CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — During the Phoenix event of Homecoming Week at West Texas A&M University, set for Oc. 12, officials said they will recognize Former WT Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Barnes and WT Professor Emeritus William E. “Bill” Semmelbeck as the 2023 Distinguished Alumni.

WTAMU organizers said that the two honorees will be celebrated during the Oct. 12 event in Legacy Hall at 6 p.m., with tickets priced at $75 and available until Oct. 2.

Barnes, a Plainview native, was described by WT as a 1978 graduate who was hired 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.

While he left WT in 2013, officials noted he went on to serve as the associate vice president for finance and university controller at Texas A&M University and then as the vice chancellor and chief financial officer for the Texas Tech University System until his retirement in 2022. He was described as a first-generation college student who always had WT in mind.

“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, was described by WT as a 1969 graduate who was hired as a professor in the then-School of Business, where he taught for 18 years. By that time, he had also already founded Buck’s Sporting Goods and J&B Builders in Amarillo after moving there in 1953. He also went on to found Officewise with Ron Edmondson and Ron Watts, one of his former students, which became the largest office supply and furniture business in West Texas.

“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, who retired from WT in 1988 and was named Professor Emeritus by The Texas A&M University System in 1992, 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.”

“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.”

WT officials noted that the Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor given by the WT Alumni Association, which has been given out annually since 1970. Including the 2023 inductees, 124 alumni have been honored with the distinction.

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