UT’s unofficial historian recalls student involvement

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Dr. Margaret C. Berry encouraged students to get involved and to make positive changes within the university during her interview at the Alumni Center on Friday evening. Students are petitioning for the SAC to be renamed Margaret C. Berry Student Activity Center to honor all her efforts as an alumni.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

The woman widely known as the unofficial historian of the University shared her memories spanning 80 years of UT history, including the construction of the Tower, the acquisition of the Big Bertha drum and the Charles Whitman shooting in a public interview Friday.

Margaret C. Berry, who has written eight books on UT history, conducted the videotaped interview with theater and dance sophomore Leslie Powell at the Alumni Center. Powell is a coordinator for Students for the Margaret C. Berry Student Activity Center.

The group has collected more than 4,000 student and alumni signatures on a petition to name the building after Berry, said UT alumnus and Austin real estate agent Rick Potter.

Berry was a student at UT in the 1930s and became an associate dean of students in the 1950s. She recalled that the tearing down of the Old Main building and the construction of the new one, which was finished in 1937, caused controversy.

“Former students really raised Cain. They really raised heck because they didn’t want the Old Main building taken down,” she said. “But those of us who were on campus were glad to see it taken down. It was creaky and ugly. It never was built very well.”

Berry said the Charles Whitman shooting in 1966 led to the establishment of the first university-sponsored 24-hour telephone counseling service in the country in the late ‘60s, which she administered for a year.

“We saved people’s lives, I know for sure we did,” Berry said.

Berry encouraged students to work for the changes they want to see at UT.

“The shuttle bus system is one thing, the kiosks on campus, opening the Tower after it had been closed for a long time — students have done a lot of good things, and you can keep on doing good things,” Berry said.

Powell said she conducted the interview with Berry to help preserve the history of UT for posterity.

“She’s one of the oldest living alumni and has so many memories of the University,” Powell said. “There’s no one better to talk about the history of the campus.”

Powell said the building should be named after Berry since only eight campus buildings are named after women, and five of those are current or former women’s residence halls.

“No other person has had as much positive influence on the students of UT as she has,” Powell said.

Jules Villarreal, a sociology and Middle Eastern studies freshman, said the interview helped him learn about UT history.

“I really came here to UT not knowing much about the history or traditions or knowing much of anything, and listening to this interview — it’s kind of a snapshot of all the traditions and history of UT,” Villarreal said.