It’s perhaps the only tree in America that has a scholarship named in its honor — a $100,000 endowed scholarship, no less. It’s fitting, especially since the Century Oak that graces the heart of the Texas A&M University campus had a big role in raising the big bucks. It produced the prized acorns that sprouted into seedlings for which hundreds of Aggies clamored to buy at $250 a pop.
The Century Oak has a wide reach. Its branches reach out more than 75 feet — some so long and heavy that they have long had to rest on the ground. In another sense, its reach stretches across America, with more than 500 seedlings grown from its acorns literally thriving from coast to coast — from Washington state to the west and the Carolinas and Virginia to the east.
Given its fund-raising ability, the venerable live oak is in a sense contradicting the assertion that money doesn’t grow on trees. It does on the Century Tree, at least figuratively.
The Century Tree — sometimes called the Century Oak — is so named because campus lore has it dating back more than a century — cropping up not long after the 1876 opening of the oldest public institution of higher learning in Texas. Some skeptics question the live oak’s longevity, but no one questions the love Aggies have for it — certainly not the many who formalized their marriage aspirations under its branches.
Its seedlings — 540 to be precise — actually generated more than the $100,000 needed to endow the top-tier scholarship that will be used for decades to come in helping Texas A&M attract even more high-achieving students, including National Merit Scholars. The first Century Tree President’s Endowed Scholarship will be presented to an incoming freshman in the fall of 2014 through the Texas A&M Foundation, which serves as the university’s major-gifts fund-raising organization.
It’s all the result of a labor of love by Andy Duffie, a 1978 Texas A&M graduate with a green thumb that he was happy and willing to put to good use for the benefit of his alma mater and the students who will benefit from the premier scholarship that he made possible.
In addition to delivering on his commitment to raise the $100,000 for the endowment, Duffie rented U-Haul trucks and personally delivered the majority of the trees that he grew in his backyard for two years. Grown from acorns gathered in 2010, the trees ranged in height from four to six feet when delivered.
“I personally delivered about 500 trees in three separate U-Haul trips around Texas,” Duffie notes. ”I also shipped shorter trees by UPS to Aggies all over Texas as well as to Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Washington state, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.
“These special trees are living pieces of Aggieland and will be enjoyed by Aggies for generations to come,” Duffie adds, pointing out the purchases were made by former students of all ages.
Some of the $250 trees were purchased by Aggies and donated to other recipients. For example, one tree was purchased and donated to Governor Rick Perry, a 1972 Texas A&M graduate, and is now growing on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. Several trees were presented as gifts to newly married Aggies. Others were purchased and placed at Texas A&M’s branch campus in Galveston, the San Antonio Aggie Park and the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham. Still others were purchased in honor of deceased Aggies or to honor older Aggie family members.
“Over 100 of my trees were purchased by Aggie couples of all generations who were engaged under the Century Tree at some point in time,” Duffie says. “They were very pleased to have their own Century Tree seedling now growing in their yards at home.”
Some Aggies bought in volume, taking advantage of Duffie’s offer to sell at $200 each if more than two trees were purchased by an individual. Two Aggies loaded up with eight each.
Duffie seems to have enjoyed delivering the trees almost as much as he enjoyed nursing them into condition to be delivered.
“During my deliveries, I literally met hundreds of awesome Aggies who were thrilled to receive their trees,” notes Duffie, who resides in the north central town of Vernon. “The Aggie Connection is still very much alive and well! It never ceases to amaze me how strongly we are all connected through one tie or another.”
He says he encouraged the new Aggie tree owners to email him pictures of their tree planted in their yards. “I posted those pics on my Facebook page (Aggie Century Tree Project),” he reports, adding his Facebook page also includes a map showing the planting locations of many of the Century Tree seedlings around Texas and the southern U.S.
He says since concluding the project, he has received over 150 more tree orders from Aggies who belatedly learned of the project. “I have encouraged several of those unfortunate Aggies to grow their own Century Tree seedlings from acorns, just as I did, and I have provided them with many tips and suggestions for doing so.”
It’s not just Aggies who consider the tree famous. The Century Tree has received “Famous Tree of Texas” designation by the Texas A&M Forest Service. The “Famous Tree of Texas” designation is reserved for “an elite group of trees that have ‘witnessed exciting times in Texas frontier history’ and are alive today,” says Gretchen Riley, the program’s coordinator.
Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662