Lydia Patterson Institute sits silently on South Florence Street in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio.

But within its halls, the Methodist Christian preparatory school holds thousands of stories screaming to be told.

El Paso first lady, author and cultural ambassador Adair Margo set pen to paper to give those stories a voice and an audience.

The result? “Voices of La Lydia: The History of Lydia Patterson Institute,” a newly released book about the school that embodies more than 100 years of history and countless stories of perseverance and success.

“The school is rich in history, but its students whose stories are so inspiring,” Margo said. “Most of them are immigrant stories that exemplify the school’s purpose, success and contributions to the community and the world over the years.”

Proceeds from the book, illustrated with portraits by renowned El Paso artist Gaspar Enriquez, are to benefit the school.

Beyond history

“I didn’t want this to be just a history book on how the school was founded,” said school president Socorro Brita de Anda, who had asked Margo years back who might write a book.

Margo, of course, jumped at the chance.

“I wanted this book to have life, for readers to hear from the people who have passed through here and have so many stories to tell,” said De Anda, who has worked at the school 35 years and has been named the 2020 Segundo Barrio Person of the Year.

“To hear Adair say she’d take it up was a blessing,” she added.

The school enrolls some 300 students, the vast majority from Juárez, and boasts a 98% college acceptance rate. 

Lydia Patterson’s original two-story building, designed by famed architect Henry C. Trost, was built by H.T. Ponsford and Sons in 1913. 

The school was demolished in the early 1960s to make room for a larger campus. 

A new school was built in 1964, and today remains standing just minutes from the international bridge.

In 2018, Lydia Patterson was declared a historic site by the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church.

‘La Lydia’

“The school is a gem and it deserves to shine,” Margo said about La Lydia, as the school is affectionately nicknamed. “It deserves recognition for the impact it’s had in our community and across the world.”

The book tells the school’s history through the stories of the leaders and students who lived it, Margo said. 

Written in a first-person voice, the stories come from recorded interviews with alumni. 

Margo also wrote the stories of historic figures in the first person using an array of sources, and said they provide a more personal view in that form.

Among the 12 stories are those from former Texas first lady Laura Bush; the Revs. John Wesley and John Corbin; famed architect Henry Trost; renowned artist Jose Cisneros; and Mexican entertainer Tin Tan. 

Also included are stories of alumni from all walks of life – teachers, lawyers, business leaders and engineers such as the Woo brothers – Rafael, Antonio, Enrique and Francisco.

The Woos, four of 11 children of a Chinese couple who owned a grocery store in Juárez, graduated from Lydia Patterson Institute between 1959-1971.

“They were the best, most enjoyable moments of school from primary school all the way through college,” Rafael Woo says in the book. 

“My teachers taught me humbleness, love for life, relationships with fellow students, leadership and most importantly, to be fully human.”

Its namesake

Of course, among the stories is that of the school’s namesake, Lydia Buckler Patterson.

Born in a farming community in Kentucky in 1850, Patterson married and moved to Sherman, Texas, in 1872. 

Soon after, her husband and three of her four children passed away. She moved to El Paso in 1883 and worked at a school for Mexican girls in Downtown. In 1886, she married businessman Millard Patterson. 

She later helped organize schools for Hispanic boys in the region, who couldn’t attend school if they didn’t know English.

Lydia Patterson died of cancer in 1909, and her husband donated $75,000 for the construction of a school named after her. 

“Although some of what would bring it to life was predestined before the first brick was laid,” Margo writes in the book, “most would come slowly over time as the school took from each person – whether living or teaching or studying there – something of their own quality of being.”

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