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New engineering center honors Garretts for multi-faceted gift

Lamar University has announced the naming of the Charles and Eleanor Garrett Engineering Center on the LU campus to recognize a major gift from the Garland couple whose company is one of the world's largest manufacturers of metal-detecting equipment.

James Simmons and Eleanor GarrettTheir gift, of an undisclosed amount, will enable the establishment of three different types of funds that support both student scholarships and faculty enhancement; thus, the new annex to the Cherry Engineering Building will bear their name.

"This gift will enable Lamar to establish the Garrett Scholars, which will allow the College of Engineering to recruit the best and brightest students to careers that will impact the future of engineering and build on the wonderful Garrett legacy," President James Simmons said at a news conference Wednesday (April 25, 2012) in the University Reception Center of the Mary and John Gray Library.

The gift will establish the Garrett Engineering Faculty Enhancement Fund, which will provide opportunities to strengthen and enhance the work of the engineering faculty, Simmons said. The couple's gift will also establish the Charles and Eleanor Garrett Chair in Engineering.

The gift is a significant part of Lamar University's Investing in the Future Campaign, which is nearing its original $100 million goal, Simmons said. That goal was raised to $125 million in January 2012. The Garrett Chair is only the second academic chair to be funded during the campaign.

"Charles and Eleanor Garrett have demonstrated through numerous exceptional contributions their generosity and commitment to engineering education at Lamar University," said Jack Hopper, dean of the College of Engineering. "For Charles and Eleanor to leave the legacy of their name imprinted in the infrastructure of Lamar University brings great recognition and national respect for the quality of the education at Lamar."

Charlie Amato, chairman of The Texas State University System board of regents, was among special guests attending the news conference.

New signageCharles Garrett, a 1959 electrical engineering graduate of Lamar, was honored as a distinguished alumnus of Lamar in 2003 and awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2011. Eleanor Smith Garrett earned a bachelor of science in 1954 and a master of education in 1955 from what was then Sam Houston State Teachers College. She was honored by Sam Houston as a distinguished alumna in 2008 and awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2010.

Also in 2010, Sam Houston State University announced naming of the Eleanor and Charles Garrett Teacher Education Center to honor Eleanor’s lifelong support of elementary, secondary and higher education and in appreciation of a noteworthy gift from the couple.

"I am just awestruck. I am flabbergasted," Eleanor Garrett said. "I never dreamed there would be a college building named for me and my husband anywhere and, now, two colleges is just beyond thinking. We are so happy and so proud, and we feel so humble that people were so kind to do this."

Charles Garrett's passion for treasure hunting and desire to create a better metal detector led him and Eleanor to establish Garrett Metal Detectors Inc., which has grown to become one of the world's largest manufacturers of virtually all types of metal-detection equipment.

"We know we cannot take what we have made with us . . . and we need to share it and help others to help themselves," Eleanor said.

"Because their company employs engineers from many disciplines, the Garretts wanted Lamar to use their gift to provide the greatest benefit to the College of Engineering," said Camille Mouton, vice president for university advancement. "Our greatest need is for scholarships and faculty enhancement. This transformative gift could not be more important or come at a more important time for our university."

Garretts with SimmonsSimmons said he cannot overemphasize the significance of the Garrett name in furthering academic excellence at Lamar. "Charles Garrett is an icon. He is a true pioneer in the field of metal detection. He and Eleanor are amazing friends both to Lamar and to its sister institution Sam Houston," also part of The Texas State University System.

And, he said, "The timing of this gift is wonderful because, to be able to recruit the best and brightest students, to be able to support our faculty in much-needed research, we must look to other sources of funding."

The Garretts previously established the Professor Floyd Crum Scholarship in Electrical Engineering in tribute to the professor who had inspired Charles during his years as a Lamar student. The couple also established the Charles Lewis and Eleanor Smith Garrett Scholarship in Engineering. After many years of service on Lamar's College of Engineering Advisory Council, he was named a member emeritus of the council at a luncheon in the Garretts' honor after the news conference.

Lamar University provided the education that Charles needed to achieve iconic status in his field, but it was Eleanor who made his education possible, Mouton said. She taught school in the Nederland and Port Neches-Groves school districts while Charles, home from his military service, pursued his electrical engineering degree from Lamar and worked for the Texas Highway Department and Texas Instruments.

In 1964, when Charles decided to turn his passion for treasure hunting into a business that started in the family garage, Eleanor withdrew her savings from the Teacher Retirement System to finance the company. "Since that time, under Charles' and Eleanor's leadership, the company has grown exponentially and has had a tremendous impact on the security industry worldwide, while maintaining its core philosophy of unparalleled customer satisfaction," Mouton said. "The Garretts' expertise was an invaluable asset as the U.S. shifted to tighter security in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks."

In 2010, two engineering students at Lamar University — Jorge Jimenez and Russell Barker — completed summer internships with Garrett Metal Detectors. "They were great guys, and we'd like to have two more just like them," Eleanor said.

All over the world, the black Super Wands with the eye-catching yellow GARRETT name are recognized as they help keep the flying public safe. Garret Metal Detector Co. also produces the walk-through detectors approved by the federal government for use in United States airports. Garrett metal detectors have provided security at the Olympics since 1984. Charles has acquired several patents for innovative equipment and features and has authored numerous books and videos.

The Garretts also are very successful tree farmers, owning many tracks of land in Trinity and Houston counties. In 2002, the Texas Forestry Association honored them with the Texas Tree Farmer of the Year Award.

Although the business consumes much of their time, Charles and Eleanor share their time and talent in many different ways. Charles has served as president of both the American Metal Detector Manufacturers Association and the International Treasure Hunting Society and is a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and Sons of the Confederacy.

Garrett Engineering CenterEleanor has held state office with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a national office with the Magna Charta Dames and Barons and is a 50-year member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and is active in numerous other historical societies.

Charles graduated from Lufkin High School, which named him to its Hall of Honor. Eleanor is a graduate of Pennington High School in a school district where her father served as superintendent after serving as a principal in Lufkin. "From the time I was 5 until I was 10, I rode to school with him every day," she recalls. "Mother taught the primaries, and I grew up knowing how to write on a chalkboard before I could hardly walk."

During summers when she was a young teenager, she accompanied her father to Sam Houston, where he was working on his master's degree. By then, she had already decided which dorm she would live in as a student there.

"As their lives attest, the Garretts have never forgotten the importance of education in their own success," Simmons said. "This passion for seeking answers in their business has made it possible for them to support future entrepreneurs and teachers through their philanthropy. This extremely generous gift creates a well-deserved legacy for Charles and Eleanor Garrett at his alma mater."