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What started as a small coed college with only 13 students in Thorp Texas has blossomed into one of the nation’s top universities with over 90,000 living alumni. That’s right, we’re talking about TCU, and no it hasn’t always been in Fort Worth. But in many ways, TCU’s identity has been linked to our fair city in one form or another.
This fact among many other TCU historical tidbits was the focal point of a limited-day exhibit displayed at the Brown-Lupton University Union building last week. This over 7,000 square-foot museum-style exhibit, took over two years to curate in celebration of TCU’s 150th anniversary. Some of the items on display included the recent TCU Fiesta Bowl trophy, a large digital map displaying how far the school’s global reach is, and many first-time historical artifacts. Tracy Syler-Jones, vice chancellor of marketing and communication, and Brad Thompson, assistant director of student activities, both say they took on curating this project to learn and stay connected to TCU’s past.
“Really the planning for the sesquicentennial started pre-covid,” Syler-Jones says. “When covid hit this idea hit the back burner for a bit but we picked it back up in late 2021.”
This being a special milestone for the university, Syler-Jones says she and her team wanted to create something that would stand the test of time when the school hits another anniversary in the future.
“We thought about the TCU staff and students that would be celebrating this kind of thing in another 150 years,” she says. “We focused on making sure we could connect with alumni from different eras and see what their take on TCU was or is. Really everyone we reached out to said they just wanted to be connected.”
Part of honoring this request was picking committee members for this project that came from different areas of the TCU campus. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t just focus on the past or future, instead we wanted to focus on the impact that we are having right now today as well.”
According to Syler-Jones, this took eight subcommittees, one executive committee, and a project manager to achieve. “It’s truly been a labor of love for all of us and we are thrilled with the project’s execution because it was truly collaborative.”
The beginning Part of this exhibit began with a historical video explaining why TCU ended up in Fort Worth. It seems TCU had a third location in Waco, but the school was badly burned in 1910, which prompted the school to move to Fort Worth. Historical documents indicate that TCU opened the first buildings on its current campus in 1911. This is also the first year the university received its very first endowment. The next big year for TCU would be 1922 when the school would join and receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Horned Frogs would join the Southwest Athletic Conference. In 1926, TCU would create its first graduate program at the same time band director Claude Sammis would write the TCU fight song. And the historical highlights continue.
“I really like seeing people engage in the exhibit as they view something they had never seen before or haven’t seen in a long time,” Syler-Jones says. Most of the items at this exhibit were either loaned to TCU or curated from its library archive where they spent many years locked away. “Most of this stuff hasn’t been seen in decades and we are just excited for it to be on display and to be shown,” Thompson says. “As a TCU alum a couple times over, I didn’t realize the gravity and weight of some of things I took for granted before being a part of this project. TCU has had its share of struggles along the way, but it has persevered and this exhibit is a testimony to just that.”