All’s Well that Ends Well

English Professor Retires

Don Walden, Professor of English, has retired after 15 years of service at Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College.

By Laura Nelson

Eagle Pass-Don Walden’s parents used the Army as their step up in the world, eschewing the sharecropper’s life in Arkansas to serve the country and provide for family.

Even though neither of his parents finished high school, they understood the importance of education and encouraged their children in their scholarly pursuits. In the days long before Wikipedia, his parents provided their children an encyclopedia to enhance and inspire a love of learning. That lesson apparently took root in the young man as he decided to make a career in academia.

After earning his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas in Austin, Walden worked as a reporter for various newspapers in San Antonio and the area. He covered everything from City Hall meetings to a national hula hoop champion before deciding to return to UT and academic pursuits.

He completed a Master of Arts in American Studies and taught freshman composition while earning his Ph.D. He also taught at Northwest Vista College and UT in San Antonio. Fifteen years ago, he saw an ad for a tenure track position at Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College and thought he would like to live in Alpine among the Davis Mountains. He had never heard of Rio Grande College, but quickly figured out he would be based in Eagle Pass rather than Alpine and would teach classes across the RGC sites.

He enjoys the small size of RGC because he sees students vastly improve their communication abilities over the courses they take, even if they aren’t the English classes he teaches. He also noted that writing has improved for first-time RGC students since he started teaching.

One of his favorite classes is Shakespeare. He recalled a student who took the class to “find out what the big deal is.” After reading the comedic play, Much Ado about Nothing, the student wrote that one of the characters reminded her of a family member, proving the timelessness of Shakespeare’s writing. One of the most memorable students he has educated was an immigrant who struggled to write clearly. By mid-semester, her sentences were better and her writing reflected a considerable amount of thought. She eventually became an accomplished writer and went on to become a gifted public school teacher.

Walden served as the adviser for the Shakespeare Club, a student group that spent time outside class to become familiar with Shakespeare’s plays. Every year, club members and their sponsor attended Shakespeare at Winedale, a University of Texas program dedicated to bringing Shakespeare to life through the performance of his plays. College students in the program perform his plays inside a rustic hay barn converted to an Elizabethan-style theatre located near Round Top. Walden also advised the Arts Appreciation Club, an organization dedicated to acquainting students with the arts that included outings to operas, plays, and museums and accompanied students to the Rio Grande Folklore Archives located at what was then the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg to conduct research.

Dr. Walden technically retired after 15 years of service from Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College as Professor of English, but has continued teaching a few classes. He admits that after growing up poor, the idea of walking away from a paying job has been scary, but he has vowed to gather his courage after fully retiring to write and travel. Sounds like an appropriate reward for a dedicated teacher and mentor.