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The Presidency of W.O. Trogdon

By Frank Chamberlain

Dr. William Oren Trogdon was selected to succeed the retiring E.J. Howell in 1966. During his sixteen-year presidency, many new degree programs were adopted and several important buildings were added to the campus.

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).

Tarleton’s agriculture department received a tremendous boost from the Trogdon administration. Trogdon oversaw the introduction of an agriculture education program to the university curriculum. In order to achieve this, Trogdon had to convince the State Board of Education to allow another college to offer these courses and counter opposition from these other schools. (Eleven Texas colleges already offered such certification.) He was successful in his lobbying, and this new program became a smashing success. 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. Included in this 1973 project were the additions of a swine lab, a meats lab, two new poultry buildings, a horticulture building, an agricultural engineering building, a pavilion, increased dairy facilities, and a horse center. The horse center proved exceptionally valuable, becoming one of the most recognized in the nation. This huge Equine Management Facility was completed in 1983, the year after Trogdon left office (Guthrie 144-145).

Trogdon also enhanced the Tarleton curricula by adding four-year programs in several new categories. Bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Arts became available in 1967. Classes had been offered in this field for years, but no formal degree plan existed at the college. In 1970, Trogdon received permission to begin a home economics degree program. Likewise, these type classes had been offered since the early days of the school, but this was the first time that a degree could be earned in this field. The nursing program was expanded from a two-year pre-nursing coursework into a fully accredited program in 1978. It has since become recognized as one of the finest in the state. A social work program opened in 1980. This was a relatively new feature to the curriculum as the first social work classes had offered for only six years (Guthrie 145-150).

The graduate program at Tarleton was a creation of the Trogdon administration as well. In 1968, the college began to offer graduate classes for Texas A&M. According to this arrangement, students would attend select classes at the Stephenville campus, but the credits would count for the A&M graduate school. This program proved successful, so a movement was initiated to allow Tarleton to open its own graduate school. The A&M Board and the State Board of Directors accepted this proposal in 1971. Since this time, the Graduate School has been an integral part of the university. Numerous departments on campus now offer Master’s degree programs (Guthrie 150-152).

The college also underwent its third name change during Trogdon’s tenure. 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).

Several new buildings were added to the campus landscape that gave Tarleton much of its current look. Among the first of these was a new and modern Wisdom Gym and physical education building. This construction began in 1967 on a lot east of Memorial Stadium. The new facilities included a large gymnasium, classrooms, offices, equipment rooms, and dressing rooms. The building also housed the R.O.T.C. department. In 1972, the gym was named in honor of coach W.J. Wisdom, one of the legends of Tarleton athletics. Soon thereafter, the Wisdom Gym underwent a major expansion. During this time, a smaller gym, a gymnastics room, and an indoor swimming complex were added. Several new classrooms, dressing rooms, and storage rooms were also included in the renovation (Guthrie 155-156, Traditions 45).

The Home Economics Department was relocated into this newly expanded complex in 1977. This new annex included several kitchens and various types of laboratories. These included a child development lab and playground for observing child behavior (Guthrie 156).

The addition of the new gym and Home Economics unit allowed their previous homes to be demolished. The old gym (designed by Wisdom himself) was torn down in 1972. Today, this location serves as a parking lot for the Fine Arts Center and the senior honors students. The old Mollie Crow Home Economics building met a similar fate in 1981. At the time of its demolition, the Crow building was the oldest structure on campus. The new Wisdom Gym and its accompanying facilities rendered the old women’s gym rather obsolete as well. Although this building was not destroyed, the swimming pool was paved over and the girls athletics were moved into the new gym. Today, this building is called the Physical Education and Health Annex. It houses the Intramural Sports Department and the gymnasium is used for various P.E. classes and intramural games (Guthrie 156).

The Tarleton athletic program received another boost during the 1970’s when Memorial Stadium was fully renovated. The stadium had been open since the 1950’s, but bore little resemblance to the modern complex of today. President Trogdon and the fundraising committee decided to fix the stadium’s problems in one broad stroke rather than resort to the periodic improvements of the past. A massive fundraising campaign lasted from 1972 until 1976 that provide the means to totally overhaul the stadium. Memorial Stadium attained its current proportions during this period, including the landscaped slope that encloses the eastern bleachers (Guthrie 156-157).

Two new dormitories were added to the college during Trogdon’s years. The Hunewell dorm was expanded in 1968. This new Hunewell Annex connects to the original building and runs north to south alongside McIlhaney Street. Trogdon also bought the current Crockett Hall in 1969. This building was once a privately owned and originally served as an athletic dorm. It is located northwest from the main campus. Today it is a co-ed facility and is open to all students (Guthrie 154-155).

The Humanities Building was finished in 1973 and greatly expanded the classroom capacity of the university. This three-story building contains two floors of classrooms as well serving as home for numerous academic departments. The Art Department stayed here until the 1980 opening of the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center and the Department of Business remained until their new building was finished in 1987. The Education Department briefly relocated here during the early 1970’s while their building was being renovated. Currently, the Social Science, English/Languages, General Studies, and Social Work/Sociology/ Criminal Justice Departments are located on the third floor of the Humanities. This building has been among the busiest on campus since its construction (Guthrie 157-158, Traditions 41).

The Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center was perhaps the most significant addition to campus made during the Trogdon administration. Prior to the 1980 completion of this building, the various fine arts departments were located in various locations around campus. In order to build this massively expensive facility, Tarleton had to apply for funding from the A&M system. Dr. Christian Rosner and Dr. Mary Jane Mingus spearheaded the fundraising campaign and deserve a great deal of credit for the final realization of the project. The man who controlled these purse strings was chairman of the A&M Board of Regents, Clyde H. Wells. Luckily, Wells was a former Tarleton student whose father had been a longtime employee at the school farm. Luckier still, Wells was the chairman of the A&M Board of Regents as well as one of the most politically connected and influential administrators in the state. He lent his support to the drive and used his influence to help steer the proposal through numerous obstacles (including less-than-wholehearted support from others at Tarleton.) Nonetheless, construction commenced from 1977 until 1980. The new addition was dedicated in a two-day celebration was held in December of 1980. This building contained a large auditorium that seats 805 people, a smaller theater with a 243 capacity, and two workshop theaters. The musical facilities were greatly enhanced as well. There were larger rehearsal halls for the choir and band, six music labs, four studios, and twenty practice rooms. The building also included three speech and drama labs, three art and design labs, and an art gallery. In 1982, a new Department of Fine Arts and Speech was created once all the fine arts programs were consolidated into one building. The Clyde H. Wells Center remains one of the centerpieces of the Tarleton landscape (Guthrie 160-164).

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. Dr. Trogdon continues to reside in Stephenville (Guthrie 229, Traditions 40).

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.

Tarleton Traditions : Centennial Edition 1 (1 October, 1999): 1-48)