Reception set for Wednesday

In addition to Lamar State College-Orange’s 40th anniversary reception Wednesday honoring pioneers and lawmakers who helped shaped the campus, also being celebrated are record enrollment numbers.

President J. Michael Shahan said this week that figures stand around 2217, give or take a few additions or drops.

“I think our initial enrollment was something in the neighborhood of 360, 365,” he said. “That was in an abandoned elementary school and look where we are today.”

Shahan cited the economy as one reason for the increase.

“When people get laid off, lose their jobs and aren’t working, they tend to go back to school,” he said. “We’re seeing enrollment numbers up all across the state.”

Another reason, he said, is because the health field – one thing LSC-O specializes in – is considered stable and students are studying those professions to secure long-term careers.

Wednesday’s reception will be from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the LSC-O Student Center, honoring Joe Ben Welch, president from 1970-90; former state Sen. Carl Parker, today an attorney in Port Arthur; former state Rep. Ron Lewis, today a lobbyist in Austin; and Carlton “Corky” Harmon, Orange businessman and chairman of the Lamar State College-Orange Foundation’s board of directors.

Refreshments will be served and presentations will begin at 5:30.

The college has been known over the years as the Lamar University Orange Campus, Lamar University at Orange County and Lamar University-Orange. It was renamed LSC-O in 1999.

“The accrediting organization wanted people to know that when they came here, they were not going to Lamar University,” Shahan said.

As it moves forward, LSC-O has expanded its process operating and nursing programs, and maintains a successful welding school on Pier Road. 

The college recently finished its repairs from Hurricane Ike. The only thing left, Shahan said, is the old Tony Dallas Insurance building, now being used as a storage facility. It sustained enough damage to be torn down and replaced with, most likely, a metal building.

LSC-O opened with classes in the old Tilley Elementary School, which burned down in 1971. 

Residents had affectionately called it “Tilley Tech.” Community benefits netted some $250,00 to buy the former Sabine Supply Co. building, 410 Front Ave. 

Today, the campus offers programs in liberal arts, mathematics and science, business and technology, education and allied health.

James Harvey was director of the “Orange Center” in 1969. In 1970, Welch took over.

“He was an integral part of that first year,” Shahan said. “It was his vision and leadership that paved the way … He fought a lot of battles.”

Prior to 1969, at least two attempts to start a community college in Orange failed. Parker helped change that, and created a system whereby the state would fund LSC-O without a local tax base.

“The downside to that is that students had to pay the same rates as a larger university, but that’s one way we rationalize the price is that there is no local tax base,” Shahan said.

Lewis helped secure funding for many improvements for the campus’ four-block area, including the library eventually named for him. 

“When I came in 1994 the place looked pretty grim,” Shahan said. “Our maintenance guys had a weed-eater, but no lawn mower because they didn’t have anything to mow. They would just go around cutting weeds.”

Harmon and the other directors helped acquire some 23 pieces of property over the years, from small parcels to bigger pieces of land.

“Corky goes so far back, nobody can remember when he was actually elected chairman,” Shahan said. 

Harmon said the foundation has worked hard to get land and raise money for scholarships. He had previously served as chairman of the college’s advisory board.