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Sunday, May 5, 1996

May 1996 Regents Report

Work on projects totaling more than $2.7 million was approved by the Sam Houston State University board of regents in their two-day meeting that ended Friday, according to Today@Sam. On Thursday the board voted unanimously to name Dr. Bobby K. Marks, who has served as interim president of SHSU since October 16, 1995, as the only finalist in their search for the university's 11th president. Other action taken by the board included:
  • Authorizing the university to accept the low bid on replacement of the Bowers Stadium synthetic turf prior to the board's June meeting, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million, so the job can be completed prior to the fall college and high school football seasons;
  • Awarding a contract to KRC Enterprises, Inc. of Houston for the $450,000 replacement of the West Plant air-conditioning system chiller unit;
  • Hiring Molina and Associates to design modifications to the Newton Gresham Library, the Lee Drain Building, and the Teacher Education Center, with an estimated cost of $430,000, for a media center and doctoral studies laboratories;
  • Hiring Swicki Anderson and Associates, Inc. of Bryan to design vent system modifications to the Texas Regional Institute for Environmental Studies (TRIES) laboratory, at an estimated cost of $120,000, with estimated utility savings of up to $4,000 per month;
  • Authorizing the university to issue purchase orders for up to $77,000 for a floor replacement project for 38 rooms, public areas and offices in the Mitchell and Lawrence dorms.

    Thursday, May 2, 1996

    Old Main China on Display at Austin Hall

    Today@Sam tells the story of the set of dishes in Austin Hall that bear an image of Old Main and the anachronistic legend, Sam Houston Normal Institute. The collection of wayward porcelain took almost half a century and a roundabout route in returning to its Huntsville origins. How the dishes found their way home is a story in itself, but a little background history is needed first.
    The collection of wayward porcelain took almost half a century and a roundabout route in returning to its Huntsville origins. How the dishes found their way home is a story in itself, but a little background history is needed first.

    The story begins in Huntsville, either shortly before or after the turn of the century, when Chester Arthur Randolph commissioned commemorative china dishes for sale at his jewelry store. While questions remain about the age of these dishes, it's known they were made by a firm called "Wheelock," which was likely based in Austria, but may have had German connections, or could even have been American.

    Robert Ernst, owner of Ernst Jewelers, may know more than anyone about the "Old Main" dishes. He has a personal interest because his grandfather, also named Robert Ernst, became partners with Chester Randolph in the 1920s when the latter went blind.

    "They're commemorative plates and we sold them in the store for many years," the younger Ernst said. "There could have been more than one supplier. Back in those days (turn of the century) there was no such thing as fine china made in the United States. Almost all the old families in Huntsville own one of these plates - they weren't that expensive at the time."

    They were at least affordable to Sarah Herndon, who owned a boarding house adjoining Sam Houston Normal Institute from before the 20th century until 1950 when she sold her house to the university. Herndon moved to Oklahoma, taking the commemorative dishes with her. The dishes would probably still be in Oklahoma but for an incident that shows what a small world we live in.

    Jim Herndon believes the china was bought by Sarah prior to 1900 from someone in the Huntsville area, either second-hand or from Chester Randolph. The china was passed from Sarah Herndon to her grandson, Renfro Herndon, then to Jim Herndon Sr., who passed it on to Jim Herndon Jr., who sold it to Snow.

    "There seems to be a great mystery about this set," said James Patton, president of the Walker County Historical Commission. "It could have been a promotion by a company - it could possibly have been a promotion for Sam Houston Normal Institute's first homecoming in 1910."

    The dishes displayed in Austin Hall apparently come from two or more sets. One theory is that Sarah Herndon acquired more than one set during her decades of running the boarding house. Another possibility is that boarders acquired sets or pieces of the commemorative china over the decades, and as anyone who has ever moved knows, things get lost during moves.

    All the pieces displayed in Austin Hall are primarily white, and all were made or imported by the Wheelock company. The fanciest pieces boast a dark, green ribbon of color interlaced with gold patterns and surrounding an image of Old Main. A serving dish with the above-mentioned design is the showpiece of the collection. It has been appraised at $400 - almost three times what the university spent for the entire collection.