“It’s heartening to see the Rachal Foundation’s passion for education. These chairs provide extraordinary support for faculty initiatives in teaching, research and leadership,” said Palmer, who led the education college for 10 years and is a former head of educational psychology. In 2015, he returned to the faculty full-time after two decades in administration.
The Rachal Foundation also has given almost $4 million to The Bush School of Government and Public Service in support of two faculty fellowships named for Rachal Foundation board members—John D. White ’70 and E. Richard Schendel—as well as the Ed Rachal Foundation Endowed Fellowship and the Robert Mosbacher Sr. Graduate Fellowship.
Additionally, more than $1.7 million has benefited Corps of Cadets programs and scholarships—specifically, the John D. White ’70 Century 21 Scholarship, 19 General Rudder Scholarships and 11 Sul Ross Scholarships. The Rachal Foundation also contributed $250,000 to the Corps’ Leadership Excellence Program for cadets choosing corporate rather than military careers.
“We are grateful to the Rachal Foundation,” said Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez Jr. ’79, Corps commandant. “These scholarships have a huge impact. They help with recruiting and retention, and for many, they make the difference between staying in the Corps and at Texas A&M or dropping out.”
Joan Read and her late husband Thomas chose to support many areas at Texas A&M, including education, veterinary medicine, industrial distribution and the Corps of Cadets.
The Read Story
Thomas Read’s admiration for Texas A&M and its Corps of Cadets opened the door to a relationship that endures 24 years after his death. Since 1991, Tom’s wife Joan has overseen the Reads’ partnership with Texas A&M—the operation of a summer sports camp for disadvantaged boys, the Read Youth Charities and the couple’s Texas A&M endowments, including a research center, four faculty chairs and numerous scholarships.
The couple grew up during the Depression blocks apart in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb, but their paths diverged after high school. Joan worked in a bank and became secretary to an advertising firm president, while Tom joined the U.S. Army and became a World War II bomber pilot. After the war and three years of college, Tom started working in Houston for Crawford Fitting Co., which manufactured and distributed pipe fittings to petrochemical companies. In 1951, with $860 in capital, he founded Thomas A. Read & Co. and continued distributing Crawford products.
Tom and Joan crossed paths again in 1956 when Joan visited her brother in Houston, and they were married within three months. Tom sold fittings during the day and filled orders at night while his new bride kept the books. Their company, with a territory including Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana, grew to be one of the largest of the 132 companies representing Crawford. “We lived simply, and the business thrived,” said Joan.
In the 1970s, Texas A&M fundraiser Robert Walker met Tom and introduced him to Dr. Don Rice, Texas A&M’s industrial distribution coordinator, who began taking students on field trips to Read & Co. in Houston. “Tom always admired the Corps of Cadets and Texas A&M’s conservative values. He was a man of high integrity and moral character, an astute businessman who gave his customers a fair price and good service. He was everything you’d want a student to emulate,” said Rice.
Tom believed students were better equipped for success when they earned their way through school, so he helped Rice develop a work-study program, paying students who worked as research assistants. Within a decade, Tom turned to Texas A&M to help fulfill a lifelong dream.
A Vision Realized
For years, Tom had dreamed of starting a free summer camp for underprivileged boys. When he was young, Joan explained, many of his friends went away to summer camp while he was left at home. In 1978, the Reads opened a camp in Magnolia, Texas. After struggling to find someone to operate the camp as he envisioned, Tom asked Walker if he knew anyone at Texas A&M that could help. Walker recommended Dr. Leonard Ponder, then health and kinesiology department head.
“When we drove onto the grounds, I realized the camp was first class and that we wanted to be part of it,” said Ponder, noting that since 1981, Texas A&M has worked closely with the Reads and their longtime assistant Maria Fowler to provide camp supervision, coaches and counselors in the form of Texas A&M students.
“Tom told me he didn’t know anything about operating a camp, but I soon realized that didn’t mean he didn’t have definite ideas,” said Ponder. “The way we operated the camp made a lot of difference in his affinity for the university.”
Deerfoot Youth Camp
Deerfoot campers learn important leadership and team building skills through outdoor activities.
Deerfoot Youth Camp is located on 330 acres of piney woods. The three-week boarding camp accommodates 112 boys, ages 10 through 13, during two sessions. The boys—at-risk students identified by their public schools—may attend the camp at no charge for four years. Individual and group sports teach discipline, respect, teamwork, trust and accountability. Field trips to Texas A&M open campers’ eyes to the possibility of a college education, and a one-week reunion camp every year for boys ages 14 to 18 helps keep their eyes on the goal. Successful former campers that attain admittance to Texas A&M are eligible for generous Read scholarships.
Ponder, now retired from Texas A&M, continues to assist in reviewing campers’ scholarship applications and helping them obtain a mix of aid that often approaches a full ride. Fourteen former campers are Texas A&M graduates, and nine currently attend Texas A&M in College Station and Galveston. Ponder also consults with Dr. Mike Thornton, a health and kinesiology professor who started as a camp counselor in 1994 and is now executive camp director and Read Youth Charities’ general manager.
Thornton and his family have spent many summers at the camp, which hires Texas A&M health and kinesiology majors to provide them hands-on coaching experience. Grateful former campers also often return as coaches. Camp Deerfoot has served approximately 3,384 campers, and over the years, Joan added a one-week summer camp for children treated at M.D. Anderson. She also plans to extend scholarships for former campers to attend trade schools.
“The reason I’m at Texas A&M,” Thornton said half-jokingly, “is so I can work at Deerfoot. Maybe there’s another place that’s had as much impact, but I don’t know where it is. Joan is a selfless person who truly cares about these kids.”
Significant Gifts Followed
After Texas A&M began helping with Deerfoot, the Reads began making more significant gifts to the university. First was a $100,000 scholarship endowment with priority consideration given to former campers. Then they established the Thomas A. and Joan Read Endowed Chair for Disadvantaged Youth within the health and kinesiology department. More endowments, including one to help run the camp, and scholarships followed. About 800 Aggies in various disciplines—the Corps, veterinary medicine, education, industrial distribution and others—have been supported by Read scholarships.