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Celebrating 100 Years of Hope- Schreiner University’s 100-Year History

Nestled amid the scenic beauty of the Texas Hill Country, Schreiner University in Kerrville has a rich history that spans nearly a century. The institution’s journey from its humble beginnings to its current status as a respected university reflects the resilience, vision, and commitment to education that has defined its evolution.

Founding and Early Years:

In 1923, Schreiner Institute, as it was initially known, was established by the Presbyterian Church. The institution was named in honor of Captain Charles Schreiner, a prominent Texas figure who played a key role in the development of the region. Captain Shreiner built strong roots in Kerrville by building out a livestock, retail and banking empire and his tenacity and drive made him a strong symbol of Texas determination. 

The other key founder of the university is the Presbytery of Western Texas. The Presbyterian Church had for decades wanted to bring quality education to the Hill Country; their plans for opening up a school in the region go back as early as 1906.

The Presbytery of Western Texas and Captain Charles Shreiner finally made their shared vision for growth for the Hill Country come to fruition in 1923.

The founders envisioned a place where students could receive a well-rounded education grounded in the principles of faith, community, and academic rigor.

Three buildings were built for the university’s founding: the Weir Academic Building, Dickey Hall, a dormitory and a home for the school’s headmaster. 

The Weir Academic Building remains to this day as the university’s administrative building, still seeing students grace its door 100 years after its initial construction. Dickey Hall similarly remains and dedicates its first floor to peer-to-peer tutoring and the university’s writing center. 

Over the last 100 years, Schreiner University has continued to adapt to changing educational needs and has grown into a thriving campus with a diverse student body.

Transformation and Growth:

The rest of the 20th century marked a significant period of transformation for Schreiner Institute. 

In 1932, Schreiner became a coeducational institute, allowing women access to higher education. 

In 1957, the institution became Schreiner College, reflecting its broader academic focus. During this time, the campus expanded, new academic programs were introduced, and the commitment to providing a comprehensive education gained prominence.

In 1971, Schreiner took the next step in its journey by discontinuing military training and becoming a fully co-ed higher learning facility. Military excellence is still a huge part of the fabric of Schreiner University and the legacy of military training continues on in Greystone Preparatory School. And by 1973, Schreiner honed in its focus on college curriculum and phased out the high school that was once on campus. 

The Transition to Schreiner University:

The 21st century brought about another milestone in the institution’s history. In 2001, Schreiner College officially became Schreiner University, a name that better encapsulated its diverse academic offerings and commitment to academic excellence. The university’s academic programs continued to grow, emphasizing a holistic liberal arts education that prepares students for a rapidly changing world.

Academic Excellence and Innovation:

Throughout its history, Schreiner University has remained dedicated to academic excellence. The university’s faculty, known for their expertise and commitment to student success, have played a crucial role in shaping the institution’s reputation for providing a high-quality education.

Schreiner University’s commitment to innovation is evident in its evolving curriculum, which includes a range of undergraduate and graduate programs across various disciplines. 

In 2022, Schreiner University unveiled a program designed to help students focus on an often overlooked but vital industry: rural banking. The new rural banking program is designed for accounting, finance and computer science majors as well as other relevant majors to not only receive important information about the banking and finance industry but to also gain internships at local regional banks and credit unions. These strategic partnerships are an excellent opportunity not just for the students but for the community, ensuring that these necessary financial institutions are staffed with some of the brightest minds coming out of the university. 

Schreiner University’s pursuit of academic excellence and innovation has spurred new programs and initiatives that strive to enrich not just the students of the university but the local community. This year, Schreiner University unveiled a new Aviation program in conjunction with the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport. The Aviation Studies program aims to empower students looking to take their education to new heights with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificates in both private and commercial flight. 

Another recent addition to the university’s programming is a new academic program focusing on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. The program aims to help students find careers within the growing agricultural industry including natural resource management, fish habitats, wildlife, soil and rangeland. The program, which is set to start accepting students in 2024, celebrated its founding by planting a vineyard. The vineyard, part of the Agriculture and Natural Resource Management program, is tied to the Hill Country’s known reputation for grape growing and wine production. 

The university’s emphasis on experiential learning, research opportunities, and community engagement further enhances the educational experience for students, preparing them for meaningful and impactful careers.

Campus Development and Community Engagement:

The physical transformation of the campus has been a consistent theme in Schreiner University’s history. Modern facilities, such as the Trull Academic Center and the Cailloux Campus Activity Center, showcase the university’s commitment to providing a state-of-the-art learning environment. These facilities not only support academic endeavors but also contribute to a vibrant campus life.

Beyond academic pursuits, Schreiner University places a strong emphasis on community engagement. The university has forged strong ties with the Kerrville community, participating in local initiatives, service projects, and cultural events. This commitment to community involvement reflects the institution’s belief in instilling a sense of responsibility and civic duty in its students.

As Schreiner University continues to evolve and thrive, its storied history remains a testament to the enduring values of education, community, and adaptability. From its beginnings as Schreiner Institute to its current status as a comprehensive liberal arts university, Schreiner has embraced change while staying true to its commitment to shaping well-rounded individuals prepared for the challenges of the future. The journey of Schreiner University is not just a history lesson; it is an ongoing narrative of growth, resilience, and the pursuit of academic excellence in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.

In honor of Schreiner University’s 100-year anniversary, Enter with Hope: Schreiner at 100, a commemorative coffee table book was published. This beautiful hardcover book has over 200 pages of beautiful photos of the journey of Schreiner University from its inception in 1923 to the flourishing and diverse college campus that Schreiner University is today. The book can be purchased locally at Schreiner Outfitters in the Callioux Campus Activity Center on Schreiner University’s campus or online.

Laity Lodge and HEB Foundation Camps

The story of the camp begins with a married couple who wanted to provide outdoor experiences for children and families who might otherwise never have the opportunity.

That couple was Mary Holdsworth Butt and her husband, Howard E. Butt. Many will recognize the family name: Howard took his mother’s small grocery store, which she started in 1905 in Kerrville, and through decades of hard work, built a chain of grocery stores across Texas. We know those stores as H-E-B today.

Back in 1954, though, the chain was still comparatively small. Though the stores were successful, the company was nowhere as large as it is today. In the 1950s it was still a regional operation.

In 1954, when the couple purchased the 1900-acre Wolfe Ranch, the land which would become the H. E. Butt Foundation Camps, Howard was 59, and Mary was 51. Both were in that season of life when one wonders what might yet be accomplished in the years to come.

A small portion of Mary’s diary from those days was recently published, which includes these thoughts, from February 1954:

“Today, I am fifty-one,” Mary Butt wrote. “Howard and I have been wondering what we want most to do with the remaining years of our life. We want to further the cause of the Christian faith; to improve educational opportunities for children; to encourage all character-building activities; to help provide recreational opportunities for children… we want, if possible, to establish a camp somewhere in the Texas hills where groups of children can go… where a hundred years from now deer, turkey, squirrels, and rabbits can still be seen.”

Over the years since its purchase, five campsites were constructed on the property: Echo Valley, Singing Hills, Linnet’s Wings, Wind Song, and Comanche Outpost (which has been replaced by Headwaters), forming the foundation camps. Two other programs were also established: Laity Lodge, and Laity Lodge Youth Camp.

Laity Lodge hosted its first retreat in June 1961, when a group of people met on the banks of the Frio River in a newly constructed hall. The featured speaker was Elton Trueblood, a Quaker philosopher, who emphasized “the ministry of common life.” Mary and Howard Butt’s eldest son, Howard Butt, Jr., a gifted Christian speaker, encouraged the development of Laity Lodge, and it became a family project. “My mother worked tirelessly,” Howard Butt Jr. wrote recently, “and we spent long hours planning the design of the retreat center, the design of the buildings, the building locations, the interior design, and even the location of the parking lot. She felt compelled to build the camps; building Laity Lodge in particular gave her great satisfaction, and she was pleased when the buildings were ready for the first retreat.”

Keith Miller served as the first director of Laity Lodge, from 1962 to 1965. He was followed by Bill Cody, who served until 1979. My long-time friend Dr. Howard Hovde served from 1981 until 1999; Eddie Sears, another long-time friend, served during the same time as Associate Director. In 1997 Don Murdock took the executive director’s post, and in 1999 the title of director was held by Dr. David Williamson. The current director, Steven Purcell, was hired in 2006, and the current Director of Operations, the talented Tim Blanks, was hired in 2003.

Mary Butt’s diary from the earliest days of the camps expressed the hope to provide a camping experience for “maybe 100 boys and girls at one time.” A recent newsletter from the foundation estimates since 1954 “one million boys and girls and men and women have benefited from free use of the foundation camps.”

This special place, in a stark canyon overlooking the crystal Frio River, has been an active part of a greater spiritual community for sixty very good years. Laity Lodge and the H. E. Butt Foundation Camps has its beginnings here in Kerrville, starting when a woman of faith prayerfully opened a little grocery store and taught her children (and their children) the importance of hard work and spiritual values. Those lessons continue to this day at Laity Lodge, Laity Lodge Youth Camp, and the H. E. Butt Foundation. 

Celebrations Throughout Kerrville’s History

A friend in Ireland, John MacCrossan, with whom I frequently correspond, noticed a vital clue in the old photographs: a schellenbaum.

Schellenbaums were a percussion instrument about seven feet long and consisted of a pole topped with brass ornaments and bells. To play the instrument, one would either shake it up and down, or twist it. Some even had cranks that rotated the tall device.

Noticing that odd instrument, as well as counting the 44 stars on one of the flags in the photograph, gave the clues that finally solved the riddle: the photographs showed a Saengerfest celebration in downtown Kerrville in September 1896.

A Saengerfest, as you might guess, was a celebration brought to Texas by German immigrants and was a festival of singers. These celebrations were common among German communities in Texas and elsewhere. Most of the choirs that participated were all male, though a few included mixed choruses. Many Hill Country communities had a choir; Kerrville’s choir was called “Concordia,” and Kerrville’s own Julius Real served as the president of the “TexanisherGebirgsSangerbund,” or Texas Hill Country Singing Clubs League. In 1896 the various choirs gathered in Kerrville for a two-day celebration. The parade of men in the photographs were singing as they marched.

Another big celebration in Kerrville was the West Texas Fair. The celebration had its fairgrounds, to the west of Town Creek, somewhere in the neighborhood of Hugo and Starkey Streets, behind the Wells Fargo Bank building at Five Points.

The late Warren Klein sent me this information on the West Texas Fair years ago — “The West Texas Fair was held each year around the 4th of July.” This fair took place in grand buildings built especially for the fair.

“One thing I remember about the fair of 1915: a man had an airplane and he would take people up for a ride. The thing I remembered about the airplane was that it didn’t have a self-starter. The propeller was at the back of the plane. In order to start it, a person had to turn the propeller by hand, but he wanted ‘back up,’ so he joined hands with 6 other men. One thing that still puzzles me today is where my brand new straw hat went when that plane started!”

Other events at the old West Texas Fair: an early game of basketball; horse races; judging of various agricultural products; homemaking contests; and many baseball matches.

For many years the community celebrated the Fourth of July with a large rodeo, held near the football stadium.

On July 10, 1941, the Salter family published a 10-page issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, with a huge headline that read, “12,500 Spectators Crowd Tivy Field for Annual Hill Country Championship Rodeo, Horseshow,” and reported on the seventh annual rodeo produced by the Kerrville Junior Chamber of Commerce (the Jaycees).

I have photographs of the rodeo and parade from that era, and it was a big deal. The rodeo in 1941 was a two-day event, so attendance averaged over 6,000 folks each night.

It says the event took place at “Tivy Field,” and you would assume it was at what we call Antler Stadium today, but that would be wrong: Antler Stadium didn’t open until the autumn of ‘41. In talking with several Tivy alums from that era, I think “Tivy Field” was in the block bounded by Tivy, Barnett, Third, and College Streets, behind what was called Tivy Elementary when I was a student. (I had always assumed the field was behind the school, adjacent to the Auld Center, but I was told this was not so.)

If so, I cannot imagine how they got 6,000 people a night in that little corner of town. The news story says 400 spectators were refused admission “as every available space was taken,” including standing room only. “It was the first time the crowd has been beyond the capacity of the big field,” the story reported.

Around forty years ago, two new festivals began in Kerrville: the Texas Arts and Crafts Fair, and the Kerrville Folk Festival. Both began in 1972.

My friend Rod Kennedy gave me a remarkable document: the program from the first Texas State Arts & Crafts Fair (of which the first Kerrville Folk Festival was a part).

It is remarkable for many reasons: its words, pictures, and design evoke a spirit that thrived in this place that summer of 1972. From the welcoming letters printed on the front of the book from Governor Preston Smith, Schreiner Junior College and Preparatory School President, Sam Junkin, and the first Executive Director of the Arts & Crafts Fair, Phil Davis (of the Texas Tourist Development Agency), all the way to the list of exhibitors (including my dad and an old platen printing press) – you can tell that Kerrville was on the ball, making a difference for itself in the state. It’s refreshing to read the program, filled with its optimism and state public-relations department text.

The Fair was held for 6 days, starting on a Tuesday and running through Saturday, on the campus of Schreiner Institute. Admission was $1.00 for adults and 50 cents for children. Parking was free. Rod Kennedy produced the first Kerrville Folk Festival on June 1, 2, and 3 (Thursday through Saturday) at the Kerrville Municipal Auditorium, with a $2.50 per person admission. Other things were going on during the same time: Schreiner Institute offered a production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and the Hill Country Arts Foundation had a Neil Simon comedy, “Come Blow Your Horn.”

Some people might be surprised who was in the audience during the first year of the Kerrville Folk Festival: Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, along with UT Coach Darrell Royal.

Though the Texas Arts and Crafts Fair is undergoing a reimagining right now, the Kerrville Folk Festival remains as strong as ever.

I’m happy to see Comanche Trace continue in the long tradition of local festivals as they produce the 2nd Annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Brew Festival. Our community continues to be a great place to celebrate. Lyndon B and Lady Bird at first Kerrville Folk Festival West Texas Fair postcard.

The Story of Comanche Trace Ranch

For some, the name Comanche Trace Ranch might be a bit of a mystery. Why does the ranch bear the name of a warrior tribe, the Comanche? What’s a Trace, anyway? And why is this beautiful community called a Ranch? I think I can help answer these questions for you.