The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
After a nearly half century at Lamar State College-Port Arthur, Dr. Sam W. Monroe, a man known as the longest serving college president in the state, has announced he will be retiring at summer’s end.
Monroe has been with the college for the past 49 years, 39 of those years as president. His final day is Aug. 31.
He succeeded his father, Madison Monroe, as president of Port Arthur College in 1974, and has remained in that position ever since.
Monroe said it has been a privilege to serve as president and to work for an institution dedicated to improving the opportunity and quality of life for people.
But, the time has come to do something different, he said.
At 71 years old, Monroe said he thought it was time to retire — especially since his health and energy level are still good.
“Father time has crept up on me. I feel like I did when I was 35, but know the difference when I look in the mirror,” Monroe said Wednesday.
For those who are used to seeing Monroe’s face at the college campus, it will be difficult to not.
“I cannot imagine the college without him,” Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, said in a telephone conversation Wednesday.
“He is an icon here in the city of Port Arthur when it comes to education,” Prince said. “ He is well respected, so well respected and admired, and I believe it is because of him, and the image he has displayed, that Lamar is so well recognized across the country.”
Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall described the impact Monroe has had on not only higher education in Port Arthur, but also that across the state.
“Sam is much more than a college president. He is a mentor, role model, innovator, community leader and friend,” McCall said in a statement Wednesday. “Lamar State College-Port Arthur is better for having Sam Monroe as its leader, and we in higher education are better for having him as our colleague.”
Monroe’s decision to step down did not come lightly. Afterall, he’s been there for most of his adult life, since he was 22.
Monroe’s long tenure at the Port Arthur campus started in 1965 as staff announcer for the college-owned radio station KPAC AM/FM.
For the next eight years he served in various management positions at the station, and in 1973 was named the college’s executive vice president. A year later, he succeeded his father, who had been president since 1958.
Monroe still remembers his father as college president.
“My dad had the ability to sit in a meeting and hear a complicated situation being described and boil it down in simple terms,” he said. “I felt inadequate coming in after my father, but worked as hard as I could to do the best that I could.”
Under Monroe’s leadership, Port Arthur College evolved not only into a much larger campus, but to a state college, which brought eligibility for state and student financial aid.
Today, Lamar State College - Port Arthur is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and 10 other accrediting bodies.
With the help of the Southeast Texas Legislation Delegation, led by the late Sen. D. Roy Harrington and Rep. Carl. A. Parker, the Port Arthur college merged with Lamar University, thus allowing the university to offer classes in Port Arthur.
Today, the sprawling campus still sits between Procter Street and Lakeshore Boulevard in downtown Port Arthur, but is considerably larger, and is continuing to grow.
Originally consisting of four buildings situated on three acres, the college has grown to 29 building on 50 acres. The campus value has grown from $3 million in 1975 to $110 million.
College dormitories are expected to be completed in 2014. The building project is anticipated to not only attract more students, but to spur the city’s downtown restoration efforts.
During his tenure, Monroe has seen the college’s endowment fund grow to more than $8 million, and enrollment increase from 151 students in the Spring of 1975 to 3,124 in the Fall of 2013.
Faculty and staff have grown to keep up with the student population, from 12 in the mid-1970s to 250 today.
And, while college courses have expanded to include online coursework, the school has added basketball and softball programs. Volleyball will soon be added to the college’s athletic roster.
Monroe plans to stay in Port Arthur and participate in various civic organizations in addition to his work with the Historical Society, where he serves as president.
He also plans to continue his work with the Higher Education Foundation — a group that works to benefit the college.
Monroe said he has mixed emotions about leaving the job he has had for so long.
“In one sense it was great to get to the age to retire. But, on the other hand, this job has been my life,” he said.
In the coming months, the search for Monroe’s replacement will start.
According to McCall, the Texas State University System has not yet established the process or timeline for selecting a new president.