For more than 50 years, one name has been synonymous with law preparation at Austin College: Dr. Kenneth Street. An email sent to alumni in the field of law requesting comments about Street garnered responses from alumni far and wide—and many more notes than can be included here. Those alumni can be assured, however, that all their comments will be shared with the longtime professor. Street, professor emeritus of political science, joined the Austin College faculty in 1959 and retired in 1998. For many of those years, he served as the pre-law advisor and guided many students interested in careers in law and government.
The tall, dignified gentleman, known to many as “Dr. God,” inspired a good bit of awe in his students. His legendary Constitutional Law class— reported by some to be the hardest they EVER took also was often a favorite, and many times, the course that cemented an interest in the law profession. “We all strived for the coveted “A” in his Constitutional Law course; I only got a B+, but I am as proud of that as anything I’ve done since,” wrote Michael Brown ’66, an attorney in Midland, Texas. He offered Street the ultimate compliment as an educator: “I am not a scholar, nor did I graduate anywhere close to cum laude, but he turned on the light for me, and for that I am forever grateful.”
Rod Hardie ’76 describes himself as “a disaster” his first two years of college, with no goals, poor study habits, and a miserable GPA. In the spring of his sophomore year, he took a political science class with Street, though he admits he had no real interest in politics or anything else. He doesn’t remember the reason, but he definitely remembers being called to Street’s office one afternoon. Rod happened to carry a football with him. The meeting was short, but before Rod left, Street turned the conversation to sports (Rod thinks it was an attempt to put him at ease). “When our discussion ended, I was stunned when he asked me, politely, (he was one of the most polite people I have ever known), if I would mind going outside to play a little catch with the football,” Rod said. “Of course, I said ‘yes’ immediately and with great excitement. And so on that brisk afternoon in the spring term of 1974, Dr. Street and I played catch in front of the Administration Building. I distinctly remember that he wore his tie while we tossed the football. And he threw with a tight spiral.”
Over the next two years, Rod dramatically improved his grades and took as many courses with Dr. Street as he could, majoring in political science. He has been a successful attorney for the past 30 years and says his career is far from over. Today, he is associate general counsel and chief compliance officer for Exterran Holdings, working at the corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas.
Rod doesn’t credit that game of catch with significant change in his life, though it seems to have had some effect. “But I can say that it is one of my many great memories of Austin College and of Dr. Street,” he said.
Many lessons, of course, came in the classroom. “Dr. Kenneth Street was the most influential teacher I ever had. He is the dominant influence in my perception of the world, and I owe much of what I have accomplished to my enrollment in his government class my sophomore year,” said Brown, the student for whom Street “turned on the light.” He said in that course and following government classes over the next two years, he learned much more than the course material. “Dr. Street taught me how to think in a rational manner,” Mike said. “He was never rude or critical or hyperbolic; he simply showed me how to approach and accept another point of view. He suggested that I read magazines and books I did not know existed. I still read The New York Times daily, something I had never heard of when this West Texas kid first arrived on campus.”
When students began to apply to law schools, they knew Dr. Street was giving sound advice and was respected by the law school personnel. “After graduating from Austin College, I was well down the waiting list for admission to SMU Law School,” said Mike Allen ’73. Mike was quite surprised when he got a call from the school’s admission office just before the start of the term asking if he could start classes the next week. Mike asked the caller how his name had moved up the list. Mike wrote, “She answered, ‘I talked to Ken Street, and he believes you will be a fine lawyer. His recommendation goes a long way.’”
An attorney in Tyler, Texas, Mike said he has thanked Street many times, and the response always is a smile that hints of the likelihood of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and ingenuity that led to a good outcome. “But I know many who have been touched by his discreet actions and who cherish that smile.”
Though many alumni responses indicated they had felt intimidated by Street as a student, most also recognized his true interest and concern. “He was someone who inspired a good deal of awe, but somehow managed to remain accessible to students. If I have succeeded in my law career, I owe a debt of gratitude to him for that,” said Craig Deats ’75 of Deats Durst Owen & Levy in Austin, Texas. “Truth be told, there wasn’t much reason to fear Dr. Street, although most of us didn’t really believe or discover this until after we had graduated, though he demonstrated his genuine concern for us while we were still students,” said Kristie Wright ’92, attorney at Haltom & Doan in Texarkana, Texas. “He wanted us to be good listeners, creative thinkers, and to engage in the world around us,” she said. “These were important lessons for any student—not just those headed to law school.” She remembers her class being invited to his home to watch presidential debates—something she fondly recalls every four years.
Alex Denney, Jr., ’92 is a professor at Sangmyung University in Seoul, Korea. He said one of his fondest recollections of his Austin College years is his class being invited to have dinner at the Street home. ““I remember it was a cold winter’s evening at the end of the term and how nice it felt to be welcomed into Dr. and Mrs. Street’s home. Now as a teacher, I also try to take time to share a meal with my students on occasion and add that personal touch to the educational experience—as I received from caring professors like Dr. Street when I was at Austin College.”
Caring came in many forms. “Dr. Street was one of the rare professors who seemed to possess a passion both for teaching and for knowledge of practical, real-world applications for that teaching,” wrote David Winters ’91, an attorney in San Antonio, Texas. “Luckily, Dr. Street always had an open-door policy and you could usually find him in his office in the afternoons pouring over treatises, student papers, or consulting with another student or professor. When I was not accepted into law school, I sought out Dr. Street one afternoon. He expressed a small amount of regret that I had not consulted him personally before actually applying to law school, because he advised that you always need a back-up plan.
That talk put me back on course and I even got a scholarship to the next law school I applied, one recommended by Dr. Street.”
Charles Bondurant ’69 changed his academic focus from pre-med to government at the end of his junior year. He has been an attorney in San Antonio, Texas, since 1974, but as a student at a crossroads, he was unsure about his future plans. Street’s counsel provided sound direction to his ultimate career. Thinking back to that encounter, Charles offers what is perhaps a summation of the perspective of so many alumni: “I know this: Dr. Street was always available; his advice was calm and reassuring; I enjoyed his classes … and I benefited from his wisdom.”
These are just a few of the stories and memories alumni hold of Dr. Street’s guidance. They also remember trips that had particular impact on their coursework (an idea also emerged that perhaps Dr. Street liked to drive fast …). Mickey Bonesio ’66 of the Law Offices of W. Michael Bonesio in Dallas, sent the photo of an “awesome” government class trip arranged by Dr. Street during which students met President Harry S. Truman at the Truman Library in Missouri in 1965. Mickey recognized some of the individuals in the photo, like his classmates John Virden, Bill Kirk, Mike Brown, and Mary Lou Cassidy, and Ruth Whiteside ’64. He thought others might be Chuck Carsner ’66, Mike Burkett ’65, Jeff Caswell ’65, and Scooter Merritt ’66.
Dr. Street and students also traveled to Dallas to see President John F. Kennedy speak outside a Dallas hotel on November 22, 1963—and were still in their cars in Dallas when they heard the news that he had been shot. They were able to drive into the downtown area, and one of the students in the car lived just a few blocks away; the group went to his house to see the news on television. They watched as Walter Cronkite announce the president was dead.
Thankfully, many other trips ended more happily, but few could have been more pertinent to the study of government and law that Dr. Street has so long imparted to his students.
Life-changing, profound impact, great teacher, and tremendous guidance—statements like these from alumni are as numerous in relating encounters with Dr. Street as kindness, enthusiasm, and wisdom are as descriptors of the man himself.
“Dr. Street’s influence on my life and career has been nothing less than profound.When I began my freshman year at Austin College, I intended to become a history professor. That all changed when I took Dr. Street’s introductory course in government my sophomore year. Through that and other courses he taught, Dr. Street brought political theory, governmental institutions, and the world of politics and law alive in a way that fired in me—like so many of his students down through the years—a lifelong interest in government, politics, and the law. Dr. Street also taught his students to think, to be analytical, to question the conventional and superficial, and to work hard at whatever we do. I have directly benefitted from these lessons throughout my personal life and career as a lawyer.”
Alan Holman ’70, attorney, Locke Lord, Austin, Texas
“Dr. Street probed Constitutional Law with undergraduates, and it was a difficult but fascinating experience. During that semester, I knew that the law was where I was headed. At 19, to be learning analytical skills was quite an accomplishment. The respect for individual rights that permeates my law practice today was planted during that class. The text book still sits proudly on my office bookshelf.”
John Griffin ’78, managing partner, Marek, Griffin & Knaupp, Victoria, Texas
“Dr. Street represents the Texas of Bill Moyers, Lloyd Bentsen, Ann Richards, and LBJ—a state where someone with a quick mind, a dedication to service, and a strong work ethic can come from the remote and dusty south plains to become a respected policy advisor and academic.”
Monica Walters Crowley ’90, executive director, Austin Fund for Quality Healthcare, Austin, Texas
“There may only be a few of us of my era who are in the legal profession and did not have Ken Street as a professor. However, like so many that had him as a professor, he developed a personal relationship to know me as a person. I know I am not unique in that regard, but he sure makes me feel unique and special each and every time I see him. He also is a wonderful mentor as a husband. I always love seeing his face light up when he talks about his wife.”
Bill Crook ’80 vice president and associate general counsel, Weingarten Realty, Houston, Texas
“Dr. Street is still ‘Dr. God’ to me. Like every kid who was privileged to attend Austin College in the ’70s and thought about being in law, Dr. Street had an incredible impact on me and on hundreds of young men and women, in our education and our careers. He is a man of the highest intellect, integrity, and compassion—and a wonderful mentor. He also was more than a little intimidating; I don’t know if I was inspired or just afraid! Even so, he could personally connect with students.
As much as I loved and am proud of my Austin College experience, my sophomore year was one of great personal reflection and struggle with my own identity as a first- generation product of segregation. I decided to leave school.
Dr. Street intervened at a critical moment in my life and, since the Texas legislature was convening, helped me to arrange a directed study on the constitutional convention, acknowledging my personal issues but offering a way for me to remain at Austin College. That put me on a path, not just toward a career but for success in my life.
When you have the type of education you get at Austin College and also have faculty members that reach down and help, that’s a great thing. Dr. Street is a great man; there is no question that he is a first-tier, top-of-the-list professor, but in that element of getting involved and guiding students, he is not the exception. That’s what makes Austin College special.”
Ambassador Ron Kirk ’76, former U.S. Trade Ambassador; senior of counsel, Gibson Dunn. Dallas, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
“Having Ken Street as a mentor changed my life.”
Charla Aldous started her college education at Grayson County College, hoping to become a legal secretary. She applied to Austin College and received a Sumners Scholarship, and was very excited to be able to attend a four-year college and obtain a bachelor’s degree. “Then, I met Ken Street. I am so lucky that Dr. Street was my mentor and that I had the good fortune (although not so “good” at exam time) to take his Constitutional Law course.
After a few weeks in his class, Dr. Street asked me about going to law school. In my wildest imagination I had never thought that I could actually be a lawyer, but Dr. Street encouraged me to apply to law school; I did, was accepted, and the rest is history.
I have now been practicing law for 27 years and am so grateful that I can do something that I love, help those in need, and make a living for my family. Ken Street changed my life and I will be eternally grateful. Thank you, Dr. Street.”
Charla Glass Aldous ’82, owner, Aldous Law Firm, Dallas, Texas
“Dr. Street has been one of the most influential people in my life. Among other things, I credit him with my decision to enter teaching. I am in my 26th year of teaching law school and have loved it every day. I think of Dr. Street often and try to be as great of a teacher as he was. …By far, the most important reason Dr. Street was such a great teacher was that he cared deeply about us as people. He could be gruff and a little (well, maybe a lot) intimidating sometimes, but he got to know us and what we wanted out of life, and he helped us reach our goals. He helped me sort out which law schools to apply to, how to navigate financial aid, and how to pursue an academic career. He remained a wonderful mentor to me a good 35 years after I graduated. Having Dr. Street as a professor is one of the treasures of my life.”
Pam Harnest Pierson ’75, professor, University of Alabama School of Law
“Dr Street gave me faith to believe I could do exceptional things, even when I didn’t see it on my own.”
Margaret-Ann Splawn ’88
“Dr. Street was the single most important faculty influence in my four years of college and was an inspiration to me academically and personally. His teaching prepared me for law school, and his personal character influenced me for life. He is a great man and has influenced so many by his contributions over the years at the College.”
Brian Kilpatrick ’89, partner, Jackson Walker, Dallas, Texas
“All I ever wanted to be is a lawyer. I would not be a lawyer without Dr. Street; he paved the way and I am forever in his debt. He is my mentor, teacher, and friend.”
Tim Newsom ’89, partner, Lovell, Lovell, Newsom & Isern, Amarillo, Texas