Fostering History: Elliot T. Bowers

Sam Houston State University has a rich history of presidents that have guided our campus to what it is today. One of those presidents was the late Elliot Toulmin Bowers, the ninth president of SHSU.

Bowers was born Aug. 22, 1919 in Oklahoma City. After a move to Texas, he attended college at Sam Houston State Teachers College, where in 1941 he received his bachelor’s degree in Music. However, his education did not end there; he continued until he received his master’s degree one year later.

During World War II, Bowers served in the United States Air Force from 1943 to 1946. He taught meteorology and navigation. In addition to those services he also aided in counterintelligence in the South Pacific for two years. After Bowers returned home from his service, he became the director of testing and guidance at the university from 1946 and 1951. Continuing his career, he served as director of the student union in 1951 to 1959.

While Bowers worked at SHSU, he pursued higher education. He earned his doctorate in Education Administration from the University of Houston in 1959. The following year, he became the Vice President for University Affairs and Dean of Students from 1959 to 1970.

There were two occasions that Bowers served as acting president. From1962 to1964, Bowers acted as president following the death of Dr. Harmon Lowman and again when Dr. Templeton resigned to become founding president of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In October 1970, Bowers was honored with the permanent position of interim president. During this time, Sam Houston was facing difficulties. A neighboring Texas A&M began accepting female students for the first time (since 1963), ultimately affecting attendance at SHSU. In addition, student enrollment was declining due to economic challenges. This led to many potential students attending new community colleges instead. The campus faculty credentials and facilities needed improvements and upgrades.

Bowers was more than up for the task. He focused his efforts in academics, construction and renovation, faculty development and student recruiting. Bowers knew that less than half of the faculty held doctorate degrees. However, by Fall 1976 three out of every four faculty members held doctorates, which made SHSU highly valued by accrediting agencies. Bowers continued this momentum by improving the campus itself.

Bowers’ administration led to the completion of numerous facilities on campus that had a major impact on what SHSU is today. The facilities that were completed under Bowers’ administration includes the Teacher Education Center, Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum, University Theatre Center, George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center, Dan Rather Communication Building, Lee Drain Building and the mall area, the Health and Physical Education Building (currently known as the Health and Kinesiology Center), Bearkat Stadium (currently known as Bowers Stadium), Field House and the Music Building.

After Bowers strengthened the faculty and facilities he started focusing on student recruitment. In Fall 1970, there were 10,025 students registered for classes at SHSU. However, four-year institutions were falling. Many students were no longer becoming full-time students, which had an adverse effect on state funding. However, due to the well-educated faculty and new and improved facilities, student enrollment increased to 12,359 by Fall 1989 when Bowers left office.

Bowers retired after stepping down as interim president in 1989. A proposal was made to rename Bearkat Stadium after Bowers. When he was asked how he would like to be remembered, he puffed a couple times on his pipe and said, “That I cared.” Bowers was honored as designated President Emeritus, and Bearkat stadium was renamed in his honor.

He continued to live with his wife, Frances Handley Bowers, whom he had been married to since May 29, 1940 until her death in September 1999. Bowers later passed away in May 2003.

Bowers was known by students, faculty, staff and alumni for his sincere interest in any of their problems— whether were big or small. He gave his time to others despite having a busy schedule. Elliot Toulmin Bowers embodied the university motto— “The measure of a life is its service.”

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