Present at the creation

Skiff writer recalls the origin of the Brown-Lupton Student Center.

Present at the creation

Skiff writer recalls the origin of the Brown-Lupton Student Center.

I was privileged to be present at the conception of the idea of a student union building for Texas Christian University. I was covering student congress for theSkiff in 1951-52, and after a congress meeting one night, Dick Ramsey ’52, the student body president, said, “Ellis, if I ask congress to urge the administration to give us a student union building, could I count on the Skiff‘s support?”

“What is a student union building?” I asked, never having heard of such a thing.

Dick explained that he’d visited other campuses and seen elaborate facilities, whole buildings, devoted to student social life. At the time, the only such facility at TCU was the student lounge, a long, rectangular space that occupied most of the basement of the Ad Building, along with the cafeteria, the post office, the bookstore and the mimeograph room. The lounge featured an ice cream counter, a jukebox (usually blaring “Good Night, Irene” or “Zena, Zena, Zena”), comfortable couches and coffee tables. Scorned as a funky hovel, it was also dearly loved as the teeming social center of TCU, headquarters for flirting, gossip and card-playing.

That night, in the dank basement of Goode Hall, home of the journalism department, I pitched Dick’s idea to Skiff editor Russ Hurst ’52, and he not only approved, he told me to write a hard-hitting news story and he’d run it as the lead story in that Friday’s Skiff (we were still a weekly in the 1950s). Because The Skiff was blessed with a fearless and enthusiastic faculty adviser, Warren K. Agee, Russ was able to spread my story across Page One under the banner headline “SU IN ’52!”

We got our building, but President M.D. Sadler called Russ in and bawled him out. It took a couple of years for the building to go up, but to bridge the gap, Dr. Sadler gave us a gleaming, elegant lounge on the second floor of the Ad Building, and it became the scene of many congress meetings, student court sessions and ’50s sock hops. Later, when the new building was completed, the upstairs lounge became a faculty dining room.

The Skiff‘s student union building campaign in the early 1950s became my first experience with the power of the press at work. As I said when professor Tommy Thomason inducted me into the Schieffer School of Journalism Hall of Excellence in September 2007, “It was a thrilling, unforgettable sensation – seeing your words help bring about a huge positive change in the quality of student life at TCU.”

As the Brown-Lupton Student Center closes its doors in June 2008, after 53 years, let’s doff our hats to Dr. Magruder Ellis Sadler for having been so quick and generous in responding to student needs; and to Ren Kent ’54 and Pat Whelan ’54, who were the student body presidents during two crucial years in the building’s history – 1952-53 and 1953-54; and Dean of Students Thomas F. Richardson, TCU Trustee M.J. Neeley, and student representatives Tom Dennington ’54, Irene Rountree Smith ’53 and Jimmy Suggs ’54 (BD ’58), who served with me and Ren, as noted in The TCU Magazine in its spring 2008 issue, on the original Student Union Committee, formed in 1952.

Most of all, let’s thank Dick Ramsey, whose imagination and bravery gave TCU its first student union building, aided and abetted by my bold and brilliant editor, Russ Hurst, who went on from the Skiff to a distinguished newspaper career.

Author Ellis Amburn ’54 was a reporter at Newsweek and later a top executive at several publishing houses in New York City. He is the author of biographies on Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison, Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Taylor and Jack Kerouac.