WT’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Named, to Be Honored Sept. 29 During Homecoming

Chip Chandler Aug 01, 2022
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WT’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Named, to Be Honored Sept. 29 During Homecoming

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — A statewide leader in law enforcement. A rural couple transforming their small Panhandle town. A former educator lovingly known to generations of athletes as “the mother of WT.”

Col. Steven McCraw, director of Texas Department of Public Safety; Val and Pat White of Wellington; and Betty Solis of Amarillo were named the recipients of West Texas A&M University’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

“These recipients each are phenomenal representatives of WT’s values in action,” said Ronnie Hall, executive director of the WT Alumni Association. “WT strives to create a commitment to being self-reliant, courageous, resourceful and part of something larger than one’s self, and each of these recipients fully embodies those ideals.”

The quartet, who were selected by the WT Alumni Association, will be honored Sept. 29 at the Phoenix event during Homecoming Week. The event will begin at 6 p.m. in Legacy Hall inside the Jack B. Kelley Student Center on the Canyon campus.

Tickets are $75. Reservations are due Sept. 15. To purchase, visit or call the WT Alumni Association at 806-651-2317. 

McCraw, an El Paso native, earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1979 and a master’s degree in psychology and sociology in 1981.

Since 2009, he has served as director of the Texas DPS, where he began his career in law enforcement in 1977 in the Amarillo area. In 1983, he joined the FBI as a special agent, serving in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Tucson, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. He retired from the FBI in 2004 to become the Texas Homeland Security director before being appointed as DPS director by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“The Colonel has devoted his life to protecting others,” wrote Anita Perry, WT alum and longest-serving First Lady of Texas. “He is the consummate law enforcement professional, and his significant service and sacrifice to the State of Texas is in keeping with the proud tradition of this distinguished award. He has been a true credit to the University.”

“It is through his service to our entire state that Steve best serves West Texas A&M University,” wrote Larry Combest, retired U.S. representative and WT graduate. “Steve is a stalwart lawman and deserves the recognition of our University.”

McCraw said WT provided him a perfect launching pad for his career, as well as “an outstanding education and enduring friendships for the rest of my life.”

“I’ve always been proud of my education at West Texas State,” McCraw said. “I don’t care if I’m dealing with colleagues who graduated from Stanford or Notre Dame or Yale or Harvard. Hey, that’s fine, but they didn’t get a degree from West Texas State, and I feel sorry for them.”

Val White, who was raised in Houston, met future husband Pat White on the WT campus in the late 1970s. After graduating in 1981 and 1982, respectively, and marrying in 1981, the pair moved to Pat’s hometown of Wellington, and over the ensuing years, the duo, largely through their Zephyr Foundation, have revitalized the town.

“Pat and Val White have helped our community with many, many projects, including the Wellington Activity Center, the Ritz Theatre, the Wellington Aquatic Venue and various Wellington ISD and Collingsworth General Hospital projects,” wrote Jon Sessions, Wellington city manager, in a nomination letter. “I don’t know what Wellington would do without Pat and Val.”

“From infrastructure projects to education and childcare, to healthcare and recreation,” wrote Clay Stribling, Amarillo Area Foundation president and CEO, “the community has been transformed by the vision and passion that Val and Pat contributed to their home. It (is) truly remarkable to see.”

The couple also is a strong supporter of the WT Department of Agriculture.

“WT is the heart of the Panhandle. It’s a place we love. They instilled the values that we have,” Pat White said.

“We’re very proud, honored and humbled being chosen,” Val White said. “We feel like we don’t deserve it, but we’re quite honored to receive it.”

Solis, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, moved to the United States in 1954. She graduated from WT in 1959 and began her career in education as a first-grade teacher at Dwight Morrow Elementary School in Amarillo. She was the first bilingual teacher in Amarillo Independent School District, then earned a master’s of education degree in 1978. She worked her way up to principal of Glenwood Elementary School, where she retired in 2001 after 41 years working for the district. She is a committed volunteer who was instrumental in the formation of the Eveline Rivers Christmas Project, as well giving vital service to the Maverick Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Family Support Services and more. She was the Amarillo Globe-News Woman of the Year in 2002.

At WT, Solis and late husband John were devoted fans of WT basketball, frequently inviting team members to their Amarillo home for dinner.

“Our extraordinary friendship started some (48) years ago, and it still remains strong today,” wrote Maurice Cheeks, assistant coach of the Chicago Bulls, who graduated from WT in 1978. “There was a time when I struggled and was on the verge of leaving WT to return back to Chicago. But with the support and encouragement of Betty and her family, I made the difficult decision to stay. Betty was my mother away from home.”

“Betty Solis is an ambassador of good will, human dignity and virtue,” wrote Vic Hayes, a former WT athlete and retired U.S. Air Force officer. “Mrs. Solis understood the bedrock of hope is family. … Her personal investment of time, talent and treasure into the lives of young men guided many to reach lofty professional heights.”

Solis didn’t believe WT President Walter V. Wendler when he called her, on April 1, to tell her about her honor.

“I didn’t tell anybody for about two weeks,” Solis said. “I still kept thinking that maybe it was a joke or something.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor given by the WT Alumni Association and has been given annually since 1970. In that time, 119 alumni have been honored, including this year’s inductees. Each has gained distinction through their professional achievements in career or military service, leadership and impact in their communities, and support to WT.

Accomplished alumni such as these help WT reach the goals of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched Sept. 23 — has raised about $110 million.


About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.