Feature Stories

Evans Medal

All for Education

All for Education

In late February, three recipients joined the ranks of Sterling C. Evans Medal honorees, a growing list of esteemed individuals recognized for leaving legacies through service and generosity. For 2016, the Texas A&M Foundation chose philanthropists Joan Read and her late husband Tom of Magnolia, Texas, and the Ed Rachal Foundation, a Corpus Christi nonprofit established after the deaths of Texas rancher Ed Rachal Jr. and his wife Louise.

This year’s medal winners receive the Foundation’s highest honor because of their generosity and leadership to diverse aspects of Texas A&M University. 

Since 1973, an avid interest in Texas A&M’s growth and development led the Rachal Foundation to contribute $21.4 million to the university by the time of this year’s Evans Medal event. And because of the contributions of the Reads—totaling more than $8.5 million during the past four decades—Texas A&M’s industrial distribution, veterinary medicine, and health and kinesiology disciplines are stronger than ever.

Ed Rachal created the Rachal Foundation via a request in his will that his estate be used to support charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes in Texas

Labor of Love

Lasting partnerships are the backbone of the Evans Medal award. As the largest beneficiary of the Rachal Foundation, Texas A&M has received almost one-third of the foundation's total distributions in its more than 52 years of existence. “We give to entities that are effective in delivering benefits, and Texas A&M does a good job of managing what they’re given,” said Rachal Foundation CEO Paul Altheide.

The Rachal Foundation was created in 1965 after Ed Rachal stipulated in his will that his estate be used to establish a foundation benefiting “charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes within the State of Texas.” Born in Rockport, Texas, Rachal went on to acquire and build the 15,000-acre La Copa ranch in Falfurrias, Texas, and the 67,000-acre Galvan ranch near Laredo, Texas. The Rachal Foundation sold most of the ranchland but retains a portion of the minerals. Boosted by oil and gas earnings, its growing assets now top $500 million.

“Texas A&M is a labor of love for us,” added Rachal Foundation Chairman David Hoyer. “We’re not seeking accolades, and we typically avoid publicity, but it’s thrilling to receive the Evans award.”

A Fruitful 40-Year Relationship

Texas A&M’s relationship with the Rachal Foundation began with an overture from Texas A&M fundraising executive Robert Walker ’58, when he contacted former Rachal Foundation head Curtis Robert ’49 about funding lights for Olsen Field. Robert, who earned a master’s degree in accounting at Texas A&M, declined but said he would consider other requests. A subsequent proposal resulted in $100,000 for scholarships for Brooks County and Falfurrias students. Larger grants followed, including $1 million in 1983 for President’s Endowed Scholarships, but Walker didn’t meet Robert in person for almost seven years.

Their relationship warmed after he and Texas A&M assisted Robert in obtaining a gas well that was slated to be capped on the Galvan ranch and that Robert wanted to use for irrigation. Under Robert’s direction, the Rachal Foundation endowed a mechanical engineering chair in honor of prominent Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt Jr. ’45, who later returned the favor by creating a gift in honor of Robert. 

Before Robert died, he asked Walker to join the Rachal Foundation board. Walker accepted and served 23 years on the seven-member board along with two other Aggies. To honor Walker upon his Texas A&M retirement in 2014, the Rachal Foundation gave $1 million to establish the JoAnn ’92 and Bob ’58 Walker Singing Cadets Endowment. 

5 Chairs, 4 Fellowships and 31 Scholarships

In addition to the Wyatt faculty chair, the Rachal Foundation provided funding for four others: the Nelson D. Durst ’39 Chair in accounting in the Mays Business School, the Herschel E. Burgess ’29 Endowed Chair in High Energy Physics in the College of Science, and two chairs in the College of Education and Human Development—the Ruth Harrington Chair in Educational Leadership and the Douglas J. Palmer Chair in Educational Psychology.

Sterling C. Evans Medal

“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.

Mrs. Joan Read

“The Reads are inspiring,” said Walker, who worked with them on several Texas A&M gifts and serves on the Deerfoot Youth Charities board. “They always thanked me for the opportunity to support Texas A&M.”

In 1986, the Reads gave $2 million to endow the Thomas A. and Joan Read Research Center in Industrial Distribution, which brings together distributors, manufacturers and educators to solve distribution industry problems. Joan, who served many years on the program’s advisory council, also gave $1 million in 1996 to establish the Don A. Rice Chair in Industrial Distribution. She also established the Tom and Joan Read Chair in Veterinary Surgery in 1999 in gratitude for the care her dogs received as well as a clinical research scholarship named for Oscar J. “Bubba” Woytek ’64 DVM, a friend who is the assistant vice president of development and alumni relations for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Woytek said Joan “finds most happiness in helping others.” 

“When you grow up poor,” said Joan, “you never get over being grateful. I was speechless when I learned of the Evans award.” 

When Ponder retired in 2001, Joan established another chair in the College of Education, the Leonard D. Ponder Chair for Research and Development. “The Reads have a heart for helping people,” said Ponder, “and their legacy is going to continue through the young people who have better lives because of them.”

View a list of previous Evans Medal recipients.