Attending North Texas in the early 1930s was one of the highlights of my life. As a young girl growing up in Blue Grove near Wichita Falls, I was always interested in history, and I knew from an early age I wanted to be a teacher. I began my studies in the fall of 1933 at North Texas, because it was one of the highest recommended colleges in the state.
I am the oldest of four children from a family of stock farmers and ranchers. In 1933, the Great Depression was going on and money was very tight. I lived at the Beville House, a girls’ rooming house on Oak Street. There were two rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs, with two girls in each room. To save money, the girls brought food from home. I remember bringing cooked ham, canned fruit and different vegetables raised on our farm. We all cooked our meals together, and the girls were like family.
One of my favorite places on campus was the library. I spent many hours there reading about history and geography. I loved learning about other parts of the world. I worked very hard to make good grades, and my study paid off as I was asked to be a member of the Historical Society. My favorite teacher was Dr. L.W. Newton, the head of the history department. He inspired me even more to be a teacher.
My father would come and pick me up in the summer time and take me home, but during the holidays I often rode home with a boy who lived near our farm. I rode in the rumble seat in the back of his car. It was so much fun to make the trip back home this way.
But because there always seemed to be so many interesting things to do around campus, I hardly ever wanted to go home. Many times I would walk to downtown Denton to see the movies, sometimes even in the snow. I always took advantage of my activity card that came with the school tuition. The card gave me access to all of the fine arts programs.
One of my favorite memories was seeing Fred Astaire in a movie that was shown in the auditorium. I can still see him up there on that stage dancing away. He was so graceful and light on his feet. I have always loved music. My mother played the piano and my father played the French harp. When my family could afford it, I took piano lessons.
In 1935, my family did not have enough money to send me back to school. I stayed home for a year and helped my dad on the farm. This was a very hard time for everyone. The bank went broke in Henrietta, the closest larger town to Blue Grove. We all survived this difficult time and became stronger people because of it. We learned to appreciate the little things in life.
When I was able to return to school in 1936 and complete my studies, I was so happy to see the campus with all the pretty trees again. I am now 96 years old and I still wear my senior ring on my right hand. The date has been worn smooth because I have worn it all these years. I think North Texas has always had many advantages to offer its students. It is just the best.
Tommie Phillips Harris (’37) earned a bachelor’s degree in history and taught in rural schools in Burkburnett and Pecos until she retired in 1980. She stressed the value of education to her two daughters, who both became teachers. She also has one granddaughter and one great-grandson. She has lived in Kermit since 1946, moving there with her husband to raise a family and work in the oil fields of West Texas. She says keeping active and being interested in the world around you is the secret to long life and staying young at heart.