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SHSU Has Long History
Of Famous Speakers

Not since Sam Houston himself attended meetings of the Austin College board of trustees in Austin Hall has there been a figure as famed as George Bush on what is now the Sam Houston State University campus.

Through the years there have been some big names -- politicians mostly -- but none with the stature of a former president.

"We've had governors galore," said Ferol Robinson, former vice president for university relations and a student himself in the 1930s.

At one event, the dedication of the re-located Steamboat House in 1936, governors from Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas shared the stage.

President Bush will be presented the Sam Houston Humanitarian Award and give a speech as part of the SHSU Distinguished Lecturer Series at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Johnson Coliseum. Entrance will be through doors 1-11, on the Teacher Education Center side of the coliseum, beginning at 5:30.

Ed Chatal, coliseum manager, urged those attending to arrive early for the best seating, as none of the approximately 6,000 available seats will be reserved. Entry for the handicapped will be through the coliseum ramp prior to 6:30 p.m.

Bobby K. Marks, Sam Houston president, emphasized that admission is free, and area residents in addition to university faculty, staff and students, are invited.

"This will be a historic occasion," said Marks. "We want all who can, to come and enjoy it."

A reception, which President Bush will not attend, is scheduled for the coliseum concourse after the speech.

While Sam Houston State has had many educational and influential speakers and visitors, there have been only near-misses with presidents and former presidents.

William Jennings Bryan, who failed in three attempts to be elected U. S. president, was on campus in 1911.

Paul Culp, curator of the Thomason Room of the university library, said that Bryan's speech in Old Main Auditorium became known as his "Prince of Peace" speech and was one of the two most famous that this great American orator ever gave. The next day he spoke at the dedication of the Sam Houston memorial in Oakwood Cemetery.

Ruth Bryan Owen Rohde, daughter of Bryan, also appeared on campus. Her distinction was that she served as the United States' first woman diplomat, according to Mary Estill's history entitled "Vision Realized."

"Bishops, United States senators, and other distinguished visitors..." were among the institution's notable guests, Estill wrote.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Texas's native son president, was here as a U. S. Senator in 1954, but never after his election to the top office. Johnson's great-grandfather even lived in Huntsville and was a friend of Sam Houston. Lyndon's grandfather, J. W. Baines, spoke at the 1886 Sam Houston Normal Institute commencement when Baines was Texas secretary of state.

Poet Robert Frost, who had already won two Pulitzer Prizes by that time, spoke at Sam Houston State in 1933. Culp has an autographed copy of his poem, "North of Boston," in the Thomason Room.

Persons close to presidents have been here. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt opened a 1937 Texas tour, speaking on "The Problems of Youth," before a crowd estimated at 1,000. In 1952 Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett was presented an honorary doctorate, as was Oveta Culp Hobby, commandant of the Women's Army Corps.

James A. Baker, Bush's secretary of state, was presented the first Sam Houston Humanitarian Award in 1993.

Famed Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley once spoke at an evening Pritchett Field commencement on the need to maintain support for the arts and humanities, as a Russian Sputnik spacecraft streaked overhead.

Another famous person who appeared here, who was close to a president, or perhaps more accurately--whose actions contributed to the demise of a president--was G. Gordon Liddy, who spoke at the Criminal Justice Center as part of the now discontinued Interagency Workshop program.

Jesse Owens was here for a Black Awareness Week program, and in a news conference said he kept in shape by walking. Asked if he ever jogged, he answered that there were two things he could never do, "run flat-footed or slow."

Dan Rather has been here several times, aside from the fact that he spent four years here as a student in the early 1950s. He returns periodically to speak at commencements and special occasions such as 1993's General Sam Houston Bicentennial Birthday Celebration.

U. S. Senator Ralph Yarborough was here as a student as well, and returned to speak as an office holder and candidate for other offices, including that of Texas governor. On his last visit he picked up the university's Distinguished Alumni Award.

Another distinguished alumnus, and a person that Culp calls "probably the university's most intellectually-distinguished graduate," was former University of Texas president Logan Wilson, who was elected president of a national education association and amassed something like 75 honorary doctorates.

Previous speakers in the Distinguished Lecturer Series have included other "intellectually-distinguished" people as well.

Such as anthropologist Ashley Montagu (1980), historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1981), national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1983), futurist Alvin Toffler (1984), paleontologist Richard Leakey (1985), pollster George Gallup Jr. (1986) and Texas author Larry McMurtry (1987).

And last year it was Communist-fighter and former Polish President Lech Walesa, who was also presented the Sam Houston Humanitarian Award.


March 6, 1998
Media contact: Frank Krystyniak
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