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Marching to his own beat: Earl Ray Monk

UH alumnus supports Moores School of Music and its marching band with $100,000 gift

Earl Ray Monk
Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Monk Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Monk

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A conversation with Earl Ray Monk is a history lesson wrapped in light-hearted banter. At age 88, the retired Exxon Mobil accountant enjoys talking over a good meal and listening to good music – especially the sounds produced by the UH Spirit of Houston marching band.

“I just think the UH band is as good as anything in the state of Texas,” Mr. Monk said recently. “We may not be as large as some, but we are better than most of them!”

His love of marching band music spurred Mr. Monk to give $100,000 to the Moores School of Music to be used by the band department. In honor of this gift, a conference room in the School of Music was recently renamed the Earl Ray Monk Conference Room.

“Ray Monk truly cares about the university, and his gifts reflect this fact,” said Dr. David Ashley White, Margaret M. Alkek and Margaret Alkek Williams Endowed Chair and Director of the Moores School of Music. “He is a modest and thoroughly delightful man who worked hard all his life and is now willing to share some of his resources with us. The band program in the Moores School is grateful for his generosity!”

Mr. Monk attended UH in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a business student. He established a Tier One Scholarship Endowment at the Bauer College of Business and has made several other generous contributions to UH over the years.

“Mr. Monk is one of the best of the best,” said Lynn Mason, Director of Development. “He gives annually, he leverages his 3-to-1 Exxon Mobil match every year, and he has included significant gifts for UH in his estate plans. He attends all the football games and so many of our other events. At an incredibly spry 88 years of age, he has seen so much during his lifetime and those adventures have turned into great stories that we love to hear!”

When it came to deciding where he would attend college, UH was a natural fit for Mr. Monk because he was born and raised in Houston. His father died when he was two-years-old and his mother supported him and his three older sisters by working at a Houston-area textile mill. After graduating from Regan High School, Mr. Monk joined the military and served during World War II.

“I enlisted with four friends in 1942,” said Mr. Monk. “We were required to serve for what was called ‘duration plus six.’” That meant the soldiers served for the duration of the war plus six months after its end.

Following basic training at Ellington Field, Mr. Monk traveled west, serving in New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, and other islands throughout the South Pacific.

“I did whatever the U.S. government asked me to do,” said Mr. Monk. “I built everything from latrines to landing fields for airplanes. One of my jobs was to search for downed planes over the islands in the Pacific - looking for the pilots.”

Although Mr. Monk recalls his military experience as interesting, he didn’t particularly enjoy being a soldier.

“I didn’t like the military – I don’t like anything I can’t quit,” he said.

When his military commitment ended on December 27, 1945, Mr. Monk enrolled at UH with financial assistance provided by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The law, commonly known as the GI bill, gave education benefits to World War II veterans that included cash payments to cover tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education institutions.

Mr. Monk, however, did not rely completely on the G.I. Bill’s financial benefits. While in college, he started working for the Humble Oil and Refining Company, which is now Exxon Mobil.

“I’ve always been conscious of money, I really have,” said Mr. Monk. “I took the job at Humble Oil and Refining because they had a retirement plan. I worked for 33 years and nine months, and I put 10% in the retirement plan every month.”

Like many of today’s UH students, Mr. Monk balanced full-time work with his class work and extracurricular activities. He recalls Frontier Fiesta, the student-led spring festival that was established in 1940, as being a fun-filled event that students looked forward to annually.

At age 57, Mr. Monk retired from Exxon Mobil. Over the years, he added to his nest egg by owning and operating a pet store in the 1960s that sold everything from tropical fish to birds and dogs. He also invested in residential and commercial real estate and leased his properties to renters and a used car dealer.

Now, he lives in the Montrose area in one of a very few Houston-area homes that has a basement. (He says his basement has never flooded.) He plays bridge, enjoys dining out at local restaurants, and hosts annual holiday gatherings at his home for his entire family.

When asked why he has chosen to be such a strong supporter to UH for so long, Mr. Monk applies his decades of accounting experience.

“When Exxon matches my donation three-to-one, I can’t afford not to contribute to UH,” he said.

- By Monica Byars