Ancient Setting Provides New Resources For Education

From the ruins of an old fort and 13th-century Indian pueblo, SMU grew a campus that provides a unique setting for teaching and research.

An act of serendipity enabled Fort Burgwin to enjoy a second life as a University campus. The property was owned by a Taos-area lumberman who had heard that a fort once existed on the land but was unable to locate it. He enlisted the help of Fred Wendorf, then anthropologist of New Mexico, who not only found the buried ruins of the log fort but also excavated and reconstructed it.

SMU-in-Taos Cultural Institute

The annual SMU-in-Taos Cultural Institute
takes advantage of the historical, cultural and recreational riches of Northern New Mexico for a weekend of learning and outdoor adventure. The 2013 Taos Cultural Institute will be held July 18-21. Online registration will begin on January 1 on the institute’s site at smu.edu/culturalinstitute. Seven courses covering history, political science, archaeology, art, cooking and other topics of interest are now being finalized. Last summer, participants got a bird’s-eye view of the Rio Grande River during a hot-air balloon tour. More information about the SMU-in-Taos Cultural Institute is available online or by e-mailing taosci@smu.edu or calling 214-768-8267.

When Wendorf joined the SMU faculty in 1964, he brought with him the idea of developing Fort Burgwin into a research center. The late Gov. William P. Clements, Jr. ’39 was chair of SMU’s Board of Governors at the time and helped the University begin the process of acquiring the property that became SMU-in-Taos.

Over the years support from donors such as trustee emeritus Bill Hutchison ’54, ’55 has helped SMU-in-Taos develop into a premier site for research and scholarship on the Southwest. Hutchison remembers coming upon the campus “accidentally, while driving to Taos” en route to his ranch one day in the 1970s. He had not known of SMU’s presence in New Mexico, but it immediately captured his imagination. He comments, “What could be more interesting to somebody who likes the history and the culture of New Mexico than the ruins of an old fort and an archaeological dig?”

Subsequently Hutchison chaired the SMU Board of Governors, was a member of the SMU Board of Trustees, and led the Fort Burgwin Executive Committee. He recalls that after touring the property with Clements to determine its needs and potential, “we engaged in a fundraising effort that resulted in the building of the art center/auditorium, faculty housing, repairs to the [student] casitas” and improvements to the fort itself.

SMU’s interest in further developing Fort Burgwin foundered, however, during the budget-challenged 1980s and early ’90s. Hutchison credits its survival to Biology Professor William B. Stallcup Jr. ’41, former interim president of SMU who became director of SMU-in-Taos after his retirement. “Bill brought the thing back to life.”

Any hesitation about the importance of SMU-in-Taos ended with the appointment of R. Gerald Turner as president in 1995, Hutchison says. “Dr. Turner got the entire administration behind the efforts to improve and emphasize SMU-in-Taos. Talking to students who have studied there, I think it’s a great environment for learning and a very unusual experience for University students.”

The University’s renewed focus on SMU-in-Taos has been supported by both longtime and more recent donors. Thanks to recent gifts and purchases, the campus now sprawls across 430 acres – almost twice the size of the 237-acre main campus in Dallas. And the land now includes new and refurbished structures to facilitate study, teaching and research.

Patsy ’54 and Bill Hutchison ’54, ’55 are longtime supporters of SMU-in-Taos. One of the most well-known community events held on the campus, the Ima Leete Hutchison Concert Series, is made possible by an endowment they established in 1989 in honor of his mother.

A gift from the estate of Bill Clements of three houses and 123 acres adjoining the campus continues a decades-long legacy of support. The new gift includes art, furnishings and other household items. In addition to the 2,800-square-foot main house, there is a 2,000-square-foot dwelling and a 1,400-square-foot cottage. A committee is considering options for the houses, one of which is to use the facilities for a conference/retreat center available to the SMU community and outside groups.

Over the years the late governor and his wife, Rita, provided more than $7.5 million for facilities and programs at SMU-in-Taos, including $1 million for the construction of Wendorf Information Commons.

Among other recent acquisitions and improvements:

  • The purchase of the 2,000-square-foot home of Fred Wendorf, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at SMU, and five acres of land on the far eastern edge of the campus. Visiting scholars and SMU faculty will stay in the home.
  • The conversion of Faculty Casita Two into a true duplex containing a one-bedroom apartment and a separate two-bedroom apartment. The remodeled casita, now suitable for faculty with families, was funded by an anonymous gift. Two similar faculty casitas await the same transformation when funding is obtained.
  • The renovation of the three-bedroom officers’ quarters, supported by a gift from SMU-in-Taos Board Chair Roy Coffee, Jr. and his wife, Janis. The Coffees also helped fund improvements to student casitas.

In 2009 support for new and renovated student casitas, as well as technology upgrades and improvements to winterize facilities, transformed SMU-in-Taos. The changes made it possible to operate the campus from May through December, accommodating a new fall semester and a one-week Alternative Break volunteer program in March.

Casita Clements, a new student casita funded by Bill and Rita Clements, became the first commercial or institutional building in the Taos area to achieve Gold LEED certification for environmentally responsible construction. Other named residences and the donors supporting them include Casita Armstrong, funded by Bill Armstrong ’82 and Liz Martin Armstrong ’82 of Denver; Casita Harvey, funded by trustee Caren H. Prothro in honor of her mother, Juanita Legge Harvey; Casita Thetford, funded by Jo Ann Geurin Thetford ’69, ’70 of Graham, Texas; and Casita Ware, funded by trustee Richard Ware ’68 and William Ware ’01 of Amarillo, Texas.

Additional support for housing improvements has been provided by Dallas residents Maurine Dickey ’67, Richard T. Mullen ’61 and Jenny Mullen, and Stephen Sands ’70 and Marcy Sands ’69; and Irene Athos  and the late William J. Athos of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Technology enhancements to provide cell phone and Internet connectivity also moved the campus into the 21st century. In partnership with Commnet, a wireless phone service provider, the campus has its own cell tower that offers full-bar signal strength. Wireless Internet access is available throughout SMU-in-Taos, and a recent broadband speed upgrade improved real-time video streaming. Other updates include new LCD projectors for classrooms, a large-format color printer for photography instruction and new flat-screen televisions for the dining hall.

The improvements and additions are part of a new master plan for SMU-in-Taos supported by the Executive Board and members of the Friends of SMU-in-Taos. Other components of the plan are being implemented as funding becomes available.

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