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Home | Tag Archives: texas college of mines

Tag Archives: texas college of mines

UTEP’s Oldest Fraternity Turns 100, Stays Relevant in 21st Century

In 1919, the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy, now The University of Texas at El Paso, enrolled 138 students. A handful of them decided to start a local chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) Engineering and Geology Social Fraternity, the first fraternity at the five-year-old institution.

Its members – top students classified as sophomores or above – quickly earned a reputation for their shenanigans as much as their academic acumen, civic engagement, campus involvement and active social calendar. The APO folklore includes its rigorous off-campus orientations that involved dressing in costumes to panhandle for money in downtown El Paso, and its pranks such as leaving a live alligator in a professor’s office and entering a pig in a campus beauty contest.

University historians credit the fraternity for starting many of the college’s early traditions such as TCM Day, a celebration of campus history that takes place around St. Patrick’s Day because St. Patrick is the patron saint of engineers. TCM Day activities include whitewashing the “M” on the hill located north of Sun Bowl Stadium.

APO members also earned notoriety for their imaginative Homecoming floats that occasionally infuriated college leaders. According to fraternity records, about 600 students joined that group from 1919 to 1972, when campus leaders asked the group to leave in favor of the APO Service Fraternity.

Today, the social fraternity’s legend lives on through the APO Alumni Group’s Endowment Fund. Since 1991, the organization has provided annual scholarships to three or four engineering and geological sciences undergraduates who are involved with their colleges and the campus. The College of Engineering, which took on this responsibility three years ago, will announce this year’s recipients on March 15, 2019, as part of UTEP’s TCM Day festivities.

“Since the APO fraternity was founded in 1919, its members have been instrumental in keeping the mining traditions alive at UTEP,” said Willie Quinn, a retired professional engineer who pledged with the APO in 1951 and earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering three years later. He has remained active with the group and currently is its ad hoc scribe. “The APO Fraternity Alumni Group continues to support many of those traditions. Thanks to the contributions by its members and friends, the APOs continue to show their support of UTEP through the generous monetary awards given each year to the engineering and geology students.”

Terms of Endowment

For decades, peers knew APO members for their social activities, but by the 1950s, members wanted to save money for a frat house so they took on more moneymaking service functions. Sometimes pledges – dressed in bearskins, togas or women’s clothes – would parade around downtown El Paso to ask for donations. Despite their efforts, members did not put a down payment on a property.

The fraternity’s last faculty adviser, Walter Roser, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Metallurgical Engineering and a 1957 graduate of Texas Western College, now UTEP, used the group’s remaining funds to purchase eight U.S. Savings Bonds. No one was aware of the bonds’ existence until after Roser’s death in 1984.

Texas “Tex” Ward, another former APO member and 1949 electrical engineering graduate who became an attorney, used the $2,600 in bonds as seed money for the UTEP-APO Endowment Fund that today is valued at more than $206,000. Ward, who died in 1993, helped form the alumni group in 1985, which was a necessary step to create the philanthropic endowment. The fund continues to grow through donations from APOs and friends. Since its inception, the endowment has provided almost $102,500 in scholarships to 90 students.

“The endowment helps us positively reinforce the hard work done by our outstanding students who lead student professional organizations and get involved in campus activities,” said Gabby Gandara, assistant dean for Engineering Student Success.

Gandara said the endowment is a tangible example of how the fraternity continues to affect the University. He said it underscores the APO’s efforts to build school spirit, camaraderie among peers, and a sense of social responsibility. He said it pleases him to see today’s students continue many Miner traditions such as the painting of the “M” and helping fellow students through such activities as the collection of toiletries and nonperishable items for the UTEP Food Pantry.

“We look forward to celebrating TCM Day for years to come,” Gandara said. “It is a great event steeped in tradition. We thank the APOs for starting it.”

Keith Fong, a UTEP graduate who earned two bachelor’s degrees in mechanical (1988) and metallurgical (1989) engineering, was introduced to the APOs when he served as the president of the Engineering Alumni Chapter of the UTEP Alumni Association. He has participated in the group’s celebrations for years.

Fong, a continuous improvement specialist with Delphi Technologies, said he has gotten to know several APO members who are mining engineering graduates. He said many of them had to deal with the same kinds of financial and academic challenges that today’s students face. He said their successes in school followed them into their professional lives where their accomplishments contributed to UTEP’s strong reputation for engineering and science.

“The APOs speak fondly of the faculty who taught them – not just about lessons in the classroom, but also how to be professionals,” Fong said. “The relationships that they had with their faculty, with each other, and the other students is something more than transactional – pay tuition, pass the class, and then go your separate ways. The APOs valued the relationships and opportunities they received. Creating the endowment was their way to honor faculty important to them and to encourage current students in the pursuit of excellence.”

Lacy Pittman, center, and C. Coy Harrison, try to keep up with Miss Ima Hogg, a 65-pound Duroc sow, who the APO fraternity entered into the 1956 Miss TWC beauty pageant conducted around the college’s pool, which is where the Undergraduate Learning Center now stands. Bell Hall is in the background.

C. Coy Harrison grew up in Balmorhea, Texas, a small town about 200 miles southeast of El Paso. He earned a college scholarship from his high school and decided in 1952 to attend Texas Western College (TWC) and major in electrical engineering. The campus enrollment was about 2,400. As a sophomore, he decided to join the APO fraternity “because it felt like family.”

Now retired in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, Harrison said he fondly remembered his time on campus and with the APOs.

“I’m very proud that the APOs are still having an impact at UTEP,” said Harrison, who is among the fraternity retirees who continue to support the endowment financially. “We raised a lot of hell … but we did a lot of good things, too.”

Among those good things was the preservation of the antique mining equipment that has been part of the original Mining Heritage Park next to Quinn Hall and the new park between Old Main and Vowell Hall. The APOs helped financially, technically and assisted where possible with the installation of some pieces. The fraternity shares credit for the heritage park with current and former University leaders and the Facilities Services staff.

Miss Ima Hogg

Harrison, who spent his career working for AT&T subsidiaries around the country to include Hawaii, recalled when his fraternity brother, Lacy Pittman, asked for his help to conduct a campus prank.

On April 28, 1956, the day of the annual campus intramural swim meet and Miss TWC beauty pageant, Harrison and Pittman visited an El Paso area pig farmer to borrow a 65-pound Duroc sow. Pittman, who died in 2017, and Harrison loaded the pig into their truck. She was not happy.

“There was a lot of squealing,” Harrison said with a chuckle. The two put some women’s clothing on the sow and a noose around her neck as a collar to walk her around the college’s pool, which is where the Undergraduate Learning Center now stands. The APOs registered her as Miss Ima Hogg. The audience booed the judges’ decision to disqualify Hogg.

“The crowd appreciated (Hogg’s) beauty and personality,” Harrison said.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

UTEP’s Heritage House Shines Light on Institution’s Past

With all the hustle and bustle of college life, it is understandable if students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas at El Paso ignore the nondescript two-story, sand-colored stucco building “hidden” in the center of campus. Understandable, but unfortunate.

The building in question is Heritage House, 405 Kerbey Ave. It has served many purposes through the years from home to classroom to gallery. It is a valued depository of artifacts and memorabilia that chronicles and celebrates UTEP’s existence and traditions starting from its days as the State School of Mines and Metallurgy in 1914.

The wall-to-wall displays and special exhibits overseen by UTEP’s Heritage Commission can educate about the campus’ past or elicit warm waves of nostalgia.

For Ramiro Martinez, a retired El Paso pharmacist who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UTEP in 1967, it was a little of both. He found himself sitting in the Heritage Conference Room, the former home’s dining area, lost in the past as he fingered through an old Flowsheet yearbook.

Martinez said he passed the Heritage House as a student, but never gave the building much thought. At that time, the converted home was used for special University projects.

While on campus for 2017 Homecoming activities, someone recommended he visit the house. One hour into his tour, he was having a pseudo-reunion because he found several of his college buddies on the black-and-white pages of the Flowsheet.

“(Heritage House) is very nice,” said Martinez, who was appointed to the Heritage Commission in November 2017 because of his interest. “It’s nice to come back and see how things were. There’s a lot of history here.”

The home houses collections of books, photos, uniforms, sculptures, paintings and assemblies of glassware, jewelry and different incarnations of UTEP mascot Paydirt Pete. The Heritage Commission has an inventory of thousands of artifacts, which includes approximately 2,000 glossy, black-and-white photos of the campus, people on campus and campus activities throughout the years.

Built in 1920, the building served as home to the institution’s first dean, Steve H. Worrell, and his wife, Kathleen. The Worrells deeded the home to the college after they left in 1923. It remained a residence until the 1960s when it was used as a classroom, for special projects, and eventually for facilities services. University President Diana Natalicio approved renovations to the property and turned it over to the Heritage Commission in 1994.

UTEP formally created the 30-member Heritage Commission on Oct. 8, 1980, to preserve the University’s artifacts. The all-volunteer group is made up mostly of retired alumni, faculty and staff. Before Heritage House, members kept memorabilia in their offices and in the basement of the Administration Building.

Commission members inventory donations, respond to research inquiries and set up displays in Heritage House and the glass display case

UTEP’s Heritage Commission, pictured during a spring 2018 meeting near Miner Canyon student housing, oversees the research and displays at Heritage House. Photo: Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications

outside the Tomás Rivera Conference Center on the third floor of Union Building East. They also lead tours mostly for interested alumni and student groups.

The main draw for the hundreds of annual visitors is to learn about the campus’ history, heritage and traditions.

Briane Carter, Heritage Commission chair and former director of UTEP’s University Career Center, did not mince words when discussing the importance of Heritage House.

“If (Heritage House) wasn’t here, the history of UTEP would be lost,” Carter said. “We’re here to preserve that history and allow visitors to rediscover it.”

One of her favorite Heritage House stories involves Tatsumi Morizuka, a retired resident of Kawai-Cho, Japan, who stopped by UTEP during a bus and train tour of the southern United States in 2016.

Morizuka was familiar with California and some Northeastern states, but wanted to experience the Southwest, especially UTEP, which he read about in a Japanese guide book. He praised the campus in general, and was specifically glad to have spent time in Heritage House. He said the photos and exhibits were wonderful ways to familiarize first-time visitors with the University’s history and traditions.

“The time I spent at Heritage House was precious and unique,” Morizuka said in an email interview, adding that he did not know of any similar gallery at a Japanese university. “It is as if I had been transported to a small, fancy land.”

Stephanie Meyers, DMA, professor of music, said the house is a “big hit” with participants of her String Project, a program that offers string instrument instruction to area elementary school students. She said the children are especially fond of the different Paydirt Pete costumes, some of which date back to before their parents were born.

“They see (Heritage House) as a warm, inviting place,” Meyers said. “They love everything about it.”

The C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department in the University Library often collaborates with Heritage House, said Claudia Rivers, director of Special Collections and a de facto member of the Heritage Commission.

The two entities have similar, but different, missions. Whereas Heritage House collects and displays UTEP artifacts, Special Collections is a cache of documents about the University and beyond to include the City of El Paso, the Southwest region and the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We work closely with them,” Rivers said. “They are a wonderful resource. There are a lot of knowledgeable people there who perform a great service for the University.”

Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president for alumni relations, praised the Heritage Commission for the countless hours they spend archiving, caring for and displaying the memorabilia, and then educating the public about the University. The commission and Heritage House are supported by UTEP’s Office of Alumni Relations.

“We are so grateful for these dedicated volunteers who have chosen to give back to UTEP in this meaningful way,” Villalva said. “They help us to preserve UTEP’s proud history.”

For more information, visit the Heritage House website.

Author:  Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

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