Editorís Note: This the fourth in a series of 10 weekly articles on individuals, who made positive contributions to Stephenville, the Cross Timbers area and/or the State of Texas. Other noteworthy individuals have made their "mark" in this area. Perhaps some of these persons can be included in future stories. Special thanks to Dr. Chris Guthrie, Tarleton State University professor, for his assistance with this story.
By STUART CHILTON Special Contributor
When the new dean and CEO of John Tarleton Agricultural College first arrived in Stephenville in the hot summer of 1919, he immediately became a foe of the pesky and persistent grassburrs.
The 40-acre campus was "knee-high in grassburrs." The problem was so bad he had to clear a path from the street to the familyís campus home. "He then recruited faculty members to help him clear away the rest of the grassburrs, clean the classrooms and repair equipment before the start of the fall semester."
When the 1919 fall semester opened, 411 students enrolled. During his administration, the enrollment would reach a high of 1,839 students in 1929, just prior to the beginning of the Great Depression. In 1919, Tarleton had been a state-supported junior college for only two years as a branch of Texas A&M College.
This person served as Tarletonís CEO longer than any other administrator - 26 years (1919-1945). He was born May 2, 1881, in Heard County, Georgia, and spent his early years in Alabama. In 1895, he and his parents moved to Grapevine, TX. In 1902, he enrolled at North Texas Normal College in Denton (now the University of North Texas). He graduated with a two-year diploma in 1904 and took a job teaching Latin at Honey Grove High School in Fannin County. The following year he accepted the position as high school principal at Navasota. In 1907, he was appointed superintendent of public schools in Grimes County. He returned to the Navasota ISD in H 1910 as the superintendent. He would remain in this job until coming to Tarleton in 1919.
This individual received his bachelorís degree from Texas A&M in 1919 and the masterís degree from the University of Texas in Austin in 1921. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate from Howard Payne College in 1926.
In 1904 he married the former Uta Wilson, and the couple had three children. One of these children, J. William, later served on the faculty at Texas Tech University, and was a major force in Tech gaining admission to the Southwest Conference in 1956. A grandson was city manager of Stephenville in 1990s and the early part of this decade.
Under this deanís guidance, Tarleton made a great stride in accreditation in 1926. It was at this time the college was admitted to full membership in the Southern
Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Junior colleges became eligible for membership in 1925. In 1936, a four-story menís dormitory was constructed and named for him. The building still stands on the Tarleton campus. The structure was converted into an office building in 1975.
Retiring in 1945, he lived five more years before dying here on May 12, 1950.
A Name to Remember - Dean J. Thomas Davis
Dr. Stuart Chilton, a retired educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.