The University of Houston Magazine

Legacy of the Pride

by Jo Anne Davis-Jones (’79)

Hugh Roy CullenLegacy can be defined as the passing of a gift or a precious memory to future generations. The University of Houston’s legacy is filled with an overwhelming number of success stories that paint a beautiful tapestry of promise, excellence and pride.

A Seed is Planted

E.E. Oberholtzer, the University of Houston’s founder and first president, heeded the call of a small group of eager and enthusiastic working-class high school students who sought higher education. On June 5, 1927, with a student enrollment of 232 and 12 faculty members, their dream began to take form with a few college classes held in downtown Houston churches and area schools.

On April 30, 1934, that young college had burgeoned into a four-year institution with a fall enrollment of 909 students under the formal charter name of the University of Houston. A secure place to call home, however, still eluded Houston’s university. That was until the J.J. Settegast family heirs and Capt. Ben Taub donated two contiguous tracts of swampy land filled with oaks, pines and other native trees and shrubs three miles southeast of downtown Houston along St. Bernard Street (now Cullen Boulevard). The only stipulation: construction must begin by Jan. 1, 1938.

The Birth of a University

Enter oilman Hugh Roy Cullen, who personally guaranteed that “a university would rise on their land.” Sure enough, the first building was dedicated June 4, 1939, as a memorial to Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen’s only son, Roy Gustav, who died at age 31. When Hugh Roy Cullen made that first gift, one of many Cullen family contributions over the years — now totaling nearly $70 million — to UH and the UH System, he said, “I have only one condition in making this gift. The University of Houston must always be a college for working men and women and their sons and daughters. If it were to be another rich man’s college, I wouldn’t be interested.” Thus, the University of Houston’s legacy of promise was born.

Supporting an Evolution

Officially becoming a state university in 1963, the university has since grown leaps and bounds in the number of bright and creative students and faculty members who have passed through these hallowed halls. And, those two tracts of swamp land have evolved into a lush, 667-acre campus featuring fountains, sculptures and recreational spaces surrounding modern classrooms, high-tech laboratories, student housing and state-of-the-art facilities.

The Cullen family has remained a strong supporter of the University of Houston for decades. Leaving a legacy of service and philanthropy including the late Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen; the late Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Smith (’44, HON ’88) and first husband, the late Corbin J. Robertson Sr., who were strong supporters of athletics; Wilhelmina

Beth and Corbie

E. “Beth” Robertson, former chair of the UH System Board of Regents; Lillie T. Robertson, friend and supporter of UH arts programs; Corbin J. Robertson Jr., advocate for the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH; Carroll Robertson Ray (J.D. ’02), current member of the UH System Board of Regents; and Alison S. Robertson Baumann.

With 83 years under its belt, the university’s legacy of pride continues with thousands of other alumni, friends and supporters, such as the late LeRoy (’33) and Lucile (HON ’87) Melcher, George (HON ’84) and the late Cynthia Woods Mitchell, former regent John (’70, J.D. ’75, HON ’95) and Rebecca (’70, J.D. ’78) Moores, the late C.T. “Ted” Bauer (HON ’01), the Hilton family, Gerald N. Hines, Michael J. Cemo (’68) and the list goes on.

Impacting the World

Today, the University of Houston, with an enrollment of 37,000 students, is a nationally ranked research institution with a rich legacy that has positively impacted the lives of its graduates, students, faculty and staff members, and a global society. Its legacy can be measured by a tradition of innovation, dedication, distinction and achievements. UH is a pivotal player in the growth and success of the city of Houston, state of Texas and nation.

UH is a major provider of innovative research and technology, including energy, environmental, biomedical, superconductivity, nanotechnology as well as social and economic research with real-world applications. UH’s strong creative and performing arts programs have touched tens of thousands locally, nationally and globally. Of equal importance, the university continues to provide educational and cultural opportunities and the skilled employees and leaders who are helping to develop and advance society — solidifying its legacy of excellence.


A Bright Future

Eziekel W. Cullen BuildingHere we sit at the beginning of a new decade ready to march into 83 more years of achievement — laying the path for many more to add to the legacy of pride cultivated by thousands of proud Cougars.

This issue of The University of Houston Magazine highlights those special memories of pride and tradition. Having awarded a total of 253,643 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees since 1927, there is a wellspring of stories to share.

14 Reasons to be UH Proud

  1. UH is well on its way to becoming Texas’ next Tier-One university.
  2. UH is one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse major research universities.
  3. UH faculty is internationally recognized and includes National Academy of Science, National Medal of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering members, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer and Tony Award winners.
  4. UH’s world-class facilities are home to more than 40 high-tech research centers, institutes and laboratories, where faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research.
  5. UH has numerous nationally recognized programs, including entrepreneurship; health, intellectual property and public interest law; creative writing; pharmacy; music; hospitality; health and human performance; and retention programs.
  6. UH is honored among the top “community-engaged” universities in the nation by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  7. UH optometry clinics serve more than 40,000 patients annually; UH students work about 920,000 hours in the community annually; UH has more than 200 college and faculty outreach projects in public schools.
  8. UH’s space architecture is the only graduate program of its kind.
  9. UH has the only social work program to have a Nobel Laureate on faculty.
  10. UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics has 20 international academic programs in 17 countries.
  11. UH’s Technology Project Management-Information Systems Security program is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education.
  12. UH has more than 3,500 alumni who head their own company or are presidents or CEOs and has the second most alumni in the Texas Legislature.
  13. UH Cougar athletic stars include Olympic medalists Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell; Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware; NBA stars Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon; golfers Fred Couples, Steve Elkington and Fuzzy Zoeller; and MLB pitchers Doug Drabek, Ryan Wagner and Woody Williams.
  14. UH has numerous successful alumni in the arts, including actors Dennis and Randy Quaid, Brent Spiner, Loretta Devine, Robert Wuhl and Jim Parsons; authors Alice Sebold and Padgett Powell; singer Larry Gatlin; artists Julian Schnabel, Michael Ray Charles, “The Art Guys” — Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing; broadcasters Jim Nantz, Tom Jarriel, Dominique Sachse; clothing designer Victor Costa; film producer Walter Coblenz; and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Adrees Latif, and the list goes on.

Legacy of the Pride Exhibit

by Michelle Klump

The Campus

As the University of Houston continues its path to Tier One, it’s important to reflect on the institution’s history to understand just how far it has come. “The Legacy of the Pride” exhibit did just that — celebrating the university’s history while highlighting what the future may hold.

The exhibit, held Feb. 8–11 at the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion in the M.D. Anderson Library, commemorated UH’s glory years and acknowledged the founding fathers who helped shepherd the university from its beginning as a fledgling college to an accredited, metropolitan research institution.

“It is gratifying to know that pride and love for this university did not begin during
our Tier-One campaign. It began when we opened our doors in 1927.”

Presented by the Division of University Advancement, the exhibit offered material from the university’s special collections and archives, a UH Legacy photo gallery, a presidents’ exhibit and a “Legacy of the Pride” video presentation. Several colleges, the University of Houston Alumni Association, The Daily Cougar, the Student Video Network and UH Athletics also participated.

Cover“My favorite part in organizing this event has been uncovering the story of the University of Houston and presenting it to those who maybe never knew our roots of success,” says Gus Forward (’09) marketing manager and event organizer. “It is gratifying to know that pride and love for this university did not begin during our Tier-One campaign. It began when we opened our doors in 1927.”

“This was a wonderful pride-building tool. I’m so pleased that we could furnish a fitting backdrop to document such a bold assertion — Legacy of the Pride. UH Libraries’ Special Collections is home to the University Archives with all the nostalgic memorabilia and documentation that come with a rich past such as ours,” says Dick Dickerson, university archivist and historian. “Our legacy is clearly that of a Tier-One university.”

You Are The Pride Campaign

by Michelle Klump

In a highly competitive landscape of higher education choices in Texas, the University of Houston needs to distinguish itself from other institutions. Through the “You Are the Pride” campaign, launched in the summer of 2009, UH explains that it’s our students that set us apart. At other universities, students get their identity from the university itself. But UH gets its identity from its students, faculty, staff, alumni and community.

Our stories are their stories . . . stories of diversity and entrepreneurialism, of accessibility and authenticity, of passion and sacrifice.

Legacy of the PrideFrom these stories of astronauts, Olympic athletes, actors, writers and business executives holding close ties to the university, to the stories of the everyday students who are committed to their education, UH has plenty of which to be proud. Their stories are UH’s stories; their pride is UH’s pride. (see Exceptional Cougars) We don’t follow the old mold of other universities, we’ve created a new mold. We are a reflection of our great city, and our graduates are ready to contribute to its workforce.

Throughout the community, the “You Are the Pride” campaign conveys the rich heritage of the University of Houston. By sharing our stories, we inspire current and future students to feel pride in their association with UH and to be excited about UH’s promise for the future. Everyone’s story contributes to the unique tapestry that is the University of Houston. By illustrating our strengths, we can raise the profile of the university, and sustain the momentum that will take us to Tier One.

(All archival photos in this issue are courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, University of Houston Libraries)