Campus Life

1963 Was A Memorable Period In Aggieland

Haskell Monroe remembers Nov. 22, 1963 like it was yesterday – it’s one day he says he will never forget.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications November 18, 2008

tamuHaskell Monroe remembers Nov. 22, 1963 like it was yesterday – it’s one day he says he will never forget, nor will he forget his surroundings that fateful day and how they have changed.

Monroe, a young Texas A&M University history professor then, was headed across campus to meet fellow professor Garland Bayliss for lunch. Bayliss grabbed him by the arm and said, “Listen! Listen!” Monroe recalls. “He had a radio on and Walter Cronkite was just then saying he had been handed a bulletin that said President Kennedy had been shot and he was dead,” Monroe explains.

“We both looked at each other and we were totally, completely numb.

“I remember people were getting their information about the assassination mainly from their radios,” Monroe adds. “People were horrified and stunned that it happened in here in Texas. I walked across campus later that day and it was almost total silence — people didn’t seem to talk at all.”

Mary Patranella, who started working at Texas A&M in 1958, heard the news while in an office across campus in what is now the Jack K. Williams Administration Building, where she continues to work today.

“Shock is the best word to describe it back then,” she says. “I was shocked, everyone was shocked. It was a terrible, terrible day.”

While Patranella has remained continuously in Aggieland, Monroe left in 1980 to become president of the University of Texas-El Paso, where he stayed for seven years and then became chancellor of the University of Missouri before returning to Texas A&M in 1997. Now retired with the title of dean of faculty emeritus, Monroe continues to come to the campus almost daily and has an office in one of the campus libraries.

Monroe and Patranella join a select handful of Texas A&M faculty or staff still at the school 45 years ago when Kennedy was assassinated. Since then, the U.S. has changed greatly, and so has Texas A&M.

For many people and for Texas A&M itself, 1963 was a memorable year and archivist David Chapman has helped to compile some facts about that time period in Aggieland.

  • The Texas Legislature formally bestowed “university” status on Texas A&M in 1963. It was opened as the state’s first public institution of higher learning in 1876 with the designation of Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.
  • In 1963, then-president Earl Rudder was instrumental in convincing the board of directors (now board of regents) to allow women to attend Texas A&M as regular students. One of the first was Sonja Lee, who went on to graduate from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1966, becoming the first woman in Texas to earn a veterinary degree from the school. Women account for almost half of the student body today.
  • In 1963, Texas A&M had only 8,122 students, compared to more than 48,039 this fall.
  • In 1963, most of what is now referred to as “West Campus” did not exist and was used as farm land. Today, West Campus contains about half of the university’s buildings, including the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
  • In 1963, Texas A&M awarded about 1,600 degrees, including about 320 at the graduate level. The university now graduates more than 10,000 students annually, with almost 25 percent of the degrees presented at the graduate level.
  • In 1963, Aggies — and other Texans — paid an average of 22 cents for a gallon of gas.

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