Our story of service

OldMainStainedGlassMotto_lrgThe word ‘service’ has many connotations and brings to mind different concepts for each individual. While we all might serve differently—be it contributions to family, community, church or the nation—for Bearkats, service also connects students and alumni to an enduring tradition that resonates well beyond their college years.

The notion of service at Sam Houston State University is deeply rooted in its culture and is reflected in the university’s motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service.” It stems from the university’s earliest years when the campus was known as the Sam Houston Normal Institute and was led by Henry Carr Pritchett. During his 17-year tenure, Pritchett did much to advance the institute and secondary education in
the state.


Never losing his teaching roots, President Pritchett advised every student at the end of each term to gauge their mastery of the curriculum and ascertain their behavior outside of the school. Unfortunately, in 1908, he underwent surgery and the next day, Pritchett passed away in Galveston, Texas.

Harry F. Estill was named Pritchett’s successor. Shocked from the news of Pritchett’s passing, he charged the faculty to submit quotes that would both reflect the late president’s ideals and serve as a fitting memorial for a stained glass window commissioned in Pritchett’s honor. It was Augusta Lawrence, professor of Literature, who suggested a quote from a short story, “The Militants” by Mary Raymond Shipman. The quote, “The measure of a Life is its Service,” was etched on the window and placed in Sam Houston Memorial Auditorium in Old Main—a gift donated to the campus community by the class of 1908.

Shortly after the dedication, a visiting speaker happened to read the window and casually remarked that the quote would make a great school motto. For many years, the words would inspire service to all who attended Sam Houston. However, as time passed, major events affected the university including The Great Depression and World War II, and over time the university mantra fell somewhat silent.


By 2001, a particular alumnus brought new life to the cherished phrase when James Gaertner, who earned his BBA and MBA from Sam Houston State, returned to campus as the new university president. Aiming to establish traditions for the school that promoted its rich history, Gaertner revived the motto to help instill a strong sense of tradition.

For the first time since fire destroyed Old Main and the stained glass in 1982, those words were resurrected in 2006 to again be publicly displayed. As part of the campus’ outdoor mall renovation project, the motto was prominently etched into a wall to inspire all who visit campus. 

Since Gaertner’s reinstatement of the school’s motto, the student body and alumni continue to live up to those words through their academic and personal lives. The words not only serve as a guide to building a life devoted to others, but also invoke a deep sense of tradition and history that the university has curated over the course of its 140 years.

—Contributions from John Quezada

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