Brother and sister J. Fred Horner and Eunice Grizzard - The University of Texas-Pan American's oldest living alumni - said they have nothing but high praise for the "hometown education" they received more than seven decades ago
Among the first to graduate from then Edinburg Junior College in 1929-1930, both Horner and Grizzard spent their college years enjoying the educational opportunities at a very young, but promising school.
"To me, attending college was really worthwhile," said 92 year-old Horner, who now lives in Alamagordo, New Mexico. "It was a bad time financially, but it didn't cost much to go to school then, and going to college helped to get better jobs."
Moving to the Valley in 1925 from Arkansas, the Horner family settled in Edinburg two years before Edinburg Junior College opened its doors. After graduating from high school, their parents encouraged them to continue their schooling by attending the first higher education institution in the Valley.
"One of the main things my parents wanted was for their kids to finish school," said Grizzard, who was only 17 when she first attended college. "I was very excited. I remember we had classes in the auditorium and many kids came in on buses from up north and from all over the Valley."
During their time at Pan Am, Horner and Grizzard were involved with several student organizations. Grizzard was a member of the music club and the home economics club, while Horner was the manager for the UTPA football team.
Grizzard's educational aspirations allowed her to fulfill a long-time dream of becoming a school- teacher. After graduating from Edinburg Junior College, she went on to receive a bachelor's degree in education from Texas A&I University in Kingsville.
"I loved kids and thought I wanted to teach, so I did for 29 years, and I liked it a lot," Grizzard remembered. "I taught here in Edinburg at Stephen F. Austin and Travis Elementary. I taught mostly math to middle school and high school kids."
Horner graduated from Edinburg Junior College and went on to get a business degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He returned to the Valley and also taught for two years getting paid $85 a month.
"I taught, and I was about to starve to death," Horner remembered with a laugh. "I taught English to junior high school children."
Horner and Grizzard became inspirations to many who dreamed of getting a better education including their mother, Eula Horner. After sending her three children to college, Eula returned to school in 1955 and graduated from Pan Am four years later becoming a teacher at 65. And through the years, several Horner family members have kept the tradition alive and received a higher education from UT Pan American.
Now at 91, Grizzard is still thankful to have been one of the first to graduate from Pan Am. On November 2, she was among several special guests to attend the grand opening of the UTPA Visitors Center and celebrate the University's 75th anniversary.
"I think it is a wonderful opportunity for the entire Valley and for kids to go to school at home," Grizzard said about the University. "Students won't get very far if they don't have an education."
Horner is still as active today as he was almost 75 years ago. He volunteers at a senior citizen center in Alamagordo teaching others how to make bow ties, clocks and jewelry out of rocks.
Although Horner has not returned to the Valley in many years, he will always remember the opportunities received while here. He continues encouraging others to attend college in his hometown visiting local junior colleges and universities.
"If you want to make a good living, get a college degree if possible. If anyone is unsure about going to college, all I can say is quit your job and go. It is exceptional now for the Valley to have this great opportunity."