In 1967, when a young Harry
Hewitt began teaching at Midwestern University, 370 seniors graduated – the
total for the full year. When Hewitt leads the more than 600 December and
August graduates as the mace-bearer at MSU Texas’ commencement ceremony
Saturday, it will mark the end of an era for the University’s longest-tenured
professor. He is retiring after 51 years of teaching history.
When Hewitt took that teaching
job, one that he didn’t think he was qualified for, he didn’t look back. Others
have come close to the half-century mark – Dr. Tom Hoffman and Dr. Jesse Rogers
with 48 years, James Hoggard and Dr. Everett Kindig with 47 years. Music
professor Don Maxwell currently has 47 years.
“Working at Midwestern gave me
the opportunity to do what I really love – teaching and research,” Hewitt said.
He may be retiring from the classroom, but he still plans to pursue research.
He did his master’s research on mining in Mexico, and delved into Spain’s push
northward to defend Mexican mines in the 17th century. That research led to his
interest in how the border between the United States and Mexico came to be
after the Mexican-American War in 1848, something he continues to investigate.
Hewitt’s interest in Mexico
comes naturally. His parents lived in Mexico, but his mother insisted she be in
El Paso when it came time for him to make his entrance in the world, just in
case he should run for president someday.
In Mexico, Hewitt’s father
worked for the American Smelting and Refining Company. As a child growing up
near the mining camps, he and the other children ran free through the desert
mountains while the adults worked, or played poker, Hewitt said. After his dad
transferred to Salt Lake City, Utah, Hewitt went to a Quaker boarding school in
New York, and realized that he preferred the desert to snow.
In his earlier days, he loved
ancient and medieval history, but when he was told he needed to learn Latin for
that, he turned to what he grew up with – Latin American history. As Hewitt was
finishing graduate school at the University of Utah, where he received his
bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he attended a meeting of the American
Historical Association. Universities used those meetings for job recruitment
and Hewitt saw they had a posting for a position that specialized in Latin
America at Midwestern University in Texas, but he hadn’t published yet – so he
did not apply. A friend gave him the news that MU wanted to hire him anyway.
As in other areas of progress
and in everyday lives, Hewitt said that the biggest change during this half a
century has been technology. That’s not a change that has come easily for
Hewitt. He still prefers lecturing to PowerPoint.
Among the highlights of his
time here was visiting the old presidios in Mexico and the United States with
fellow history professor Kenneth Neighbours, noting that those sites in Mexico
are now ruins without the advantage of historical preservation as most of those
in the U.S.
During his last 51 years,
Hewitt said he may not have written his book, but he did achieve professorship
and chairmanship of the department. He has received many awards through the
years from various historical associations, the Faculty Award in 2007, and MSU’s
highest honor, that of being named Hardin Professor in 1993.
“It’s been an interesting 51
years,” Hewitt said. “And as the University has grown, I like to think that
I’ve changed and grown with it.”