Alumnus saves Houston History Project

The Center for Public History received a $200,000 grant and endowment from UH alumnus Welcome Wilson Sr. to preserve its endeavor to keep Houston and University history alive.

Wilson, former chairman of  the UH System Board of Regents, established the Welcome W. Wilson Endowment, which came at a crucial time for the financially struggling Houston History Project, now renamed to the Welcome Wilson Houston History Collaborative.

“It was a crucial moment; we always had to hustle funding,” said Joe Pratt, director of the WWHHC and Houston History Magazine editor in chief. “The endowment and the grant as a whole is going to help us expand our project. It is going to help us to hire students.”

Funds for the endowment will help employ graduate and undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience by researching and writing about history, Pratt said.

“The funding is in part to continue student support,” he said. “We also have costs, like the publication and the mailing of the magazine, but the student support is the big one. I think that’s what makes it a good project and particularly good for a man like Welcome Wilson’s support.”

Debbie Harwell, managing editor of HHM, called it “a close one,” as Wilson’s grant came when the fate of the magazine was unclear.

“We had reached a point where we weren’t sure the magazine would be able to continue. Obviously, things have become more expensive today to produce print magazines, where a lot of publications, including The Daily Cougar, are either cutting out or cutting back on print,” Harwell said.

“I think the most important thing Welcome’s grant means for the magazine is that the magazine will continue. We’ve been publishing the magazine at the University since 2003, and for any project like that to continue, you have to have funding, so his grant makes a big difference to us for our future.”

Martin Melosi, director of Center for Public History, said this grant and endowment will help the new history collaborative.

“(Wilson) had been a patron of the Houston History Magazine as a subscriber, and it just took a third party to introduce us together to match his interest with our needs,” Melosi said.

“One of the major components of the Center for Public History is the focus on local and regional history. The endowment and the gift in general will provide to help us to continue to produce the Houston History Magazine, further development of the Oral History Project on Houston topics, help to fund the Houston Archive we’ve developed and also the development of a project called UH Memories, which deals with a film history of UH.”

Melosi said there is already a UH Memories film, but it focuses mostly on the World War II era. The new collaborative established by the endowment is moving forward to bring the film to a larger scale.

“I think our most immediate goal (for UH Memories) is to do a series of documentaries or a full-scale documentary that covers the whole history of the University and several important themes of the University.”

Wilson’s gift is appreciated by the Center for Public History, as it reinstates its focus on UH history.

“Welcome is really an amazingly interesting individual. He lived through so much of Houston’s history, and he loves history,” Pratt said. “When I see Welcome, he immediately talks about history, telling me stories I never heard that are good stories about important Houstonians and the evolution of UH.”

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