San Jac alumna shares generations of nostalgia

Lois Zinnecker
Lois Zinnecker

Lois Zinnecker worked full time, raised five kids, ran a family business with her husband, and took college classes, all in an era before smartphones, Google, and the internet.

Proud that she graduated fourth in her high school class and was named outstanding student, Zinnecker was ready for higher education. With her interest in business and finance, Rice University was the first stop.

A family legacy

William J. Philpot, Zinnecker’s father, worked full time at a paper company and was mayor of Galena Park in the 1940s and 1950s. He drove her to classes at Rice University, but his busy schedule, the long commute, and her reluctance to use public transportation became a deal breaker.

“He said he was going to work on getting a college in our area, which would eventually be San Jacinto College,” Zinnecker said. “In the meantime, I went to the University of Houston for a year, then got married and had five children. Needless to say, I took a break from school for a while.”

Zinnecker eventually returned to UH but decided, once again, the commute was a hassle. It wasn’t until her late 40s that Zinnecker started her journey at San Jac. The College was closer to home, and she attended alongside her daughter, Dawn South.

South said Zinnecker has always been a go-getter, and “it was a great experience” taking classes with her mom. The two helped each other and managed to have fun along the way.

“I was as a returning student just kind of taking whatever I wanted,” Zinnecker said. “Finally, Dawn said I should focus on one area and look into getting an actual degree. I was still interested in business, so that’s when I made the decision.”

The two took classes at varying times, including Saturdays, to work around their busy schedules. Like her mom, South ran a business and had a family while attending San Jac. The pair took core classes together, including algebra, history, and government. South focused on foreign languages, namely Spanish and Portuguese, while Zinnecker added real estate, business, physical education, and piano classes to her credits.

According to Zinnecker’s daughter Lelia Winkelman, her mother was “a star student and worked very hard in everything she did.” Winkelman was a director for continuing education at San Jac in the early 2000s.

Graduation day

In spring 1981 at South Campus, the mother-daughter duo walked across the stage to celebrate their shared milestone. Zinnecker graduated with an Associate of Arts in business, and South with an Associate of Arts in foreign language. Zinnecker said “it was such an exciting day” for both the event and group photos with family.

“It was pretty awesome that we were both graduating at the same time,” South said. “Someone at graduation told us we were the first mother-daughter duo to graduate from the South Campus.”