Tuesday, July 14, 2015

V 5 N. 66 Ricardo Romo UTSA President

The following article appeared July 11, 2015 in the San Antonio Express       by Jerry Biggs.  I'm sure many
of you remember Ricardo Romo as an outstanding middle distance runner at the University of
Texas in the mid 1960's and the first sub 4 minute miler from that state.   He only recently ceded
the school record to Leo Manzano.



Ex-Fox Tech running star hasn’t slowed pace as president at UTSA

Former track star knows to not lessen the pace as he helps direct growing university to higher tier

 By Jerry Briggs



Former San Antonio high school running star Ricardo Romo celebrated his 72nd birthday last month, but he doesn’t act like a man who wants to slow his pace any time soon.

The president at UTSA will work a dozen hours or more in a day if that’s what it takes to improve the school.

“The other day I had a really long day,” says Romo, a 1962 Fox Tech graduate. “Every moment was booked. I had a dinner from 6:30 to 10:30 (p.m.), and I walked out just in time to see the last shot taken (in an NBA Finals game).

“I wanted to see that game, but it was an important individual donor, and I said, ‘You know what? This is when he wants to do it. Let’s just do it and not worry about it.’”

Just do it. Such a proclamation from Romo doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed his remarkable life.

Raised by parents who met while picking cotton in South Texas, Romo started sweeping floors at his family’s West Side store about the same time he entered primary school.

He’s been multitasking ever since, balancing as a young man the rigors of academics, athletics and a family grocery store business.

“What he does (at UTSA) is a tough job,” said former San Antonio Independent School District superintendent Victor Rodriguez. “It’s very demanding. But I think Richard still has the endurance that he gained by training as a runner.

“When he was running, while most of the others were getting tired on the third lap, Richard was still going strong.”

In a sense, it’s always been that way for Romo, who followed the lead of his parents, teachers and mentors to a prolific athletic career.

He emerged in 1966 as the first Texan and the 19th man in history to run a sub-4-minute mile.

But even when his Olympic dreams faded because of a back injury, he found another gear altogether, taking a new career path as an educator, a published scholar, a university administrator and, finally, the fifth president of UTSA.

For 16 of 40 years in UTSA’s classroom history, Romo has engineered a stunning spike both in enrollment and in students earning degrees. UTSA has produced more than 100,000 graduates, with more than half of that total earning degrees since Romo became president, a school spokesman said.

In addition, his appointment also has served to make many in the city’s disadvantaged communities feel included.

“I really can’t put into words how we feel about him and what he’s done,” a small business owner at Commerce and Rosillo streets told the Express-News in 2001. “We hold him in high esteem. I mean, he is the president of UTSA. A Chicano is president of UTSA.”

The roots of Romo’s family run deeply into Mexico. Three of his grandparents immigrated to Texas in the wake of upheaval from the 1913 Mexican Revolution.

While neither of Romo’s San Antonio-born parents attended college, their diligence to build a better life served as a blueprint for their son’s success.

Romo’s mother had to drop out of school in the 1930s after sixth grade to work, shelling pecans. His father started high school at Fox Tech but didn’t secure his diploma until age 23, in 1940.

Out of school but not out of options, Henry Romo Sr., shined shoes downtown and worked in an East Side poultry business, eventually buying the business for $200.

After returning from World War II, the decorated Army Air Corps veteran sold out his interest in the poultry business and bought the grocery to support his family.
“He was a pretty driven guy,” Romo said.

As a boy, the UTSA president worked at Romo’s Quality Food Store on Guadalupe Street, sweeping and stocking shelves and later graduating to cash-register duty at age 12
.
A few years later, he also discovered a unique talent. He was the strongest and fastest runner in his junior high school P.E. class.

One day on the playground at Horace Mann, Romo finished a one-mile fitness test well ahead of the rest of his classmates. Watching the display of speed and stamina, coach Bill Davis told him later that he was the most natural runner he had ever seen.

Davis, a retired military man, proved to be a beacon in Romo’s life in the mid- to late-1950s. Not only did he encourage the young man to start training seriously, he also looked out for all the Hispanic students at predominantly Anglo Horace Mann.

On one occasion, Davis witnessed some high school kids taunting a group of Hispanics from Horace Mann, including Romo and an older brother. Witnessing a potentially dangerous situation, Davis took the matter seriously, striding across the school yard with a baseball bat, demanding that the older students disperse.

They did.

“His actions were an act of courage and compassion, an act that my family would never forget,” Romo wrote in an essay for “Latino College Presidents: In Their Own Words,” a book by David J. Leon and Ruben O. Martinez.

At Fox Tech High School, he blossomed into the best runner in Texas, winning the state titles in the mile in both 1961 and 1962. At the University of Texas, Romo won several conference titles and placed third in the mile nationally as a senior.

By 1966, he ranked among the top milers in the United States, setting the UT record with a time of 3 minutes and 58.8 seconds. Subsequently, Romo suffered a back injury that would end his career only a year shy of the 1968 Olympic Trials.

Initially, the injury was a shock, but by the time the trials began, he was deeply involved in a new phase of his life, married, living in California and working on a master’s degree.

For the next dozen years, he worked to complete his master’s, his doctorate and his most expansive published work, “East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio.” In 1980, with the six-year book project completed, he returned to Austin to join the faculty in the history department at UT.

“They really loved him at Texas,” recalled James Blackwood, a former track coach at UT and at UTSA. “By the time he left there, he was vice provost.”

After working seven years as UT’s vice provost of undergraduate education, Romo in 1999 accepted the president’s job at UTSA.

The son of San Antonio’s West Side had returned home.

Talking over lunch recently, Rodriguez says he remembers the image of a young Romo running along a creek near downtown in the early morning hours.

“I remember saying, ‘You know, that’s a smart kid,’” said Rodriguez, then an aspiring Cooper Junior High teacher and coach. “‘I wonder what he’s going to be running in track?’”

Little did Rodriguez know that the path along the creek would lead Romo all the way to the president’s office at UTSA.

Romo, talking about his life’s journey in the ornate president’s conference room, looks and sounds like a man who still hasn’t finished the race.

He is in a demanding job, but he loves it.

“To me, age is not a factor,” Romo said. “I’ve been in administration for 20-something years and president 16 years. I feel like I’ll do it as long as I have a fastball. I’ll do it as long as I’m making a contribution to the university.”

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