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Remembering Howard Terry

by Krystafer Redden

In August of 2004, the Honors College welcomed a unique group of sixteen freshmen. The first of their kind at the University of Houston, these Terry Foundation Scholars were chosen through a rigorous process including both institutional nomination and a boardroom-style interview. Selection is based on four core criteria: scholarship, demonstrated leadership, a commitment to service, and financial need. Those selected are awarded a scholarship that covers full tuition, fees, room, board, and books; in total, the Terry Foundation funds nearly half a million dollars in scholarships at the University of Houston each semester. And while not every Terry Scholar is an Honors College student, Assistant Dean Dr. Brenda Rhoden ensures that they are all given personalized advising, dedicated housing areas, and a committed support network.

The Houston-based Terry Foundation, created by Howard and Nancy Terry in 1986, supports the scholarship. Tired of investments in brick and mortar, the Terrys resolved to invest in human capital instead, hoping to “help kids help themselves.” Originally funding students at the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, the Foundation now funds 725 Scholars at nine Universities across Texas. But this scholarship is renowned for being more than just a check in the mail. As Shannon Harrison (’12, Communication Sciences & Disorders) said, “Mr. Terry and his foundation have given me so much more than money for college. They gave me a family, a sense of belonging, and the support of people who believed in me when I found it hard to believe in myself.”

Sadly, on April 20th, higher education across the state lost one of its greatest champions. Just after finishing the selection process for this year’s incoming Terry Scholars, Howard Terry unexpectedly passed away. The Terry Scholars were devastated by the loss. The Houston Terrys held a private memorial shortly after his passing, floating luminaria in the Cullen Plaza fountains. Many of the Honors Terrys were also in attendance at a public memorial where his family shared fond remembrances. 

Since 2008, Honors has graduated almost 80 Terry Scholars. These students contributed to the growth and development of the Honors community while also creating a close-knit Terry community. Scholars come together annually for events like the Fall Banquet on campus and the Spring Picnic. The Spring Picnic provides a public opportunity for graduating seniors to thank the Foundation and Mr. Terry. Current Terry Kim Mai Le explained, “For me, the best event each year is the Spring Picnic where all Scholars gather together like a big family reunion.” At this year’s picnic, in addition to the senior speeches, Scholars celebrated Mr. Terry with ceremonies and memorials.

But service to college and community form the true core of a Terry Scholar’s identity. Common experiences, such as painting houses in the Third Ward community, aiding wildfire recovery in Bastrop, cleaning beaches in Galveston, mentoring children at the Nehemiah Center, and serving at the Houston Food Bank, forge the Terrys’ strong bond. Houston Terry Reyes Ramirez(’12, Political Science and Creative Writing) is a reflection of the Terry legacy of service; he has served in the Student Government Association and Frontier Fiesta, co-founded the journal The Aletheia, and been a Phronesis Fellow. He said, “Mr. Terry showed me that any happiness is happiness forever, to help anyone is to make them less bitter about the world, and that philanthropy is not a calling but in our very nature; when one person helps another, they are at their most vulnerable and that vulnerability is what makes us human. Mr. Terry and his scholarship taught me how to be human.” Another service-oriented Terry, Melissa Hernandez (12, Accounting), explained, “The Terry Scholarship allowed me to dedicate myself completely to my college education and take advantage of the many opportunities the University had to offer without financial stress.”

Howard Terry long claimed the Foundation as his greatest achievement. Over 3,000 students would agree that the humble man from Cameron, Texas, left an indelible impact on their hearts. Mr. Terry often noted that “success is attaining the goals you have set for yourself in life.” His goal—and the legacy he leaves behind—is one of helping students succeed and attain their goals here in the Honors College.