Monroe Hall added to list of renamed CV residence halls
Lamar University renamed its Cardinal Village residence halls today, bringing back four names well known to its alumni and adding a new name, that of its first African American faculty member, to the roster.
A standing-room-only crowd of descendants and friends of the families of the honorees joined James Simmons, president of the university, and other university and community dignitaries, for a brief ceremony in the lobby of the Commons Building of Cardinal Village Phase 5 – which was soon renamed Monroe Hall in honor of Claude E. Monroe who joined Lamar’s business faculty as associate professor of economics in 1969, becoming the university’s first African American faculty member. Vernice Monroe, recently retired from her teaching career at Lamar and the wife of the late Claude Monroe, brought a response on behalf of the families represented.
Monroe grew up in Beaumont where he attended public school graduating Charlton-Pollard High School in 1958. He was the first African American student from Beaumont to attend the University of Texas as an undergraduate, receiving his bachelor’s in mathematics from UT in 1963. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Missouri, where he met Vernice Murray. The two married in 1965. She also joined Lamar’s faculty in 1969 as an instructor in sociology. He served on Lamar’s business faculty until his death in 1976. Vernice Monroe recently retired from Lamar’s faculty after four decades of service.
Also comprising Cardinal Village are four other residence halls with names familiar to many LU alumni: Campbell, Combs, Gentry and Morris.
Campbell Hall, formerly CV Phase 4, is named for Mary Campbell who served as head of the math department, unofficial dean of women and Lamar’s first female administrator. She joined Lamar in 1924 and was soon recognized as one of the best math educators in Texas. Then Lamar president John Gray said at her retirement, “No finer teacher ever lived than Miss Mary.” The original Campbell Hall, built in 1955, was named for “Miss Mary” in 1957. The hall that bears her name today opened in 2007.
Combs Hall, formerly CV Phase 3, is named for judge and U.S. representative J.M. Combs, known as the “father” of the expansion of Lamar University. When serving as the president of the South Park School Board, Combs envisioned a greater future for Lamar College, and he put his vision into action. Combs worked tirelessly to galvanize support among business and civic leaders. Through his efforts, a combined district was formed bringing together the resources of several school districts. Combs was elected the first president of the Lamar Union Junior College Board of Trustees in 1940, and a season of unprecedented growth began as the new campus was constructed. Combs career continued to flourish on the 9th Court of Appeals and culminated with his election as the U.S. representative from the 2nd Congressional District in November 1944. He served in Congress for eight years. The original Combs Hall was built in 1954. The current Combs Hall opened to students in 2004.
Gentry Hall, formerly CV Phase 1, is named for Bess Gentry, Lamar’s first dean of women who served from 1944 until her retirement in 1968. For a decade of that time, she also was head of the Department of Women’s Health and Physical Education. A visionary leader, Gentry left many enduring contributions to Lamar including establishing the national sorority system, the Panhellenic Association, and many other student organizations. Since 1975, the Bess Gentry Award has served as a reminder of her leadership when it is given to honor a senior woman each spring. The original Gentry Hall was dedicated in 1963. Today’s Gentry Hall opened in 2001.
Morris Hall, formerly CV Phase 2, is named for James Bryan Morris, chairman emeritus of the board of regents. As Lamar’s legal counsel, J.B. Morris drew up proceedings for calling and holding the election that created the Lamar Union Junior College district and for voting bonds to raise $850,000 to build the first buildings on the Lamar campus. He also drafted the act of the Legislature that made Lamar a four-year college. For these and other significant acts in the history and development of Lamar, the original Morris Hall, completed in 1959, was named in his honor. The current residence hall that bears his name opened August 2002.
Beginning around 2000, the university began demolishing its old dormitories to make room for the construction of Cardinal Village. The dormitories, built in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s, had becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and a hindrance to recruiting. Cardinal Village was built in five phases, with the first opening in 2001 and the fifth in 2010. The five residence halls were identified by the sequence of their construction, but that resulted in their location being out of order.
After the program, descendants and guests toured the residence halls.