For years, website administrator Art Upton has worked behind the scenes, building and updating the school’s public-facing website and local intranet.
The man behind the curtain (in this case, content management and coding) is certainly more fascinating than his daily techy and web administration tasks might reveal. Much like the Wizard of Oz, Upton’s life journey has been just as awe-inspiring, including his website wizardry that forever changed Texas A&M College of Dentistry. In the early ’90s, he helped cobble together the school’s first website—the second U.S. dental school to do so—in the burgeoning days of the internet.
Now, with retirement just weeks away, Upton sat down for a rare 60-minute break to traverse back through the decades. From his early days in Louisiana to San Francisco’s famed music scene as a lead guitarist and then on to Dallas, Upton’s life has been anything but dull.
“I’ve always just kind of followed my bliss,” he says. “When I got back from California, I went to the community college because I was curious about stuff. I somehow ended up at East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University at Commerce). I worked at some outfit making natural cosmetic products as a Q/A chemist. I finally left that and came to the college to work in Dr. Bob Hinton’s research lab as a tech.”
Not surprisingly, his plans for retirement are also action-packed. He contemplates firing up his Duolingo app to learn Spanish, which would help him transition into relaxing along the coast of Uruguay. That pipe dream might become reality for him and wife Kirsten Zitzewitz, who used to work in the dental school’s AEGD department.
“One can dream, huh? It’s a wonderful little place,” Upton says of the small South American country. “We’ve been researching it—‘Holy mackerel, this is really something. We could live in a little beach town.’ It’s absolutely beautiful there with white sandy beaches like Florida or California, only without the hurricanes and earthquakes.”
Until then, there will be plenty to do around the house. Over the years, Upton has filled the pages of at least 40 journals, which he has pondered turning into some sort of memoir. There also are three streaming services to choose from and a “gajillion” books calling for his attention.
“I love to read. I can’t wait for the time to do it,” he says.
In another box, Upton has precious yet crumbling paper recipes to sift through from his parents’ days running a Bossier City, Louisiana, bakery—recipes that once filled the room with unforgettable sweet aromas and deserve to be whipped up again.
“Dad was quite the pastry chef. He had a little place called Bossier Pastry Shoppe. He did all the baking and my mom took care of the front and learned how to decorate cakes, and she got really good,” he says.
Upton also credits his dad for buying him his first guitar, which he thinks his dad intentionally bought with nylon strings to cut down on the noise factor.
“As the story went, it’s really a good one, an old Gibson C1 classical guitar. It really sounds Willie Nelson-ish. I even put a pickup on it, and it’s getting all beat up like Willie’s,” he says. “Now, if I just had Willie’s talent!”
Upton now has four guitars; the second is an old Airline electric he bought from Sears with $20 of his mom’s S&H Green Stamps. With endless possibilities of free time unfolding, he says he’s got his guitars and amp all set. Should the opportunity arise, he’ll be ready at a moment’s notice to get back on stage.
Here’s more about Upton, in his own words.
Average workday before retirement: My average workday schedule is kind of boring: 8-5, with a noon lunch. It hasn’t changed while working at home during the pandemic. I thought I’d have to fight the temptation to goof off some, but my body clock, I guess, kicks me over to the desk at 8, makes me a little hungry at noon, and makes me stretch and yawn and look up from my work around 5. Weird. I hope I can ditch that after retirement!!
When you started working at the College of Dentistry: In the last century, actually. I believe it was 1992 or thereabouts. I’ve been here ever since. At first, it was as lab tech and even teaching a little anatomy. Then Dr. Bill Wathen, who was head of Continuing Education at the time, plucked me up and we knocked heads about that newfangled gizmo called the internet. Yep. The web had only been invented a couple of years prior to that time. Under Dr. Wathen (who became and remains one of my best friends), the college became only the second dental school in the country to have a website. But I digress. What was the question??!?
Favorite part of your job: Being able to do most of it online is nice. But the main thing is the fact that I’ve made some wonderful friends here, especially my department colleagues in Advancement, Communications and Alumni Relations. They are the most professional, capable, conscientious, kind, compassionate people I’ve ever met anywhere. Truly. I’m a better person for knowing them and working with them. And that is NOT hyperbole.
Something we may not know about you: Well, let’s see. I have a double major (chemistry and—are you ready?—math!) That’s why I know what “hyperbole” means. Of course that’s about the only thing I remember.
Anything else you’d like to add: I’m retiring at the end of the year and just want to say how much everyone I’ve had the honor of working with here means to me. I’m so grateful for all of you.