The year is 1934 and a letter is sent home to Wellington, Texas. John Henry Baumgardner writes about the experience he is having at Texas Technological College, a school that is only 11 years old. Each week he sends home a letter documenting his time in the School of Agriculture and fascinating his eight siblings. Little does he know his writing is crafting a legacy: he is the first of over 50 family members to attend what would become Texas Tech University.
John Henry was the first Texas Tech graduate of many from the Baumgardner family. After graduating from Wellington High School in 1934 his eyes were set about 170 miles away on Lubbock, Texas. However, it was no easy feat to accomplish the start of the Baumgardner family tradition.
“I remember when he went; it was during the Great Depression and money was tight,” said Barbara Baumgardner Gordon, John Henry’s 94-year-old little sister.
Tuition was $25 and their father did not have the money for John Henry to attend Texas Tech. However, based on his solid reputation, John Henry received a loan to attend college. The work didn’t stop there; in order to keep paying for college dues he found a job.
For $5 a month John Henry would clean the tunnels under campus. After working his first month in the tunnels, he moved up to working in his dormitory dining hall as one of the waiters. Every day he showed up in the required attire to serve food: a starched white jacket. Given three jackets at the time, it was cheaper for him to mail the jackets home to Wellington so his mom could wash and return them then it was to get them done in Lubbock.
“My goodness, they came in the mail and she would rush to wash the clothes. You know back then we didn’t have automatic washers,” Barbara shared, and continued to discuss how they washed clothes in the ‘30s. “He would send two home, she would wash them, send them back, then he would get them the next day.”
Barbara remembers stories like this vividly along with how much her older brother was doing and how it impressed her. It inspired her and the entire family so much that all eight siblings decided to attend Texas Tech.
John Henry completed two degrees in the School of Agriculture, as it was called then, and he continued to make an impact by teaching and joining the Department of Animal Husbandry faculty.
The Siblings’ Turn
In 1946, Harry S. Truman was president, World War II ended the year prior, the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, was released, and gas was $0.21 a gallon. Twelve years after John Henry attended, Barbara stepped foot on the Lubbock campus to study in the College of Home Economics. She’d been inspired to attend by John Henry’s weekly letters he wrote home.
“He’d write about once week and tell what he was doing in his courses.” Barbara said. “My mom would read the letters and then we all followed his route; all eight of us graduated from Texas Tech and then many of our children went to Texas Tech.”
During her time on campus Barbara made memories that she remembers like yesterday. She loved her professors, made many friends and enjoyed her class work in home economics. The school became a home.
“I really enjoyed it from the start; and the minute I went to Tech, I knew I was in the right place,” said Barbara when discussing her core memories on campus.
She continued the tradition passed down by John Henry by working in the dining halls and in three different dormitories, including the couple’s dormitory for married couples and the boys-only dormitory. It was no easy feat getting a degree in home economics and having a full-time job.
“I had to study hard because I was also working in the dining room and so I had to plan my time and really take care of everything,” Barbara said. “I was really busy all four years I was there.”
The College of Home Economics was one of four of the colleges on campus established in 1925. There were 66 students enrolled and all were women. Classes were “centered around the home to the fullest extent” according to the 1925-26 course catalog.
One special class took time on the weekend. Women in the college often had what was called a “practice baby.” They were tasked with taking care of a real baby from the community during the week and sometimes weekends all while juggling classes and involvement.
“That was my first duty, and I had never taken care of a baby, but, boy, I didn’t sleep that whole week I had this baby,” Barbara said.
But it’s the family connection that made her Texas Tech experience so special. Her brother, Marion Baumgardner, joined her after World War II and her younger brother, David, started at the school her senior year. She remembered nights in her dormitory when David would walk over and seek advice as she tried to help him cope with the feelings of lostness that often come with the first year of college.
“It was wonderful; we felt like we were part of Tech because so many of us had been there,” Barbara said.
The next generation was soon to come.
“We felt like we were part of Tech because so many of us had been there.”– Barbara Baumgardner Gordon
David’s son, Joe Baumgardner, sits at a dining table in the Baumgardner Homeplace, an old white wooden home with eight bedrooms on a 640-acre piece of land acquired in the late 1800s. A sign outside the front door reads “Designated Family Land Heritage Property, 100 Years of Agriculture by the Same Family” as dedicated by former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Perry.
The Baumgardner Homeplace is home to many special memories. Barbara married her husband, Clovis, there before the home was even finished, and so did her sister Priscilla. Later this year one of Joe’s sons will also get married right outside of the old chicken coop.
Today, nobody lives in the Baumgardner Homeplace, but it is still used as a guesthouse. And it’s a great place to hear more stories about the Baumgardner family at Texas Tech.
“Growing up it was all I knew,” Joe said when describing why he went to Texas Tech. “I never remember anyone telling me I had to go to Tech, but that’s where I wanted to go.”
In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president of the United States, the Vietnam War ended two years prior, the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, and gas cost an average of $0.62 a gallon. In August of 1977, Texas Tech was welcoming 19,023 undergraduate students, one of them was Joe.
Starting at Texas Tech, he lived in Sneed Hall. Joe would cut across Memorial Circle straight to “Ag Row” and attend many classes in the Agriculture Sciences building which was established in 1925. However, majoring in agronomy posed a unique challenge.
Similar to his father, David, Joe felt lost his first year of college. It was a professor that placed him on the right track.
“Tech is big and coming from a small town I had a little bit of trouble,” Joe said. “When I first started, some of the classes were overwhelming.”
Norman Hopper, Ph.D., set him on the right track. After meeting with Joe, the professor in agronomy completely changed his experience in school, grades and all. Joe loved what he was learning and how personable Hopper was. Professors continued to make an impact on his educational experience, especially one in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, Dan Krieg, Ph.D.
“I don’t know how someone can make plant physiology interesting, but he did,” Joe said. “I thought the world of him for years.”
Joe continues to farm their family land in Wellington and credits much of his success to what he was taught at Texas Tech.
He believes that his education is what made him a better farmer. However, when looking toward the future, he wants the college to keep progressing and meeting the demands. While he can’t fathom what farming will look like in 50 years, he does know that the students in Davis College now will be responsible for the change that comes.
“There are a lot of good farmers in this county,” Joe said. “I’m not saying I’m any better than them because of [my experience at Texas Tech], but I understand a lot of stuff that’s going on in plants and soils.”
While Joe never pressured his sons on where to attend college, he was an outstanding advocate for Texas Tech: “Those were some of the best years of my life.”
“Those were some of the best years of my life.”– Joe Baumgardner
In 2007, the U.S. was in the midst of the Iraq War, the last Harry Potter book was published, and gas cost an average of $2.80 a gallon. Texas Tech was welcoming 23,107 undergraduate students to campus, one being Tate Baumgardner.
Tate is the oldest of Joe’s three sons. Proximity to Lubbock was a big reason he chose Texas Tech since he also graduated from Wellington I.S.D. But when he sent in his ACT scores it didn’t matter who he sent them to as long as Texas Tech received them.
“You couldn’t have paid me to go to [Texas] A&M, or [University of Texas], or anything, because Tech is where I always wanted to be,” Tate said.
Tate was on campus during what many call the “prime time” for Texas Tech football. He saw Michael Crabtree in action during the famous 2008 catch, scoring Texas Tech a win against the University of Texas. He watched the final years of Bobby Knight’s coaching career in basketball. Tate fondly remembered the number of courts and fields he rushed after Red Raider wins, calling them a highlight of his college experience.
Tate loved how easy it was to live on campus especially in the Murdough Dormitory, where many first year Davis College students live. While his younger brother, Will, lived in a Murdough that is similar to today, Tate lived there when the dorm wasn’t co-ed. To Tate, The Market, the only dining option in the dorm, was the best food on campus, a view shared by many other Texas Tech students and alumni.
Living in the Davis College Learning Community, a living situation that allows students in the college to reside on the same dorm floors, can make the transition from a small town to Lubbock a less daunting task. Systems in place like this community along with the smaller class sizes are what set the college apart. Tate found it easier getting to know others in college because of common interests and values they shared.
“It was comfortable because everybody I had classes with were from the same situation,” Tate said.
This personal atmosphere transcends through students to faculty and professors. While trouble in classes is inevitable, Tate found that it wasn’t a big deal to talk to his professors in Davis College when faced with difficulty.
While there are not any Baumgardners currently attending Texas Tech, there are hopes that one special someone might carry the legacy on. Tate’s child, Graham, only 1 year old now, might be the next to carry the torch.
“I never felt like I was forced, but I might have a different attitude toward my son and pushing Tech really hard,” Tate said, and laughed.
Tate thinks if his son is stubborn like him, there may be one barrier to jump when it comes to choosing a college, but he is optimistic. Growing up close to Lubbock and being season ticket holders for football might do the trick for Graham.
“I would love for him to go to Tech and continue the family tradition,” Tate said. “Really, for our family, Tech is home.”
The Next 100
It has now been 100 years since the college’s inception. New buildings are built and old ones torn down to make room. Faculty enter and exit; students graduate. The college changes names and some Red Raiders may leave Lubbock, but people like the Baumgardner family are what make Texas Tech and Davis College so special.
The aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters that treaded across Memorial Circle, aced finals on Ag Row, shared meals in the Murdough Market and cheered for the football team, all share a common history.
“I felt like we built Tech,” Barbara Baumgardner Gordon said.
And built Texas Tech they did. The Baumgardner legacy is one of many in Davis College; a place people call home, and a reminder that from here it really is possible.