A Family Affair
Four generations of Autrys are UTSA alumni
When Mary Bess Autry graduated from
Jefferson High School in 1947, she made up
her mind that she was done with studying.
She’d left behind the days of getting frazzled
at the thought of a test or poring through another book late
into the night.
All that changed when her older sister, Lillian Dunlap,
talked her into pursuing higher education. Mary Autry never
could have guessed she’d become the trailblazer for generations
She enrolled in a two–year program at San Antonio
College, but it would be more than 25 years before she would
attend UTSA and become the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s
"It was the best thing I ever did," she said.
Since Mary Autry graduated from UTSA in 1981 with a
bachelor’s in physical education, three Autrys have followed.
Her son, James "Jim" Autry, graduated in 1987 with a degree in
psychology. Her grandson, James Taylor Autry, graduated in
2008 with a degree in information systems. Two years later her
great-granddaughter, Kathleen Nichole "Nikki" Autry, crossed
the UTSA stage with a degree in biology.
The Autry matriarch is part of a growing number of alumni
who have blazed a path for relatives to follow. Jim Mickey,
associate vice president for alumni programs and marketing,
said family legacies create pride and inspire future generations
to follow. Mickey himself graduated in '78 and has two
daughters who are alumnae. Eventually his alma mater
became their first choice when they applied to college.
"We are a very young university," Mickey said. "And as
more people go to UTSA and graduate, we will be able to
begin building a legacy where our children, grandchildren and
their children come to UTSA as their first choice."
Recently, the Autry family met at the home Mary Autry shares
with her husband, Walter, in Pipe Creek, in the Hill Country near
Bandera. Years ago, while Mary Autry pursued her dream of
becoming a physical education teacher, working as a personnel
manager at the university to help pay for her courses, Walter
cleared the land and built their house near a creek. The creek
is now a dammed lake, and a pier stretches over emerald water.
Nearby, the family talked about the years that have passed since
Walter built the home, and why four generations of Autrys have
attended UTSA over 27 years. They hadn’t considered graduating
from the same university as a milestone until a campus
official brought it to their attention.
"It just kind of happened," said Jim Autry, now 61. "That
was when we realized that it was pretty unique."
For Mary Autry, getting to graduation day was a long
struggle. School took a back seat when Jim was born. It wasn’t
until UTSA’s Main Campus opened in 1975 that she returned to
college, juggling night courses, work and family. She eventually
retired from her job and became a full-time student. She
attacked her studies the same way her husband had cleared
their land of rocks and cedar and oak trees—one hill at a time.
Like his mother, Jim Autry had to interrupt his education when
life got in the way. He was drafted into the Army and served
one year in Vietnam. When he returned to San Antonio, he
took college courses sporadically over the next decade with
the help of the GI Bill. It wasn’t until 1984 that he got serious
about earning a degree.
"One day I took psychology and I knew that was it," Jim
Autry said. His diploma, now framed and hanging on the wall,
still brings tears to his mother’s eyes.
James Taylor Autry, 34, said he, too, owes his academic
success to his grandmother. He remembers her teaching him
Spanish when he was a child and attending a Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro rally.
"There was no question that I’d be going to college. It
wasn’t a decision I had to make," he said. "She was always
teaching something—we always felt like we were engaged in
some intellectual activity; she was a very gripping force."
Great-grandchild Nikki Autry took honors courses as a
pre-med major before switching to research. She said the first
time the significance of following her great-grandmother’s path
hit her was graduation day.
And, like her great-grandmother before her, Nikki Autry
juggles school with family. Her son, Cameron, is only in the
first grade, but already he’s talking about the day when he’ll
walk across the same stage as his relatives.
"Well, going to UTSA, that would be cool," Jim Autry said.
For Mary Autry, education didn’t come easily, but it came
with rewards. To give back to her school, she and her husband
joined the Alumni Association 20 years ago. They’re still active
members. And to commemorate her family’s accomplishments,
she’s leaving an indelible mark of her family’s pride for
their alma mater. Last year, she bought bricks from the UTSA
Pave the Paseo campaign that helps pay for scholarships and
activities on campus.
"It was something nice I could do for everybody as
Christmas presents," she said.
Between the University Center buildings are four 4-by-8-inch bricks with the names of four generations of the Autry
family, etched in stone for the ages.
—Vincent T. Davis