The moment Charles “Charlie” Pence ’51 walked through the front doors of the Texas A&M Foundation’s home, the Jon L. Hagler Center, the atmosphere in the room grew lighter.
Arriving for an interview, the 86-year-old brought with him the energy and humor of someone much younger, and yet his presence radiated selflessness, wisdom and the confidence that accompanies age. It was clear from the onset that he would be easy to get to know, yet also humbly happy to go unknown.
Having shared upwards of $2 million in support of Texas A&M University, “Pence” should undoubtedly be a household name. An adamant Corps of Cadets supporter, he has endowed a whopping 25 General Rudder Corps Scholarships, seven Sul Ross Scholarships, two President’s Endowed Scholarships and other gifts benefiting the Corps and Texas A&M.
His gifts have supported the education of more than 50 students and continued to impact the lives of more Aggies this fall—when nine of his most recently endowed General Rudder Scholarships were awarded to their first cadets.
Charles Pence ’51 has supported the education of more than 50 students through gifts benefiting the Corps of Cadets and Texas A&M.
Built From the Ground Up
Born Nov. 11, 1929, just two weeks after the great stock market crash, Pence grew up on a large ranch 17 miles outside of Cisco, Texas, where he faced a world full of harsh realities at a young age.
“Growing up during the Depression profoundly impacted me because no one had much money and jobs were scarce. To fully appreciate it, you had to live it,” he said. “I took on responsibility in my family as the oldest grandchild and oldest male, and I was motivated early on to build a life for myself. That new life started in fall 1947 at Texas A&M.”
Though his new home on the Quad more closely resembled a cold prison cell, the next four years at Texas A&M left a warm impression on Pence’s life. He spent his first three years in the Corps of Cadets, where shared experiences and adversities led to the forging of lifelong friendships.
When the Korean War began in June 1950, he watched his classmates disappear one by one as they went overseas to fight. He followed suit and joined the ranks in 1951, serving as an infantry officer, and married his late wife Patsy the next year. During the course of their 62 years together, they raised four children: Britt ’83, Julie, Carolyn and Craig.
Following an honorable discharge from the Army, Pence put his business degree to work in 1955 when he joined Humble Oil Refining Co., now ExxonMobil. His emphasis on leadership, integrity and building strong relationships leveraged his position within the company.
Charles Pence ’51 during his service in the Korean War. Following an honorable discharge, he began a long career with ExxonMobil.
“Every company is like a Christmas tree—wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. You have to work your way up,” he joked. “To that end, I always ran up the stairs and never waited for the elevator. Hard work was my philosophy.”
Pence was a board member and senior vice president of Friendswood Development Co. before becoming president of Battlement Mesa Inc., both subsidiaries of Exxon. With the slowing of energy development in 1982, Pence retired from Exxon after 27 years and now resides in Fredericksburg, Texas, with his second wife Kay ’80.
He stays busy managing his startup companies SiEnergy and SiEnvironmental, which provide gas and water to local residents in the greater Houston area.
Giving a Pence
Pence’s decision to give back to his alma mater started as a distant thought during the Vietnam War. As the war took a toll on Texas A&M funding and on the Corps of Cadets, he witnessed the detrimental decline of Corps enrollment numbers and feared it might diminish altogether.
“The Corps is a huge part of Texas A&M’s history, and without it the school wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “Not only do they play a leadership role, but the Corps is a significant part of the future of our national defense. I knew I wanted to contribute to its survival and advancement when I had the means.”
Pence took that promise to heart in 2001 when he endowed seven $25,000 Sul Ross Scholarships with the help of H.R. “Bum” Bright ’43 matching funds, each in honor of a fellow classmate who died in the Korean War. These have supported 29 cadets so far.
His support didn’t stop there. In 2007, Pence endowed a $100,000 Corps of Cadets 21st Century Scholarship and later gave $50,000 toward the Quad renovation. As part of his gift, Pence named an academic office in the Buzbee Leadership Learning Center after his longtime friend Cathy McWhorter, development relations coordinator for the Office of the Commandant.