For the Huckabee family, education and philanthropy go hand in hand.
From a young age, Tommie and Sylvia Huckabee instilled in their children the need to give back and shared the philosophy that life is more rewarding when you give back and support others.
Tommie was the first of three generations of the Huckabee family to attend Texas Tech University when he enrolled in the architecture program in 1954. He was a first-generation college student, which came with financial challenges that prevented him from graduating.
However, this did not stop him from achieving his dream of becoming an architect. He worked as an architectural apprentice for a firm in Lubbock for many years which allowed him to sit for his architectural license exam.
Immediately following his licensure, Tommie started his own firm, Huckabee, right here in West Texas. Since opening its doors in 1967, the firm has been focused on educational designs, a concept Tommie and Sylvia decided on together.
If Tommie could not get an education, he was going to do his best to assure the opportunity was available to others.
“He and my mother felt the greatest equalizer in the world was an education,” said their son, Chris, “and they wanted the company to play a role in student success. This vision has been the heart and focus of Huckabee ever since.”
Tommie, a former U.S. Marine, carried that leadership style over to running his business. While Chris said this sometimes made it challenging to work with his father, Tommie was an amazing leader, and he credits him for many of the leadership skills he has today.
“My father is without question the finest technical architect you will ever meet in your life,” Chris said. “He is a man whose handshake will always matter. He is an excellent business mentor and the reason many architects are in the profession and leading companies.”
The Huckabees' focus on education applied to their children as well. Without question, they set the bar high and expected their children to rise to the challenge and get an education.
By 1991, between Tommie, his wife Sylvia and their three children, the Huckabee family had received four degrees from Texas Tech. Phyllis, their daughter, earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. Their son, Tim, earned a degree from the College of Arts & Sciences, and Chris followed in his father's footsteps by earning a degree in architecture.
“My father was a huge Red Raider, and my older brother and sister had attended Texas Tech,” Chris said. “When the time came for me to select a university, there was only one option.”
Chris worked for his father at Huckabee growing up, cleaning the office and running large plan printing for projects, but he never felt like architecture was the career he wanted to pursue.
When he first enrolled, he was in Rawls College with plans to become a lawyer. However, his grades began to suffer his sophomore year, and he knew he needed to change his plan.
He knew his father would not be happy about his grades, so he made up a story that he wanted to be an architect. He transferred to the College of Architecture thinking it would buy him some time while he figured out what to do.
Chris earned a 4.0 GPA in his first semester in architecture and never looked back.
“I fell in love with the program, the professors and the challenges of design projects, Chris said. “It was a serendipitous move that turned out to be life-changing and a great fit.”
Chris credits a large portion of his success to two professors in the architecture college, Jim and John White, for the belief they had in him and pushing him to achieve more than he thought he could.
“With the exception of my parents, Jim and John have had more influence on the successful trajectory of my life than anyone,” Chris said. “As a student, they recognized talents I had when I actually didn't realize it myself.”
Texas Tech is also where Chris met his wife, Robin. From the time they met, they were best friends and did everything together.
Robin grew up in Houston, and she knew she wanted a new environment when she started college. On her first visit to the Texas Tech campus, she fell in love with the beautiful Spanish Renaissance architecture and the community, and she knew it was where she wanted to be.
“From the first time I walked on the campus I thought it was one of the most beautiful campuses I had seen,” Robin said. “I also loved the community. People in Lubbock embrace the students. They are so friendly and make students that are a long way from home feel welcome.”
Robin came from a family that has always been artistically talented, and she always had an eye for texture, color and design. These talents naturally drew her to the field of interior design.
“The interior design program at Texas Tech is one of the best,” Robin said. “I had amazing professors and a challenging curriculum I would put up against any program in the U.S. It was a tough but rewarding degree to obtain.”
Architecture and interior design are complementary fields, and while Chris and Robin have never worked together professionally, they do enjoy working on personal projects together. They have designed and restored multiple homes in Texas and Colorado.
“We each have unique and complementary design strengths that allow us to see a finished project before the project has even begun,” Chris said. “We are a great team.”
Designing for Student Success
After graduating in 1991, Chris joined Huckabee, his father's design firm, where Tommie had established himself as a technical expert in the field of architecture.
Chris worked under his father's direction at Huckabee for 10 years before becoming CEO in 2001 and has since grown the firm into one of the top educational design firms in the nation. While Chris credits his business acumen to his father, he learned his relational skills from his mother Sylvia who he said has “dedicated her life to serving others.”
While Robin never worked for Huckabee, Chris said she is a vital part of the Huckabee success story – their biggest cheerleader and an essential sounding board as he expanded the company.
In 2022, they founded MOREgroup to grow the Huckabee family of architecture, design and engineering brands serving clients nationwide. Chris leads the group as CEO with a staff of 700 and offices in 21 locations across the U.S. The group is comprised of architecture firms that focus on government, education and health care and employs engineering experts in structural, mechanical and electrical design.
While Huckabee has seen exponential growth, their focus has never wavered: designing well-crafted learning environments to produce more conﬁdent, engaged and accomplished students.
“We have a saying in our firm, ‘Listen first, plan second, design third,'” Chris said. “Meaning there is much that goes into a successful learning environment before the design. We are focused on understanding the unique needs of the communities we serve and then delivering that vision through a design.”
They are working on designing a new elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, replacing the school that was the site of a tragic shooting in May. The school will be designed and built at no cost to Uvalde.
Chris said this is a meaningful project for their team.
“It is a commitment on the part of my team to help in the healing process of this community,” Chris said. “We want to assure the community drives the vision for the new school.”
In addition to philanthropic work through the architectural firm, the Huckabee family has supported education, health, community programs, arts and cultural affairs for nearly 20 years through their fund at the Community Foundation of North Texas. This fund has served as a way for them to study needs and deliver support to many worthwhile organizations.
“At the end of the day, you will live a more rewarding life if you give back and support others,” Chris said. “We have found that to be the case. Our giving has been very enriching to us as we see the great things it has done for others.”
A Leader in Education
Chris has not only invested his time into the physical design of education, but he has also served in many roles in which he led the strategic design for higher education policy across Texas and at Texas Tech University.
Chis was twice appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency that provides leadership and coordination for Texas higher education to promote access, affordability, quality, success and cost efficiency.
From 2015 to 2021, Chris served on the Board of Regents for the Texas Tech University System. He led the board as chairman from 2019 until the conclusion of his term in 2021.
Chris served in these roles because he believes a quality education goes hand in hand with personal success and has the power to solve global issues.
“Most of us can look back at our life and say that education played a substantial role in our success,” Chris said. “For me, that is very true. If we can help more students achieve an education, we can fix many of the challenges we face in our communities and the world.”
While there were certainly challenges serving as a regent, Chris and the board developed monumental plans and overcame issues to accomplish great things for the system.
During his tenure, Chris helped guide the TTU system and students through a global pandemic and assisted with the creation of the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine. He also oversaw the transformation of a neglected patch of land with an uninhabitable structure into the renovated Dairy Barn – work that brings endless pride to the university.
While serving as a regent, Chris assisted with the addition of Midwestern State University to TTU system. Additionally, within his term, four of the five universities under the system achieved Hispanic-Serving Institution status, meaning an enrollment of at least 25 percent Hispanic students.
Of all the accomplishments achieved by the board during his tenure, Chris is most proud of how they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first month of COVID, Chris had twice-daily calls with Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D. and system leadership that transitioned to a daily call for months afterward. Serving a critical role in guiding the TTU system through the pandemic was what he called “a full-time job.”
While Chris is certain there are things they could have done better, he also believes the system handled the issues that arose from COVID better than most universities. He credits this success to having a chancellor who is also medical doctor.
Chris and Chancellor Mitchell also were able to ability to work together to tackle problems as a team. They never allowed the situation to overwhelm them and stayed focused on ensuring the safety of students and faculty at all TTU system campuses
The proof of this success can easily be seen in the enrollment numbers. While most universities have seen enrollment numbers dip since COVID, Texas Tech's enrollment has continued to grow.
“When you go through extreme challenges you either wither away together or you rise together,” Chris said. “We worked together very effectively to meet the challenges that came our way.”
The Joy of Giving
Chis and the Huckabee family's devotion to education extends past the giving of their time and is also where they invest financially.
“I am blessed to have had two parents that insisted that all their children get an education,” Chris said. “I was blessed at Texas Tech to have professors who believed in me and pushed me to achieve more than I knew I could. I look back today and fully believe education and those who invested in my education are responsible for my success. For that reason, I feel it is the right place for me to invest my time and money.”
Chris and Robin have long endeavored to champion student success, giving back to their alma mater nearly every year – 30 years in total – since graduating.
In 2002, they established the Timothy Terry Memorial Endowed Scholarship for architectural students in memory of an employee and friend who passed away shortly after graduating from Texas Tech. They provided funding in 2007 to create The Corner, formerly known as the Huckabee Student Lounge, in the architecture college. This collaborative space was designed specifically for the needs of architecture students, providing an ideal location for studying, sketching and working on group projects.
“You will never find a vibrant community that doesn't have a vibrant and successful educational component,” Chris said. “So many things in our world could be solved if we could simply provide an education to more people.”
In November, the Huckabee family made a transformational gift to the College of Architecture in honor of Tommie and his contributions to the architectural industry and education. In recognition of the largest gift ever made to the college, it was renamed the Huckabee College of Architecture.
The gift was from all three of the Huckabee children (Chris, Tim and Phyllis) and Robin to recognize both Tommie and Sylvia. While the formal name of the college is the Tommie J. Huckabee College of Architecture, Chris said anyone who knew his parents would know they are a team and giving in his father's name is honoring them both.
“Sylvia has always been Tommie's biggest cheerleader and the secret sauce to his success,” Chris said. “He was a tough businessman, but she was the person that made Huckabee special. She knew every employee and she made sure their families were taken care of.”
Ultimately, the family decided to name the college after their father because of his contributions to the field of architecture.
In 2000, Tommie was the first recipient of the Kleinschmidt Award from the Huckabee College, which recognizes any individual, firm or organization whose contributions or service have enriched the program.
While Tommie has received international recognition for his work, he said his greatest accomplishments have been the clients who have loved his work and the children who have thrived in great learning environments.
“He was an amazing mentor and teacher to so many but also someone that raised the respect of the industry,” Chris said. “It is a very fitting gift to a person that would never ask for, or even desire, such recognition.”
The Huckabee family gift will provide access to resources that elevate the educational experience for students and faculty while also supporting first-generation students, student scholarship, faculty enhancement and areas of greatest need. A key focus of the donation is the revitalization of the infrastructure in and around Huckabee College through renovations that touch classrooms, technology, landscaping and more.
The family hopes to bring to reality a facility that inspires creativity for both students and faculty. This gift will provide the resources for exceptional technology and faculty needed to build a world-class college. They also want Texas Tech to be the No. 1 program in the nation for first-generation architecture students, like their father.
Chris and Robin hope this gift will allow for greater collaboration between architecture and interior design. At Huckabee, the integration between the two disciplines is a given, and the collaboration leads to better designs because of the design expertise of those in both fields.
With this gift, the Huckabee family joins some of Texas Tech's most generous donors in naming a college and making an investment that will allow the college to advance the quality of its programs; enhance the level of talent recruited for students, faculty and staff; and multiply the impact graduates make in their field.
“My parents have always felt that giving back, even if it was very small gifts initially was the best way to say, ‘thank you,' to the places that made a difference in your life,” Chris said. “We have always wanted to support Texas Tech. It was never a burden, but rather it has always been a desire and a joy.”