By Frank Chamberlain
In 1946, the Tarleton Ex-Students Association proposed that the school construct a football stadium in memory of the 179 students and faculty killed during World War II. Prior to this proposal, the old football field (named Hays Field) was located on the northwest corner of campus, bordered by Lillian Street to the west and Vanderbilt Street to the north. The Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center, Joe W. Autry Ag Building, and the Dick Smith Library now occupy this site.
The first step towards the realization of this proposal was the purchase of a thirty-eight acre tract of land west of the college. This newly acquired property stretched westward from Lillian Street to the present day Harbin Drive (then known as St. George Dr.) The territory was immediately cleared of foliage and replanted with grass. Soon after these preliminary procedures, efforts began to finance a stadium to build on these lands (Guthrie 110).
The college established a fund raising organization in order to finance the future $100,000 stadium. Mary Hope Westbrook, English Department head at the school, was place in charge of the operation. College officials would later give her full credit for the success of the fundraising program. Stephenville citizens, Tarleton Alumni, and current students also zealously participated in the effort. One of the more ambitious attempts to solicit funds was a letter writing campaign aimed to various “national celebrities” requesting benefit performances for the Stadium Fund. However, the letters did not persuade any famous performers into lending a helping hand. The committee was much more successful in obtaining donations from private citizens and from the creation of a postage stamp. This stamp was used to cancel every letter leaving the university and provided a great deal of publicity for the project. In just two months since Westbrook assumed control, the Stadium fund had increased its holdings from a little over $3,000 to over $40,000. Despite this rigorous and successful campaigning by supporters, their efforts fell short of the necessary funds needed to complete the original proposal. Nonetheless, building began in late 1948 on the site of the present day stadium (Guthrie 111, The J-TAC May 4, 1948).
Construction on the eight-acre complex commenced in piecemeal fashion in 1947 and continued until 1951. Additional revenue became available periodically in these years, allowing the stadium to be ready for the 1951 season. The finished product included a scoreboard, game clock, and ten rows of concrete bleachers. The players’ equipment and dressing rooms were situated beneath these seats. In addition, the school’s first cinder track encircled the field (Guthrie 111-112).
The facilities of Memorial Stadium were improved upon throughout the 1950s. A practice field was created north of the stadium in 1952, and new lights and bleachers were periodically added to enhance the spectator environment. By 1957, the seating capacity had been increased to roughly 6,000. The stadium retained this original form for the next 13 years.
Memorial Stadium received its current look during a full remodeling effort during the 1970s. In order to afford these changes, Tarleton again relied primarily upon the generosity of the Stephenville residents. State funding was not available because of a law prohibiting the usage of tax dollars to construct an income generating facility, such as an athletic field (Guthrie 156).
The initial renovations took place in 1970 and 1971. During this time, local benefactors gave enough money to pave the parking lots, erect a new scoreboard, install better lights, and improve the field house. However, it became obvious that the stadium needed more work and that remodeling would probably become an annual necessity. Therefore, in 1974, the community and university decided to completely update Memorial Stadium once and for all (Guthrie 157).
“The most ambitious and challenging project ever undertaken by the Alumni Association” raised $475,000. The names of these contributors who donated $500 or more can be seen on a bronze plaque decorating the new press box (Guthrie 157).
Many of Memorial Stadium’s most enduring features resulted from this massive reconstruction project. Most notably, concrete bleachers with steel seats were set into an earthen embankment on the east side of the stadium. The press box and restrooms were built atop these grandstands. A large field house and concession stands were added to the south and northern fringes, respectively (Guthrie 157).
The Oscar H. Frazier Track was another major addition to the new facilities. This all-weather track encircling the playing field was named in honor of the legendary track coach and mathematics professor. The formerly cinder track was repaved to become an all-weather running surface. By 1977, Memorial Stadium had received its current and modern appearance (Guthrie 157, 316).
In 1988 and 1989, Memorial Stadium was given its final adjustments to date. The current field house was built on the south side of the field where dressing rooms, sports medicine facilities, and several classrooms are housed. The old concession stand was remodeled and new bleachers were erected on the west (visitors) side of the field. Track and field facilities were renovated during this most recent bit of rebuilding. The track was widened and resurfaced and greatly improved field event sites were added to the grounds south of the stadium (Guthrie 257).
Memorial Stadium has remained one of the university’s most recognizable facilities. For over fifty years, it has been the centerpiece of the fine Tarleton athletic tradition.
Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.