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Tom ChismTom Chism Memorial Scholarship

Tom Chism Memorial Scholarship

In a distinguished career spanning three decades at The University of Texas at El Paso, Tom Chism left an indelible mark on the students he taught, the faculty and staff he worked with and the University he served.

Straight out of seminary college, Chism joined Texas Western College (now UTEP) in 1956 as chairman of the Department of Religion and director of the Baptist Student Union, where he gained the respect and admiration of the students he mentored.

Before retiring from UTEP in 1992, Chism went on to serve as director of student activities and of special academic services, which enabled him to set the foundation for support services and programs at the University that continue to benefit students today, such as new student orientation, recruitment, study skills and tutorial programs, and the International Student Office.

Yet of all his accomplishments, Chism was very proud of the role that he and Texas Western College (TWC) faculty members Ralph Lowenstein and Rabbi Floyd S. Fierman had in helping to desegregate the city of El Paso in 1962. For two years, Chism, Lowenstein and Fierman were part of a committee that worked on legislation to end racial segregation in the city.

“I give the University credit in the sense that it was a colleague who came and asked me, and there were three of us who were teaching at the University who were very active on what I call the Committee of 13,” Chism said in a 1984 interview with UTEP’s Institute of Oral History. During the interview, Chism recalled how in the 1950s and ’60s he had to negotiate with bus drivers when teams traveled to football and basketball conferences in the south because the college’s African-American students were not allowed to sit in the front of the buses. He also remembered packing sack lunches because students weren’t allowed in some restaurants.

“I’m proud of this school because, again, Texas Western at that time was the first school to desegregate, the first public institution in the state of Texas, and we became the first city to write an ordinance,” he said.

Chism died at age 84 on Feb. 9, 2013, after a yearlong struggle with cancer; yet, his legacy will continue to make a difference in the lives of students at UTEP.

On Monday, Dec. 15, UTEP announced the new Tom Chism Memorial Endowed Scholarship that will benefit students in UTEP’s School of Nursing during a plaque unveiling ceremony honoring Chism in the Health Sciences and Nursing Building.

“Many of you may not know that the coursework and pace of a nursing student is very rigorous and demanding,” said School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Ph.D., during the ceremony. “Unfortunately, many students need to have employment in order to pay for their education and support their family. Therefore, scholarships play a major role in the successful completion of the nursing program for our great students. We are very grateful for the Tom Chism Memorial Scholarship.”

Chism’s daughter Judy Malazzo described her father as a man with a servant’s heart. When he became ill, Chism was more concerned about the nurses who cared for him than about his own health. Malazzo said it was quite fitting that a scholarship in her father’s name was established in the School of Nursing because it is a place that prepares students to go out and help others. “He would be so proud to know that the scholarship is going to nursing students because that’s how he ended his life – touching the lives of nurses,” Malazzo said.

Malazzo and the rest of the Chism family, including her mother, Francis, were humbled by the number of friends, colleagues and former students who attended the ceremony to honor an outstanding member of the UTEP family. The scholarship was established by an anonymous donor with support from the Chism family and Chism’s former students.

Jim Peak, who graduated from TWC in 1958, met Chism soon after he moved from Canton, Illinois, to attend college. Even though he was catholic, Chism invited Peak to the Baptist Student Union. Chism later encouraged Peak to run for president of the college’s interfaith council.

“When I first met Tom as a student, I didn’t know one single person in El Paso,” Peak recalled. “Tom was the most kind, trustworthy, thoughtful person I have ever met in my life. I have met people all over the United States and no one I have ever met could compare with Tom Chism.”

Don Burgess also met Chism when he was a student at TWC. He has fond memories of going to the Chism’s house on weekends. He also remembers how Tom Chism taught him how to properly pack a suitcase. But most of all, Burgess remembers Chism teaching his students about the value of helping others. Burgess and his classmates would cross the border to Juárez to help the poor.

“I hope that the (students) who will benefit from this (Tom Chism Memorial Endowed) scholarship will realize that it’s not just money that is involved here, but rather that there is a heritage that goes along with it,” said Burgess, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from TWC. “(The scholarship) is a heritage of a very Godly man who was very interested in reaching out and helping others.”

Chism’s legacy continues to thrive at UTEP. The fruits of his labor can still be seen today, most recently at UTEP’s 133rd Commencement ceremonies. In the 1980s, Chism was instrumental in incorporating the banners, mace and regalia into the University’s Commencement and Convocation ceremonies as a way to celebrate the University’s heritage and pay tribute to the students, faculty and staff.

“Tom had a flair for making every day ceremonious,” recalled Beto Lopez, assistant vice president for the Office of University Relations, who worked with Chism in the 1980s. “He was so full of life and every day was a ceremony of living, of friendships, happiness and dreams and aspirations.”

The first scholarship will be awarded to a deserving nursing student during the 2015-16 academic year. To qualify, students must be enrolled at the University full time and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

By Laura Acosta, UTEP News Service.

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