Tuesday,
May 23, 2017

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Helen Small, One of UT Dallas' Oldest Graduates, Dies at Age 97

Helen Small

In addition to earning two degrees from UT Dallas, Helen Small BS'07, MS'10 volunteered at the Eugene McDermott Library and worked as a research assistant at the Center for Vital Longevity, assisting Dr. Denise Park on the Synapse Project. The School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences also has a scholarship in her name.

Helen Small BS'07, MS'10, one of the oldest students to graduate from UT Dallas, died Thursday at the age of 97. A service will be at Temple Emanu-El Synagogue at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 7. 

Small became well known on campus in 2010 after earning a master’s degree from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) at age 90. Since then, she had continued to make her mark as a volunteer and University supporter.

Small, who waited 67 years to return to college life after leaving to get married in 1939, graduated from UT Dallas with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2007. 

“Helen was a smart, warm, gracious, lively intellectual woman who had the courage to complete her undergraduate education at an advanced age, and then to go on to earn a master’s degree,” said Dr. Marion Underwood, dean of graduate education and one of Small’s mentors in the master’s program. 

Dr. David Daniel and Helen Small in 2010

Dr. David E. Daniel, then president of UT Dallas, walked Small across the stage during her commencement ceremony in 2010.

“She was proud of her family and the life and business she built with her late husband, but she embraced her intellectual pursuits at UT Dallas with great enthusiasm. Helen was beloved among UT Dallas students and faculty, and showed that age really isn’t anything but a number,” Underwood said. 

Small had said education was always an important part of her life. Even when she left college to marry her sweetheart from the University of Akron, Al Small, she looked forward to returning to school someday. In 2004, she returned as a full-time student. 

In addition to receiving two degrees from UT Dallas, Small volunteered at the Eugene McDermott Library, assisting in the special collections section, and she also worked as a research assistant at the Center for Vital Longevity, assisting Dr. Denise Park on the Synapse Project

“Helen was as fine an example of vital longevity as I have ever known; a truly great spirit, and a gift to us all,” said Dr. James Bartlett, interim dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Pagett Gosslee MAT'79, director of development and alumni relations for BBS, said Small had been compiling documents and photos for UT Dallas’ 50th anniversary celebration and also had been looking forward to the opening of the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center

“Helen made an impact on every student, professor, staff member and alumnus that she met,” Gosslee said. “Whenever she was on campus for a donor appreciation reception or for an alumni gathering, there was always a line beside her chair because people wanted to come meet her.” 

Helen was beloved among UT Dallas students and faculty, and showed that age really isn’t anything but a number.

Dr. Marion Underwood,
dean of graduate education and one of Helen Small’s mentors in the master’s program

In 2014, Small’s service was recognized when she was awarded the Green & Orange Award for Alumni Service at the UT Dallas annual Awards Gala. 

At the gala, Small received two standing ovations after she shared her journey of becoming the University’s second-oldest graduate. 

The University of Texas System for 50 years has played a very important part in my life. First, there were my three sons to educate. That was followed by my three daughters-in-law, then came my grandchildren and then myself,” Small said then. 

Dr. David E. Daniel, deputy chancellor of the UT System and former president of UT Dallas, was especially close to Small. 

“I will always treasure the memory of her walking across the stage at 90 years old, as well as the many wonderful moments and events that we shared. I, like so many others, have been enriched by all that she has given,” Daniel said. 

In a previous interview, Small said her time at UT Dallas has been one of the best experiences of her life.

“UT Dallas has been a wonderful place for me,” she said. “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.” 

Small documented her academic achievements in a book, called “Why Not? My Seventy-Year Plan for a College Degree,” which is available at the UT Dallas Bookstore. Proceeds from the book’s sales support the Center for Vital Longevity. 

Small’s family has requested that all memorial gifts be directed to the Helen Small Scholarship in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Media Contact: Phil Roth, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2193, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].


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