Sunday, September 30, 2012

ETHA at 50

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, September 27-28-29, in Nacogdoches at the Fall Meeting of the ETHA. More than 200 ETHA members gathered at the Fredonia Inn to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Association. Indeed, the organizational meeting of the ETHA was held on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College on September 29, 1962 - 50 years to the day of the final day of our Fall Meeting.

Almost every Fall Meeting is held at the
Fredonia Inn in Nacogdoches.

At right is presenter Carroll Scoggins, whose father was a medic during the Korean War. Carroll provided a compelling program about MASH units.There were more than 50 presenters at the Fall Meeting.

An earlier incarnation of the East Texas Historical Association was organized on the SFA campus in 1927 by faculty members from SFA, Sam Houston State Teachers College, and East Texas State Teachers College. There were meetings until 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression, when this early version of the ETHA quietly ceased to exist.

The organization was resurrected in 1962. The major impetus came from the new president of SFA, Dr. Ralph Steen. Before assuming the presidency of SFA, Dr. Steen had established himself as a notable Texas historian. The director of his doctoral dissertation at the  University of Texas was no less a Texas history giant than Eugene C. Barker. During a 23-year career in the history department at Texas A&M, Dr. Steen was elected, then re-elected,  president of the Texas State Historical Association. In 1939 Dr. Steen produced a History of Texas, a public school textbook that continued to be used into the 1970s. He went on to author or co-author 10 textbooks.

There were vendors all along the walls as well as in the middle of the room.
 At SFA Dr. Steen proved to be a gifted administrator. When he arrived there were fewer than 2,000 students on campus, but when he retired in 1975 enrollment had risen to 11,000, and SFA had attained university status.

A panel of ex-presidents: Front row, L to R: Marion Holt, Joe White, Ralph Wooster, Beverly Rowe. Back row: Bill O'Neal, Ted Lawe, Ty Cashion.

But despite pressing administrative duties, history remained his passion. Dr. Steen had been at SFA only four years when he moved to re-establish the East Texas Historical Association. Dr. Steen allied with Dr. C.K. "Dick" Chamberlain, Chairman of the SFA History Department, and with attorneys Lee Lawrence of Tyler and F.I. Tucker of Nacogdoches.

Dr. Ralph Wooster reminisces about his term as president, 1967-68.
A charter member, Wooster contributed an article to the first Journal.

An organizational meeting was held on the SFA campus on Saturday, September 29, 1962. Lee Lawrence agreed to serve as first president; a constitution was written; and a tax exemption was arranged. Dr. Steen stated that SFA would cover the cost of publishing a twice-yearly journal, and in July 1963 C.K. Chamberlain brought forth - with the assistance of members of the history department -
the first issue of the East Texas Historical Journal.

Dr. Light Cummins, former State Historian of Texas,
with successor Bill O'Neal.
The next year a young Ph.D. from LSU, by way of Beaumont, Archie McDonald, joined the SFA history faculty. Immediately he was asked to provide a paper for the upcoming meeting of the ETHA. Like others in the department, Archie helped with the Association when needed.

Dr. Chamberlain was titled editor of the Journal, but he functioned as director of the ETHA. As a graduate student, Joe White ably assisted Chamberlain with ETHA meetings, and with the Journal, and later Joe raised funds to endow the Chamberlain Award, for the year's best article in the Journal.
Ex-presidents at the Friday night reception.  The earliest ex-president
present is Dr. Bob Glover, 1965-66, at far right.

Dr. Archie McDonald was named as Chamberlain's successor, and soon was titled executive director of the ETHA. At this point, Dr. Steen decided that SFA would provide a secretary as well as office space to the ETHA. Without its own secretary, Archie always maintained that "the growth of the Association and the prestige of the Journal would not have been possible."

Friday night banquet.

It should be added - because Archie never would - that even more essential to the growth and success of the Association and the Journal were Archie's formidable skills as executive director, his editorial expertise, his command of Association finances, and the element of continuity - the ETHA benefited fron his talents for 37 years.

Executive Director Dr. Scott Sosebee addresses the Saturday Awards Luncheon
When Dr. McDonald assumed leadership of the ETHA in 1971, there were approximately 100 members. When he stepped down four years ago, membership had risen to 600. During that same period the Association treasury had expanded from $1,500 to almost $500,000. The ETHA enjoys financial partnerships with dozens of corporations, institutions, foundations, and philanthropic individuals.

Each September the three-day Fall Meeting takes place in Nacogdoches, home of the parent institution of the ETHA. Each February a two-day Spring Meeting is hosted by some community in East Texas: Tyler, Marshall, San Augustine, Dallas, Lufkin, Paris, Texarkana, College Station, Huntsville, Waco, and again next February, Galveston. We define "East Texas" as the eastern one-third of the Lone Star State. Since Fort Worth labels itself as "Where the West Begins," we assumed that Cowtown must be where the East ends, and so we have enjoyed two well-attended Spring Meetings in that charming city.

SFA President Dr. Baker Pattillo attempts to blow
out all 50 candles on the ETHA birthday cake.

In addition to two meetings each year, the ETHA publishes two excellent Journals annually.  The Association sponsors several coveted awards, including research grants. The ETHA also has published a number of fine books. Although the ETHA is the largest regional historical association in the United States, attendance of between 100 to 200 at meetings generates warm fellowship between friends and kindred spirits. Dr. Scott Sosebee of the SFA history department succeeded Dr. Archie McDonald as executive director four years ago, and he is ably leading the Association into its second half-century.

For more information, see .

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