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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

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 to follow.

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 degree.

"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."

Unexpected Milestones

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.

New Generations

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


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