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Crimm Named Piper Professor

James Baker, Caroline Crimm
Piper Professor Caroline Crimm was congratulated on her selection for the award by James A. Baker III, former secretary of state, prior to May 15 commencement exercises.

Caroline Castillo Crimm’s mother always told her having a teaching certificate was an ace in the hole, and her mother was right, she said.

That ace in the hole was the beginning of a career that led Crimm to earn the SHSU Excellence in Teaching Award in 1999 and the Mary John and J.P. Bryan Leadership in Education Award for the State of Texas in 2003.

Most recently, Crimm became the eighth SHSU professor to receive a Piper Professor Award, the first SHSU history professor to do so. She will be given a certificate and $5,000 for this achievement at the SHSU commencement ceremonies on Saturday.

Only 15 professors throughout the state were selected for the 2004 Piper Awards.

The daughter of a California-educated Mexican father and American mother was born and raised in Mexico City, but after her father died in 1963, her mother brought the family to Key West, Fla.

The family left Mexico without anything and lived in Navy housing while Crimm’s mother taught elementary school.

“We lost everything when my father died, because the government is not real big on letting you keep a whole lot of money if they can help it,” she said. “We were able to get out basically with what we had.”

Her family had “lived a very nice life in Mexico,” always having servants, and moving from that “to living in Navy housing and having to do everything for ourselves was a bit of a shock.”

It was also a learning experience, Crimm said.

“The nice thing is that when you’ve been at the top and then you go to the bottom, you realize you can make it no matter what,” she said. “You realize that you can always find a job, you can always survive, you can always get along, and you can always work your way back up again.”

Crimm did just that, working her way through college at the University of Miami, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in history, and taught high school for several years.

She moved to Texas to start a wind generator company in Houston and a manufacturing facility for the same company until it went out of business. She also spent time “building barbed wire fence on the ranges of West Texas along with a crew of Mexicans.

“I was the translator, but I also had to carry the barbed wire and pound the posts,” she said. “This was in Lubbock in January, February and March, which are the coldest months out there.”

It was from here that she resorted back to her “ace in the hole,” teaching second grade, then seventh grade, and then high school biology.

While teaching, she earned her Master of Arts degree in architectural preservation, to which she attributes her “fascination with the cabins,” and was offered a fellowship to the University of Texas, where she finished her doctorate.

Here, her Hispanic roots influenced her decision to study Latin American history. She was also influenced by a “spinster librarian” there named Nettie Lee Benson, whom the UT library is named after.

Benson, 82 years old when Crimm worked with her, had helped to build the UT library by purchasing books on Latin America in Mexico during the summer in the 1930s and 40s.

“She did that for probably 30 years and created the best Latin American collections of books, and with the single exception of Seville, Spain, it is the best collection in Latin America, in all of the world,” she said.

Benson also stemmed Crimm’s interest in Mexican Texas. Crimm’s first book on that subject, “De Leon, A Tejano Family History,” was published by the University of Texas Press.

In 1992, Crimm came to SHSU while finishing up at the University of Texas “because of my versatility in being able to teach United States history, Texas history, as well as all the Latin American History courses,” she said.

“It didn't hurt that I am female and a Hispanic,” she added.

Crimm has been involved as the volunteer coordinator for the Sam Houston Folk Festival for seven years, helped rewrite the new Texas Examination for Educator Standards (TExES) and has sponsored a number of groups on campus, including the Webb History Society and the Kappa Delta Chi Sorority.

She also participates on many state associations and boards, helped establish a Hispanic Outreach program, Encuentro, with Dalia Harrelson at Huntsville High School, “to create mentor relationships between the high school and our college students both before and during the program.”

In addition, her work to preserve the Roberts-Farris Cabin with her "Texas History" classes have turned “our students into published authors” through the book series that accompanies their work, she said. Crimm and the class are currently working to restore the Guerrant Cabin, which will also have a book to chronicle their work.

She is married to Jack Crimm, and together they have three step-children, and seven grandchildren, four dogs and two cats.

The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation gives Piper professorships annually for “superior teaching at the college level.” Crimm now joins the ranks of Hazel Floyd (1961), George Killinger (1968), Mary Frances Park (1981), Fisher Tull (1984), Ralph Pease (1987), Witold Lukaszewski (1991), and Rolando V. del Carmen (1998) as past SHSU award recipients.

“To be chosen as one of the top teachers in Texas out of the thousands and thousands who are eligible, is an honor that, more than anything, makes me feel both humble and amazed,” she said.



SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
May 12, 2004
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