Former WT Administrator and Longtime Amarillo Businessman Named WT 2023 Distinguished Alumni

Chip Chandler Aug 14, 2023
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Former WT Administrator and Longtime Amarillo Businessman Named WT 2023 Distinguished Alumni

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — A transformative University administrator and a beloved professor and Amarillo businessman have been selected as the 2023 Distinguished Alumni for West Texas A&M University.

Former WT Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Barnes and WT Professor Emeritus William E. “Bill” Semmelbeck will be honored Oct. 12 during WT’s annual 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 Oct. 2. To purchase, visit or call the WT Alumni Association at 806-651-2311.

“This year’s class of Distinguished Alumni is truly special,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler. “They each have made an enormous difference, whether on the WT campus or in the Amarillo business community, but they both have one thing in common: They are proud Buffs and use the valuable lessons they learned at WT to make the world a better place.”

Barnes, a Plainview native, graduated from WT in 1978 with his bachelor of business administration degree and was hired by the University immediately as a staff accountant. He rose through the ranks and ultimately served as vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer during a time when the University was on shaky ground.

“Gary’s leadership in meeting these challenges was approached by being a ‘team player’ who came up with innovative and creative strategies that kept WTAMU moving forward,” wrote Dr. Flavius Killebrew, former WT provost, in a nomination letter.

“Gary was the ultimate team player, advocate and servant leader,” wrote Dr. Don D. Albrecht, emeritus vice president for student engagement & success at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi and a former WT administrator. “He always had the best interest of the entire campus community—faculty, staff and students—at the forefront of all his decisions.”

Barnes, 67, left WT in 2013 to become the associate vice president for finance and university controller at Texas A&M University, where he served from 2014 to 2016, overseeing 11 departments and managing a $1.7 billion budget.

In 2016, he was hired by the Texas Tech University System, where he retired in April 2022 as vice chancellor and chief financial officer. He and wife Cindy, also a 1978 WT graduate, live in Lubbock.

Barnes, a first-generation college student, fell in love with WT as a child, having attended football games at the old Kimbrough Stadium with a friend from Boy Scouts, then working with Dr. Gary Garner, WT’s longtime director of bands, while in the Plainview High School band.

“It was never about ‘if’ we went to college, it was about where we went to college. … WT was always my first choice. It was the only choice,” Barnes said. “I’m still trying to grasp what an honor it is to be identified as a distinguished alum for West Texas. I’m very honored. I’m very humbled. You know, none of these things I did on my own.”

Semmelbeck, an Oklahoma City native, joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and was honorably discharged in 1946. He earned his MBA from WT in 1969 and was hired as a professor in the then-School of Business, where he taught for 18 years. Before leading his own classrooms, though, Semmelbeck already was a proven business leader in Amarillo, where he founded Buck’s Sporting Goods and J&B Builders after moving to the city in 1953.

While teaching at WT, he entered into a partnership with Ron Watts, one of his former students, and Ron Edmondson to found what would become known as Officewise, the largest office supply/furniture business in West Texas and one of the largest in the state.

“Over the last 50 years, he has been a force in helping former students develop their professional lives,” Watts wrote in a nomination letter. “Some of those students requested help, and others didn’t know that Bill had helped them from behind the scenes.”

Semmelbeck, 96, retired from WT in 1988 and was named Professor Emeritus by The Texas A&M University System in 1992. He and wife Betty now live in Houston.

“Bill’s time teaching at WT brought real-world knowledge and generated interest among several generations of students,” wrote Richard Ware, Amarillo National Bank chairman, in a nomination letter. “He had a touch to light a fire for a business career. He helped so many young students.”

Semmelbeck said he was “shocked” by the honor.

“There are so many deserving people,” he said. “It’s a nice honor and a nice tribute, I think, and I really appreciate the effort all the people have put into it, but I’m still shocked about it.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor given by the WT Alumni Association and has been given annually since 1970. In that time, 124 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.

“Mr. Barnes and Mr. Semmelbeck each bring pride and honor to our University,” said Ronnie Hall, executive director of the WT Alumni Association. “The WT Alumni Association is proud to showcase the impact these men have made in their communities through their leadership, personal lives and professional accomplishments.”

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 campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021— has raised more than $125 million and will continue through 2025.


Photo: The 2023 Distinguished Alumni for West Texas A&M University are Gary Barnes, left, and William E. “Bill” Semmelbeck.


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.