Throughout Texas A&M University’s history, there have been former students and philanthropic leaders who go above and beyond for the Aggie community, devoting incredible resources and energy to ensuring its continued success. To recognize individuals who make outstanding contributions to the reputation and strength of the university, the Texas A&M Foundation's Board of Trustees established the Sterling C. Evans Medal in 1998.
Named after renowned former university regent and philanthropist Sterling C. Evans, Class of 1921, the Evans Medal seeks to promote, encourage and recognize phenomenal service. Awarded annually on a highly selective basis, it cements its recipients’ legacies as quintessential pieces of the university’s history.
In 2021, for the first time in the award’s history, three couples received the Evans Medal—all having served as co-chairs of the university’s $4.25 billion Lead by Example campaign. Individually and collectively, these couples have made massive impacts on Aggieland, positively changing the campus landscape and Aggies’ lives forever.
Debbie Bethancourt ’76
John Bethancourt ’74, Former Texas A&M Foundation Chairman
There are Aggies, there are diehard Aggies, and then there’s Debbie ’76 and John Bethancourt ’74. If one took away their name’s recognizability on campus, their long history of impactful scholarship support and all the maroon apparel they own, the Bethancourts would still exude an aura that is inexplicably, prototypically “Aggie.” With Debbie’s upbeat enthusiasm and John’s measured drawl and temperament, it is no wonder the couple has distinguished themselves as both supporters of and evangelists for Texas A&M.
Crazy as it sounds now, John may not have attended Texas A&M if not for the intervention of his father, Raoul Bethancourt ’31. “I received scholarships from other universities, and that was flattering and attractive to me,” John said. “But my dad said, ‘To heck with that, let’s see if we can get you a scholarship to Texas A&M.’” Sure enough, John asked around and secured a scholarship, setting him on track to receive a life-changing petroleum engineering education and meet the love of his life.
Debbie arrived at the university through slightly different means. She visited campus with her father, Clifton “C.O.” Smith Jr. ’50, but not for her sake. “It was so my then-boyfriend could tour it,” she said. “He ended up not having suitable scores on his SAT, but I did.” Upon arriving on campus, Debbie settled into her room in Kruger Hall, the first dorm open to women. She chose to study floriculture and, like John, benefited greatly from scholarships. “I made up my mind then that as soon as I could, I would establish a scholarship to the floriculture program. I wanted to give back what I had been given,” she said.
John met Debbie at the Memorial Student Center (MSC) while staffing a table for the Residence Hall Association during MSC Open House. Beyond providing a pleasant venue for their fateful first meeting, the Bethancourts have a soft spot in their hearts for the building, widely considered the living room of campus. “We made connections at the MSC,” John said. “All the student activities we were involved in met there, and that made it special to us.” Debbie added, “There wasn’t a recreation center then, so it really was the place on campus for students across majors to gather.”
“We both have very dear friends who have previously received this award, some who are among the people I admire most in this world. We have tried to follow in their footsteps, so to find ourselves included in this group is the most humbling experience.”
After graduating, John entered a more than 40-year career in oil and gas. Starting with a modest position at Getty Oil Co.’s office in Kilgore, Texas, he worked his way up to a 15-year executive position at Texaco and, after a merger, an executive vice president position at Chevron.
Though he and Debbie have involved themselves in every campus discipline over the years, it was athletics that first inspired the couple to return to Aggieland. “We had fond memories of attending football games as students,” John said. Those memories have kept the Bethancourts returning as season ticket holders since 1980. “That’s a long history of tailgates, bonfires, big wins and crushing defeats,” he added. But even when they are unhappy with the final score, they cherish spending time with friends and family who are current, former and future Aggies.
While the pair began their legacy by supporting Aggie athletics, they eventually expanded their giving to include multiple petroleum engineering and horticulture scholarships, a professorship and a President’s Endowed Scholarship. Notably, the couple also contributed a major gift toward the Memorial Student Center renovation to name the Bethancourt Family Grand Ballroom and another gift to the Aggie baseball program. In recognition, the scoreboard at Blue Bell Park bears their names.
The Bethancourts have not only given significantly toward improving the Aggie experience across campus but have also built a deep family legacy, with all four of their children and two of their grandchildren choosing Texas A&M. Despite all they have done for the university, the couple expressed the utmost gratitude in receiving the Evans Medal. “We both have very dear friends who have previously received this award, some who are among the people I admire most in this world,” John said. “We have tried to follow in their footsteps, so to find ourselves included in this group is the most humbling experience.”
Mark Fischer ’72, Former Chairman of The Association of Former Students
For SuSu and Mark Fischer ’72, the Sterling C. Evans name means the same thing in different ways. They both think of Evans’ namesake library on campus, as most Aggies do. While Mark remembers the library for the nights he burnt the midnight oil poring over aerospace engineering textbooks, SuSu remembers it as where she spent time with Mark. “He was very studious,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I wasn’t.” SuSu studied elementary education “down the road” at Texas State University in San Marcos. The longer she spent in places like Evans Library, though, the more Aggieland felt like her home, too.
Before then, the Fischers seemed bound together by fate. SuSu and Mark first met when they were six weeks and six months old, respectively. Their mothers were close friends at the time, and SuSu’s mother attended Mark’s parents’ wedding as maid of honor. The two would not cross paths again until they attended public high school together in Cuero, Texas, an archetypal small town halfway between Austin and Corpus Christi. They were a charismatic duo, both perennial class favorites. After winning Cuero High School Gobbler king and queen their senior year, the Fischers went on their first date and sparked a more than 50-year relationship.
No one in Mark’s family had graduated from Texas A&M when he applied that same year, but he held a connection to the university through his father and brother. “My dad studied there for two years before he left for World War II during his sophomore year,” Mark said, “but he never finished his degree.” The idea of picking up where his father left off was appealing, and after spending years in FFA leadership roles, Mark resonated with Texas A&M’s agricultural strengths. As much as she wanted to follow Mark, SuSu had personal reservations. “I was too scared to go to a big school,” she said.
SuSu did come around to Texas A&M in time, especially after seeing Mark’s passion for the university. “I remember walking to a football game when the band started playing ‘The Spirit of Aggieland,’” she said. “Immediately, we stopped in our tracks, and Mark belted out the words.” Kyle Field hosted many of the couple’s weekend dates, as Mark’s studies kept the two from spending much time together outside of gamedays and the occasional concert.
“We want to create positive experiences for all Aggies. I was very fortunate throughout my career to achieve many of my personal goals. Giving back to Texas A&M is our way of helping others do the same.”
His hard work paid off in the long run. After graduating with honors in 1972, he accepted a position at Humble Oil Co., now ExxonMobil. In the ensuing 16 years, Mark worked for several different companies in Kansas and Oklahoma before founding Chaparral Energy, a privately held, independent oil and gas company based in Oklahoma City, with his brother, Charles ’70, in 1988. Chaparral grew with ferocious speed during Mark’s 29-year tenure as CEO and was recognized in the coveted Aggie 100 four times in a row. In later years, he branched out as an entrepreneur, acquiring various companies such as Dippin’ Dots.
“We want to create positive experiences for all Aggies,” Mark said. “I was fortunate throughout my career to achieve many of my personal goals. Giving back to Texas A&M is our way of helping others do the same.” The Fischers started their philanthropic tradition through contributions to The Association of Former Students, the Texas A&M Foundation and the 12th Man Foundation.
Their generosity steadily ramped up over the years, culminating in major gifts to the Kyle Field and Zachry Engineering Education Complex renovation efforts. On Zachry’s ground floor, their namesake Fischer Engineering Design Center offers Aggie engineers ample space and cutting-edge resources to bring their creative ideas to life. “Students who use the center light up when talking about how helpful it is,” SuSu said. “It makes us feel good.”
The Fischers have expanded the Aggie family tree that started with Mark’s father: His two brothers, their daughter, two nieces and son-in-law all graduated from Texas A&M, while their grandchildren, already captivated by the university’s traditions, look forward to studying in Aggieland. On select fall Saturdays, much of the family can be found at Kyle Field. In the quiet moments when they are not cheering on the team, the Fischers can look on the special place they helped restore, think back on fond memories and welcome the opportunity to make new ones.
Amy Leach ’84
Tim Leach ’82, Chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents
Philanthropy is often a creative process, and for Amy ’84 and Tim Leach ’82, that process usually goes like this: Tim, a true visionary who is passionate about what is possible, dives into the conceptualization phase. Amy, the more pragmatic of the two, prefers to hang back until concrete details are set so she can put on finishing touches and see projects through to their completion.
This winning combination of complementing strengths drives the couple’s remarkable campus contributions, including their significant support for renovations to Kyle Field, the Memorial Student Center, the Zachry Engineering Education Complex, E.B. Cushing Stadium and the Leach Teaching Gardens. The Leaches did not set out to build their philanthropic legacy around preserving and revitalizing integral parts of campus, but over time, they grew hooked on transforming spaces for students, faculty and staff. “It’s our way of benefiting the most people over time,” Amy said.
Fittingly, the couple speaks of their personal history together as a series of special places. While they met during high school in Houston, their first official date was attending a “Gone with the Wind” play at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park, where Tim wooed Amy with a picnic dinner from their hillside vantage point. Their courtship continued at Texas A&M, where they studied engineering and education respectively. “She wouldn’t marry me until I had a degree and a job!” Tim joked. After graduation, the newlyweds moved 400 miles west to Midland, Texas, where Tim began building his career in the historic oil town.
After the success of his first experience with a smaller oil and gas company, Parker & Parsley, Tim and other former company executives founded Concho Resources in 1997. Concho grew exponentially during its more than two decades of operation, culminating in ConocoPhillips’ acquisition of the company in 2021.
As good stewards of their success, the Leaches wanted to give back to Texas A&M out of gratitude and a desire to provide Aggies with every tool to learn and build their own legacy. “We’re partners in life and partners in giving,” Tim said, “and we always wanted to give back to what we think is important.” Amy concurred. “Tim and I have made a good team,” she said. “We always agree on where and how we give.” Their combined vision makes for transformative projects like the Leach Teaching Gardens.
“It’s not about the things we’ve built, but about the ideals and relationships we’ve found here.”
Making up 7 acres of the 40-acre Gardens at Texas A&M project on West Campus, the Leach Teaching Gardens provide a tranquil green space for relaxation and outdoor education. Amy and Tim were passionate about the project from the start. Tim was excited about the potential to create new learning opportunities for current, former and future Aggies, while Amy, a self-described “people person,” most enjoys interacting with students and faculty and hearing how the Gardens have improved campus and positively impacted education.
Years of philanthropic work on campus have introduced the Leaches to the deeper lineage of influential Aggies and friends of the university throughout history. For example, Tim spoke with great admiration about quietly monumental figures like R. A. “Murray” Fasken ’38, the Texas A&M Foundation’s first chairman, and E. B. Cushing (Class of 1880), chairman of the Board of Regents in 1912, who personally financed the university in its early years and worked to ensure its independence from The University of Texas. The Leaches hope to emulate the selfless giving and service of historic examples they never met as well as examples they knew well, like Clayton Williams Jr. ’54. Each story inspires them to do a little more for the Aggie community.
Another benefit of their longstanding commitment to Texas A&M is seeing the fruits of their generosity and labor pay off in relationships. “We’ve maintained friendships with people we met here for more than 40 years,” Amy said. “We look around the Gardens or the MSC and see young people building the same kinds of relationships, and it’s humbling to think that we contributed in any way.” Tim agreed. “It’s not about the things we’ve built,” he said, “but about the ideals and relationships we’ve found here.”