Today@Sam Article

Building Legacies: Elliott Toulmin Bowers

March 28, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins

The following is part of a Today@Sam series highlighting the individuals who have SHSU buildings dedicated to them on campus. Special thanks to Barbara Kievit-Mason and University Archives for their assistance.

If Sam Houston State University had a Mount Rushmore, Elliott Toulmin Bowers would be on it. In a relationship with the university that spanned five decades, Bowers distinguished himself as a student, dean, vice president and president, and is largely responsible for the scenery Bearkats experience at the Huntsville campus on a daily basis. Bowers extra

“It is not a pleasant picture or legacy that past generations have passed on to you,” Bowers said in his 1989 commencement address, the final year he would serve as SHSU’s president. “You recall from your studies in history and political science that each generation faced circumstances not to their liking. These are neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It is your time... your opportunity to offer your services, your knowledge, your “can do” attitude toward seeking solutions to the problems standing in the way of a higher quality of life for each of us.”

Bowers was born Aug. 22, 1919, in Oklahoma City to Lloyd Bowers Jr. and Enah Adeline McDonald. He first came to Sam Houston State Teachers College in 1937 after graduating from Mexia High School to be the student director of the college band, director of the jazz band and the director of the Huntsville High School band. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1941 and his master’s the following year before volunteering for the U.S. Army Air Corps. In the brief time between his master’s and service in the military, Bowers attended school in Houston to receive his Civil Aeronautics Admiration Instructors Licenses in navigation, meteorology and aircraft engine rules and regulations.

He would ultimately serve in the Air Force from 1943-46, teaching meteorology and navigation. He also spent time in counterintelligence in the South Pacific.

“I was sent to officer training school and stayed there for a while in the Philippines and Tokyo, but mostly San Antonio,” Bowers said in a 2010 podcast interview with Bess Osburn, former SHSU professor of education, and Paul Culp, former special collections librarian at Newton Gresham Library. “I came back to Sam Houston in 1946 and the university employed me.”

Bowers was immediately tasked with renovating apartment buildings on campus for GIs as they returned from World War II. For the next 15 years, he would wear various hats and display his diverse skillset by going where he was needed. Sometimes, this would include teaching on the road.

“They had these extension classes, so if I’d drive to Fairfield or Palestine, or Timbuktu, well, I could teach,” Bowers said. 

In the early 1960s, the Texas Medical Center had 28 nurses set for graduation who didn’t have the necessary credits in psychology. They reached out to former University President Harmon Lowman for assistance.

“Dr. Lowman had friends down there and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll send somebody’,” Bowers said. “And he sent me.”

Officially, Bowers served as director of testing and guidance at Sam Houston from 1946-1951 and director of the student union from 1951-59. He then earned his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Houston and served as Sam’s vice president for university affairs and dean of students from 1959-1970. He served as acting president from 1962-64 when Lowman fell ill (and ultimately passed away) and again in 1970 when Lowman’s successor, President Arleigh Templeton, resigned the post. In June of that year, he was officially named SHSU’s permanent president. 

When Osburn asked Bowers how he thinks he’ll be remembered, he cited the many upgrades to the campus he helped orchestrate during his 19-year tenure as president.

“We had good fortune during those years in getting money, a master plan and great planners,” Bowers said. “In 1972, an engineering firm spent all their time installing the underground stuff; they did a fine job... We got a great number of our telephone poles, transformers and above-surface construction put underground.

Bowers082422tif“In 1976, I got with a man named Ralph Spencer, who was a professor and very much interested in the academic part. He was an art lover, so he liked beauty. We got off on this kick of beautifying the campus after we took care of these buildings to serve academic purposes. It turned out pretty nice and I suppose that’s what I might be remembered for.”

He supposed right. During his tenure, nine major facilities were constructed on campus. Today, those facilities are known as the Lee Drain Building and Mall, Dan Rather Communication Building, Teacher Education Center, University Theatre Center, George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center, Health and Kinesiology Center, Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, Bowers Stadium and Field House and the old Fine Arts Building.

In an earlier interview with the Houston Chronicle in the 1980s, Bowers stated that he hopes to be remembered for his focus on students.

He was married to Frances Marie Handley from 1940 until her death in 1999. Outside the Education Center sits the Francis Handley Bowers statue in her honor. The statue, donated by their daughter, depicts a boy pushing a girl on a swing.  

Elliot Bowers passed away May 30, 2003, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville with his wife.

“His quality soared like an eagle, but at heart, he was a Bearkat through and through,” said Rev. Bruce Hay at the funeral service as reported by the Huntsville Item.

Bowers was designated President Emeritus as well as an SHSU Distinguished Alumni. Shortly after his retirement, the trustees of the Sam Houston Foundation provided $50,000 to the newly established Dr. Elliot T. Bowers Endowment fund, specifically intended for scholarships for students enrolled in the university’s honors program. Today, his name graces the honors college as well as the football stadium, but his impact reverberates throughout the entire campus.

- END -

This page maintained by SHSU's Communications Office:

Director of Content Communications: Emily Binetti

Communications Manager: Mikah Boyd
Telephone: 936.294.1837

Communications Specialist: Campbell Atkins
Telephone: 936.294.2638

Please send comments, corrections, news tips to