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Fervent Supporters, Constant Friends
Dr. Jim and Bonna Bess Vaughn Help Build Excellence at UT Tyler

Dr. Jim and Bonna Bess Vaughn
Dr. Jim and Bonna Bess Vaughn

A longtime Tyler physician, Dr. Jim Vaughn was deeply committed to serving the medical needs of area residents, but his contributions to the city extended far beyond medicine. The Tyler native gave generously of his time, energy and resources to help keep the community strong and growing, particularly in the area of education. He was, in fact, passionate about supporting education.

Among The University of Texas at Tyler’s foremost champions, Dr.Vaughn, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist, and his wife Bonna Bess helped nurture the university in its infancy and have been fervently supportive through every chapter of its history.

Until the time of his passing in July 2007 at the age of 94, Dr.Vaughn, who is survived by his wife, remained concerned for every aspect of the university’s well being.

“Dr. Vaughn loved the university,’’ said UT Tyler President Rodney Mabry. “For the last many years, he and Bonna Bess drove through the UT Tyler campus almost every week and often more than once a week. They wanted to keep up with all of the university’s growth and physical changes. And Dr. Vaughn and I would talk about those changes when I visited him or called on the phone. I would take him every brochure or picture of new projects.’’

Steadfast Support
The Jim and Bonna Bess Vaughn Auditorium in the UT Tyler R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center and the Dr. Jim and Bonna Bess Vaughn Recreation and Therapy Pool in the UT Tyler Louise Herrington Patriot Center were made possible through major gifts from the Vaughn family. Dr. and Mrs. Vaughn also created the Presidential Scholarship in Nursing through the Vaughn Foundation, which was established by his father, Dr. Edgar H. Vaughn.

One of Dr. Jim Vaughn’s most significant contributions to UT Tyler was his steadfast and vocal support of its progression to a comprehensive university. UT Tyler began as an upper-level institution offering junior, senior and graduate level courses. In 1997, the Texas Legislature authorized UT Tyler to become a comprehensive, four-year university.

The Tyler businessman, civic leader and faithful member of the UT Tyler Development Board and President’s Associates “was a champion of our four-year status, recognizing that it would be beneficial to the East Texas region,’’ Dr. Mabry said.

“He saw early on that this region needed a significant, comprehensive university and saw that both UT Tyler and Tyler Junior College would benefit from the upgrade in the university. And, of course, he was right. Both institutions have grown markedly in size and strength since UT Tyler made the change. We are grateful for his foresight and for his willingness to take a strong stand.’’

During the 1970s, when UT Tyler was Texas Eastern University, Dr. Vaughn was supportive in many ways, including serving as school of nursing board chairman. He continued supporting the university after it became part of the UT System in 1979. And when community discussions began concerning UT Tyler’s possible expansion to four-year status, he was one of its strongest advocates, recalled Priscilla Zeppa, who served as Dr. Vaughn’s business manager for more than 20 years.

“Tyler he loved and whatever was necessary to keep Tyler growing, he was willing to do it. He supported the nursing school at Texas Eastern because he said, ‘We will never have decent hospitals if we do not have the nurses, so we’ve got to have nurse education here.’ And he supported UT Tyler becoming a four-year school. He kept saying ‘Tyler needs it. It has to happen.’ ’’

Not everyone in the Tyler area could see the benefit of adding four-year status to UT Tyler, especially in the same environment with a strong junior college presence in TJC. Gathering research on issues surrounding the proposed four-year status became part of Zeppa’s job:

“Dr. Vaughn was one who said, ‘All right, go to the library and find this article and that article and see what you can get on this. And so another part of my job was very often to go and research a subject. And I wrote to so many magazines and places for a back copy of this and a back copy of that.’’

She said Dr. Vaughn would attend meetings in the community carrying a little suitcase full of research – research indicating that Tyler was sending many of its brightest students away to four-year universities outside the area and that graduates were inclined to settle close to where they attended college.

Braithwaite building“He would pull out all of his articles, spread them out and say, ‘Every bit of the research that I can find says that if you have a good four-year university and a good junior college, they do two different things and they support each other, and this is what Tyler needs.’ ’’

Dr. Vaughn also strongly supported the creation of the Cowan Center, realizing that a major cultural arts complex at UT Tyler would be a tremendous asset not only to the university but also to Tyler and East Texas, Zeppa added.

The Cowan Center opened in 1997 and has provided an exceptional new dimension to the academic and cultural life of the university and the entire region. Vaughn Auditorium is the center’s largest venue and the site of world-class performances, distinguished lectures and official university events including commencements and convocations.

The Vaughns also supported the arts at UT Tyler as members of the Friends of the Arts and the Cowan Center Circle, and Dr. Vaughn served on the Cowan Center advisory board.

Fond Memories
Mary Irwin served as managing director of the Cowan Center in 1999 and retired in 2003 as vice president of university advancement.

“The passing of Dr. Jim Vaughn was a very sad occasion for several reasons. He was not only a gentleman but also a very gentle man, one of the great generation of philanthropists who believed strongly in giving back to his community,’’ she said. pool

“He and his beloved Bonna Bess were very instrumental in supporting the development of the Cowan Center and they attended the performances regularly. It was always a treat to witness his courtly manner to his wife. He also enjoyed talking with students and was particularly pleased to hear from the Vaughn scholarship recipients.’’

Dr. Vaughn “enjoyed good fellowship and conversation and was quick with a story to fit the occasion,’’ Irwin recalled. “Even during his hospital stays, he related memorable incidences while wearing his UT Tyler baseball cap.’’

She added, “One of my most delightful memories was when Dr. Mabry donned his fins and snorkeling gear to ask Dr. Vaughn to participate in the building of the recreation and therapy pool at the Herrington Patriot Center. Since he had been a Navy man, Dr. Vaughn roared with laughter when Dr.Mabry waddled into his office.’’

The incident is a favorite memory for Dr. Mabry as well.

“Dr. Vaughn could not stop laughing when I went to his office wearing my dive flippers, dive mask and snorkel. And the joke was on me. He told me later that he and Mrs. Vaughn had already decided to help. He just wanted to see what I would do that day,’’ Dr. Mabry recalled.

“I am personally thankful for Dr. Vaughn’s kind, good-hearted spirit. He had a joke for every occasion and for every person – or at least so I thought. Perhaps he just wanted me to lighten up from time to time,’’ the president added.

students in poolServing recreational, educational and therapeutic purposes, the Vaughn Recreation and Therapy Pool reflects Dr. and Mrs. Vaughn’s commitment to health care and their understanding of the importance of student life as well as academic enhancement. The pool includes such unique features as the zero grade wheelchair entry, vortex therapy whirlpool, two-lane lap pool, hot spa and a bubble couch.

It is one of the many examples of the Vaughn family’s extraordinary kindness and willingness to help build excellence at UT Tyler.

The Vaughns’ devotion to this university has been a constant thread throughout our history and will continue to enrich the lives of our students, faculty and staff for generations to come.


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