JANUARY 18, 2006

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Former SWOSU president honored on 96th birthday


Three of the four presidents of Southwestern Oklahoma State University for the past 46 years gathered together recently to celebrate Dr. Al Harris’ 96th birthday. Harris served as president of the university from 1960-75. With him is current president Dr. John Hays, who has been president since 2001, and Dr. Joe Anna Hibler, who served as president from 1990-2001. The late Dr. Leonard Campbell served as president from 1975-1990.

Former Southwestern Oklahoma State University President Al Harris was honored recently in Weatherford with a small surprise celebration in honor of his 96th birthday.

Former SWOSU President Joe Anna Hibler and current SWOSU President John Hays were among the participants who enjoyed cake and punch and then listened as Dr. Harris reminisced about his collegiate days at SWOSU and his tenure as president of SWOSU.

Harris was at SWOSU when the university had its largest growth pattern. In 1960 when he became president, SWOSU had 1,871 students. By 1972, that number had jumped to 5,563, the university’s largest ever enrollment number. Harris remained president until 1975 when he retired.

Among his recollections and thoughts:

• Because of those enrollment gains, the number of faculty at SWOSU increased by 70 in one year.

• When he moved from Clinton (where he was school superintendent) to Weatherford to become president, he looked out his office window and did not see any students. He felt like there needed to be more students. He even became a recruiter for the university and traveled to various locations in western Oklahoma to recruit students.

• Harris played various sports at SWOSU. At a national track meet in Chicago, he got to shake hands with Knute Rockne and Alonzo Stagg, both coaching legends.

• Harris, known for his conservative ways, said all SWOSU presidents have been conservative because the university is not properly funded. He feels strongly that SWOSU with its quality academic programs has been under funded or “discriminated against” for many years.

• Harris talked about Sara, who at one time was his secretary at the university. His first wife, Joe de’Bob, actually picked out his secretary. While living in Clinton and before their move to SWOSU, Joe de’Bob attended a reception in Weatherford. When she got home that night, she told Dr. Harris she had found his secretary. Dr. Harris said Sara is one of the finest ladies who never says a discouraging word about anyone.

Harris was the first alumnus of SWOSU to return as its president. He graduated from Southwestern in 1931 with a Bachelor of Science degree and immediately accepted a position in the Custer City schools. By attending school in the summers, he completed requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree and also acquired enough hours in various fields of study to qualify for majors in mathematics, science, history, government and industrial arts.

During Harris’ tenure, Southwestern built the Chemistry-Pharmacy-Physics Building, a new library, an arts and science building, three dormitories, a second cafeteria, a swimming pool, and an office addition to the Physical Education Building.

Also, an addition that almost doubled the size of the Chemistry-Pharmacy-Physics Building was added, and the Memorial Student Center and two older dormitories were enlarged. The Old Science Building was modernized; the old gymnasium after extensive remodeling became the Music Building; and the old library was completely renovated to become the Art Building.

Contact: Brian Adler, director of public relations and marketing, 580.774.3063