It's been nearly 70 years since musician Pat Boone first stepped on the University of North Texas campus as a student, but he still feels a "sense of homecoming."
The memories of his "happy life" with his wife Shirley in Denton and studying at then North Texas State University come flooding back. Suddenly, he's a teenager again pedaling around campus on Shirley's bike and performing as a soloist in Floyd "'Fessor" Graham's Saturday Night Stage Show, a precursor to UNT's One O'Clock Lab Band.
"['Fessor] would introduce me as the next Bing Crosby," Boone says. "He had the feeling that I had that kind of approach to my singing … he always was so encouraging to me."
Boone made lifelong friends while studying at North Texas from 1954-1955 such as Gene Qualls, who later worked in UNT's Registrar office from 1979-2003, and North Texas cheerleader Jim Hampton ('57), an actor best known for his roles in F Troop, The Longest Yard and Teen Wolf.
The Boones rented a home off campus where they started raising Cherry, the first of their four daughters.
"Shirley would wash our clothes and the diapers for our little baby and would ask me to go put them on the line," Boone says. "I still remember the fresh, Texas air blowing through those wet things I was hanging and just thinking how happy I was. We didn't know what our future held, but we had each other and I was getting a good education."
Boone hoped his studies would prepare him to become a high school English teacher and that perhaps he could spend part of his time as a minister in a church nearby.
Then, he got the call in March 1955 that changed the trajectory of his career -- and his entire life. Record producer Randy Wood from Dot Records wanted him to record a cover of the rhythm and blues song, Two Hearts, Two Kisses. That marked the beginning of his successful music career, selling 45 million records with six No. 1 records, 38 "Top 40" hits and 13 Gold Records. He has appeared in more than 15 movies, is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Boone, now 87, was back on campus last week to be awarded the UNT Presidential Medal of Honor. The award is the highest honor given at the university and recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to UNT. Boone's longtime friend and fellow UNT alumnus David B. Hooten ('87) also was presented with the Medal of Honor award April 29.
Following the private award ceremony, both Boone and Hooten talked candidly with students, faculty and others about their time at UNT and shared anecdotal stories from throughout their successful careers.
Boone broke out in song during the chat in the College of Music Choir Room with a few stanzas of his most popular songs, including his debut hit, Two Hearts, Two Kisses.
Though his career has taken him all over the world, Boone has never forgot his time in Denton. Receiving the UNT Presidential Medal of Honor award is a reminder of where everything began for him.
"This is a wonderful confirmation that my life was headed in a good direction when I was here," Boone says. "I really consider this President's medal as a pat on the back from God. It's from an institution that was very good to me in ways I didn't fully appreciate at the time. I received invaluable experience while I was here. I fit in here and was welcomed."