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Donor Spotlight: Betty Ruth Johnston

Betty Ruth Johnston was a chemistry major who put her love for science to work in the real world after she graduated from Texas State College for Women in 1947. As a First Lieutenant in the United States Army she tested biological and chemical weapons on a base in rural Utah. As her last remaining cousin, Bonnie Sanders told us with a whisper: “Betty’s work was top secret.”

At TWU she was a hard worker and was involved in numerous extracurricular activities. They include: German Club, Spanish Club, and the American Chemical Society. In addition, she was named to the Dean’s List and earned membership in three honor societies: Alpha Lambda Delta, Alpha Chi and Iota Sigma Pi, proving her academic mettle.

Born in 1925 in Lubbock, Johnston was raised on a farm in West Texas. This country girl, however, loved to travel, was an avid golfer, and enjoyed the company of dogs. Betty also enjoyed the stock market, once purchasing 400 shares of IBM stock which she never touched.

We do not know if Betty ever returned to campus after graduation or if she was active in the Alumni Association, but we do know she never forgot her TWU roots because upon her death when she was 88 in 2014, Betty left the cash value of that IBM stock, $1.6 million, as an unrestricted gift to the Pioneer Alumni Association.

The Alumni Association Board of Directors decided to take a portion of her gift to honor her memory. To help decide a meaningful way to honor a chemist, we called on Dr. Richard Sheardy, Professor and Chair of the Chemistry Department to collaborate to see how best honor her memory. “We wanted something permanent,” he said. “Something that every student, faculty and staff, and even the public would enjoy.”

With a challenge to think outside the box, Dr. Sheardy realized a piece of scientific art fit the bill. He originally suggested a sculpture of the DNA molecule, and after sleuthing online for a qualified artist discovered California-native Roger Berry, who had built sculptures of DNA molecules for other universities before.

Berry visited campus, met with members of the Chemistry Department and attended an interdisciplinary class co-taught by a professor of Chemistry and a professor from the Department of Art to really immerse himself in TWU culture. Berry also met with Chancellor Feyton, visited the Little Chapel, and took a hard-hat tour of the Science and Technology Learning Center, which we thought would be the perfect location for a new sculpture.

Berry remembers the exact moment the idea for the new sculpture was formed. “When I arrived home from my trip to Denton,” he remembers, “a friend of mine asked, ‘What is special about Texas Woman’s University?’” I responded, “A student at Texas Woman’s University has infinite possibilities.” That statement inspired one of three designs he proposed and was ultimately the winner.

The sculpture was fabricated in Berry’s barn outside of Sacramento. Made from sheets of stainless steel, the sculpture started off as 36 pieces, was welded together in a triangular pattern down to 12, before joining them once again to make four large sections that could be combined into one huge infinity figure. “We polished it and refined it until it was just right,” Berry said.

In early April 2021, the sculpture was loaded onto a flatbed and was transported 1400 miles over 5 days from California to Texas where, with the help of a large crane, was hoisted and secured to the top of a pedestal in front of the new Science Research Commons building.

The sculpture, formally called Infinite, is 20 feet high and seven feet in diameter and sits atop a four-and-a-half-foot base. It weighs 1200 pounds and is durable enough to withstand the ever-changing climate of Texas. “You can anticipate that Infinite will become a favorite selfie location,” Berry said. “ I hope the students hang out around it – they can’t hurt it!”

On April 13, 2021 the sculpture was dedicated at a small live celebration hosted by Past PAA President Barbara Rogers. “This sculpture is dedicated to Betty Ruth Johnston, the TSCW

graduate who dreamed big and lived her passion,” she said. “While she was truly an outstanding student and alumna, Betty was not an exception, but rather an example. May this sculpture symbolize these same qualities in every TWU alumna.”