Ken Durham

LETOURNEAU UNIVERSITY. LeTourneau University, a private, nondenominational, evangelical Christian institution, is located on 162 acres in Longview, Gregg County. In 1946 Robert Gilmour LeTourneau, a noted Christian industrialist, and his wife, Evelyn, founded the school in the recently abandoned Harmon General Hospital, a World War II installation that they discovered when they visited East Texas in search of a site for a new manufacturing plant. With the help of Carl L. Estes, publisher of the Longview News, and other civic leaders the LeTourneaus were able to purchase the 156 acres and 220 buildings of the hospital from the United States government for only one dollar. They were not to receive clear title to the property for a ten-year period, during which the government could reclaim the property in an emergency. They agreed that no buildings were to be removed during that time and that on the premises they would establish a trade school for war veterans. A few blocks away LeTourneau established his plant, R. G. LeTourneau, Incorporated.

The state of Texas issued a charter to LeTourneau Technical Institute of Texas on February 20, 1946, and classes began on April 1, 1946. The institute accepted only male students, most of whom were veterans. During the first two years of operation the school was divided into an academy that offered the junior and senior years of high school and a college division that offered two-year trade-school courses and a four-year course in technology. Students worked on a plan by which one-half attended classes three days each week while the other half worked at the LeTourneau plant. This work met the laboratory requirements of the industrial courses. The alternate-day scheduling continued until 1961.

Largely through the influence of the registrar and dean of admissions, Conrad Vernon, who had extensive experience in Texas education at both the high school and junior college levels, the institute was accredited in 1947 by the State Board of Education, the Texas Junior College Association, and the American Association of Junior Colleges.

From 1946 to 1961 the administrative structures of the school and the plant were unified by LeTourneau, who served as president and chairman of the board of both organizations. He advertised the institute internationally through a periodic newsletter, LeTourneau Tech NOW, which eventually reached a circulation of more than 500,000. Some 300 to 400 students enrolled in the institute each year between 1946 and 1961.

On July 20, 1961, LeTourneau Technical Institute became LeTourneau College, a coeducational, four-year college offering bachelor's degrees in engineering, technology, and various fields of the arts and sciences. Also at this time a master plan was developed, and permanent steel and brick buildings began to replace the old wooden barracks, which were either sold and moved or razed. The first permanent structure to be built was Tyler Hall, a men's residence hall, in 1962, followed by the Margaret Estes Library in 1963 and the Hollingsworth Science Hall in 1965.

This building program was led by presidents Allen C. Tyler, who served during 1961–62, and by Richard E. LeTourneau, eldest son of the founders, who served from 1962 to 1968. In 1970, during the presidency of Harry T. Hardwick (1968–75), LeTourneau received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Hardwick also led in establishing a series of local and national public-relations organizations and saw the completion of the Longview Citizens Resource Center and the R. G. LeTourneau Memorial and Student Center.

Richard LeTourneau returned as president from 1975 to 1985. He made personal computers available to faculty and students and supervised the accreditation of the mechanical and electrical engineering areas by the Engineer's Council for Professional Development, which later became the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Also he completed nine major construction projects, including three new residence halls and an aviation facility at the Gregg County Airport.

This physical expansion of the campus reflected a growing student enrollment, which surpassed 500 in 1964, 700 in 1968, and 1,000 in 1980; the number of students dropped into the 800s in the mid-1980s. LeTourneau students come from almost all fifty states and from more than thirty foreign countries. In 1985 LeTourneau joined the Christian College Coalition in an effort to participate in student exchanges and other benefits. In the late 1980s tuition and fees and auxiliary services to students accounted for 70 percent of the annual income. Federal and private grants accounted for another 22 percent. Capital improvements had been funded through private and corporation gifts. Alvin O. Austin became president in 1986, and one of his early contributions was the establishment of the Research and Advanced Development Institute, which uses campus personnel to complete research projects for businesses and for various government agencies. Other changes include changing the name of the college to LeTourneau University; initiating an adult-education program at sites in Longview, Austin, Bedford, Tyler, Dallas, and Houston; beginning a teacher-certification program in secondary education; and offering the M.B.A. degree. Under Austin's leadership the quality of the faculty increased as LeTourneau continued to combine technology and engineering and a solid liberal arts program with a strong Christian commitment. The university's enrollment in the fall of 1998 was 2,505, including students at the Longview campus and at the various educational centers elsewhere in Texas.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 15, 1983. Robert Gilmour LeTourneau, Mover of Men and Mountains: The Autobiography of R. G. LeTourneau (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960). Longview Daily News, February 24, 1946. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Donald W. Whisenhunt, The Encyclopedia of Texas Colleges and Universities (Austin: Eakin, 1986).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ken Durham, "LETOURNEAU UNIVERSITY," accessed February 25, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kbl09.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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