WT Honors 2023 Distinguished Alumni at Homecoming Event

Chip Chandler Oct 13, 2023
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WT Honors 2023 Distinguished Alumni at Homecoming Event

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,


CANYON, Texas — Two beloved graduates of West Texas A&M University were honored Oct. 12 during one of the highlights of the University’s Homecoming Week festivities.

Former WT Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Barnes and late WT Professor Emeritus William E. “Bill” Semmelbeck were honored Oct. 12 during WT’s annual Phoenix event.

“Our Distinguished Alumni embody values which identify and define us. They embody Panhandle values, many of the same values people think of when they think of the West and West Texas,” said Dr. Todd Rasberry, vice president for philanthropy and external relations. “All our Distinguished Alumni, but in particular Bill and Gary, are examples of WT’s distinctiveness. Moreover, you are an inspiration for us, and you bring pride to WT.”

Barnes said the evening was a wonderful way “to reflect back on this institution and all the great things that so many people have been a part of that we have been able to accomplish.”

“I just feel really blessed to be part of this excitement tonight and the history for this institution,” Barnes said.

Semmelbeck was represented by his son Mark and other family members.

“This was really special for WT to do for him at this time,” Mark Semmelbeck said. “Dad loved this University. He really did. He cared a lot about this University, and it’s great to see the University cared so much about him.”

Barnes will lead the WT Homecoming Parade, set to begin at 1 p.m. Oct. 14 along Russell Long Boulevard on the Canyon campus. The two Distinguished Alumni also will be recognized at halftime when the WT Buffaloes take on Western New Mexico University in the Homecoming game at 7 p.m. in Bain-Schaeffer Buffalo Stadium.

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.

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.

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.

Semmelbeck retired from WT in 1988 and was named Professor Emeritus by The Texas A&M University System in 1992. He lived with wife Betty in Houston until his Aug. 20 death at age 96.

Earlier in August, 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 One West comprehensive fundraising campaign, which reached its initial $125 million goal 18 months after publicly launching in September 2021. The campaign’s new goal is to reach $175 million by 2025; currently, it has raised more than $150 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.


Photo: The Phoenix event on Oct. 12 celebrated West Texas A&M University's 2023 Distinguished Alumni, Gary Barnes and the late William E. "Bill" Semmelbeck. Pictured are Roc'C and Mark Semmelbeck, from left, and Gary and Cindy Barnes.