Paul Voertman

Paul Voertman's long commitment to UNT began in kindergarten at the Demonstration School.

"The campus was my playground," he says.

He swam in the school's pool in the summer, roller-skated across campus ("the smoothest sidewalks in town," he says) and went to 'Fessor Graham's stage shows and movies. He stayed through his sophomore year of college in 1947.

"I had a pleasant time here because I had grown up here, but all children want to leave home at some point, and I did," he says.

He transferred to the University of Texas in Austin, where he would complete his bachelor's degree in economics, but returned to UNT each summer to take classes and work at the family store — an iconic Denton landmark.

Generations of college students have bought textbooks and art supplies and browsed through art and home goods at Voertman's.

After his father's death, when Voertman was 23, he took over management of the store. He remained at the helm for 38 years before selling it, and Voertman's Bookstore still bears the family name today.

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Teacher Ann Bookman Williams inspired his interest in art in grammar school, he says. An art connoisseur, Voertman began an annual student art competition at UNT in 1960.

"At that time, the kids had no one to judge their work except faculty members," he says.

With the competition, students have their work reviewed by an outside judge — usually a practicing artist or curator — and can win cash prizes. The competition continues today through the College of Visual Arts and Design.

"In a four-year span, the student sees four different judges teaching different things," he says. "Art is pretty subjective, and when one person may say it's magnificent, someone else may say, 'I don't want to show it.' It's a good learning experience."

For the College of Music, Voertman supported the $1.5 million installation of the Richard Ardoin-Paul Voertman Concert Organ that put UNT's organ program back in the national spotlight, and he is the namesake of the recently renovated Voertman Hall in the Music Building. He regularly attends campus music performances and art events.

With his estimated $8 million bequest to UNT, he hopes to ease students' financial burden by providing scholarships and other programs. A college education in the 1940s cost him $38 a semester, he remembers.

"Today, in an increasingly expensive college environment, students need help," he says.

Art graduate student Cecila Ann McClain-Shikle says Voertman's support has made a difference. She won a cash prize in the Voertman competition this spring.

"It gave me confidence," she says. "By winning that, I was able to buy equipment I wasn't able to afford otherwise. Since then, I've entered multiple shows. When you get that little boost, it opens more doors."