The first president of Stephen F. Austin State University will be honored at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, with the dedication of Birdwell Plaza. The plaza is located at the corner of North and East College streets, the former location of the building named for Dr. Alton W. Birdwell.
"By naming this part of the campus, the university continues to celebrate our history and traditions," said Dr. Baker Pattillo, SFA president. "Dr. Birdwell was known for his integrity, courage and selflessness, and he founded this university on those characteristics. It is my hope that this plaza will serve as a reminder of the success that can be achieved through the example Dr. Birdwell set."
Birdwell became president of Stephen F. Austin State Normal College in 1917 when the legislature first established the institution. He moved to Nacogdoches in 1922, and classes at the state teachers college began on Birdwell's birthday, Sept. 18, in 1923. Birdwell led the development of SFA until his retirement in 1942.
Birdwell kept the doors of the university open during the Great Depression. The first faculty member he hired at the college was a woman, Lois Foster Blount. He maintained high academic standards and introduced the first graduate program in the 1930s. His many friends fittingly endowed the first scholarship at SFA in his honor.
"Early in 1954, it became known that Dr. Birdwell was dying of cancer. In violation of its own rule against naming buildings for living individuals, the State Board of Regents announced its decision to name SFA's new liberal arts building, which was under construction, after Dr. Birdwell," said Dr. Jere Jackson, university historian.
On Oct. 25, 1954, Birdwell died in his home on Davis Street, at the age of 84. According to Jackson, during the November 1955 dedication service for the Birdwell Building, Dr. Paul Boynton, the university's second president, called SFA a "perpetual memorial to the late educator."