R.G. & Education (Panel)

LeTourneau Tech Begins

In 1945, Carl Estes, owner of the Tyler and Longview newspapers who was actively working to bring business to Longview, invited Robert & Evelyn LeTourneau to visit Longview, Texas. It was while flying over Longview that Evelyn noticed the 156 acres and 232 buildings of the Harmon General Army Hospital. While in-plant training was provided at the factories in California, Illinois, Georgia, and Mississippi, R.G. and Evelyn desired to expand this into a full-fledged technical school that would be part school, part practical training in industrial manufacturing and engineering. In addition, where the factories held regular chapels (where the workers were paid for attending, just as if they had remained at their work), this school would hold regular chapels and incorporate Bible classes.
Following discussions with Longview and the United States Government, the LeTourneau’s purchased the Harmon General Hospital grounds and buildings, but none of the furnishings, for $1. The Government reserved the right to reclaim the property at any time in the first 10 years for its purposes. As a result, no buildings were to be removed and no major changes to the property were to be made during that time.

In Spring of 1946, the LeTourneau’s received the keys to the facility, their Charter from the State of Texas, and classes began by March with the first twenty students. The first full academic year began in September 1946. During its first two years, the school offered the final two years of high school, two-year trade school courses, and a four-year course in technology to male students, a large number of whom were veterans. Students took part in an alternate day schedule until 1961 where one-half of the students attended classes three days each week while the other half worked at the LeTourneau plant the other two days. From 1946 to 1961, the school saw an average enrollment of 300-400 students each year. During these years, Robert led both the school and the business as President. R.G. and Evelyn took an active role in speaking at daily chapels - both at the university and at the plant - and in sharing their faith with the students.

75 Years Later

In July 1961, LeTourneau Technical Institute became LeTourneau College. It was the only private Christian co-education college in the world that offered engineering, technology, flight training, and more, alongside required Bible courses. The first new buildings were added - Tyler Hall (named after the President at the time, Allen Tyler), the Margaret Estes Library, and the Hollingsworth Science Hall (now home to the Teacher Education program). In 1970, the college was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

From 1947 to 1987, Evelyn LeTourneau focused her attention on the university. Affectionately known as “Mom”, her warm hospitality - from caring for sick students to inviting the first female students to live with her - and her Christian faith were defining hallmarks. She sponsored Women’s Week and received national recognition as Mother of the Year in 1969. Her hospitality and her genuine concern remain highlights for many alumni who knew “Mom” while students.  LeTourneau is what it is today, in large part, because of Evelyn’s love for its students.

Richard LeTourneau, Robert and Evelyn’s son, served as President of the school from 1962-1968 and 1975-1985. During his time as President, Richard oversaw the accreditation of the school’s Engineering program and nine major construction projects, ranging from dorms to aviation facilities. 

LeTourneau College became LeTourneau University in 1989, under the leadership of Bud Austin. Under Austin’s tenure, LeTourneau University led the way in online adult education and expanded the university’s reach around the globe. 

Today, LeTourneau University offers more than 80 associates, bachelors, and masters programs to over 3000 students each year.  In addition, over 1000 high school students are taking dual credit courses online and around the world. Today, over 25,000 alumni are spread across the globe.  As the Christian polytechnic university, LeTourneau University remains committed to R.G. & Evelyn’s vision of a Christ-centered, hands-on education, seeking to educate students who will make a difference from machine shop floors to jungle villages, from boardrooms to classrooms.

(Adapted from Ken Durham, "LeTourneau University", Texas State Historical Association Handbook.)

 Panel - Education