This week in Texas on September 1, 1969, Llerena Beaufort Friend ended her 19-year run as director and founder of the Barker Texas History Center. Friend’s remarkable journey through life began on October 19, 1903, in Dublin, Texas. Born to Everest MacDonald Friend and Llerena Collinsworth (Perry) Friend, she would go on to leave an indelible mark on the world of education and historical scholarship. Her upbringing was a nomadic one, with her family relocating twenty-four times due to her father’s work as a traveling salesman. Despite the challenges, her Methodist faith and passion for learning remained steadfast.
The turning point came with the discovery of oil in Electra, Texas, in 1911. This led Friend’s family to venture into retail, setting up a grocery store to capitalize on the local economic boom. However, a devastating fire razed the store, propelling them to find a new place to call home. The scarcity of water in Electra was a stark reality, necessitating its recycling due to its scarcity.
Through hardships and relocations, Friend’s thirst for knowledge never wavered. She graduated from Electra High School before pursuing her education at the University of Texas. There, under the guidance of notable historians Eugene C. Barker and Walter Prescott Webb, she honed her passion for history. Her academic journey was punctuated by teaching stints, including her time at Wichita Falls High School, where she taught while pursuing her master’s degree.
Friend’s commitment to education and history led her to contribute significantly to the field. She played a pivotal role in establishing the Austin chapter of Junior Historians, organizing tours to historic sites, and raising funds for a monument commemorating the Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841. Her involvement with the original Handbook of Texas project showcased her dedication to preserving the state’s history.
The pursuit of knowledge never ceased for Friend. At the age of forty-seven, she completed her doctorate and published her acclaimed work, “Sam Houston, the Great Designer.” This biography garnered recognition and awards, including the Summerfield G. Robert Award from the Sons of the Republic of Texas.
Friend’s legacy extended beyond academia. She transitioned into librarianship, overseeing the Texas Collection and later becoming the managing director of the Barker Center for Texas History. Her retirement in 1969 didn’t mark the end of her involvement; she remained active in various educational organizations and received several awards.
Truly a lifelong learner, Friend’s impact resonated within the academic community and beyond. Her dedication to history, education, and learning lives on. On September 8, 1995, Llerena Beaufort Friend passed away, leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire generations. Today, her papers are preserved at the Special Collections Library at Midwestern State University, a testament to her enduring commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.