Ken Demel '61 discovered Jon Hagler's letter among his mother Christine's effects following her death in 2006. She had kept it nearly 50 years. He brought it to our attention earlier this year.
Recently we found another gem from the archives of Texas A&M history: a letter written by the Texas A&M Foundation’s building namesake, Jon Hagler ’58, when he served as Corps commander from 1957 to 1958.
To put the time in context, think about this: In 1957, men and women Hagler’s age had lived all of their lives in the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the beginning of the Cold War.
All things considered, Texas A&M was a good place to be in the 1950s, and Hagler wanted to convey this in his position of leadership. So during the summer of 1957, Hagler asked Col. Joe Davis ’29, Corps commandant, if he could write and mail a letter explaining the advantages of Texas A&M and the Corps to parents of incoming freshmen in fall 1957.
“It was only a little more than a decade following the close of World War II, but some freshmen were already asking themselves if the Corps was necessary,” recalled Hagler. In 1957, the Corps was still compulsory. “It was not uncommon for cadets to quit during their freshman year. Those of us who were in the Corps thought our experience was valuable, but we worried about losing others. Thus, in the letter, I tried to convey context about the Corps and emphasize that a freshman’s experience at Texas A&M would be quite different from that of other colleges at the time. I tried to provide reassurance that the experience would be worthwhile and that there were students who cared about the well-being of the fish.”
Hagler was passionate in his belief that there was a lot more to the educational experience at Texas A&M than just the classes. “But now, 60 years later, I find the letter a bit painful to read,” he said. “It did accurately reflect my enthusiasm for the Corps’ potential to shape lives, but it is too long, too optimistic and promises more than I could deliver.”
Despite his misgivings, the letter shows Hagler’s sense of purpose as Corps commander, a position that spring-loaded a lifelong discovery of people and organizations, how and why they work, and their role in shaping society. “It also marked the start of one of the major lessons of my life—that the dignity, the education and the development of every individual matters,” said Hagler, who even as a 21-year-old, already began to express these thoughts in his writing.