UT Dallas’ University Archivist Completes First Major Project

Work highlights historic documents on
President John F. Kennedy and Precursor to UT Dallas

Graduate Research Center Founders, Cecil H. Green, Erik Jonsson, and Eugene McDermott, pose with a reproduction of the Founders Building Dedication plaque on January 29, 1965.

Visitors to the University of Texas at Dallas can view documents and other research materials related to President John F. Kennedy’s fateful visit to Dallas in November 1963.

Local documents created in preparation of Kennedy’s trip to Dallas are housed within Special Collections at the Eugene McDermott Library and online. The University’s first archivist, Ty Lovelady, organized the materials as part of his first project upon joining UT Dallas in 2012.

“Most people do not realize that along with being a national tragedy, the Kennedy visit was also a part of UT Dallas history,” Lovelady said.

The Kennedy papers were a small part of a much bigger collection. After surveying more than 100 unprocessed boxes in the library’s possession, Lovelady decided that his first major goal would be organizing the rest of the collection: material relating to the history of the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest/Southwest Center for Advanced Studies Collection (GRCSW). He extracted relevant material from the unprocessed boxes and created the GRCSW/SCAS Collection.

The Graduate Research Center, which began as a research arm of Texas Instruments (TI), would later become known as The University of Texas at Dallas. The idea for the GRCSW generated from a conversation between Erik Jonsson, TI co-founder and future mayor of Dallas, and Lloyd Berkner, a prominent geophysicist and engineer, on a night flight from Dallas to New York in 1958.

Jonsson and Berkner discussed the need for additional PhD trained professionals in the Southwest to meet the increased technological demands in the workforce. Cecil Green and Eugene McDermott, also co-founders of TI, agreed with Jonsson and Berkner, resulting in more discussions through the next few years. In 1961, the state of Texas eventually granted a charter to establish the GRCSW and its research arm, the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS) as a nonprofit educational institution. Jonsson, Green and McDermott agreed to finance the GRCSW and chose Berkner to be its first president. The GRCSW/SCAS achieved a great reputation in the scientific community. Because of its reputation, GRCSW/SCAS was co-host of Kennedy’s luncheon at Dallas Trade Mart and was to be prominently featured in the speech that Kennedy never made.

Private funding could only carry the Research Center so far. As a result, it became part of The University of Texas System.

The University Archives has completely organized the GRCSW/SCAS materials donated to the Eugene McDermott Library throughout the years. Seeing the impact and importance of the information, Lovelady worked to have the collection open to researchers in the Special Collections Reading Room. Many of the individual documents pertaining to the University’s history are also available online in Treasures, the library’s digital repository. To help users, Lovelady also created an online guide describing the 10 record center boxes of documents that make up the GRCSW/SCAS Collection.

According to Lovelady, one of the most significant documents in the collection is a detailed chronology of the history of the GRCSW/SCAS written by longtime employee Alfred T. (Al) Mitchell. Lovelady attributes much of what is in the University Archives’ holdings today to Mitchell. Mitchell began collecting items when he served as director of technical services for the GRCSW/SCAS and continued collecting while working for UT Dallas as a university editor and assistant baseball coach. Mitchell passed away in 1991; but for many, including Lovelady, he holds a special place in UT Dallas history.

“We couldn’t even begin to think about having a University Archives today, if it wasn’t for Al Mitchell,” Lovelady said. “Although I have the distinction of being the University’s first archivist, it’s really Alfred T. Mitchell who made it possible for us to know where we came from. Because of his collections, a new generation is able to see how we got started and who we were through the eyes of someone who was there.”

Just as the library accumulated GRCSW/SCAS material through the years, it has also received UT Dallas documents, photographs and memorabilia as well. Lovelady is now going through that material and dividing it into collections primarily based upon University schools, departments, offices, and centers. “Now we need to take care of the part of our history that begins with when we officially became UT Dallas,” Lovelady said.

He has identified approximately 50 distinct collections in the University Archives holdings as of date. As he assigns this material to their individual collections, it will help him learn where the University Archives has gaps and who it is most crucial to collect from next.

If you feel you have something important to UT Dallas history, please contact Lovelady at [email protected] or 972-883-2110.