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Storied: St. Philip's College to celebrate 125 years Wednesday

St. Philip's College's history continues to evolve. But how long will its longtime president grow with it? She has an answer.

SAN ANTONIO — St. Philip's College has long exceeded its genesis as a school to educate free slaves to sew and cook. In 1898, Bishop James Steptoe Johnston started the school five years after the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas opened the doors of what is now TMI.

"We started out creating opportunities for individuals that were marginalized less than and not a part of the system," Dr. Adena Williams-Loston said.

Loston is the 14th president of the Eastside college, which began at LaVillita. The small girls' class at St. Philip's Normal and Industrial School became the vital steps in a 125 history to get celebrated Wednesday.

"The history of this college makes me proud," Patricia Lamson said. "Now we are sending everyone into the world to be nurses or radiologists and health information technicians."

Lamson is an alumna, faculty member, and clinical coordinator at SPC. A wife and mother of six, she left Toys-R-Us to become a non-traditional student in 2011.

"So I tell the students my story, and I tell them how you see that chair right there," she said. "That's where I sat when I took medical terminology."

Lamson was not the student demographic when Artemisia Bowden came to the school in 1902. It was practically unheard of for whites and Blacks to attend school together during that time.

Bowden would become a transformational figure for St. Philip's even after the Episcopal church cut time with the school during the Great Depression for financial reasons.

According to SPC historians, the revered college president would trade chickens, eggs, and produce, forgoing getting paid and asking family to work to keep the school alive. It worked.

"This is a place where you can be who you want to be," Lamson said. "There's no chains that hold you back."

Bowden built the pathway for Loston to enjoy financial drives to keep the east-side school growing. Born a Historically Black College and University, SPC's 12,000 plus enrollment is primarily Latino.

"I was a little bit nervous because I didn't know what was in store for me here. But everyone has been accepting and welcoming," said Morgan Miller.

Miller is a University of Oklahoma graduate and San Antonio native. She is working on a nursing degree at St. Philip's.

"It has not been as big of a difference as I thought it was going to be," she said.

The psychology grad found her curriculum, not her color, to be the real challenge.

Loston said the school has never sent out a rejection letter and continues to serve the academically capable and scholastically challenged.

"We asked the students, the staff, administrators, what should we look like in 2030?" she said.

The group wants the college to continue to lean into technology, remain attentive to the student's voices, and strongly emphasize diversity, equity and inclusivity.

Loston will also celebrate 16 years as the college's president on March 1. For the first time, she acknowledges retirement, and the Mississippi native said there's still work to get done. St. Philip's is seeking accreditation to offer its first baccalaureate offering, and if approved, students could get a degree in cybersecurity.

"I absolutely have decided. Am I going to tell you today? No, I am not," Loston said.

The date, she said, is between her and God. 

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