Blinn College inducted five new members to its Hall of Honor Saturday on its Brenham campus. From left: Ex-Students Association President Don Wilhelm is joined by Dr. Thomas M. Spencer and Dr. Betty Spencer Von-Maszewski, representing the late Dr. Thomas Morris Spencer; Dr. Greg Phillips, Grace Crawford, Ben Flencher and Bill Thane.
Former College president, hospital volunteer and current professor among honorees
Five distinguished alumni and community leaders have been selected to the 2012 class of the Blinn College Hall of Honor, to be inducted Oct. 27 at the Student Center on the Brenham campus.
Ben Flencher Jr. was named the person of the year, and Grace Crawford, Bill Thane, Dr. Thomas Morris Spencer, Dr. Greg Phillips were also named to Blinn’s Hall of Honor, bringing the total number of recipients to 51.
Founded in 2003 by the Blinn Ex-Students Association, the Hall of Honor recognizes the college’s most distinguished alumni, business leaders or those who have made a significant impact in their communities or professions. The Hall of Honor recipients are recognized at a luncheon during Blinn’s homecoming festivities each year.
This year’s event marks the Hall of Honor’s 10th anniversary.
ERVIN B. “BEN” FLENCHER
Flencher has served on the Bluebonnet Board of Directors since 1987. He graduated from Somerville High School and earned his bachelor's degree in finance at Texas A&M University. Involved in the banking industry, he also serves as board president for the Burleson County Economic Development Council and as president of Citizens State Bank.
Ben, whose father worked at Somerville’s Citizens State Bank for 60 years, officially began working for the bank in 8th grade after spending most of his afternoons rolling coins and filing checks after school as a child.
“All I ever knew was banking,” Flencher said. “I guess there never really was any doubt that this is what I was going to do.”
Flencher continued to work at the bank through college. He married his high school sweetheart, Betsy, and by the time he graduated from Texas A&M University in 1974 with a degree in finance, the small bank had a balance sheet of $7 million. He became bank president in 1981, and increased the business’s footprint in the right areas.
As president and CEO, Flencher enjoys giving back to the community almost as much as he takes pleasure in spoiling his grandchildren or spending time hunting, fishing and all things sports related. The family banking tradition continues with Flencher’s sister, Fran Maler, who is vice president in charge of human resources at the Somerville bank, and two of his four sons, who work as a manager and a senior loan officer in Navasota and Brenham.
The bank now has $385 million in assets and operates six branches in the Brazos Valley.
Flencher carefully watches the region’s financial climate and economic outlook, in part because of his role at the bank and also his position as the president of the Burleson County Economic Development Council, which works to enhance and expand the local economy.
Flencher has been an active supporter of Blinn College and the Ex-Students Association. He is an elected member of the Blinn College Foundation and currently serves as its board treasurer. Flencher is also a strong supporter of Blinn’s capital improvement programs.
Flencher and his wife Betsy live in Somerville and have four sons.
DR. THOMAS MORRIS SPENCER
The late Dr. Spencer, a pioneer in the community college movement in Texas, served as the president of Blinn College from 1947-57, guiding the College as it grew from 335 students in 1947 to a firmly-funded, multi-campus institution with an enrollment of 1,045.
Spencer oversaw the construction of new campus facilities, beginning with a remodel of the iconic Old Main Building, and including contemporary landmarks such as the C.F. Schmidt Building, the Henry J. Boehm Agriculture Building, Rachel Spencer Hall, James H. Atkinson Hall and Spencer Stadium.
He established a night school program that included 13 off-campus centers, a nursing program in cooperation with Breckenridge Hospital in Austin and expanded vocational programs to meet the needs of students and the community. He increased the fleet of buses to bring day students from surrounding communities to the Brenham campus.
Spencer graduated from Denton High School at age 16 and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He was the first person to receive the Doctor of Education degree at the University of Houston in 1947. His dissertation on state systems of junior college education revealed a path for meeting the needs of countless people who were not served by public education at that time.
Both Sam Houston State and the University of Houston have named him a distinguished alumnus.
Spencer’s first job was as a high school principal in Holland, Texas from 1935-37. He served as superintendent of schools in Thrall (1937-41), Llano (1941-42) and Cypress-Fairbanks (1943-47), and was a deputy state superintendent from 1942-43. In 1947, Spencer was named president of Blinn College. He would also serve as president of South Plains College from 1957-61 and the San Jacinto College System from 1961-83.
Spencer is widely recognized as the father of the community college movement in Texas. He served for 25 years as president of the Texas Public Junior College Association (TPJCA) and was president of the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities. As president of TPJCA, he achieved equitable legislative funding for junior colleges in 1951 and participated in the White House Conference on Education in 1955.
Posthumously, Spencer received the Mirabeau B. Lamar for Leadership in Learning from the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities and his portrait hangs in the international headquarters of Phi Theta Kappa for his leadership in promoting the junior college honor society.
An active civic leader and humanitarian, Spencer was president of the Rotary and Lions Clubs in Brenham, Levelland and Pasadena and was also a Mason and a Shriner. He served on the Texas Surplus Property Board and worked with the YMCA, Red Cross, United Fund and Salvation Army, and was named the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.
Spencer and his wife Rachel Bradham Spencer are survived by their children Dr. Betty Spencer Von-Maszewski, Dr. Thomas M. Spencer, Ann Spencer Bragg and Jo Spencer Reid, seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
DR. GREG PHILLIPS
Phillips (’79) was born in Brenham, grew up in Dickinson, then returned to attend and work at Blinn College. He earned an Associate of Arts in biology and an Associate of Science in chemistry while playing football for the Buccaneers. His Blinn football career made him a third-generation Blinn College athlete, following in the footsteps of his father (baseball) and his grandfather (football). Following Blinn College, he earned Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. His graduate work includes a Masters of Arts in biology and a doctorate in educational leadership from Sam Houston State University.
Phillips has taught biology and microbiology for 30 years, the last 25 at Blinn College. He is currently the director of Blinn’s nationally-recognized Service Learning program, the assistant division chair of the Natural Sciences for the Brenham, Schulenburg and Sealy campuses and continues to teach his beloved biology classes.
Phillips has been honored with numerous awards, including the Blinn College Teacher of the Year, Blinn’s nomination for the Minnie Stevens Piper Award, the Phi Theta Kappa Horizon Award for Advising, and the Chair Academy’s Exemplary Leadership Award. In 2008, he was presented the National Teaching Excellence Award by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.
Phillips serves on the Texas Campus Compact Advisory Board. He served as a Director of the Washington County Chamber and chaired the Governmental Affairs Committee. He has also served as president of the Blinn College Ex-Students Association, Blinn College Professional Association and Washington County Texas Exes. In addition, he has served on numerous civic boards and organizations including the Buccaneer Alumni Lettermen’s Association, Lions Club, Sons of the Republic of Texas, Washington County Genealogy Society, Faith Lutheran School, Blinn Investment Group, Gun and Rod Club, Central Texas Beekeepers Association and Salem Lutheran Church.
Phillips has overseen the inception and growth of Blinn College’s Service Learning program. Piloted in 2004 with 75 students, it now boasts 3,600 students each year. The Service Learning program has received national recognition by the United States President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll over numerous years and has been distinguished by the Carnegie Foundation as a Carnegie Classified Institution of Community Engagement. Under his leadership the Service Learning program has documented service in 19 communities in seven counties. The George H. W. Bush Points of Light Foundation has valued this effort at more than $5 million.
Phillips has sponsored numerous clubs at Blinn College, including Phi Theta Kappa, Ebony and Ivory, Students Against Drugs, Blinn Naturalists, Blinn Future Teachers, Blinn Honor Program Mentor and Lutheran Fellowship 101.
Phillips is often called upon to speak about Blinn College and the many programs and opportunities Blinn has to offer. He chairs the scholarship committee, instructional technology committee and the Service Learning council. He has served on the scholarship committee since its inception and has assisted in the establishment of four scholarships, one of which is the Phillips, Winkler, Sharpe Scholarship for the Natural Sciences.
His family is proud to claim 10 generations of Washington County residence. He and his wife, Loraine, are members of Salem Lutheran Church and have two sons, Joe and Rob.
Thane (’55) was born and raised on his grandparents’ ranch in Grimes County, graduating from Navasota High School in 1953. He attended Blinn from 1953-54, where he majored in agriculture and was vice president of the Beta Alpha chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, was secretary and president of the Agricultural Club and was a member of Gamma Delta.
After two years at Blinn, Thane transferred to the A&M College of Texas in 1955. In 1957 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal husbandry. In 1998, Thane participated in Blinn’s reverse transfer program, using credits earned at Blinn and A&M to receive his Associate in Arts degree.
Thane served in the U.S. Air Force reserve from 1958-64.
Thane began working for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service of the Texas A&M System as an assistant county agent in Fort Bend County in 1961, then transferred to Wise County as a county agent in 1965 and to Washington County in 1969. While in Washington County, Thane trained 11 assistant county agents, the last being Doug Pierce, the current Division Chair of Agricultural Sciences at Blinn. Thane served as a guest lecturer at Blinn’s Agricultural Sciences Department while an active and retired county agent.
Thane retired in 1991 to raise commercial cattle and register quarter horses on his ranch.
Thane received the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas County Agricultural Agents Association (TCAAA) in Lufkin and from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in Boise, Idaho in 1978, was president of the TCAAA in 1985-86, received the Superior Service Award from the Extension Service in 1983, was named County Extension Agent Emeritus by the Board of Regents of the A&M System in 1991, was named Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year in 1978 and Horticulture-Agronomy Person of the Year in 1994, was named a Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellow in 1991 and is a life member of the Epsilon Sigma Phi National Extension Fraternity, the Alpha Beta Chapter of the National Alumni Association of Phi Theta Kappa and the Blinn Ex-Students Association.
Each year, Thane assists with the collegiate livestock judging contest Blinn hosts in conjunction with the Washington County Fair.
Thane and his wife Anna Vernell have been married for 54 years and have been members of Grace Lutheran Church in Brenham since 1969. They are the proud parents of two sons, Brian and Michael, who are both Blinn graduates.
Crawford (’52) has been an active member of the Blinn College family for more than 60 years.
After graduating Round Top-Carmine High School, Crawford went to Blinn, where she quickly participated in the Konza Klub, Phi Rho Pi, Future Business Leaders, The Blinn Log staff, Bachelorettes and the Lutheran Students Association. She was also selected as a Sophomore Favorite and was a referee for volleyball tournaments.
After graduating from Blinn in 1952, Crawford worked for Humble Oil & Refining Company (now the Exxon Mobil Corporation) until she married her husband Charles and moved to Bellville. She spent the next 25 years with the Department of Transportation before retiring.
Crawford is a lifetime member of the Bellville General Hospital Auxiliary and has spent countless hours as a volunteer, helping the Auxiliary provide financial support for the hospital. The Auxiliary operates the New 2 U resale shop, where Crawford works every Thursday.
She has also been active in promoting the excellence of Blinn College and encouraging prospective students to attend the College. She is a lifetime member of the Ex-Students Association and helped to organize the association’s first annual golf tournament, an annual event that she continues to aid.
Crawford also serves on the Blinn College Foundation, where she is the secretary.
She is married to Charles Crawford. The couple lives in Bellville, where they are members of St. John Lutheran Church.