Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Opinion

March 14, 2014

Don Newbury: Flappables twisting in the wind

One can determine much about a man by observation, taking note of the way he dresses and carries himself.

Overalls — like duded-up western wear — can easily deceive, however. Overalls carry no guarantee that the guy farms, nor do boots and chaps necessarily mean the man wearing them has ever mounted a horse.

An example was Dr. Bryan Wildenthal, a suit-and-tie educator who served as president of then Sul Ross State College (now University) from 1952 until his death in 1965. He exuded quiet confidence, handling problems unflappably that would have set others straightway to flapping — or worse. He carried himself well, took the high roads and maintained dignity in all situations. “I’ve had lots worse burrs than this one under my saddle blanket” was a favorite expression when a problem loomed.

———

On one occasion, a campus security officer made a startling discovery during early morning rounds. An effigy of the president swung in the breeze from a campus flagpole.

Forthwith, he found a ladder, cut the rope and stuffed the effigy in a closet.

When Dr. Wildenthal learned of the incident at mid-morning, his pulse rate didn’t quicken. He smiled and asked to see the effigy.

———

“Those overalls appear to be new and about my size,” he said. “Do what you will with the dummy, but bring me the overalls.”

That night, he presided over a backyard barbecue for students, with first lady Doris, prim and proper, alongside. Since only a few hundred students were enrolled in those years, word traveled fast that their beloved president had more than loosened his tie. A mentor to dozens of eventual distinguished educational leaders, Wildenthal was sporting bib overalls.

The prankster may have been served barbecue by el presidente that night, or at least heard quickly of the educator’s informal attire.

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