Lorum Stratton turned 85 years old this month and spent some time reflecting on the 50 years he taught Spanish on campus at Texas Tech University and abroad.
Hola a todos!
My name is Lorum Stratton and I turned 85 years old this month, which is hard to believe. It's been quite a ride. I hope you will enjoy or tolerate my reminiscing.
In August 1969, my wife Karen and I, with two young sons, drove one car and a U-Haul trailer into the quiet well-kept city of Lubbock to become the newest assistant professor of Spanish in the Foreign Language Department at Texas Technological College. I had only heard of it because as a kid growing up, I was a big sports fan. So, I knew the name, but that's all. I didn't know anything about Lubbock or the school itself.
The position I accepted was to supervise and oversee the first-year Spanish program, to direct and develop a recently started study abroad program in Mexico, and to teach three to four classes each semester. When I came to Texas Tech to interview, they said, “We've established this program in a city in Mexico, but it's not a tourist city. So, a lot of people don't know about the city.” I asked, “Well, what is the name of the city?” and they said, “The city is called San Luis Potosí.” And I said, “I lived in San Luis Potosí for a while during my three years as a missionary in Mexico for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
I had even decided after learning Spanish there through immersion and falling in love with the language and the people, I would like to become a Spanish professor and share that experience with students. So, it felt like somehow this job was destined for me. San Luis Potosí became my summer home for more than 30 years.
Texas Technological College had just under 10,000 students in 1969, and my beginning salary was $10,300. Lubbock was a developing city of about 100,000 residents. There were almost no houses south of South Loop 289 and the South Plains Mall was just beginning construction in the middle of a huge empty field. We did survive the deadly tornado of May 1970, losing only the back fence and a tree.
Within a month of my arrival, the university's name was officially changed to Texas Tech University – a huge boost for the humanities – and final approval was given to offer a Ph.D. in Spanish. Within our first years in Lubbock, Karen and I added two Texas-born, Texas-proud daughters, complementing the two sons.
Also, the department hired Dr. Roberto Bravo to be the assistant director of the Mexico Field Course program. Dr. Bravo and I developed the Mexico Field Course program into one of the premier study abroad programs of the U.S. Around that time the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese did a national evaluation site visit to all existing programs and Texas Tech was in the top 1% of all programs, and the evaluator even provided some additional kudos. We took 40 to 60 students each summer for many years by bus from Lubbock to San Luis Potosí until air service was finally available.
Dr. Bravo often referred to those first years as “tiempos heroicos” which means “heroic times.” I was director or assistant director for some 35 years and took approximately 1,500 students to Mexico. My experiences and adventures would fill volumes. The highlight of my collegiate faculty career was seeing the light come on in the eyes of the students when they became immersed in the language, and all of a sudden, it started clicking and they could really understand and start to function. The other highlights were taking students to historical sites where they could really absorb and enjoy the culture.
In 1976, an opportunity was given to me to move to a different university as chair of the department. After a soul-searching struggle, Karen and I decided we loved my job at Texas Tech and the opportunity to take students to Mexico. We felt like there was no better place in the world to raise a family than Lubbock and we loved Texas Tech, so we just planted our roots here. I never opened a job vacancy book again.
In addition to the study abroad directorship, I served as department chair twice, from 1979-1986 and from 2011-2013. I also served as associate chair for more than 15 years. It was fun going to work when you had a job you loved, teaching and interacting with the students. I served as an academic adviser for Spanish majors and minors for at least 40 years, and to be able to help numerous students plan their program and make it through school was one of my greatest satisfactions.
In 2004, I was given the opportunity to teach with the Texas Tech summer study abroad program in Sevilla, Spain. I taught a number of summers, then in 2011 the opportunity came to teach there during the long semesters also, and for the next years I taught off and on (mainly on) in Sevilla. Karen and I fell in love with Sevilla and southern Spain, and if we had the money, we would spend our retirement years bouncing between Lubbock and Sevilla.
I officially retired in the summer of 2016, then taught a year in Sevilla part-time. I thought my academic career was officially over. However, the administrative office at the Texas Tech Center in Sevilla had an opening for the 2017-2019 academic years. They called and asked if Karen and I would be interested in the position and two additional years in Sevilla. We jumped at the opportunity and thoroughly enjoyed those last two years. One of Don Quixote's first proverbs states: “Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre” or, “When one door shuts, another opens.”
Between 2011 and 2019, Karen and I lived in Spain for about five and a half years. We enjoyed exploring the history and culture as we travelled throughout Spain. From Spain, it's a short flight to Rome, to Paris, to Munich and to London, among other cities. It opened up the world that all our lives we had wanted to see and hadn't been able to do. We also had the ability to travel to Portugal, which we fell in love with, especially the beach town of Lagos. Over time, I learned how to survive also speaking Portuguese and Italian. The ability to experience so many more cultures, languages and people and see all of those sights are things you usually just dream about but never get to do.
Our last year in Spain, in 2019, the Texas Tech men's basketball team made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. I have been a Red Raider basketball season ticket holder for more than 50 years, so I was very invested. For their final game, everyone at the center got up around 3 a.m. and we put the game on the big screen. There were like 50-some-odd students and faculty screaming and watching basketball. I'll never forget that nor all these years attending the Texas Tech basketball games with my family.
I basically finished up with 50 full years working at Texas Tech, and I was honored to have a study abroad scholarship endowed in my name. That kind of evolved in my last few years at Texas Tech. There were a couple of students and colleagues who felt like my service was such that they wanted to have a scholarship in my name. So, they just put out a scholarship and little by little people contributed to it enough that it became an endowed scholarship.
My hopes for my endowed scholarship are that more students can afford to study abroad. I had so many students over the years who had to work to put themselves through school and could not make enough money to study abroad even with scholarships and other financial aid. So, I understand that every little bit helps.
When you give a student the opportunity to study abroad, they can open up their minds, hearts and souls to a new world. Hundreds of students have told me studying abroad was a life-changing experience. It gives you a sense of appreciation for a different culture and different people. But what it does probably as much as anything else is it gives you a sense of love and appreciation for what you have in your own country and take for granted. If you want to help support this endeavor for more students, please consider donating to my endowed scholarship.
I want to say a most heartfelt thanks to my former colleagues and students who have greatly enriched my life. I still see and run into students from time to time. My wife said for a number of years, every time we would walk into an airport someone would shout out “Dr. Stratton!” and come running up to share their experiences. Even some of the flight attendants who we would be on the plane with were my students, having studied in Mexico.
I have never been the best correspondent, but I would love to hear from all of you who know Karen and me, especially you incredible outstanding study abroad students. I will be better in responding by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As much as I miss spending each week on campus, I love retirement. Years ago, my dad told me, “I don't even know how I had time to work for a living.” I have four children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren (all boys ages 8 to 1). I am so lucky and blessed that three of my four kids, a number of grandchildren and one great-grandson still live in Lubbock.
I have become very involved in genealogy and family history; it is one of the most fascinating things in the world to identify and to link together individuals and families. I give hours of service to my church. I try to be a good granddad. I work around the house, and I still sometimes play racquetball like I did at the Texas Tech Student Recreation Center. My 40-plus years playing racquetball and basketball at the Rec Center were also highlights of my time at Tech. I stay busy from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.
My fervent hope is that I have been able to give as much or more than has been given to me. I will not say adiós, but rather “hasta la próxima” (until the next time).
Sincerely, respectfully, cariñosamente, con amor...