By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
Last week, the oldest social fraternity in the 100-year history of The University of Texas at El Paso presented three scholarships from a fund started with the group’s “milk money.”
The Alpha Phi Omega Engineering-Geology Social Fraternity (APO) Alumni and their guests recognized the students and celebrated the 95th anniversary of the group’s founding during its annual St. Patrick’s Day Party and Student Award Ceremony March 22 in UTEP’s Peter and Margaret de Wetter Center.
The group is credited with starting traditions such as TCM Day and the whitewashing of the “M” when it was on the Franklin Mountains. Its members were infamous for bringing a live alligator onto campus and dressing in costumes as they panhandled around downtown El Paso looking for “milk money.”
The group’s last faculty adviser, Walter Roser, Ph.D., chair of metallurgical engineering and 1957 graduate, used some of the money to buy U.S. Savings Bonds that the group did not know existed until his death in 1984.
Texas Ward, another former APO and 1949 electrical engineering graduate who became an attorney, turned those $2,600 in bonds into the seed money for what is now a $100,000 endowment fund that the group has used to provide scholarships since 1991.
To hear the stories, the members of APO were rascals, but by the same token they were known for their academic prowess, civic engagement, campus involvement and active social calendar. The group was open only to engineering and geology students with better than average grades who were sophomores and above.
“We were a close-knit group,” said William F. “Willie” Quinn, a 1954 graduate of Texas Western College (now UTEP), who joined APO in 1951. He is the group’s caretaker and monthly newsletter editor. “There was an esprit de corps among the engineers who always had an interest in the school.”
Records show there were 600 APO members from 1919 to when University leaders forced the group to disband in 1971 in favor of a national service fraternity with the same name. Quinn said there are about 130 of the original APO members still alive who stay involved and in contact.
“They see their participation as a chance to give back,” Quinn continued. “They feel they got a lot from this school, enough so they could earn a living in that profession. The scholarships are a way to recognize the students and honor their former professors who were the cream of the crop. The professors stayed involved in our lives even as we became professionals.”
Two of the three APO scholarships are named after former fraternity brothers who became UTEP faculty members: Roser and Eugene M. Thomas, professor emeritus, former dean of the College of Engineering, interim president of Texas Western College in 1948 and Outstanding Ex in 1964. The third scholarship honors a rotating list of former APOs, engineering or geology professors, friends of the fraternity and the University. For example, this year’s rotating scholarship was given in honor of UTEP’s Centennial Celebration.
Among the 50 or so APO members and guests who attended the March 22 ceremony was “fraternity sweetheart” Diana Natalicio, UTEP President, who appeared delighted with the designation and expressed her gratitude to the group for its efforts to serve the University through the years.
She poked fun at the fraternity’s origins as little more than a “beer-drinking organization,” but later mentioned the many stories from APO alumni who praised the University for helping their social mobility. She assured them UTEP continues to show the same commitment to today’s students, who benefit from the scholarships and support offered by organizations such as APO.
“It all started with folks like you who have represented (UTEP) so well,” President Natalicio told the group seated at long tables covered with green tablecloths decorated with small ore carts with gold rocks inside. “Thank you for what you do, for your loyalty to UTEP and for everything you do and have done to make us proud.”
The President helped present the awards to the three senior recipients: Monica Cadena, metallurgical and materials engineering major; Victor Garcia, geological sciences major; and Philip Morton, mechanical engineering major. Each received a $1,770 scholarship credit, a large plaque and a goodie bag from Institutional Advancement.
Cadena, who is scheduled to graduate this December, said she would use the money to defray tuition costs. The native of Coahuila, Mexico, expressed her gratitude to the APO and the University for the numerous doors it has opened to her. She has worked as a paid researcher on projects almost since she arrived on campus and has been able to travel the country to present her findings.
“I built my path at UTEP,” she said.
For more information about the APO fraternity alumni group, contact Willie Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.