Feature Stories

Evans Medal: Nyes

A Life’s Work

A Life’s Work

A room in the home of Alice and Erle Nye ’59 features a maroon carpet with a white border—the first clue. Its walls are covered with certificates of honor and plaques of gratitude. And around the room sit football helmets and shovels, used in the groundbreakings of various buildings. These are mementos from the Nyes’ many years of service to Texas A&M University. “If you visited our home, you’d have to be really interested in something else to not observe that we truly love Texas A&M.”

The Nyes now have a new piece to add to their collection: the Texas A&M Foundation’s 2017 Sterling C. Evans Medal, the highest distinction awarded to recognize service and philanthropy to the university. “It is a great honor just to be considered among giants and former winners like Jack Brown ’46 and George Mitchell ’40,” Erle said. “I’m not sure we warrant this, but we will accept it modestly and thankfully.”

The love Alice and Erle feel for Texas A&M was passed down by their fathers, who were both Aggie veterinarians. “Our parents were friends, so we’ve known each other a long time,” said Alice. Alice attended North Texas University for her teaching degree, but would have been an Aggie herself if Texas A&M had accepted women in the 1950s. Through their upbringing, Alice and Erle shared many of the values central to the university. “They were important to us then and they are important to us today,” said Erle, who earned a Texas A&M degree in electrical engineering and a law degree from Southern Methodist University.

Alice and Erle Nye '59 have a passion for supporting Texas A&M. Among their greatest contributions is the Alice and Erle Nye '59 Academic Center, part of the Bright Football Complex, where athletes study on a daily basis. 

A Turtle on a Fencepost

After receiving his education, Erle began an illustrious career in energy and utilities. In 2004, he retired as CEO of TXU Corp., the state’s largest publicly held utility company. Like a good Aggie, he didn’t forget what led to his success. “If you see a turtle sitting on a fencepost, you know that turtle didn’t get up there by himself,” said Erle, who is known for spouting humor and colloquialisms. “I know I didn’t get here by myself. I know many people helped me.”

In recognition of Texas A&M’s role in his life, the Dallas-based Nyes began to give back to the university financially and with their time. Erle has served on a host of boards and committees, including the12th Man Foundation Champions Council, the College of Engineering’s Advisory Council and the Advisory Board of the Medical School, to name a few. For 12 years, he also served as a regent for the university system. The couple has funded scholarships and contributed to building funds, such as the renovation of the Memorial Student Center (MSC). “When Alice visited the campus while I was a student, we used to sit and talk at the MSC. That constituted a date back then,” said Erle. “I hardly ever walk through there without thinking of those times.”

The Nyes feel that endowing faculty chairs is especially important and a way of leveraging their support. “You’ve got to attract excellent faculty, but to do so, you need generously endowed chairs," said Erle. In 2005, the couple created the Erle Nye ’59 Chair for Engineering Excellence in the College of Engineering. At $2 million, the endowment is one of the college’s largest for faculty. “Top-notch faculty will influence countless lives,” Erle said.  

He also encourages other Aggies to step up, since a decrease in state funding means that many programs and departments rely heavily on private giving. “Those blessed to attend Texas A&M have a duty to support the school,” he said.

The Academics-Sports Connection

The achievement that means the most to them, however, is the Alice and Erle Nye ’59 Academic Center, part of the Bright Football Complex. The academic center provides tutors, laptops, learning labs, and study areas for more than 600 student athletes on campus. “We’re so proud because it’s an athletic undertaking, but it’s in the pursuit of academics,” Erle said. What’s more, the center is a reflection of Alice’s work as a teacher. “Making sure that every child has an education has been the main focus of her life,” said Erle. The couple’s effort to improve education is not limited to Texas A&M. They helped to fund a state-of-the-art environmental science center on 40 acres of untouched land for Lakehill Prep School in Dallas.

When the extended family is in College Station for games or events, Alice likes to take the grandchildren to the academic center. “It says something to them: Academics are important,” she said. “They see our name on the building, but I stress that what’s on the inside is more important.”

In the larger picture, the Nyes see their investment in the academic center as beneficial to Aggie sports. “If athletes aren’t doing well academically, they worry about their grades, and their athletic performance suffers,” Erle said. Occasionally, the Nyes receive notes from athletes thanking them for the center.

“A coach told me that he often hears students leaving the locker room saying, ‘I’m going to Nye to study.’ That raises a lump in my throat." -Erle Nye '59

However, it’s not hard to get him choked up when it comes to Texas A&M. Erle is deeply grateful for the life his education has afforded him. “People say we’re generous, but I say we’re just paying a debt,” he said. “I clearly benefited from a great education, and my experience at Texas A&M affected me and my family more profoundly than I can say. I feel we owe the university more than we can ever pay.”

View past Sterling C. Evans Medal recipients here.