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Tech celebrates 75th birthday with more than cake
Spectacular concert followed by Montford’s Horizon Campaign update

A-J Entertainment Editor

tech_galaLR.jpg (13123 bytes)A-J PHOTO: Ann Reece talks with former Governer Ann Richards Friday during the Texas Tech 75th Anniversary Gala reception at the Texas Tech Museum. Texas Tech Health Science Center President Dr. Smith. (A-J Photo / Brad Farris)

Accompanied by a stellar orchestra comprised primarily of Texas Tech School of Music faculty and staff - a skilled and eclectic ensemble able to impressively shift from operatic and classical to music from Broadway hits - an array of entertainers and a sold out Municipal Auditorium celebrated Texas Tech’s 75th birthday Friday at the Municipal Auditorium.

Billed as a concert titled "Celebrate," the program also boasted an ongoing tale revolving around a despondent Tech mascot, a tuxedo-clad Raider Red.

For almost two and a half hours, Raider Red relayed through his Major Domo, played by Richard Privitt, that not even Tim Walsh’s exquisite set designs, Diana Moore’s exciting choreography or the unforgettable songs could cheer him.

Happily for Raider Red, the finale found Tech Chancellor John Montford announcing from center stage that the initial $162 million of his $300 million Horizon Campaign for Tech already has been raised.

Montford also pulled a few rabbits out of his figurative hat, making sure that the show - and financial figures - were heard in person by Texas Speaker of the House Pete Laney and former Texas governors Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, Mark White and Ann Richards.

All praised Tech, as did Edward A. Whitacre Jr., chairman of Tech’s Board of Regents.

With the entertainers’ travel fees, many rented costumes, hired sound technicians, set design and crew fees no doubt sending the show’s budget past even the $100,000 total contributed by Southwestern Bell, the concert, while unevenly paced, highlighted professional entertainment throughout.

Co-hosts Ann Sanders Oliver and G.W. Bailey earned a plethora of laughs, though it was difficult to determine how much was scripted by Norman A. Bert and how many ad libs were hilariously tossed in by Bailey.

The show’s second half, however, was obviously rushed and, in all honesty, the sequence from the much-staged "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" appeared out of place Friday night.

It arrived so quickly after the orchestra’s gorgeous rendition of selections from composer David Kneupper’s "The Music of Apollo/Saturn V Center" that listeners had little time to truly digest the wonder of that music.

Staged by producer and artistic director John Gillas, however, flaws were few. Mary Jane Johnson should have been miked before singing "Vissi d’Arte" from Puccini’s "Tosca," but did grab a microphone before taking part in Strauss’ "Champagne Song."

Montford was spoofed in a scene from "The Pirates of Penzance," but few lyrics actually were changed and the sequence worked not because of the attempts at humor, but rather because of the vocal work by David Gaschen and Kelly McClendon. Then again, there was a roar of laughter when Bailey explained afterward that the female characters on stage were not all daughters of the chancellor.

"Actually, they were interns," he quipped.

But so much of the show was nothing short of emotionally thrilling, especially when Gaschen, who proved he can sing just about anything, was featured during songs from "Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon" and "Guys and Dolls," the latter as a foil for Oliver.

Making her first appearance at Tech in several years, Oliver blew away listeners with a combination of sense of humor and powerful vocals. While she had fun with "Shy" and "Sue Me," her voice soared during "The Last Night of the World."

There was no need for Gillas to bring in so many extra female singers before the climax of "Tonight;" that decision only served to dilute the work by soloists Brandon Bohannon, Jana Campbell and Oliver. But he and Moore made perfect decisions in allowing talented Tech dancers to perform while clarinetist Robert Walzel made Artie Shaw’s "Clarinet Concerto" seem like his own, and lending the stage a Carnegie Hall feel as pianist William Westney played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8.

One wondered how Gillas would introduce Tech’s Goin’ Band from Raiderland, especially after Walsh’s Tech setting on stage had earned appreciative gasps. The question was answered when the band entered from all directions and filled the aisles, with the percussion corps at the center of the hall.

Walsh’s picturesque campus design, by the way, served as a backdrop when Bailey dropped comic pretenses and read - no, not read, interpreted - a speech written by Tech’s first president, Paul Whitfield Horn, for the 1926 class of what was then Texas Technological College.

It may have been the most moving moment in a program filled with many. Indeed, while Raider Red held off smiling until Montford "showed him the money," those present no doubt recognized the entire evening as a celebratory tribute to Tech that won’t soon be equaled.

Tech's roots based in effort to start West Texas college


The struggle for a college in West Texas began in earnest before 1917 when area residents tried to get an extension of Texas A&M University placed in West Texas.

After months of hard lobbying, the state Legislature voted to appropriate $500,000 to create Texas A&M of West Texas. But to the surprise of many lawmakers, Gov. James E. ''Pa'' Ferguson announced the college would be located in Abilene.

Ferguson was later impeached, perhaps over of his handling of the college issue, and the Legislature repealed action concerning the college.

Although the attempt to bring a college to Lubbock had stalled, the event spawned the West Texas Chamber of Commerce, formed with the sole intent of getting a state college for West Texas. In 1921, Gov. Pat Neff vetoed a bill to create a new college.

The chamber was so outraged that it began an secessionist movement.

A year later, Neff apparently had a change of heart and asked State Sen. W.H. Bledsoe of Lubbock to author a bill asking for an appropriation of $1 million for a West Texas college. Bledsoe wanted the new school to operate independently of A&M.

Neff signed Senate Bill 103 Feb. 10, 1923, creating Texas Technological College.

Now the issue was where to build the new school.

A location committee inspected 37 sites, traveling 1,500 miles. The committee consisted of S.B. Cowell, the blind chair of the State Board of Control; Dr F.M. Bralley, president of the Texas College of Industrial Arts; Dr. S.M. Marss, state superintendent of education, Dr. W.B. Bizzell, president of Texas A&M College, and Dr. William B. Sutton, acting president of the University of Texas.

The towns hoping for the college pulled out all the stops, providing the board and three reporters with free costs of meals, lodging and transportation.

The act creating Tech said only that it had to be north of the 29th parallel and west of the 98th meridian and on 2,000 acres. Along with Lubbock, towns vying for Tech were Boerne, Lampasas, Brady, Menard, Brownwood, Coleman, Ballinger, Paint Rock, Miles, San Angelo, Midland, Stanton, Big Spring, Colorado, Sweetwater, Abilene, Buffalo Gap, Clyde, Cisco, Seymour, Munday, Haskell, Stamford, Snyder, Post, Wilson, Crosbyton, Spur, Floydada, Plainview, Tulia, Amarillo, Claude, Memphis, Quanah and Vernon.

But only 10 of the towns had a population of at least 5,000 and seven of those 10 had colleges or were near a college. Then came another contentious vote in 1923. Dallas residents were lobbying for a college in the Dallas area, so West Texans pulled together to push for a college in Lubbock ­ and won.

Lubbock reaped the reward of the unification of West Texas.

Several state leaders at the time gave much of the credit for Lubbock's victory to Bledsoe, whose home was Lubbock. T. Whitfield Davidson, Neff's lieutenant governor, said, ''Senator Bledsoe was one of the most powerful figures in the state Senate ... Those familiar with the situation felt that the location of the school at Lubbock was to a large measure due to its being the home of Senator Bledsoe, the author of the bill.''

When the news came to Lubbock by telegraph, the town exploded. Merchants closed their doors as people gathered in main streets for a parade and celebration. Street whistles shrieked and brass bands kept the town hopping far into early morning hours, according to old newspaper accounts.

The celebration was even larger Aug. 28, 1923, when Neff rolled into town.

He told a huge crowd, ''I'm for this institution because I want the red-faced boys of Texas cared for as well as the white-faced cattle. I am opposed to a people hearing the squeal of a pig above the cry of a child.''

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