter future for the new entry. Returning war veterans, bolstered by the G.I. Bill of Education, were pouring into rapidly growing Houston and set enrollment records at the University of Houston. There were few alternatives with no local community college system and no state supported universities bearing low tuition. Students liked the family like atmosphere of South Texas Junior College, some fondly calling it “L.S.U.—Louisiana Street University,”—and attendance increased until it burst its rock walls in 1967, declaring its independence from the Y and moving into the present UHD location of the Merchants and Manufacturers Building.

When I arrived at the college in 1962, a number of the industrious first responders remained, W.I. Dykes, “Doc” Shannon, Harry O’Kane, names which still resonate at UHD. Dr. Dykes, whose quiet humor and speaking style echoed Will Rogers, was president and his philosophy was that the administration administered and the teachers taught. And they taught well. Dean Ross Toole emphasized at my hiring that South Texas considered itself the first two years of university, not “grades thirteen and fourteen.”  The college prided itself on its successful basketball and rodeo teams, the latter sponsored by a wonderful fellow named Joe Norwood, who with his brother had wrestled in the area as the masked Demon Brothers before managing the college bookstore and later becoming UHD police chief.

Under reported, South Texas set an example in racial integration in the racially charged 1960s. Segregated by law from the time of its founding, the college opened its doors to African Americans without fanfare while local school districts were funding budgets to block desegregation. One day registrar Helen Hutchens received a telephone call from a young man stating that he and a group of friends were en route to the college and expected to be admitted.  Not pausing, Mrs. Hutchens told them to hurry and welcomed them at the entrance. South Texas Junior College conducted integrated classes the following semester without incident.

Garna Christian