In fall 1946, a crowd of students, faculty and staff sat with anxious anticipation inside Public School Stadium, the predecessor to Robertson Stadium. The football team was in the middle of its inaugural season as an intercollegiate team. It was UH's first-ever Homecoming, and UH was about to crown its first Homecoming Queen.
Mary Ray Curry, a junior drama student, stood among the finalists. Curry came to UH at a time when World War II was at its end. By 1946, veterans were flocking back to campus en masse, nearly doubling the student enrollment size. The School of Pharmacy had just opened, and other programs were being created to accommodate the needs of the veterans and the community. Popular traditions that had been set aside for the war effort, such as Frontier Fiesta, came roaring back. New ones, like Shasta and the Cougar fight song, were soon to follow. Curry was a part of it all.
"When the guys came back from the war, that was when UH really started to take off," Curry said. "Those were some fun times. Just being in such an environment where people wanted an education, you could sense the optimism."
Curry was one of UH's first cheerleaders. With the Red Masque Players drama club, she acted in the Varsity Varieties show, a popular all-school talent show that graced high school and college campuses across the country. She was a member of Alpha Psi Omega, UH's first Greek letter organization, and the Cougar Collegians, one of UH's first student service clubs. As a sophomore, Curry was won the Varsity Varieties Miss Varsity Venus pageant. Two years in a row, she made the Vanity Fair section, which showcased the university's most beautiful women, of the Houstonian, the UH yearbook. It seemed only natural for Curry to be a part of UH’s newest tradition: Homecoming.
Now, in a modest dress suit with brown dress shoes and a hat, Curry anxiously waited with her fellow nominees to find out which one of them would win the title of Homecoming Queen. Seconds later, Curry heard her name. She stepped forward, all smiles as the stadium erupted in applause. Along with the title, Curry received a golden bracelet, a compact with an engraving of her new title as Homecoming Queen, and a large mum of flowers and pompoms. She took her victory lap around the field in a convertible, waving to the crowd and smiling for pictures. The festivities continued with the football game and the reception in the afternoon.
Curry graduated from UH in 1948. The weekend of graduation, she married UH student and World War II veteran Robert Dwyer and became Mrs. Mary Ray Dwyer. Dwyer was inspired by famed Houston model and UH alumnus Elsa Rosborough to become a model herself. She received a modeling contract shortly after she graduated. Though she went on hiatus to start a family with her husband, she eventually returned to modeling and found a job as a store model at Joske's, which was later bought out by Dillard's.
Dwyer worked as a model and fashion consultant, hosting fashion etiquette classes at social clubs for the department stores. She made such an impression that her supervisor asked her to join the special events department, where she welcomed such celebrities as Julia Child, Mary Hart and Andrea Mitchell when they came to Houston to promote their brands in Dillard’s stores across the city. She continued teaching classes and hosting product promotions until she retired.
At 83, Dwyer recalls her time at UH as one of the greatest experiences of her life. She sees the parallels between UH then and now. She sees it in the rapid expansion of UH's academic programs as it works toward becoming a Tier One research institution, and she sees it in the unwavering Cougar pride carried by students, faculty, staff and alumni.
"It's incredibly fabulous how UH has progressed," Dwyer said. "I think Dr. Khator is an amazing woman and has done wonderful things for the university. I'm proud to have gone to the University of Houston."
Dwyer will join the Homecoming Court in the halftime festivities at the Homecoming game Saturday, Oct. 22 against Marshall. She will be escorted by UH Alumni Association president Mike Pede.