Students look back at UH history, traditions
Today marks the kickoff of Homecoming week, and what better way to celebrate school spirit than to learn about UH’s history and traditions.
It’s been 82 years since UH first opened its doors as Houston Junior College on June 5, 1927, with a student body of 230 and eight faculty members.
HJC was founded by the first UH president, Edison Ellsworth Oberholtzer, when he saw a problem for Houston-area graduating high school seniors who could not afford to attend Rice University or out of state colleges.
Classes were first held at a local church and San Jacinto High School ‘- now the central campus of Houston Community College.
Oberholtzer’s goal was to make the college a four-year institution, and on Sept. 11, 1933, the Houston Independent School District Board of Education unanimously approved a measure extending HJC to a four-year school.’
HJC officially became the University of Houston on April 30, 1934.
Despite the name change, classes where still being held at the high school and local churches.’
In 1936, UH was given roughly 108 acres of land from the heirs of the J.J. Settegast estate and from real estate developer Ben Taub, with the condition that construction on the school would begin prior to Jan. 1, 1938, or UH would lose the land.
Oilman and philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen donated $260,000 to construct the first building on campus, which was dedicated as the Roy G. Cullen building June 4, 1939, and was named after his son who had died in a 1936 oilfield accident.
The Cullen family remains one of the biggest and most loyal donors to UH.
The new campus opened its doors in 1939, and in 1945, UH was privatized, liberating itself from the influences of the HISD Board of Education.
The UH Board of Regents began seeking funding from the state Nov. 30, 1959, and in 1961 UH was admitted into the Texas State University System.
Enrollment soared while campus life and spirit grew.
Many UH traditions have been created in the school’s 82 years as a higher education institution.
The official University colors are albino white and scarlet red, and it is said these colors were those of Sam Houston’s ancestor, Sir Hugh.
According to the UH Web site, scarlet red represents ‘the blood of royalty that was spared due to the timely arrival of Sir Hugh and the blood that is the life source of the soul,’ while albino white denotes ‘the purity and perfections of the heart, mind and soul engaged in the effort to serve faithfully that which is by right and reason, justfully served.’
HJC’s first football coach, John R. Bender, chose the cougar as UH’s mascot in 1927, using Washington State University’s mascot’-also a cougar’-as inspiration.
The school newspaper adopted the name The Cougar the same year.
In 1947, Alpha Phi Omega purchased a live cougar and held a contest to name it.
Joe Randol won the competition with the name Shasta. Randol’s explanation for the name was: Shasta (sounds like ‘she has to have’) a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.
Five live cougars have served as mascot, from 1947-1989. Since the death of Shasta V, costumed students have served as mascots during sporting and campus events.
The tradition of the Cougar Paw came about after a football game against the University of Texas in 1953.
The night before the football game, a cage door became dislodged and severed one of Shasta’s fingers. Longhorn fans learned about the wound and mocked Cougar fans by bending their thumbs over their ring fingers against their palms. Texas won that day 28-7.’
In 1976, however, UH fans held up the same sign as the Cougars defeated the Longhorns 30-0 in their first season in the Southwest Conference.
The Cougar Paw continues to serve the University as a sign of pride.
Another UH tradition is the Frontiersmen. Formed in 1948, these are the men who run across the football field during games carrying a Texas and a UH flag after UH scores a touchdown.
The Frontiersmen’s purpose is to support UH in all endeavors and to serve as ambassadors for UH and the state of Texas.
The UH seal was adopted in 1938, and was drawn from the coat of arms of Gen. Sam Houston.
The seal depicts two greyhounds symbolizing speed, three martlets to signify peace and a winged hourglass with the motto ‘In Tempore,’ which is Latin for ‘In time.’
The following is the UH Alma Mater, written by music professor Bruce Spencer King’s harmony class in 1942:
‘ All hail to thee, Our Houston University, our hearts fill gladness when we think of thee, we’ll always adore thee, dear old varsity, and to thy memory cherished true we’ll ever be.’
Frontier Fiesta is another UH tradition. Dating back to 1940, the student-run event features variety shows by student organizations, a barbecue cook-off and live concerts.
Every year, 10 scholarships are awarded through the Frontier Fiesta Association to incoming freshmen and current students.
LIFE magazine once refereed to Frontier Fiesta as ‘The Greatest College Show on Earth.’ Though it was discontinued in 1959, Frontier Fiesta returned in 1992.
There are many more UH traditions, from the Fight Song to Shasta push-ups after UH touchdowns, from the sounding of the BLAZE to the UH class ring.
‘ To keep one’s eyes on the pride, students can learn more about UH history and traditions at www.uh.edu/about/history/index.php.