A Family, A Building and An Enduring Legacy

Young Family in Front of Young Building 2021
Photographed (from left-to-right): Reagan Young, Betsy Young Snyder, Marty Young, Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. and Rick Young.

What is your W.O. Young Student Center story?

Maybe you opened a letter in the post office that changed your life.

There’s a chance you bought your first Arkansas Tech University T-shirt in the bookstore. Maybe you still wear it from time-to-time all these years later.

You might have whiled away that daily hour between classes in the snack bar enjoying a donut, a soft drink and the morning re-run of the overnight edition of ESPN’s SportsCenter.

More than a few folks learned to shoot pool and play spades there.

Did you work there? A lot of us did.

Or perhaps one of the phone booths in the hallway served as your personal office.

Some of us left our mark by creating the mural that existed for many years in the hallway on the east end of the building.

Generations of Arkansas Tech students lined up in the Young Ballroom to register for classes each semester.

Just think about all the musical talent that graced the stage in that space.

For some couples, forever started on the dance floor of that ballroom.

Speaking of which, if you ever attended the Dulaney Hall Playboy Dance, chances are you can’t forget it.

Younger alumni recall Young Ballroom as the place where they started their freshman orientation process. Many of them took their first photo with Jerry the Bulldog there and played their first game of Big Money Bingo there. Still others gained their first leadership opportunity in Young Ballroom working on a Student Government Association blood drive or leading a Greek recruitment event.

All of us who attended Arkansas Tech from the time the facility opened in 1959 until it closed in 2022 have memories of the W.O. Young Student Center. The steel, bricks and distinctive terrazzo floor that characterized the building are part of history now, but the memories and the more than century-long story of one family’s connection to Arkansas Tech persist.

William Omer Young was born in 1895 in the Franklin County community of Branch. He married Margaret White of Paris, and they had three sons: William Omer Young Jr., Robert A. Young and James K. Young.

W.O. Young became assistant circuit clerk in Logan County at the age of 20 and graduated from the Draughon School of Business in Memphis, Tenn. Soon after, he was hired by the Second District Agricultural School in Russellville as business manager in 1917.

“He was a very busy person and very concise…authoritarian, but a good person,” said Dr. Robert A. Young, Jr., grandson of W.O. Young. “A lot of people have told me stories of how they could not have gone to school without him helping provide finances. They didn’t have the foundation providing scholarships at that time. He helped a lot of people.”

Over a span of 24 years in administration at the school that evolved to become Arkansas Polytechnic College, W.O. Young oversaw the finances of the institution and fulfilled the duties of secretary, purchasing agent and bursar. From May 3, 1923, to March 17, 1925, he was interim president of the college. He became one of the first individuals to obtain a baccalaureate degree from Arkansas Tech when he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in 1925.

During the 1930s, he owned the original Jerry the Bulldog, which provided the inspiration and foundation for the modern campus ambassador program at ATU.

W.O. Young served as chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, president of the Russellville Rotary Club, a Mason, a member of the Russellville School District Board of Directors and a charter member of the Russellville High School Athletic Association.

The students of Arkansas Tech thrice dedicated the Agricola yearbook to W.O. Young.

In 1924, the dedication read, in part, “our beloved secretary, who has so faithfully and wisely guided the destiny of our school during this year.”

One year later, as Young was completing his time as interim president, the 1925 Agricola dedication described him as one who “is firm and fair in his decision; who sees the broader scope of life; who shouldered a responsibility of priceless value, without shirking, yet did not ignore the smaller issues and common touch; the one who has planted in our hearts and minds traditions so deeply that they can never pass away; who has won the praise of his superiors and the student body, and the admiration and regard of the class of ’25.”

The final Agricola dedication to W.O. Young, in 1942, was a posthumous one.

“My grandfather was an avid sportsman,” said Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. “He enjoyed quail hunting, especially with Truman McEver (Arkansas Tech chemistry faculty member, 1930-73, and namesake of McEver Hall). They were hunting the day he died. It was shortly after Pearl Harbor, and my grandfather was worried, upset and concerned about his young sons having to go to war. He sat down on a log and fell over dead from a heart attack. From that day forward, Truman McEver never quail hunted again.”

W.O. Young died Dec. 17, 1941. Within a week, his son, Robert A. Young Sr., a 1938 graduate of Arkansas Tech, was appointed to succeed him as business manager during a special called meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Robert A. Young Sr. remained in that role, eventually advancing to the rank of vice president for business affairs, until his retirement in 1984. After leaving office, Robert A. Young Sr. continued his service to Arkansas Tech by leading the ATU annual fund drive to support scholarships and by serving as president of the ATU Alumni Association.

The family was inextricably tied to Arkansas Tech by the time Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. was born. He was raised across the street from campus. An affinity for the school was in his genes, and it provided him with a treasure trove of childhood memories.

“When I was growing up, we lived at 1320 North Arkansas Avenue, right across from what is now the Alumni House,” said Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. “There was an airport where Tucker Coliseum is, and there were several planes stationed there. They were mostly crop dusters. In the night, some of the students went over to the airport, unchained one of the planes and were planning on chaining it to the flag pole in front of Old Main in the middle of the night so nobody knew.

“When they pushed that plane past my house, our dog started barking and we looked out the window,” continued Young. “My dad saw it, and he called Mr. (Firman) Bynum. Mr. Bynum went to the front of Old Main and was hiding in the bushes when the boys pushed the plane in front of the building. Just before they locked the chain, Mr. Bynum stepped out of the bushes and said, ‘boys, you have until daylight to get that plane back.’ It almost took off they were pushing it so fast to get it back to the airport in time.”

Dr. Young did not get the opportunity to know his grandfather, W.O. Young, but he certainly and fondly recalls the service his grandmother, Margaret Young (namesake of the award for the most outstanding senior female at ATU each year) rendered as dorm mother after her husband’s passing.

“Almost every female who attended Tech stayed in her dormitory,” said Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. “The students today just could not imagine what student life was like in Caraway Hall in 1945. They had particular time limits they had to be in. The dates that picked the girls up had to come inside and present themselves. There were four telephones in the whole building, and she turned them off at 10 o’clock every night. Parents could call the office to get an emergency message through, but that was it.”

Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. continued the family tradition by graduating from Arkansas Tech in 1962. It was during his time as a student that the W.O. Young Student Center opened.

“We spent a lot of time at the student center,” said Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. “I learned how to play bridge there, and I really think that’s the main thing that kept me from having a 4.0 grade point average. I should’ve been at the library, but I wasn’t.”

One of the first touring musical acts to perform at Young Ballroom was Jerry Lee Lewis in the early 1960s, but it took some presidential persuasion to get The Killer on stage.

“We almost didn’t have Jerry Lee Lewis that night,” said Dr. Young. “He had a few drinks before he got here, and he insisted on being paid before he played. President (J.W.) Hull came over and told him, ‘no, you play, and then we’ll pay you.’ He played, and we paid him.”

Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. went on to become a dentist and had a long-standing practice in Russellville before his retirement. Along the way, he served as president of the ATU Foundation Board of Directors. No one loves Golden Suns basketball more than he does.

In all, five generations of the Young family have attended Arkansas Tech. Betsy Young Snyder, daughter of Dr. Young and his wife, Marty, plays an integral role in the care of the modern Jerry the Bulldog at Creature Comforts, the Russellville pet boarding business she and her husband, Noel, own and operate.

Through Jerry the Bulldog, the Margaret Young Award, a pair of annual awards in the ATU School of Business named in memory of Robert A. Young Sr. and their multi-generational support of Arkansas Tech and its mission, the Young family’s legacy at Arkansas Tech is greater than any one structure. It is an indelible aspect of the university.

“I don’t know anything else,” said Dr. Robert A. Young Jr. when asked about his family’s association with ATU. “It’s all I’ve ever known. I can’t imagine what it would be like otherwise.”