Peyton and Linda Yates pose in front of burnt orange step-and-repeat
Peyton and Linda Yates at the grand opening celebration of the Engineering Education and Research Center.

Like most extraordinary structures, the EERC spiral staircase needed an extraordinary investor to help make it a reality. Enter Peyton Yates, Texas Engineering alumnus and energy industry leader for over four decades, who believes that great buildings need great artwork to inspire future generations.

Yates, who lives in Artesia, New Mexico, earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from UT Austin. He began his career with Chevron before joining his family’s business in 1970 and ultimately rising to be president of Yates Drilling Company and president of Yates Petroleum Corp.

As a philanthropist and civic leader, Yates has been equally influential. He has served as president of the New Mexico Academy of Science, the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico and the Boy Scouts of America Conquistador Council, and he has served on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas El Paso Branch, the College of the Southwest and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. He is an active leader in the Artesia community and a passionate supporter of the Cockrell School, serving for many years on the Engineering Advisory Board and providing numerous gifts to the school and its students.

Yates is the son of S.P. Yates, a successful UT Austin chemical engineering graduate, but few people know he’s also the son of an accomplished painter, potter and proponent of public education. His mother, Estelle, served as president of the Artesia Library Board in the 1950s. As a lover of books and reading, she was instrumental in building the city’s first public library in 1957 and was the key benefactor for its newest one completed in 2013. The new library’s most stunning feature, a 46-foot-wide 1952 Peter Hurd mural that was masterfully restored and transported from its original location inside the Houston Main Building (formerly the Prudential Building), was installed as a result of Estelle and Peyton’s vision and dedication to civic advancement.

“Both Estelle and S.P. were friends with Peter and his wife Henriette (Wyeth), and Estelle desired to save Peter’s artwork for all to see and enjoy,” Peyton says. “To her, the mural was a painting mainly of the Southeastern New Mexico ranch country, and Southeastern New Mexico is where the mural belonged. Its availability coincided with Artesia’s desire and need for a new public library.”

In 2013, Peyton saw the renderings of the EERC spiral staircase, and the inspiring combination of art and engineering immediately piqued his interest. He met with Cockrell School officials about the project, obtained details from the architects and he and his mother decided to make a generous donation to ensure its construction.

“Our purpose in making the donation was to honor my father,” Peyton says. “He was proud of his ties to the university, and he would have marveled at the engineering design and construction of the staircase. Estelle would have loved its beauty.

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