An estimated 4,500 elementary students will be on campus Thursday, April 20 for the 35th annual Western Heritage Day.
In 1981, faculty members Dr. George Newman, Dr. B.W. Aston, Dr. Lawrence Clayton, and Dr. Randy Armstrong planned a small Founders Day celebration at HSU to celebrate its history. The next year, the group decided to expand the event to teach children about western culture as it might have been in Abilene during the 1800s.
Today Western Heritage Day includes numerous activities, booths, demonstrations, and cultural activities aimed at teaching new generations about the integrity, honor, character, and hard work of frontier women and men left as a legacy for generations of West Texans.
James Stone, Special Assistant to the President, sees Western Heritage Day as a catalyst for campus unity.
"It takes the help of faculty, staff, and students," he said. "President Bruntmyer has so reinforced the fact that we are family, and there may be no greater event representative of the Hardin-Simmons family atmosphere than Western Heritage Day."
As students visit campus, they will have the opportunity to see the Six White Horses and the World Famous Cowboy Band. They can learn to wash clothes using a washboard or visit the chuck wagon for a snack. Texas historical figures will come to life as HSU Theater students walk around dressed up and in character. Students will also observe demonstrations including trick roping, quilting, weaving, boot making, and hat making.
Animals have always been an important part of Western Heritage Day, giving children hands-on experiences with rural life.
"Some students, even in our West Texas context, have never held a small animal or seen a horse," Stone said. "We want to provide engagement with living creatures that represent God's creation."
Students will be immersed in agricultural life as they pet small farm animals, observe a sheep shearing, and visit the Ft. Griffin Longhorn Herd.
Along with these yearly exhibits, a few new stations will be included this year. History Professor, Dr. Tiffany Fink, will be teaching students about the cultural contribution of Hispanics, and a group of local students from Ballet Folklorico will teach students traditional Mexican folk dancing.
Texas Parks and Wildlife will also be teaching students about buffalo soldiers and the contributions of African Americans on the frontier.
"These new booths help reinforce HSU's commitment to cultural engagement while also expanding our reach in the learning environment," Stone said.
The event has also expanded its reach in terms of attendance. When Stone took leadership of the event in 2013, about 2,400 students attended. This year over 4,300 students have already registered.
Every year, more teachers plan their Texas history lessons to incorporate the field trip to Western Heritage Day.
"We want to reinforce what teachers do in the classroom by offering an event that encourages learning but is also fun and engaging. Where better to do that than at HSU?" Stone said.
In addition to these activities, HSU invites teachers, parents and classes to extend their experience by bringing a sack lunch and enjoying the western atmosphere as they enjoy a picnic in Walton Grove next to the pond.
Stone says that while engaging learning is the ultimate goal of the event, it can also serve as a valuable recruitment tool. Many freshmen bring the block of wood they made at the HSU branding pit with them when they enroll at HSU.
"It provides another layer of partnership with Hardin-Simmons. When elementary school students are on our campus they can learn, engage, and imagine themselves as HSU Cowboys," he said.
The event is free to all Big Country Daycares and Primary-Aged Students & Schools, but registration is required. To register your student, group, or class, please complete the WHD Class/Group Registration Form. Teachers will be able to find additional information on the WHD Teacher's Handout soon.
HSU faculty, staff, and students who wish to volunteer for this event can complete
WHD Volunteer Form.
To discover some of the legacy of this special day, please view the video with Dr. George Newman at https://www.hsutx.edu/news-and-events/event/westernheritage/.
For additional information, please contact James Stone at
Hardin-Simmons University's Western Heritage Day is made possible by gifts from the Guy Calwell Endowment for Western Heritage and the Lee and Lou C. Evans Endowment for Western Heritage.