NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University will recognize several prominent donors who have supported the institution during the 33rd annual SFA Gala, slated for Saturday, Jan. 27, in the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom. Hosted by the SFASU Foundation, the annual black-tie event honors generous benefactors to the university; showcases the impact of their giving on the students, faculty, staff and programs; and reiterates the need for the university’s endowment.

The 2024 honorees, inducted into two of the university’s three tiers of giving, are Patsy Barton of Nacogdoches, Chris and Jim Berry of Farmers Branch, Judy and Larry Holt of College Station, the late Carolyn Downing and Harry Downing of Nacogdoches, and Ashley and Greg Arnold of Dallas. 

“The dedicated support of our donors enhances the prestige of our institution and helps shape a future that reflects our university’s exceptional quality as we have just celebrated 100 years of excellence,” said Jill Still, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the SFASU Foundation.

Badders Law Firm is the title sponsor for the event. Since 1964, the personal injury attorneys have focused on providing representation to ensure clients obtain justice and relief after suffering serious injuries.

Fredonia Society Inductees

Patsy Barton
Although Patsy Barton and her late husband, Doyle G. Barton, did not attend SFA, they began establishing and endowing scholarships in 2012 to aid students preparing to enter public education. Their daughter, Dr. Paula Barton Griffin, and grandson, Sean Griffin, have multiple degrees from the university. After her husband’s passing in 2013, Patsy Barton continued the path of giving to the James I. Perkins College of Education. She relocated to Nacogdoches in 2017.

Patsy and Doyle Barton were born and raised in Russellville, Arkansas. After graduating from high school, they married and moved to Kansas and eventually to Texas. Patsy Barton was a homemaker and partner to her late husband while he supported the family in retail management and as a franchisee for Sonic Drive-In.

Neither Patsy nor Doyle Barton had the opportunity to pursue a college education. However, they provided financial support for their children and grandchildren to do so. Both Patsy Barton and her late husband shared a desire to provide financial support through scholarships for students to study and obtain university degrees. This passion has encouraged members of their family to obtain advanced degrees, including six bachelor’s, three master’s and one doctoral degree.

Chris and Jim Berry
Christine “Chris” Sanner Berry and Jimmy “Jim” Berry first met as students while attending SFA. The couple married a year after graduating in 1985. 

Most recently, Chris and Jim Berry have endowed the Sanner-Berry Business Professorship in the Rusche College of Business as part of their long tradition of supporting education inside and outside the classroom. The new endowment is the largest professorship in the College of Business and will be designated to a faculty member who demonstrates the ability to engage students in meaningful learning experiences. With this professorship, the Berrys ensure future Lumberjacks will have the same opportunities to learn from accomplished faculty members as they did.

The Berrys, along with other managing partners at Deloitte, also have helped establish the Deloitte Foundation Accounting Scholarship Endowment, which supports scholarships annually for high-performing students pursuing an accounting degree. The endowment is currently the largest scholarship-specific endowment in the Schlief School of Accountancy.

Jim Berry retired from Deloitte in 2021 after a 30-year career where he led the U.S. real estate sector and distinguished himself as a partner and vice chairman. That same year, the Rusche College of Business dean’s suite was named the Jimmy D. Berry Dean’s Suite in honor of his retirement and to recognize his involvement in building the successful partnership between SFA and Deloitte.

Judy and Larry Holt
Judy and Larry Holt began working to honor the memory of his mother, Celeste Duncan Holt, by establishing a scholarship endowment in her name at SFA. Although the Holts did not attend SFA, Larry Holt’s mother attended SFA, and all of his family is from nearby Shelby County. The scholarship endowment provides annual financial support to students from Shelby County pursuing a degree in education, as Celeste Holt spent her career as a teacher after graduating from SFA in 1952. 

Most recently, the Holts have created a new endowment to support the East Texas Research Center, the official university archive and state-designated repository for the historical records of surrounding counties.

Larry Holt earned a Juris Doctor from Baylor University and a Master of Laws from Southern Methodist University. He now practices law in estate planning, probate, trusts, wills, real estate, oil and gas, and public finance. He is dedicated to the support of libraries and archives. In 2009, he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as commissioner at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. 

Judy Holt is currently a member of the board of directors of the Greater Texas Foundation. She was the foundation’s interim executive director and first chief executive officer in 2006. Prior to that, her service began in 1987 as the first employee with one of Greater Texas Foundation’s former subsidiary organizations. Judy Holt holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Texas A&M University. 

Carolyn and Harry Downing
Carolyn and Harry Downing were high school sweethearts at Manila High School in Manila, Arkansas, and married after Carolyn graduated high school in 1965. Serving as a licensed practical nurse, she supported her husband as he earned three degrees in physics: a Bachelor of Science from Arkansas State University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University.

Harry Downing joined SFA’s Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy in 1975, and Carolyn Downing began a 27-year career as an office nurse for Dr. Aaron Polk in Nacogdoches a few years later. Harry Downing became a professor in 1987 and later served as department chair for more than 30 years, receiving the College of Sciences and Mathematics Teaching Excellence Award and the Robert N. Little Award for outstanding contributions to physics higher education in Texas. He was named SFA’s 2013-14 Regents Scholar.

Carolyn Downing passed away in January 2020. Although the Downings had no children during their 54-year marriage, they influenced many people through their interactions with patients and students. To honor Carolyn Downing, Harry Downing established three SFA scholarships in nursing, physics and engineering. On July 21, 2020, SFA’s board of regents approved the naming of the Harry and Carolyn Downing Physics Resource Commons and the Harry and Carolyn Downing Engineering Resource Commons.

Stephen F. Austin Society Inductees

Ashley and Greg Arnold
The Greg Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship at SFA is the result of many years of leadership, determination and passion for service to business and community by Ashley and Greg Arnold. Greg Arnold earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing from SFA in 1987 and went on to spend his time developing a nationally recognized multidivisional company focused on the energy, aviation and real-estate industries. 

Greg Arnold is chief executive officer of TAC – The Arnold Companies, a privately owned family office investment and holding company with a diversified portfolio of investments featuring private and public companies. The company was built on services in petroleum marketing and private aviation, growing to national coverage in both industries and employing approximately 1,000 associates. Ashley Arnold is an active philanthropist and supporter of many organizations in the Dallas and North Texas areas. 

Greg and Ashley Arnold’s leadership and spirit of giving reflect the entrepreneurial mindset that is the focal point for supporting generations of SFA students to come. 

On July 26, 2022, the SFA board of regents expressed its admiration, gratitude and high regard for the Arnolds by naming the Greg Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship.

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website