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History of the Office of the President

W. H. Bruce

Dr. William Hershcal Bruce was selected as the first official president of the upstart John Tarleton College in 1898. His selection was marred by internal disputes within the Board of Trustees that delayed the official opening of the school. Bruce had built a highly distinguished career prior to his tenure at Tarleton earning his first undergraduate college degree in mathematics at Alabama A & M University and his first Ph.D. awarded by Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.  He was a very highly regarded administrator, receiving recognition from the University of Texas. The first president of John Tarleton College faced an intimidating mission being required to devise the curriculum, tend to all administrative chores, hire a competent faculty, and personally teach nine classes. At the time of the opening, the classrooms were furnished with little except chairs, desks, and blackboards and attendance fluctuated each semester.  Though John Tarleton had left behind a generous bequest, this gift was simply not large enough to correct the existing difficulties and still be able to maintain the day-to-day operations of the college. Bruce resigned his position following his first year in order to accept a teaching position at Teacher’s College in Denton (now known as the University of North Texas.) He taught mathematics here until 1911 at which time he assumed the role of University President.

E. E. Bramlette

Dr. Edgar Elliot Bramlette became the second president of John Tarleton College and served in this capacity for the next six years. (Guthrie 28, King 45). Bramlette earned a Bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt and was the first person to receive his Master of Arts degree from the University of Texas. In addition, he served in the United States Consulate in Germany where he studied at Leipzig University. He taught German and mathematics while serving at Tarleton (King 44). Bramlette faced the same problems as his predecessor, but he still made physical improvements by erecting a second building for science, adding four new rooms and a third floor library to the main building. (Grissom 31, Guthrie 28).  Bramlette also presided over the construction of the Marston Science Hall in 1907 - the first brick building to be added to the campus. Edgar L. Marston, owner of the T & P Coal Company and the Thurber Brick Company, donated the bricks and stocked the science building with modern scientific equipment (Grissom 30, Guthrie 29, King 54, Traditions 47). President Bramlette oversaw the introduction of the first campus newspaper and athletic activities such as track and field and football. Many of his accomplishments arose from the support of community organizations and businesses. Bramlette resigned his position in 1906 eventually becoming the superintendent of the American Publishing Company for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky.

Frank M. Martin

Frank M. Martin, the third and youngest man to be appointed president, assumed the role in 1906 at the age of 27 and held the position for a year and a half. The college experienced very little change during this time period. Martin graduated from Washington and Lee University and did postgraduate work at the University of Tennessee and the University of Chicago. During Martin’s brief tenure, student enrollment hit a record low, tuition costs were high, paying faculty salaries required dipping into the principal of Tarleton’s endowment, and the quality of the physical facilities and equipment suffered a great deal. The entire future of the John Tarleton College as an institute of higher learning was beginning to be seriously jeopardized (Guthrie 32). Despite the financial limitations, Martin hoped to oversee the construction of a new college building and dormitories. He campaigned actively, but was not successful in arousing support for his campus vision. Martin blamed the “lethargy of the people” for the failure and claimed in effect that Tarleton would never reach its potential until the town started to support the school. In making such pointed statements, Martin must have ignored the fact that private donations had built new buildings, kept  the college athletics afloat and that the library was established via contributions from the town. Martin abruptly withdrew from the presidency in January of the 1907-08 semesters. A committee of faculty members carried on the day-to-day administrative duties for the rest of the term (King 60).

J.D. Sandefer

Jefferson Davis Sandefer replaced Martin as president of the college. He had been a member of the Tarleton faculty since 1901, teaching history and Latin classes as well as serving as assistant to the president. In his college career, Sandefer was one of only three students to earn a degree from the Parker Institute in Parker County. Upon assuming the role of president, Sandefer immediately took steps to remedy the increasingly gloomy outlook facing the college. The most dramatic measure that he enacted was the downsizing of the university from a four-year college to the status of junior college. An extremely unpopular decision in the community, the shift in focus allowed the college to reduce the cost of operation in a time of serious financial difficulty. (Finley 28, Grissom 15, 45, Guthrie 32-33). President Sandefer also made financial aid available to all students. Though this violated John Tarleton’s original will, it doubled enrollment in the first year. Attendance remained stable for the next decade, and the college was given a bit of breathing room in which to operate (Guthrie 33). The most visible examples of campus improvement during the Sandefer administration was the construction of a women’s dormitory constructed from the selling of 370 acres of land donated by wealthy widow Mary Corn Wilkerson. (Grissom 332, Guthrie 34, King 61-65.) After only one year at the helm of Tarleton, Sandefer moved to Abilene and assumed the presidency of Hardin-Simmons University.

Elzy Dee Jennings

Elzy D. Jennings advanced to the presidency rather early in his career upon the recommendation of his predecessor. He had comparatively little administrative experience at the time of his appointment; he joined the Tarleton faculty shortly after earning his undergraduate degree. His prior experience had been limited to being the co-principal at the Huckabay Academy for four years (1909-10 Catalog). There was very little change or campus development during Jennings’s tenure. However, one extremely fortuitous event occurred which would later result in a major addition to the school. In 1910, a wealthy widow named Mollie J. Crow died and bequeathed a substantial amount of money to the university. The exact dollar amount is not clear, but estimates range from $75,000 to $100,000. Mrs. Crow suggested in her will that her donation be used to build a new college hall and a dormitory for men. The new administration building would not be built until 1915 (Guthrie 34, King 84, 85). Jennings left Tarleton after two years in order to earn his advanced degrees from the University of Texas. Later, he became the dean and vice president of Texas Women’s College and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and later as vice president of Southern Methodist University. Upon his death in 1938, Jennings was returned to Stephenville where he was buried near the campus at the West End Cemetery (Guthrie 34, King 87).

George J. Nunn

George J. Nunn was a distinguished scholar and world traveler. He had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University and studied overseas at Leipzig in Germany. His previous experience in administration was from presiding over the Alexander Institute in Jacksonville and Polytechnic Institute in Ft. Worth. In addition to this, Nunn had traveled at length throughout Europe and the Holy Land. Very little was accomplished during his tenure, but Nunn was undoubtedly one of the worldliest of Tarleton’s presidents (King 88, 89). Nunn left Tarleton after his first year in office. In his resignation, Nunn claimed that his business interests back home in Amarillo were suffering due to his absence. The college was once again forced to replace its fourth president in five years. The difficulty of maintaining any constancy in administration was compounded by the tremendous financial woes facing the school. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come (Guthrie 35, King 92).

Roswell Rogers

Roswell W. Rogers attended the University of Texas and the University of Chicago. At the time he was hired at Tarleton, he was serving as the superintendent of Hillsboro high school. As president of Tarleton, Rogers actively promoted the college by traveling to local communities and issuing promotional statements to the press (Guthrie 35, King 92, 99).  Rogers left his tenancy after one year and became a professor of education at the University of Mississippi. During World War I, Rogers served as state publicity chairman for Mississippi war savings bond drives. (Guthrie 35, King 100-101).

James Duncan Hughlett

James Duncan Hughlett, a math professor at Tarleton, was named interim president at the end of Rogers' tenancy. Hughlett was a graduate of Randolph Macon College, and was the principal of Millington High School in Millington, Tennessee, before coming to Tarleton in 1912. He went on to teach at Corsicana High School in Corsicana, Texas, in 1913 and 1914, and taught mathematics and Latin at Wesley College in Greenville, Texas, in 1915 and 1916.

James F. Cox

James F. Cox received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas. Preceding his presidency at Tarleton, Cox served as president of Lingleville Christian College and as principal of Midway public schools (King 109-110).  Several new buildings were added to the campus during these years. These additions were made possible by well-timed private donations. In 1915, the Mollie J. Crow Administration Building was completed. This was made possible by the bequest of the wealthy widow upon her death five years earlier. It would later be called the Home Economics Building and would remain a part of the campus until 1981. The old Campus Hall, which was the first building on campus, was rendered obsolete by this new and modern structure. (Actually, it had been outdated for years.) The opening of the Crow Building allowed the old wooden building to be demolished (Grissom 33, Guthrie 34, 36).The addition of the Crow Building allowed further reorganization of the campus. The science program was moved here, and the old Marston Science Hall was leveled. The bricks from the old science building were used to construct the new Marston Conservatory that now housed the fine arts department. This building would be used for a variety of purposes until its demolition in 1950 (Guthrie 34, King 116). President Cox was honored for his hard work and improvement of the campus by having the 1916 inaugural edition of the yearbook dedicated in his honor. The Grassburr is a yearly collection of pictures and articles that chronicle the events of the previous year (King 116).  As Cox tried to expand the college, he realized that raising enough money to purchase 500 acres of land to be dedicated as the school’s farm and restore Tarleton’s original endowment fund proved to be a Herculean task, regardless of the actual dollar amount. Luckily, a wealthy citizen named Pearl Wiley Cage heard of the dilemma and intervened on Tarleton’s behalf. She used her friendship with Edgar Marston, owner of T&P Coal Company in Thurber, to secure the needed funding. Her timely involvement allowed Cox to finalize the deal and bring John Tarleton College under the Texas A&M sphere of influence. The deal was finalized in the spring of 1917, and the new John Tarleton Agricultural College opened the following September (Grissom 18, Guthrie 39-40). Cox announced that he was resigning from his position in order to seek a less demanding job. Later, however, he would go on to teach in the education department of Abilene Christian University. He would later serve as both dean and president of this institution until his retirement in 1940. Even while serving at another school, Cox followed the goings on at his old school that he had done so much to preserve (Guthrie 48, King 124).

J. Thomas Davis

James Thomas Davis became the dean of John Tarleton Agricultural College in 1919. Davis, who was born in Georgia, and raised in Alabama, moved to Texas at the age of fourteen. He received his undergraduate degree from North Texas Normal College (now known as the University of North Texas). Davis taught classes at several local schools during his college years. After graduating in 1904, he began teaching history and Latin at Honey Grove School. Davis moved on to become principal of Navasota School a year later. In 1907, he assumed the role of superintendent for the Grimes County schools. Finally, he returned to Navasota in order to serve as superintendent in 1910. Davis held this position for nine years until being hired as dean of Tarleton. He earned a B.S. degree from Texas A&M in 1919, and received his M.A. from the University of Texas in 1921 (Guthrie 48, King 132-133). Davis made an important acquaintance during his employment at Navasota. Superintendent W.B. Bizzell, who would later become president of the Texas A&M College, hired Davis to serve as principal. When Bizzell resigned from Navasota, he suggested that Davis replace him as superintendent. Bizzell was the president of A&M at the time that James Cox left Tarleton in 1919. The president immediately hired Davis as dean even though he had yet to earn his bachelor’s or master’s degrees and lacked any collegiate experience as either teacher or administrator (Guthrie 49, King 133). Davis also set strict guidelines concerning student behavior. His policies were spelled out in the somewhat infamous “Purple Book” which governed most aspects of student life. Davis held himself and his faculty to similar standards. He believed that they “must never do anything at all that they ask the students not to do.” The campus underwent tremendous growth during Davis’ 26 years in office as numerous facilities and buildings were added. Student enrollment had steadily increased since 1917, necessitating these new additions. Since Tarleton was now supported by the state, Davis could attain adequate funding for projects such as the first administration building, the auditorium, a gymnasium,  a permanent science building, various student housing and the famous smokestack. Davis personally helped design and supervise the construction of a new Dean’s House in 1923. Students were hired to perform much of the labor on this new residence. The president/dean of Tarleton lived in this campus house until 1982 when president Barry Thompson decided to make his residence in a more private location off campus. Today, it is known as the Trogdon House and accommodates the current president and his family. It is the oldest building remaining at Tarleton (Guthrie 60, King 150-151). The Tarleton athletic teams received their first formal nickname during the Davis era. Coach Wisdom coined the term “Plowboys” in 1925. He had intended to conduct a contest and award five dollars to the person who thought of the best moniker for the teams. However, Wisdom apparently was most impressed by his own idea of “Plowboys” and the name was used until 1961 (Guthrie 293-294, King 159). Dean Davis withdrew as chief executive after World War II ended in 1945 at the age of 65. His 26-year administration is the longest tenure of any Tarleton chief executive. He was given Dean Emeritus status and remained active at Tarleton by teaching a current events class until his final retirement in 1950. Davis died shortly thereafter on May 12, 1950 and was honored at a funeral service in the Auditorium (Guthrie 96-97, King 222-223). The J. Thomas Davis years have been described as the “golden age” of Tarleton history. He truly loved the school and always displayed a father-like concern for his students. Davis’ numerous contributions to Tarleton make him one of the most important figures in the school’s history.

E.J. Howell

Eugene Jody Howell was selected to become the new dean of the John Tarleton Agricultural College following the retirement of J.Thomas Davis in 1945. Howell had been associated with the Texas A&M system most of his life. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and his master’s degree in economics from that university. In 1923, Howell was hired to teach chemistry at Tarleton a year after he graduated from college. After only one year on the job, Howell was promoted to the position of registrar and Commandant (whose duties included directing the military program.) His initial employment at Tarleton lasted until 1930 when he went to work for Texas A&M in College Station. He was hired as the assistant registrar, but became the head registrar after two years (Guthrie 107, King 224-225). Howell also possessed a strong military background. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and served in World War II. Howell was not sent into combat, but still managed to serve his country by commanding many officer training schools across the country. During this time, Howell developed an exam for recruits who had not completed their high school education. Today’s G.E.D. test is modeled after his innovation (Guthrie 107, King 225).  Several important additions made during Howell’s tenancy such as Joe W. Autry Agriculture Building, the library’s permanent building in 1956, and the original Student Center which opened in 1964. The most visible addition to Tarleton’s landscape during this era was the new Memorial Stadium. This football complex was built in honor of the Tarleton students and faculty killed during World War II. Unlike the other additions made during the Howell years, the stadium was financed through primarily private means. Stephenville citizens, Tarleton Alumni, and current students created a “Stadium Fund” in 1946 in order to built the stadium. They raised enough money to begin construction the following year, although the drive had fell short of its $100,000 goal. The stadium was therefore built in increments until it was ready for opening in 1951. This original stadium did not resemble the larger facility that stands on that location today. It has undergone several renovations including a massive remodeling throughout the early 1970s (Guthrie 110-111, King 229, Traditions 42). During Howell’s tenure, Tarleton introduced a new Department of Education and Psychology. In recent years, this teacher education program has become one of the most acclaimed and successful in the state (Guthrie 132). One of Howell’s earliest decisions as president was to change the name of the college. Howell felt that the name ought to mention the fact that the school was state supported. The A&M Board of Directors and the Texas Legislature approved the change. In 1949, the institution became known as “Tarleton State College” (Guthrie 125, King 239). The most notable achievement of the Howell administration was the conversion into a four-year school. The college had offered upper level classes during the very early years of its existence, but was forced to limit its scope in 1908 due to dire financial problems. In 1954, the Booster Committee (a group of community and school leaders dedicated to helping the college) began to take concrete steps toward returning Tarleton to four-year status. By 1959, enough key legislators had been convinced, and the “Tarleton Bill” was ratified. Howell traveled to Austin on April 27 to take part in the official signing of the document. A huge banquet was held in October to commemorate the occasion and to show appreciation to the contributors. The bill did not take affect until 1961. By the next year, Tarleton had become completely transformed back into a four-year institution (Guthrie 125-131). E.J. Howell retired in 1966 after reaching the age of sixty-five. He continued to reside in Stephenville until his death eleven years later. His legacy was cemented in 1997 when the former Administration/Education building was renamed in his honor (Guthrie 132).

William Oren Trogdon

Dr. William Oren Trogdon was selected to succeed the retiring E.J. Howell in 1966. Trogdon was an accomplished agronomist who held a variety of directorial positions in several agriculture-related businesses. In addition to working in private business, Trogdon served as Chairman of the Agriculture Department at Midwestern University and as head of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M. Trogdon was noticed by Earl Rudder, the president of the university during his tenure at A&M. Rudder would later offer the Tarleton presidency to Trogdon, making him the third straight chief executive to be hired due to connections with the mother school. Despite the fact that Trogdon probably received the job due to his connections, his education and management experience in colleges and private business made him a highly qualified choice as the new president (Guthrie 141-142). Trogdon oversaw the introduction of an agriculture education program to the university curriculum. Tarleton soon ranked first in the state (and second in the nation) in ag education graduates (Guthrie 143-144).The College Farm was renovated and expanded during Trogdon’s term as well. These improvements included numerous new facilities (Guthrie 144-145).Trogdon also added four-year programs in Industrial Arts, Home Economics, Social Work and a fully accredited Nursing degree (Guthrie 145-150).The graduate program at Tarleton was a creation of the Trogdon administration as well. Originally, allowing graduate classes at the Stephenville campus to count towards credit at Texas A&M and eventually, Tarleton’s own graduate program (Guthrie 150-152).In 1973, Tarleton State College became known as “Tarleton State University.” The proposal was initiated by the Student Senate, encouraged by President Trogdon, and accepted unanimously by the Academic Council. The state legislature passed the bill, and the school received its current name (Guthrie 152-153). The Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center was perhaps the most significant addition to campus made during the Trogdon administration. Trogdon also oversaw a major modification of the physical landscape of Tarleton as well. He came under criticism for having a large number of trees chopped down around the campus. Although some of these trees had been existed since the opening of the college, Trogdon claimed that many were either becoming rotten or were causing maintenance problems. In 1976, a landscaping plan was enacted that introduced seventy-five new plant species to the campus, and provided a more orderly arrangement to the vegetation (Guthrie 165). W.O. Trogdon stepped down as president in 1982. The announcement came as a surprise, coming shortly after he had created a new position of executive vice-president. He simply claimed that after sixteen years a change of leadership and direction was needed. The man who was given this new job, Dr. Barry B. Thompson, became the next president of Tarleton. Trogdon served as a part-time agronomy professor for six years before fully retiring in 1988. The former Dean’s House on campus was later renamed the “Trogdon House” due to the fact that his family was the last to occupy it (Guthrie 229, Traditions 40).

Barry B. Thompson

Dr. Barry Baird Thompson became the thirteenth president of Tarleton after W.O. Trogdon decided to step down in this capacity in 1982. Thompson was a Tarleton alumnus who earned his associate’s degree in 1956. Earlier, Thompson had been among the student contingent who were sent to Austin in order to lobby for passage of the “Tarleton Bill”.” Because the school remained a two-year school at the time, he was forced to continue his education at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and secondary education (Guthrie 230). Thompson began his post-graduate career with flying colors. In his second year of teaching in the public schools, he received “Texas Junior High Teacher of the Year” in 1960 while teaching at Andrews, TX. The next year he moved on to become high school principal at Dalhardt. Amazingly, Thompson was only twenty-five years of age when he assumed this job. Meanwhile, he earned his master’s degree in administration. During the 1960s, he served as superintendent at Post and deputy superintendent of instruction at Waco. Thompson also found time to serve as Tarleton Alumni Association president in the year 1968-1969 (Guthrie 230). By 1971, Thompson had moved out of the public school system. He earned his doctorate degree from Texas A&M while serving as head of the Secondary Education Department at Pan American University. His next job was as a professor and head of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education at East Texas State University. Finally, he served as Chief Academic Officer at East Texas while concurrently serving as Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Commerce branch of campus. Thompson came to Tarleton after President W.O. Trogden created the position of executive vice-president. After Trogden left office shortly thereafter, Thompson was appointed to the presidency. Incidentally, the “executive vice-president” position was abandoned after Thompson was inaugurated. This gives the impression that the job was created in order to prepare him for an eventual term as president (Guthrie 229-231). The Thompson years were a time of enormous growth in enrollment. In 1987, enrollment reached the 5000 mark for the first time in history(234-237). Thompson oversaw the implementation of the Writing Proficiency Exam in 1982. Tarleton also received a number of physical enhancements and additions during the 1980s. A new administration building was one of the major buildings to be constructed during these years. The building’s large glass windows, rounded roof, and central location within the town make it one of Tarleton’s most symbolic structures (Guthrie 255-256, Traditions 37). Thompson also reinstated baseball as a sport at Tarleton and built a new stadium for the team as well as the intramural field. Thompson’s time in office represented eight of the most expansive years in Tarleton’s history. However, he unexpectedly resigned in 1990 to assume the presidency of West Texas A&M. This “sister” school was facing a number of serious problems and the A&M Board of Regents asked Thompson to rectify this situation. The mother school was so desperate to attract Thompson to this new job that they appealed to him six times before he finally accepted. Despite his admitted affinity for Tarleton, Thompson accepted this new job and eventually fixed the problems plaguing the school. In 1994, Thompson was asked to assume the biggest job of all. He was hired as Chancellor of the entire A&M system, which was facing a number of problems itself. Thompson held this job until his retirement in 1999. In 2002, college officials paid tribute to him by having the Student Development Center renamed in his honor. Although this building was built after Thompson had left Tarleton, the idea for a new SDC originated during his administration. It is fitting that one of Tarleton’ most important buildings be named after one of its most accomplished administrators (Guthrie 265-266, 280-283).

Dennis McCabe

Dr. Dennis McCabe became interim-president of Tarleton in January of 1991 after Barry Thompson resigned. In April, he was officially inaugurated as the fourteenth president of the university (Guthrie 265). McCabe graduated from New Mexico Highlands University in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and minor in chemistry and secondary education. He attended on a baseball scholarship and played all four years of his college career. He moved several times in the next few years, teaching math in California, Texas, and New Mexico. McCabe returned to Highlands and earned his master’s degree in natural science. In 1972, he received his doctorate in educational administration from the University of New Mexico (Guthrie 267-268). McCabe began his work at the collegiate level in 1972 when he became an assistant professor in the Pan American University education department. He moved to East Texas State in 1976 where he became an associate professor in their department of education. Incidentally, Dr. Barry Thompson was his department head at this job prior to both men’s tenures as Tarleton president. McCabe moved up the ranks at this university as he became the assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and then was promoted to head of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education. From 1984 until 1988, he served as the Dean of the College of Education at Lamar University (Guthrie 268). In 1988, McCabe was hired at Tarleton as Vice President for University Operations by then-president Thompson. It was speculated that this position was created especially for McCabe as a means to get him to Tarleton and prepare him for a future term as president. Once McCabe assumed the office of president, he eliminated his old position (Guthrie 266).The McCabe administration had to deal with a serious monetary problem during the 1990s. The entire state struggled during this time, but Tarleton was hit especially hard. At the beginning of the decade, tuition was $18.00 per hour. By 1999, this amount had increased to $60.00. This situation was remedied in 1997, when the state legislature modified its funding formula to be more equitable to schools such as Tarleton. McCabe seized this opportunity to give the faculty a substantial raise in salary. Prior to this, Tarleton salaries had been among the lowest in the state (273-276). McCabe also oversaw the construction of the Student Development Center, one of the centerpieces of the Tarleton campus. The names and symbols of sixty student fraternities, sororities and campus organizations were carved into the wet concrete in 1994. In 2002, the Student Center was renamed the Barry B. Thompson Student Center in honor of the ex-president who had first envisioned it (Guthrie 280-283, Traditions 43-44). The long-needed new Science Building was built late in the decade. This cutting edge facility opened in the spring of 2001, and will undoubtedly serve the needs of science students for years to come (Guthrie 283-285). Tarleton was also expanded outside of Stephenville for the first time during the 1990s. The Dora Lee Cultural and Education Center in Granbury represented the largest private donation ever given to the university. Ms.Langdon donated an entire city block and five buildings that had originally been used as a cultural center for the performing arts. In 1996, she decided to give this $1.3 million property to Tarleton (Guthrie 286-287). McCabe worked with the A&M system to establish a new branch of Tarleton in Killeen, Texas. The former University of Central Texas now was brought under the control of the larger Stephenville campus. In addition to utilizing the Killeen campus, classes are also held in Ft. Hood, and Temple Junior College. Temple, Copperas Cove, and Killeen public schools also donate classroom space for the college. This branch has been renamed the Tarleton State University System Center-Central Texas. This name was frequently shortened to “Tarleton-CT” (Guthrie 287-288). Tarleton has been greatly expanded and modernized during the McCabe years. At the time of this writing, the university continues to experience new levels of success under his tutelage.