W. Sam Monroe, 71, longest-serving college president in Texas, will retire in August after 40 years in the job at Lamar State College at Port Arthur. (From 1958 to 1974, his father led the college.) Here's his story, as told to Justin Doubleday.
I grew up with my father, Madison Monroe, around the Port Arthur College campus. It was a small, friendly campus where everybody knew everybody.
My father, who was also a graduate of Port Arthur College, had a deep love for the institution and what it could do for people. He often said getting his education made the difference in his being able to sleep on a cot instead of on the ground when he served in World War II. He believed the college opened doors and created opportunity. I was interested in that potential, too.
Beginning in 1965, I worked as a staff announcer and later in management at the college-owned radio station, KPAC, and then served as executive vice president of the college for a year. So it was kind of an unusual route into higher education.
When I became president, in 1974, I wanted to build on the foundation my father had established in connecting the college to the Port Arthur community. My first goal was to obtain state support for the college, which could broaden our horizons substantially. It was a golden opportunity to make a difference in my hometown.
I'd always thought there was a lot of potential in the community that was unrealized. We have an oil-based economy in Port Arthur—our fortunes go up and down with the industry. But I thought the college could be a catalyst in helping people realize their career goals and objectives, which would help advance the community and the college.
We succeeded in obtaining state funds in 1975, merging Port Arthur College into Lamar University. The political climate was correct in that day and time to make that kind of effort. People needed the education and training, and they couldn't afford the private-school rates. Our enrollment in the spring of 1975 was 151 students. In the fall it grew to 400, and it just kept steadily growing each semester. Today our total enrollment is a little over 3,000.
Looking back on it now, it's sort of amazing. But you can't do something like that by yourself. You have to build a consensus around an idea.
I never thought I would be here for four decades. When you stay at one place, it's an opportunity to get to know more people and make connections for the college that pay off down the road. When local people send their sons and daughters and grandchildren to the institution, that's the highest compliment they can pay to the college.
After retirement, I want to stay engaged if I'm needed. State support has fallen, so there's never enough money to take care of all the needs. I'd be very happy to help with raising funds for the college.