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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Feature Stories

Student Impact

Spreading Seeds

By Chelsea O'Neal '17

Contributor

With wide trunks and thick roots, live oak trees are known to endure the test of time—many live for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. Their deep, sturdy roots ensure that they survive harsh changes in seasonal temperatures and eventually mature into majestic giants that shade and preotect surrounding life.

Much like the live oak tree, College Station resident Andy Duffie ’78 has a passion for nurturing the life that surrounds him. In 2008, Duffie started the Aggie Century Tree Project, an idea to raise money for Aggie scholarships by harvesting acorns from Texas A&M’s Century Tree, nurturing its seedlings and selling its offspring. Since the project’s start, Duffie has raised more than $150,000.

With a portion of these funds, he endowed a $100,000 President’s Endowed Scholarship (PES) through the Texas A&M Foundation that supports the education of its first recipient, Aaron DePaolo ’18.

This photo of Old Main was taken sometime before 1900. The young Century Tree can be seen on the far left of the photo.
This photo, taken around 1917, shows a slightly older Century Tree in front of Bolton Hall. It is the largest tree on the left of the photo.

Deep Roots

Duffie’s fascination with the Century Tree began when he served as a campus tour guide during his time as a marketing major at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School. “I’ve always been a history buff,” he said, “but there is nothing I loved more than teaching campus visitors about the history and traditions surrounding the greatest university in the world.” 

Recently, Duffie learned that the iconic tree, planted as a test seedling in 1891 on the northwest side of campus on a former Corps of Cadets drill field, was part of an experiment in the Texas A&M horticulture department to determine which type of tree would grow best in the soil near Old Main.

Among the trees planted, including softwood, hardwood and conifer varieties, the live oak species stood the test of time. As the campus around the tree changed, the Century Tree remained an enduring piece of Texas A&M’s landscape. In 2011, it was named an official Famous Tree of Texas by the Texas Forest Service, making it one of only three trees to receive the designation over the past 40 years.

Sprouting Ideas 

During a visit to campus for his 30th class reunion in September 2008, Duffie noticed that the Century Tree was carrying its annual harvest of autumn acorns. “That’s when it came to me,” he said. “What if I could get these acorns to sprout?”  

On a whim, Duffie collected a couple of acorns to take back home, but when none of these sprouted, he realized the acorns weren’t mature.

Upon another visit to campus in October 2010, Duffie decided to try again. He spent six hours over the course of two days collecting nearly 3,000 acorns—since only one acorn in five will sprout. After planting and nourishing them, 530 sprouted into mini-replicas of the Century Tree.

Duffie spent the next two years giving these seedlings the tender loving care they required. “Growing trees isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It just takes dedication and time.” After more than 730 days, the nearly 6-foot-tall trees were ready for delivery and the Century Tree Project was fully underway.

Through Facebook, Duffie sold all 530 trees to Aggie families across Texas, who purchased them as gifts for occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, memorials and weddings. More than 100 trees found homes with Aggie couples who were engaged beneath the Century Tree’s 75-foot branches.

Today, offspring of the Century Tree can be found from Virginia to Washington State, and in places like the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, the Texas A&M at Galveston campus, Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham, Texas, and at the home of former Texas A&M head football coach R.C. Slocum. Duffie also plans to dedicate a tree at Texas A&M’s new satellite campus in McAllen, Texas, in the near future.

Aaron DePaolo '18 (right) is the first recipient of a President's Endowed Scholarship created by Andy Duffie '78, who funded the scholarship with the proceeds of sales of Century Tree seedlings.

Most of the trees were shipped to their new homes via UPS, but Duffie spent three weekends in September 2012 personally delivering others across Texas. “My favorite part of the process was seeing the look on people’s faces when they realized they had their own piece of Aggieland,” he said.

While sales from the 2010 seedlings funded his President’s Endowed Scholarship in 2012, Duffie continues to raise and sell seedlings to support Texas A&M students. In 2015, his tree sales funded an Aggie Ring Scholarship through The Association of Former Students. Through the marketing of seedlings from the Century Tree in 2016 and 2017, he plans to endow a Sul Ross Scholarship and a global study scholarship through the Foundation, in addition to other endowed scholarships of his choice in later years.

Cultivating Futures

For Aaron DePaolo, the first recipient of Duffie’s President’s Endowed Scholarship, the Century Tree is a reminder of the support he’s received at Texas A&M. “I feel lucky having a scholarship that stems from an Aggie tradition and embodies the Aggie family,” DePaolo said.

An individual or group can establish a President’s Endowed Scholarship with a one-time gift of $100,000 or through a series of installments over a period of up to five years. The gift provides a stipend for one student over four years, plus a bonus for a study abroad experience. Since the Foundation manages the endowment to pay for the current student’s scholarship while simultaneously providing for the long-term growth of the principle, the gift supports students in perpetuity.