Naming ceremony honors Iles family contributions to Lamar
Lamar University officials formally dedicated the Herman Iles Building at the John Gray Center complex Sept. 11. The building-naming ceremony honored the many contributions by Herman Iles in the early days of Lamar University as he, and others, championed the effort to move Lamar from its junior college status to a four-year college; a feat that had never before been accomplished in Texas history. Iles led the effort to purchase the initial land on which the university was built. The ceremony was also held to recognize a recent $1 million gift by the Iles family to renovate the auditorium inside the Herman Iles Building and establish the Iles Family Faculty Enhancement Fund.
A committee of the Young Men’s Business League, led by Herman Iles, working closely with the officials of Lamar College and the school board of South Park, spearheaded the task of creating a junior college district. The committee purchased the land on which Lamar University now sits. In 1940, voters approved the creation of a Lamar Union Junior College District and the election of trustees to govern the college. By the end of the spring of 1942, sufficient buildings had been completed for classes to be held for the first time on the new campus in 1942. Iles was elected to the Lamar College Board of Trustees.
In December 1946, the board of trustees asked the Texas Legislature to make Lamar a four-year state college. No junior college in Texas had ever changed to state-supported senior college status. In 1947, Iles, then in his second term as a trustee, was elected to head the board. Although the bill initially failed, the planners returned to the Legislature the following session and on June 14, 1949, the bill was signed creating Lamar State College of Technology and ushering in a new era of higher education in Southeast Texas. As chairman of the board of trustees, Iles was responsible for hiring John Gray as the first president of Lamar. Mary and John Gray were lifelong friends of Herman and Delma Iles. Herman Iles died Dec. 27, 1954, after a lengthy illness.
That commitment to Lamar University and the Beaumont community has continued through Iles’ son Reggie and his wife Mary Ann. Throughout his professional dental career, the younger Iles has been active on many boards and committees throughout Southeast Texas. Mary Ann Iles has for many years demonstrated her devotion to and love for music both as a student and teacher. The couple’s allegiance to their church is well-known and exceptional. While Reggie has served in nearly every leadership capacity in the church, Mary Ann served for decades as organist and remains today the organist emeritus at Calder Baptist Church.
Distributions from the Iles Faculty Enhancement Fund will be used to strengthen the university’s ability to recruit and retain the most able faculty and build excellence in its nationally-recognized curriculum. Recruiting nationally recognized faculty will also allow Lamar to recruit and retain the very best and brightest students. The fund will support the programmatic, teaching, research and professional development activities of the university faculty.