Don Bridges Courtyard

The campus of Hardin-Simmons University spans 130 years of development. We started with a single building, then eventually added a fence to keep the wildlife (and their droppings) out from underfoot. Affectionately once called the 40 Acres, the campus now boasts over 65 structures, with more in development, and a growing 220 acres.

Adding to the school’s footprint is a delicate balance of maintaining our past while embracing the possibilities and growth of the future.

There are active conversations about the campus footprint: what of our past to enhance, and what new initiative to develop. We typically hear about any decisions from our Administration and Board of Trustees. However, there is another group of people, the ghost-writers if you may, who provide the logistics and real-life effects of any major physical campus changes.

These people are our Facilities Team. Charged with the daily upkeep and expansion of our campus, these are trained carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, modern day Renaissance men who keep the physical plant (aka, the entire campus) running.

1962 Bronco, Don Bridges Row 2

Because Facilities Workers are in and under every building on campus, a unique institutional memory comes from this group of people. They know the hidden treasures of HSU better than most. They know the history of the buildings, including remodels; the location of that one ripe pear tree for a quick snack; which building has the best AC on hot days; where the hidden passages are; they know stories no one else does.

This week is the dedication of a new space on campus: the Don Bridges Courtyard. Located outside the Richardson Library, this new courtyard will provide outdoor seating for our students and community.

Don Bridges worked with Facilities for over 30 years, and spent the majority of that time as Director of Physical Properties at HSU. He was one of those Facilities members who knew the ins and outs of campus.

Students today don’t know Don Bridges, but they see his work, his legacy, daily. The cohesive red brick pattern on the buildings and the reflection pond are just a small example of his lasting impact on campus.

It’s fitting to have the courtyard named for him. It is not only a beautification project, which Don did regularly with the planting of trees across the campus, the courtyard will also enrich the student experience and enhance the school’s mission, something Don did and our current Facilities Team do regularly.

Western Heritage Day

Hardin-Simmons University’s history is steeped in western heritage. Our founders were frontiers-people and ranchers; our mascot is a Cowboy; we have an active horse barn and riding program; our school song cries, “Fair daughter of the WEST, we love and honor thee. Hardin-Simmons’ fighting cowboys! Yeee-haw!”

Every April the campus hosts thousands of local school children to explore this western heritage.

Kiddos spend the day immersed in western heritage. They walk the campus, taking turns to wash clothes with a washboard; watch a farrier shoe a horse;  see a sheep sheared and feel the freshly cut wool; practice trick roping; play a game of washers; dote on the animals at the petting-zoo; explore how food was cooked by campfire and from a chuckwagon; watch performances by the Six White Horses, Cowboy Band, Ballet Folklorico; and more!

This visit may possibly be the first time any of these children step foot on Hardin-Simmons’ campus. We hope that this will not be their last. Western Heritage Day not only acts as a form of community engagement, it is also a recruitment tool. One day these kindergarteners will grow up. The hope is that their wonderful memory and experience of Western Heritage Day will push them to apply and attend HSU once they turn 18.

View clips from 2017’s event:

Now that you know what Western Heritage Day is, you may wonder where did this campus tradition come from?

Western heritage has always been celebrated on the campus. Like noted above, the school’s founders were ranchers. Students came from ranching backgrounds. Abilene was and is a western town. The culture of the school and area are western.

This western heritage fully manifested in the 1940’s with the introduction of the Hardin-Simmons Rodeo.

The first intercollegiate rodeo, hosted by Hardin-Simmons, took place in April 1947. Each year after, HSU’s rodeo and the western themed events surrounding the rodeo grew larger and more intricate.

To amp up the community, downtown parades with creative floats and radio-spots (blasted on HSU’s own station KHSU) became synonymous with the yearly rodeo. On campus, students were strongly encouraged to wear western wear, participate in the parade, attend the rodeo events, and embody western culture.

Students who did not participate in the western theme were thrown in “jail.”

From a 1952 Brand: “Sheriff and deputies for the wild western week are prepared to jail males without beards and three articles of western apparel. But the girls aren’t exempt, as they, too, are expected to don western dress for the week or try out the jail.”

The fun atmosphere around the rodeo quickly morphed into a week-long event. In the 1950’s this week was called Fracas Week. (Fracas means, “a noisy disturbance or quarrel.”) A Beard growing competition, tobacco spitting, parade-float competitions, pie eating contest and more took place across the campus, all leading up to the rodeo.

Fracas Week morphed into Rodeo Week, Ranch Week, and Western Week, different names, with the same outcome: a week of western themed merriment built around the intercollegiate rodeo in April.

Fracas Week, Western Week, Rodeo Week, whatever you want to call it, was geared towards HSU students and the HSU-family. Western Heritage Day expanded its audience to off-campus—the local school children.

The creation of HSU faculty Lawrence Clayton, B.W. Aston, Bill Curtis, Randy Armstrong, and George Newman, the first official Western Heritage Day took place April 1982. It should come as no surprise that Western Heritage Day continued the tradition of western celebrations and was tacked on to the existing rodeo week in April.

A pilot of Western Heritage Day took place one-year prior in 1981, as a day to celebrate Abilene’s Centennial and to pay tribute to Dr. Rupert Richardson And Ms. Tommie Clack. A campfire was built in front of Sid Richardson, and a good time was had by all. That event was the jumping off point, and the rest you can say is history.

Now, to say Western Heritage Day came about from the goodness of those men’s hearts would not be 100% true. A driving motivator was competition! Yes, they saw the possibilities of the 1981 event and saw the future engagement such an event would bring to campus, but there was another driving force…

From a 2007 Range Rider, Dr. Newman shared:

“We were talking about how much fun we had at the outdoor ceremony honoring Ms. Clack and Dr. Richardson. Lawrence and I were the only ones of the group who had children at the time, and we bemoaned the fact that our kids would come home once a year wearing a McMurry Indian headband. With the centennial ceremony fresh in our minds, we started discussing the fact HSU had a heritage just as rich as any other university in the land.”

I dare say, many HSU families felt similarly when their children came home with McMurry branded merchandise.

Western Heritage Day is a fun, energetic day that I look forward to each year. While the events are geared towards the town’s youngsters, you will find me cooing over the little goats at the petting-zoo and enjoying a cup of “cowboy coffee” at the chuckwagon…that’s coffee with jalapeno in it.

Do you have any western heritage memories? Share them below in the comments!

The Bell

Hello there, I’m Mary B., the one who manages this blog. I have the exciting job of overseeing HSU’s archives and being the go-to-person for any random HSU-history related question. Sometimes I can provide definitive answers, other times I end up with more questions.

Today’s blog post is an example of when I can’t provide a definitive answer. Perhaps, dear reader, you can shed some light.

What’s the story behind the bell?

Since arriving at HSU, I have read various accounts about the bell AND have been told stories about the bell.

These accounts do not always align, and some of them conflict with each other.

The conflicting stories are a perfect example of how myth, rumor, and fading memory hold sway over photographs and paper trails. Always a fun topic with historians.

So, again, what’s the story behind the bell?

We know it was purchased in 1898, during O.C. Pope’s administration. The funds were donated by George Bennett, president of Acme Pressed Brick Company. Dr. Pope commissioned the bell through George Paxton’s local hardware mercantile, and the bell was installed in the bell tower of Old Main no later than 1900.

The images below show Old Main pre-bell and post-bell. Unfortunately, we only have sketches, not photographs of Old Main pre-1900.

The bell served various purposes in its time in the bell tower. It was rung to keep time, announce class and chapel, celebrate sports victories, and keeping with the tradition of pranking, students would ring the bell at all times of the day and night to cause a ruckus.  

Old Main was remodeled into Simmons Science Hall in 1918.

During this transition/remodel, the bell tower was removed, and the bell was bolted to the roof of Simmons Science Hall. Also, the clapper was removed from the bell to stop it from sounding.

The clapper was removed for two reasons:

1. By 1920, an electric bell system had been installed, so the manual bell-ringing was no longer needed.

2. The clapper was removed to deter students from climbing to the roof and causing mischief. If the bell couldn’t ring, perhaps students would not venture to the roof.

It is from this point that the stories begin to conflict.

Rupert Richardson’s Famous Are Thy Halls states students rolled the bell off of Simmons Science Hall’s roof, causing it to crack and no longer work.

As much as I want to believe Richardson, I do not think this happened. While there is a deep history of students participating in destructive pranks, these events were typically documented in The Brand (the school’s newspaper, which began publishing in 1916). There were no articles describing this event took place.

If students successfully pushed the bell off the building, it would have had to have been before 1916, when the bell was still in use and located in Old Main. Perhaps Richardson meant Old Main, instead of Simmons Science?

The image below shows how the bell was bolted to the roof of Simmons Science. If students pushed the bell from Simmons Science, would they have gone through that much trouble to unsecure the bell and push it from the building?

Another story I’ve heard, that you may have heard as well, is that students pushed the bell from the roof and hid the broken pieces in a well. A second bell was then purchased as a replacement.

After consulting aerial photos and speaking with the Director of Facilities, it was confirmed there was no well on campus.

The photo below shows a water tower behind Old Main. Could the story have originally said students hid the broken pieces in the water tower, not a water well?

Another iteration is that the bell shattered once it hit the ground and the pieces were buried around campus. Anyone have a metal detector?

Again, I can’t confirm if these events actually took place, but, I’m leaning towards myth, not truth.

Another tale from campus is that the bell was broken in the remodel from Old Main to Simmons Science. A second bell was purchased as a replacement.

If this were true, the bell currently on campus is not the original bell, but a duplicate.

I am going to nix this story completely. Why would the school purchase a new bell when at this time the clapper was no longer used and the bell was mounted to the roof, out of sight?

The bell faded from memory as it sat on the roof of Simmons Science. It no longer tolled. It wasn’t visible. It wasn’t remembered.

Until the 1940s.

The seniors of 1940 chose to fundraise for a belfry as their class gift. Their goal was to remove the bell from the top of Simmons Science and have it on display on the grounds of campus.

In 1944 the bell was removed from the roof and placed where it is now. The tower has gone through various iterations. You can see a few of the changes over the years in the photos below.

Currently, the bell rests on the front lawn as a historic marker to the past. Some claim this is the original bell that was purchased from George Paxton in 1898; others swear it’s a copy.

What do you think?

Do you have a story about the bell? Leave it in the comment section below!

Decade Box Series: 1992-1994

Decade Box Series: 1992-1994

About the Decade Box Series: The Research Center (on the 2nd floor of the library) is home to many different collections and materials. (See a sampling of these items here.) One of the most utilized collections is the Decade Box.

Decade Boxes contain any paper material, we’ve been able to get our hands on, produced by the school/faculty/board over the years. Items start in 1891 with original land deeds securing property for the new school and continue through the present.

This collection is titled Decade Boxes because the boxes were once organized by decade. Over the past few years, however, we’ve procured much more content, and the amount of boxes have expanded. Boxes are still organized chronologically; however they are no longer organized in 10-year increments.

The Decade Box Series highlights randomly selected items from these boxes for viewers to catch a glimpse into HSU history.

With eyes closed, Box 1992-1994 was chosen.

A staple found in students’ rooms from the school’s early days through early 2000s was the Campus Phone Book. The Campus Phone Book provided a list of current students, along with their contact information.

Ads for local businesses were included in the phone book, along with coupons to encourage student visits.

Today, the campus calendar is completely digital and accessible online through the school’s website.

Theater performances, exercise classes, when midterm grades are due, athletic events, and more are kept track of through this calendar.

While we did have internet in the early 1990’s, access and usability were stunted compared with today.

Physical calendars were printed and posted around the campus for students to keep track of upcoming events.

While printed calendars don’t seem like a big deal to many, to our current student demographic it’s a strange concept! Our current students grew up with information accessible through phones/tablets/computers, so any printed and static content is a game-changer.

If you’ve read the other posts from the Decade Box Series, then it will be no surprise that various athletic brochures were in this box. What was refreshing, though, was the representation of sports teams other than football.

Check out the women’s basketball picture above. This isn’t the first time the Six White Horses or old Cowboy Band chaps found their way into a team’s photoshoot. Below are 1938 football players photographed with a similar idea:

Hardin-Simmons was a founding member of the Intercollegiate Rodeo (an organization still alive today) and would host the event on the campus rodeo grounds each year. Check out an excerpt from the 1993 program.

Stay tuned for future installments of The Decade Box Series!

Women’s History Month

In celebration of Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at some of the iconic women throughout HSU’s history.

Aileen Culpepper

Aileen Culpepper, or Ms. Cul as she was affectionately called by many, graduated from HSU in 1940. Her career with HSU began in 1944 and spanned the majority of her life. The short gap between her graduation and employment was spent as a riveter, where Culpepper worked on aircrafts for the war effort overseas.

In the summer of 1944, Dr. Rupert Richardson invited Aileen Culpepper to work as Dorm Mother at HSU. She agreed and began her 44-year career, split mostly between Mary Frances Hall and Behrens Hall. In all her years of working, Culpepper mentored countless young women in the residence halls.

In 1988, the Behrens lobby was dedicated to Aileen Culpepper. A $10,000 endowed fund was also donated in her honor for the maintenance of Behrens Hall.

In 1993, she was honored as the Staff Member of The Year. In 1998, an endowed scholarship was established in her name. 

In 2003, she was given an honorary Doctorate of Humanities.

In 2004, she received the first official school ring.

In 2018, an on-campus apartment building was named for her.

Culpepper spent her days writing letters to former students. Her letters were her own form of ministry; to those who received them, the letters served as a reminder of God’s love and Culpepper’s dedicated heart.

Grace and Jesse Watanabe

Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast. This resulted in the relocation of approximately 120,000 people to internment camps located across the country.

Knowing his family was to be forced from their home in Los Angeles, CA to a camp in Arizona, Paul Watanabe, a 1919 graduate of Simmons College, wrote to HSU, asking if his daughters could attend on scholarship.

Grace and Jesse Watanabe were invited to attend HSU after completing high school.

The two teenagers left their mother and younger sister (Paul has passed away) in the camp, and traveled by train to Abilene, TX.

“We were frightened of the unknown but we went out in faith,” said Grace, who was 17 years old at the time, and her sister, 16.

The sisters focused on their studies while at HSU. Grace was awarded the Julius Olsen Medal for making the highest grade point average during her four years, and also the Minter Medal for making the highest G.P.A. of the senior class.

While a student, Grace wrote an essay on Race Relations. Even with her tragic story, her faith in God and emphasis on loving one’s neighbor allowed her to persevere.

Grace and Jessie donated a portion of their reparation funds to HSU with the note, “to express our undying gratitude to HSU for welcoming us with open arms during a difficult period in the life of our family and for helping us to receive a strong Christian education.”

Listen to Grace Watanabe’s experiences here.

Lucille Sandefer

Throughout her 81 years of life, Lucille Sandefer had the philosophy that “women should do something for society outside of home activities.” As First Lady of HSU, she was well known by the student body and faculty for her interest and involvement in their lives and contributions to their environment.

During her thirty-one years as First Lady of HSU, she was active in various activities which included starting a museum, leading the effort to have electricity extend from downtown to the campus, and founding the HSU Round Table in 1910.

The Round Table, which is still active today, was developed to cultivate friendships among the wives of University professors. Under Sandefer’s leadership, the organization engaged in entrepreneurial efforts to financially support the beautification of the campus through the planting of trees and flowers, installing an irrigation system and establishing a permanent fund for student scholarships.

In the 1940 Bronco, Mrs. Sandefer said, “My service here has been one of love and devotion. To those who have had the privilege of passing the Hardin-Simmons way, and to those who may come, I extend every good wish. I believe that Hardin-Simmons University is in its embryonic state and I sincerely trust that the service we have rendered here will be but the stepping stone of a brilliant future.”

Dr. Virginia Connally

Mary Simmons

Most on campus know Mary Simmons’ counterpart and husband, James Simmons. Mary Simmons was more than just a preacher’s wife, though. She was the heart of the Simmons family. Without her council and suggestion, James Simmons would not have answered the call from Abilene and staked his legacy with Abilene Baptist College.

Mary Simmons was a well educated person. She was her husband’s partner in all things. Mary’s correspondence kept James abreast of the local, national, and church news that allowed him to be so successful in his work. She presided over various organizations and was a successful fundraiser.

She matched, even exceeded at times her husband’s wit, intellect, and adoration.

The letter below, dated April 25, 1885, begins, My Dear Precious Husband: I was very glad to get the postal you sent me. I kissed it again and again.

The excerpt below is of a letter James wrote about Mary, after her death. It provides a lovely glimpse of her character and the respect James had for her:

Mary Simmons was a founder of Hardin-Simmons.

By no means is this list anywhere near complete.

The first graduates of the school were women. Hinda Barry, Flossie Logan, and Maud Hill were the class of 1895

HSU boasts the first female director of an accredited PA School when Dr. Jennifer Eames took on the role in 2016.

HSU’s story is chock-full of history-making women.

What stories can you share?

The absence of men on campus due to WWII led to the temporary development of the Cowgirl Band as a way to keep campus spirit up.

History Repeats Itself with Abilene Hall

History is cyclical. We all know it to be true. Stories and situations repeat across time, regardless of scale. In this instance, let’s look at the story of Abilene Hall to see the similarities between 1947 and 2021.

The original Abilene Hall was opened in 1913. In its early years, it seated 600 for daily chapel, hosted most the campus’s classroom space, the school bookstore, and in the basement, the memorabilia, instruments, and music of the Cowboy Band.

It caught fire February 10, 1947. The loss of a building is never ideal, but the timing of this disaster was particularly hard on the school. We were in the post-war boom. Student enrollment had tripled at this point, due to the G.I. Bill.

What was the school supposed to do without its main academic building? Where would classes take place?

The president opened his home (Compere Hall) to faculty and their classes. University Baptist (located where the Neighborhood Walmart is on Ambler) provided space for students. A temporary structure, named G.I. Hall, was used for classroom space. Late night and weekend classes were also introduced to allow the large number of students to filter through the limited spaces.

Due to its importance on campus, funds were quickly raised and allocated to the construction of a new academic building.

A new Abilene Hall was completed in record time; it opened the following year. From 1948 onward it was the powerhouse of the campus for classroom space, especially for the core classes everyone needed to take. No matter one’s major, every student has sat in a lecture of some kind in Abilene Hall.

February 2021 brought a winter event that crippled the state with freezing temperatures, snow, broken pipes, and other hardships. Hardin-Simmons was not immune to this.

While the students enjoyed a week off from class, playing in the snow, Abilene Hall was under duress.

Abilene Hall did not burn to the ground, like she did in 1947, but rather the opposite. She flooded. Broken pipes led to a flooded basement, busted boiler, and ruined electrical.

Like in 1947, the campus is suddenly without its main academic building.

Like in 1947, administration and faculty had to suddenly and creatively rearrange classroom space.

Like in 1947, we are limited by class size. While our enrollment isn’t tripled, like it was in 1947, we are instead limited by COVID-19 restrictions of how many students can safely be spaced out in a classroom.

Like in 1947, we have adapted, carried on, and continued with classes.

Like in 1947, we will come out on the other side better than before.

Before Classes Began

On February 18, 1891, with the school’s charter already submitted to the state, the Board of Trustees of Abilene Baptist College (now Hardin-Simmons University) voted on and agreed to the school’s charter. This day, February 18th 1891, is the day we recognize as the official start of our school with:

“We, the Subscribers, citizens of Taylor County, Texas, under the provisions of the Revised Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby form and incorporate ourselves into a voluntary association for educational purposed, and to that end, we hereby adopt and subscribe the following Charter.”

(Read the full Board minutes/charter later in the post)

School didn’t begin until September 1892, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t hard at work up until that point. In the time between when the school was incorporated and classes began, money was raised, land was acquired, a building was built, faculty were hired, and students recruited. It was a busy time.

February 18th may be our birthday, but let’s look at the years that surround the day to better appreciate the work that went into our school.


In 1888, Judge Henry Sayles suggested to George W. Smith, Pastor of Abilene First Baptist Church, the opportunity to form a Christian high school/college.

A Christian Education Committee was formed to survey the idea and form a plan. Two years later the committee was ready to propose their plan to the Sweetwater Baptist Association.

Read more about this time in Abilene, here.

August 1890

On August 1, 1890, The Sweetwater Baptist Association met for the weekend, and The Christian Education Committee (composed of George W. Smith, K.K. Legett, and J.S. Williams) made their proposal.

You may wonder, why did the committee from Abilene take their proposal to the Sweetwater Baptist Association? Just like today, any new endeavor needs a network of people to help build awareness and financial support. At the time, the Sweetwater Baptist Association was the ideal source of support because:

  • The association was a growing community of Baptist churches from Taylor County to El Paso.
  • This conglomerate of churches would provide financial assistance, students, and marketing across the state. What better way to spread the word of a new school than from the pulpit or from church memos?
  • Abilene First Baptist Church, where the committee members came from, was a member of the Sweetwater Baptist Association.

Most of the men present at the meeting were in favor of the project, however it is noted Rufus C. Burleson was persuasively against it. Burleson, former president of Baylor College, was against the idea of a competing school (competing for students and resources). Baylor College was in debt, and Burleson took offense that the people and church-communities who were suggesting a new school had not done their duty of providing financial support to an already existing Baptist school.

Burleson did not sway the decision, and the Sweetwater Baptist Association appointed a committee to establish the school, consisting of: K.K. Legett, G.W. Smith, J.M. Hanna, J.T. Fergeson, H.C. Hord, C.R. Breedlove, and G.W. Smith.

October 1890

The committee met in October 1890 and had a productive meeting where they:

  • Chose Abilene as the location for the new school
  • Drafted a charter
  • Appointed a Board of Trustees and term limits
  • Launched a fundraising campaign to begin construction on a new school building

During this meeting, Otto W. Steffens and Associates provided a bid of 5 acres and $10,000 to the new school. The committee had until November 24, 1890 to accept or reject the bid and raise an additional $5,000.

Steffens and Associates’ bid was pulled before November 24, for unknown reasons, putting the committee in a lurch. As a result, new land and a new money source had to be located for the school.

Late 1890

The Board needed help. They thought they had $15,000 and a plot of land, and suddenly all they had was the $5,000 they had raised and no land.

O.C. Pope was asked to get involved and aid with fundraising. He wrote to his friend, James Simmons, and introduced Simmons to Abilene.  

Early 1891

Correspondence began between James Simmons and the school’s Board. Simmons expressed his interest in the school and teased a financial contribution. Simmons had had a lot of experience in this phase of school-building. He shared his expertise with the Board and helped them navigate the pitfalls of other schools Simmons had worked with.

February 18, 1891

The Abilene Baptist College Board voted on and adopted the school’s charter. Abilene Baptist College was officially incorporated.

March 1891

March 12- Simmons wrote to the Board and agreed to give $5,000 to the school, under the condition the Board agree to and sign a “bond.”

That bond, which Simmons drafted later, was the Foundation Agreement. Today, the Foundation Agreement is the backbone to Hardin-Simmons’ mission statement.

March 13- George Smith confirmed the Simmons donation and agreed to discussing a “bond.”

The town and Sweetwater Baptist Association successfully raised almost $10,000. Now with Simmons’ donation of $5,000, the Board could move forward.

Somewhere between March 13 and April 11, 1891, Simmons sent his Foundation Agreement to the Board. The Board quickly agreed to it, and signed.

James Simmons’ draft of The Foundation Agreement:

April 1891

The deed to the property was officially secured on April 11, 1891. Theo Vogel, E.T. Ambler, and Geo. Phillips provided lots in North Park in exchange for $1.

With land and money secured, construction on the school’s first building could finally begin.

May 1891

Construction began on Old Main. Old main was the school’s first building and cost $12,000. It provided housing for the president and his family, board for female students, classrooms, chapel, library, and anything else a school would need.

July 1891

July 4, 1891 The school hosted a BBQ picnic (4000 attendees, included Sweetwater Baptist members, Abilene community, and more) to celebrate the cornerstone laid of Old Main.

July 29, 1891 The Foundation Agreement, written by Simmons, was officially added to the school’s charter.

November 1891

The official paperwork was processed in November to change the name from Abilene Baptist College to Simmons College.

September 1892

September 13, 1892 First day of class

Decade Box Series: 1935-1940

Decade Box Series: 1935-1940

About the Decade Box Series: The Research Center (on the 2nd floor of the library) is home to many different collections and materials. (See a sampling of these items here.) One of the most utilized collections is the Decade Box.

Decade Boxes contain any paper material, we’ve been able to get our hands on, produced by the school/faculty/board over the years. Items start in 1891 with original land deeds securing property for the new school and continue through the present.

This collection is titled Decade Boxes because the boxes were once organized by decade. Over the past few years, however, we’ve procured much more content, and the amount of boxes have expanded. Boxes are still organized chronologically; however they are no longer organized in 10-year increments.

The Decade Box Series highlights randomly selected items from these boxes for viewers to catch a glimpse into HSU history.

View previous Decade Box posts here.

With eyes closed, Box 1935-1940 was chosen.

In 1935, the Speech Department performed the Danish play Ghosts in the chapel auditorium.

You’ll see at the bottom of the program that furniture was supplied by Waldrop’s.

For those familiar with town, W.G. Waldrop & Co. was located downtown where O’Kelley’s Office Supply currently operates (next door to McKay’s Bakery).

Pre-internet, the campus needed to be proactive in keeping its constituents informed on the goings-ons of the school. This resulted in a constant churning of various marketing and educational materials mailed out to alumni, exes, prospective students, and anyone else who should know about the school.

While today we rely heavily on social media and the school’s website, we still produce physical mailouts, like the Range Rider, as way to keep individuals engaged.

Below, you’ll see snapshots of June 1935’s Bulletin. The Bulletin was a precursor to the Range Rider.

Another example of the Bulletin from 1938:

After President J.D. Sandefer’s death in 1940, the Board of Trustees approached Dr. Rupert Richardson and offered him the position of university president. Dr. Richardson declined the offer (he eventually did accept the position in 1943) because he was not interested in leaving the classroom for a full-time administration position.

Below is Richardson’s refusal letter, published in a 1940 Bulletin.

In 1936, just like in 2021, fans kept track of their teams’ statistics. Today, we can easily find a digital spreadsheet of any team, professional or collegiate, with a simple Google search. Prior to Google, however, one would have to obtain “Dope-Books.”

D-O-P-E (Data On Previous Engagements)

Dope-Books contained the stats of previous seasons, along with blank grids and opponent information, for fans to track current season stats. Have you ever kept your own stats for your favorite teams?

In keeping with the sports-theme from this Decade Box, below are football programs from the 1936 season:

And, a spread from The Dallas Morning News, Sunday Oct. 16, 1938:

Alumni gatherings are a tradition at HSU. Have you ever wondered what sort of menu would have been served during a 1935 alumni gathering? Well, look no further!

Stay tuned for future installments of The Decade Box Series!

Homecoming Traditions

HSU’s Homecoming is right around the corner! To our more recent alumni, it may seem odd to offer Homecoming during the Spring semester rather than the Fall semester. But, did you know, throughout the school’s history, Homecoming has bounced back and forth between the two semesters?

The first recorded Homecoming took place May 30 and 31, 1917, coinciding with graduation. Highlights included a large BBQ and gala.

As Homecoming solidified into a yearly tradition, the campus would host the event around a sporting event. The years HSU did not have a football program, Homecoming took place during the Spring semester, with basketball games as the rallying point. When football was not on hiatus, Homecoming took place in the Fall to accommodate the football schedule.

The Fall 2020 football season was postponed due to COVID-19, so in keeping up with tradition, Homecoming has shifted to the Spring semester of 2021. Where this Homecoming will differ from past years, both basketball and football games will take place.

There are many aspects of Homecoming that have stayed the same over the years: alumni returning to campus; an abundance of food; sporting events, and school spirit. Let’s look at some of the traditions that surround HSU Homecoming. You’ll see some are still celebrated today!


LARGE bonfires were a regular tradition during Homecoming. These massive fires were hosted at the Rodeo Grounds, located off Grape Street, next to the Six-White Horse Barn. The student-led bonfire committee’s goal was to build a pile of debris as tall as, or taller than, the nearby telephone poles.

The bonfire was made with whatever the committee could get its hands on: wood, old furniture, boxes, trash, brush, and more.

Students, alumni, and community members would gather around the bonfire, where they would sing the school song and share in each other’s company.

Campus theme and decorations

We are familiar with the balloons, streamers, and signs on campus that accompany Homecoming week. Students decorate their car windows, and various clubs make sure their presence is known for the incoming alumni.

In years past, the campus was decorated on a much larger scale, with more student involvement. All in unity, under the same theme, the social clubs, res-halls, sports teams and, any other grouping of students would be responsible for decorating their assigned area of campus.

Intense rivalries developed between the dorms to determine who had the most elaborate decorations.


This school spirit continued downtown in the Homecoming Parade. Student groups created intricate parade floats to highlight the upcoming football/basketball match, advertise their clubs, or just to celebrate their school spirit.

Competition between the groups made the quality of each float topnotch.

In true HSU parade fashion, the Six White Horses and Cowboy Band would be in attendance.

University Queen

Each homecoming, a university court was (and still is) voted on by the student body. Originally, only women were nominated to hold the title of University Queen. As the years have gone by, men have been added to the lineup with the opportunity to be University King.

Students are nominated and voted on by their peers. The coronation typically takes place at halftime of the football (or basketball) game. Those who are crowned University Queen and King carry various responsibilities throughout the year. One of those duties is to participate in the Golden Reunion gathering (alumni who visit campus for their 50th anniversary).

Alumni Awards

With many alumni back on campus, the university takes this opportunity to award the yearly honors reserved for alumni. These awards are the John J. Keeter, Jr. Alumni Service Award (began in 1943), the Distinguished Alumni Award (began in 1970), and Outstanding Young Alumni Award (began in 2004).

Alumni must be nominated to be in the running for these awards, which can be done here. Nominations are voted on by various committees and boards, with the winners announced at Homecoming.

Read about previous award winners here.


In March of 1962, Sigma Alpha Iota and Phi Mu Alpha collaborated to create a show to bring students together. The original goal of Sing! was to encourage various clubs to find community through dancing and singing. It was not until 1967 that Sing! became what it is more well known for today: a musical competition between clubs on campus.

In its 59 year history, Sing! has become a foundation of Homecoming. Current students perform, while alumni watch from the crowd remembering their past and when it was their turn on stage.

To participate in this year’s events, check out the schedule HERE.

The Campus Cemetery

Did you know there is a cemetery on campus? It joined the grounds in 1901.

Over the Christmas holiday, vegetation was removed, making the headstones more visible to passersby.

The seven lives memorialized here are joined, not just in their shared final resting place, but in their commitment to and belief in Simmons College, now Hardin-Simmons University.

Owen C. Pope

Mary Pope

James B. Simmons

Mary E. Simmons

Robert S. Simmons

Jefferson D. Sandefer

Lucile G. Sandefer

Owen and Mary Pope were the first to join the narrative of Simmons College. With a successful track record of mission-work, fundraising, and community-building, the school’s first Board of Trustees contacted Owen Pope in the desperate hope he could help procure funds for the new Abilene Baptist College.

Abilene Baptist College had hit a financial roadblock in 1891, before construction of the first building on campus even began. Owen Pope, who believed “education as the handmaid to religion,” wrote to his close friend, James B. Simmons, and invited him to come to the financial aid of the budding school.

James Simmons, like Pope, was known for his successful fundraising and an ardent belief in education for all.

It was Mary Simmons, wife to James Simmons, who convinced James to join and support the work in Abilene. Believing in his sense of duty, Simmons provided the necessary funds for construction of Old Main, the school’s Foundational Agreement, and clear directives to the Board for how the school should operate, fiscally and morally.

Robert Simmons, the son of James and Mary Simmons, believed in the impact of the school, and actively gave, like his father, in terms of money, books, prayer, and support.

The Simmons family became so intertwined with Simmons College, that in 1901, seven years after the death of Mary Simmons, James Simmons had her remains removed from their family plot in Rhode Island and interred on the campus of Simmons College—a place that represented her devotion to Christian education and the importance of training a new generation of missionaries. Mary Simmons was the first individual to be buried on campus.

In 1898 when the position of college president was up for debate, James Simmons highly recommended the Board hire Owen Pope. Pope served as president of the school until 1901, stepping down from the position shortly before his death. His wife, Mary Pope, inherited his earthly possessions, and upon her death in 1930, donated the Pope estate to the school.

While alive and in friendship, James Simmons offered the Popes be buried next to him and his family, on the campus they all loved so dearly.

Jefferson Davis Sandefer was president of the school from 1909-1940. His thirty-one-year tenure allowed him to continue the work of his predecessors laid to rest next to him. Successful recruiting, a vision for campus infrastructure, high standards, and a focus on the Fundamentals showed Sandefer shared the same vision as the Simmons and Pope families.

His wife, Lucile Sandefer, like both Marys, was as active and of import to the campus’s success. She led the beautification of the campus through the planting of trees and flowers and installing an irrigation system and established a permanent fund for student scholarships.

The Sandefer influence lasted after their deaths, and many of the buildings, traditions, and programs across campus were developed under their watch.

The work of these three families, upon the upload of this post, has impacted 130 years of history and will impact an untold number of years into the future.

These seven souls were dedicated to Christian education. They believed in the power of education for all and used their lives to work towards that goal. From the moment they heard of this school, they devoted their lives to this campus and continue to inspire others to carry on this tradition.

Families who worked together, bound by their faith in God, their love for each other, and in their belief this campus was worthy of their duty.

a confederate soldier | an abolitionist pastor | a man named for president of the Confederacy

Owen C. Pope | James B. Simmons | Jefferson D. Sandefer

Three variant paths that all converged on this plot, unified by a common goal.