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Tech educator, philanthropists left their marks

W. Cuury Holden

Curry Holden, as he was known, had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and was driven to share what he learned with students, both in the classroom and in his writings.

His quests sent him in search of prehistoric man, cowboy history and reclusive Indian tribes in the Mexican desert. "What we leave on the printed page is about the only lasting thing we can leave behind," he said in an interview after the publication of his 12th book.

His need to share his knowledge of the past was born and matured in a country schoolroom and continued through his years at Texas Tech.

Holden was born in Coolidge and attended elementary school in Colorado City and high school in Rotan. He taught three years in a one-room school near Rotan, then joined the U.S. Army in 1917. After the war, he earned both bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Texas.

When McMurry College was found in 1923, Holden was named head of the history department, where he stayed for four years before returning to UT to teach and complete his doctorate.

On the heels of an expedition to excavate a pueblo site in the Panhandle, Holden was invited to Texas Tech as a professor of history in 1929. He had found a home where his career and the university would blossom together.

In the spring of 1934, Holden took students on an ethnohistorical expedition to study the warlike Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico. Texas Tech sponsored a second expedition in 1935 and Holden published a report, "Studies of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico," in 1936.

Basically an ethnographic account, it contained articles by the expedition's specialists in related fields. Holden contributed five papers that touched on marriage, child-rearing, education, household economy and Fiesta de Gloria Easter ceremonies. Several more publications and a historical novel resulted.

His field schools for archaeological work became so popular that despite the Depression, students scrimped and save to attend.

In 1935, he organized the West Texas Museum Association and sought funds from the Texas Centennial Commission for a regional museum on the Tech campus. He led supporters from 67 West Texas counties on a "march on Austin" with a petition for $160,750 ($25,000 was allocated) for a museum. With private funds and university matching, the building was dedicated in 1950, coincident with Tech's 25th anniversary celebration.

Twenty years later, the building would be renamed Holden Hall in honor of his work.

The museum focused on the Southwest with exhibits on history, science and art. Artist Peter Hurd was commissioned in 1952 to paint a fresco in the entrance, depicting life on the South Plains between 1890 and 1925. A bust of Holden now stands in the rotunda.

Holden's most significant archaeological discovery occurred ironically barely a mile from Tech in 1937, when two of his students found a Paleo-Indian flint point in Yellowhouse Canyon. The flint point was on the bank of a small natural lake that the city was dredging to open an ancient spring.

Holden played a crucial role in the long struggle to preserve the site. In 1989, the site was designated the Lubbock Lake National Historic and State Archeological Landmark.

In 1955, Holden and other supporters organized the Southwest Collection and Archives, which contained ranch records he had collected over the years and other valuable materials.

Holden and his wife, Frances, launched plans in 1965 for a new museum building, which was dedicated in 1970. The museum complex included a Science Training program, the National Ranching Heritage Center and Windmill Plaza. Though an unassuming man, he rose at Tech in various positions for more than 40 years. In 1936, he became chairman of the history and anthropology department; in 1938, he was named dean and director of anthropological, historical and social-science research.

As dean of the Graduate School from 1945 to 1950, he initiated an accredited graduate program in four doctoral fields, including history. Holden retired in 1970. He received the Distinguished Faculty Emeritus Award of the College of Arts and Sciences and was named 1965 Distinguished Director Emeritus of the Museum at Texas Tech.

Christine DeVitt

The philanthropic legacies of these sisters will serve Lubbock for decades to come.

Their story goes back almost 130 years with roots in the Mallet Land and Cattle Co.

Their father, David DeVitt, was a newspaper reporter from New York who came to Texas in 1880 to seek his fortune. Although he had no practical experience in the livestock business, Devitt grew a small investment into a 100,000 acre cattle operation west of Lubbock during a period of 20 years. He established the Mallet Ranch in 1895.

By 2000, the Mallet Ranch encompassed approximately 50,000 acres of pasture and another 5,000 acres of farm land and mostly located west of Lubbock in the southwestern quarter of Hockley County.

When the daughters were young, the family split time between homes in Fort Worth and the ranch. They resided on the ranch for about six months of each year to secure their claim to the land, travelling by train to Big Spring and from there by wagon to the Mallett.

When DeVitt died in 1934, Christine returned to Lubbock from a family home in California to manage the ranch. She checked into the Hilton Hotel for what was to have been a brief visit. She didn't check out for 14 years, according to a family history authored by David Murrah.

"Miss Devitt's move to Lubbock changed the city forever," Murrah wrote. "By her own choice, she developed an image of being generous to cats but having little of anything else."

Helen, the younger sister, was reared in Fort Worth, graduated from the University of California and chose to live there, making occasional visits to the Mallett. In 1943, she returned to Lubbock, where she married Tom Jones, her second marriage. He died in 1955.

David Devitt had been dead for four years and the ranch was more than 40 years old when oil was discovered, and the first oil well came into production in 1938. By 2000, the ranch was dotted with more than 1,000 oil wells, which have produced millions of barrels of oil.

Helen DeVitt Jones

It was largely the unique personality of Christine, who inherited a part of the ranch, as well as a part of its oil royalties, that insured its survival. Christine's insistence that her mother and sister hold onto her beloved ranch even during the Great Depression brought about the DeVitt family wealth.

Helen dedicated herself to philanthropic activities. Her focus was on education, arts and the community. With the establishment of the Helen Jones Foundation, she contributed to Texas Tech, the South Plains Food Bank, the fine arts and other organizations that enhanced the city's culture. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Museum of Texas Tech. The foundation had assets in excess of $85 million, according to 2004 IRS reports.

"Her mere presence made Lubbock richer," Louise Arnold, longtime friend and guardian, said upon Helen's death. "She could have taken her money and had a house here and there and any place she liked, but she chose to do it this way. That was what she wanted."

Christine became a philanthropist like her younger sister and founded the CH Foundation. Even though Christine was extremely frugal in her own lifestyle, she was genuinely interested in the development and education of children and young people. Large contributions to educational institutions demonstrated her interest in education in general. And, large personal contributions in the area of music - both performance and education - show her strong arts interest. In 2004, the foundation held assets of almost $78 million, according to IRS reports.

Previous City's Most Influential:

#11 -W. Cuury Holden #12 - Christine DeVitt l Helen DeVitt Jones
#13 -John T. Montford #14 - Kent Hance
#15 -Marsha Sharp #16 - Dr. J.A. Chatman
#17 -A.B. Davis #18 - T.J. Patterson
#19 -Jose Ramirez #20 - Delbert McDougal
#21 - Mac Davis #22 -W.B. "dub" Rushing
#23 - The Cavazos Family #24 -Glinda Goodacre
#25 - George Hunt #26 - J. T. Hutchinson/J. T. Krueger
#27 - Ella Iles #28 - Clifford B. Jones
#29 - "Dub" Rogers #30 - Linda DeLeon
#31 - Sedberry Family #32 - H. A. Sessions
#33 - Mae Simmons #34 - O. L. Slaton
#35 - Maggie Trejo #36 - Bob Knight
#37 - McMillan Family #38 - Ventura Flores
#39 - Halbert O. Woodward #40 - George Wolffarth
#41 - Spenser Wells #42 - Underwood Family
#43 - Dirk West #44 - Talkington Family
#45 - Grover Murray #46 - Mollie Abernathy
#47 - Ernesto Barton #48 - Adolph Hanslik
#49 - The Maines Family #50 - Alan and Sandy Henry
#51 - Ray and Lou Diekemper #52 - Murphee and Sherrod families
#53 - Polk Robinson, Huffman family #54 - Marciano Morales
#55 - Robert Duncan #56 - Roy B. Davis
#57 - F. W. Mattox #58 - George Simmons
#59 - Bobby Moegle #60 - Larry Combest
#61 - Charles C. Crenshaw #62 - George Singer
#63 - Judge W. D. Crump #64 - M. M. Dupre
#65 - George E. Green #66 - Marjorie Cone Kastman
#67 - Dudley Strain #68 - Maxey family
#69 - Caldwell, Hancock, Stubblefield
#70 - Elmer Tarbox
#71 - H. I. Robinson #72 - Paul Milosevich
#73 - Father Halfmann #74 - John A. Logan
#75 - Roscoe and Smylie Wilson #76 - Jim Courtney
#77 - Carolyn Lanier #78 - Waggoner Carr
#79 - "Rip" and Mark Griffin #80 - The Hometown Boys
#81 - Theodore Phea #82 - Dr. Bricker, Dr. Selby
#83 - Sam Medina #84 - Alan White
#85 - Joan Ervin #86 - Sister Maureen Van der Zee
#87 - S. E. Cone #88 - Clent Breedlove
#89 - Paul Horn #90 - Dudley Faver
#91 - Lee Lewis #92 - William Harrod
#93 - James H. Milam #94 - Jane Anne Stinnett
#95 - B. O. McWhorter #96 - Windy Sitton
#97 - James Granbury #98 - David Gutierrez
#99 - Delwin Jones #100 - Retha Martin
They built this city with a lot of work
Lubbock's 'builders' to be featured


The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION