A Living Legacy
Among the most magnificent sights on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word are three giant oak trees. One stands outside the entrance to the Mabee Library, a second to the left of Dubuis Hall, the third between the dining hall and the Agnese/Sosa Living Learning Center.
Dick McCracken, Dean of Alumni Relations and Planned Giving, is a lot like these trees – solid, deep-rooted and stable. He’s been at Incarnate Word for 41 years, long enough to have served six presidents. Now McCracken is semi-retiring. Given the value of his long tenure, he will continue working on a handful of projects part-time.
“Having worked with alumni for so many years,” says McCracken, “I’ll help transition the next Director of Alumni. But most of all I plan to focus on fewer things – travel, special events, writing and research.”
A lot has changed since McCracken first arrived here in September of 1964.
“Enrollment totaled 600, all women,” recalls the former New Yorker (the co-ed enrollment at the beginning of the 2004 school year was 4,800). “More than 60 nuns in habits taught, worked and lived on campus. Lay faculty was less than 20. Cows grazed across the river from what is now the president’s office.
“We had a choral club, orchestra, campus-wide retreats that everyone was ‘expected’ to attend and did, no air conditioning, and five or six secretaries. If you had a letter, you bought your own stamp, licked it, and walked it to the mailbox.
“Back then, we hosted visiting artists with huge reputations. Among them were poet John Crowe Ransom, Spanish guitarist Carlos Montoya, journalists Carl Bernstein and Geraldo Rivera, actors Mickey Rooney and Oscar-winner Gregory Peck. Actress Paula Prentiss recently visited. Getting to know these talented artists are among my most memorable moments,” says McCracken.
If three giant live oak trees are campus legends, what does McCracken have to show for 41 years at that same campus? Plenty, especially when it comes to publicity. Today, it is widely acknowledged that Incarnate Word is one of the best-publicized universities in South Texas. But it wasn’t always so.
What many may not realize is that McCracken was the one who back in the 1960s first planted the idea that publicity (public relations) was the key to attracting donors and students. With support from the college community, he pushed for signage on Broadway and Hildebrand. He hired an artist to design a logo. He bartered with photographers to photograph events, made friends with reporters and sent them stories that ran in the newspapers. In the mid-1970s, he designed the publicity that helped raise several million dollars to build the Coates Theater.
“Dick McCracken has become a UIW fixture. He has witnessed 40 years of history here. He has seen and been an important part of the evolving history of Incarnate Word College and UIW and has become part of the rich tapestry of people and events during this exciting time span,” says Mendell Morgan, dean of library services.
But McCracken takes no credit for what came later, the massive “Incarnate Word-The College” media campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s.
“That was and continues to be Lou’s thing,” he says in reference to UIW President Dr. Louis Agnese. “And, of course, I support it. But I’m proud to have helped plant the sapling that made it possible for our publicity campaigns to continue so successfully.”
Indeed he should be. That consistent publicity has helped make UIW the largest Catholic university in Texas and the fifth-largest private institution in the state. An historic accomplishment, indeed.
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