BROWNWOOD – December 14, 2015 – An item found in the attic of a Brownwood home was recently given a prominent new location at Howard Payne University. A 117-year-old Howard Payne diploma – the oldest known in existence – was discovered and donated to the university by Derek and Stephanie Kirbo of Brownwood.
The diploma was awarded to Miss Bessie Doswell Ramey in 1898 upon the completion of “the full course in Piano, Harmony, and History of Music.” The university, which was founded in 1889, granted its first degree in 1895.
“The diploma is in astonishingly good condition given its age,” said Dr. Bill Ellis, HPU president. Dr. Ellis presented the diploma to representatives of HPU’s School of Music and Fine Arts during the university’s Recital Hour. The artifact is now on display in the university’s Davidson Music Complex.
The Ramey family was well known in the area, with ties to the Howard Payne founders and other pioneers. Bessie Ramey’s father, John James Ramey, died in 1895. His obituary reads, “Mr. Ramey’s name is inseparably connected with Howard Payne College, of Brownwood, and more than any one man, with the exception of Dr. John D. Robnett, the founder of the institution, supported the college at a time when it was in sore need of friends.”
Although little more is known about Bessie Ramey and her time at Howard Payne, Dr. Ellis emphasized the significance of the diploma’s discovery.
“The individuals who founded Howard Payne built it out of nothing near the very beginning of the establishment of Brownwood,” he said. “Early students like Bessie Ramey paved the way for future generations. We’re so thankful to the Kirbos and will cherish the diploma for many years to come.”
Photo cutline: A 117-year-old Howard Payne diploma found in a Brownwood attic now has a permanent home inside the university’s Davidson Music Complex. Left to right: Corey Ash, associate professor of music and director of bands; Dr. Elizabeth Wallace, chair of the Department of Music and professor of music; Dr. Richard Fiese, dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts; Dr. Bill Ellis, HPU president; and Dr. Gregory Church, associate professor of music.