Aggie Field of Honor
Six men, Aggies all, spearheaded the effort which led to the creation of the City of College Station’s Aggie Field of Honor west of the Texas A&M University main campus.
The site marks a final resting place for those who wish to be buried near the school and with the Home of the 12th Man, Kyle Field, visible on the not-too-distant horizon.
Headstones there feature symbols of Aggie pride. Some sport logos of other schools: Texas, Notre Dame, and Baylor, to name a few.
A degree from A&M is not required for admittance.
“But there’s a spirit can ne’er be told.”
The College Station Memorial Cemetery and Aggie Field of Honor is located on the northwest corner of the intersection of Harvey Mitchell and Raymond Stotzer Parkways. Phase I of the project, which began in 2008, included a donation of approximately half the 27-acre tract of land by Texas A&M University. The City of College Station purchased the remainder of the property from private ownership.
Several years before, in late 2003, an “ad-hoc committee” composed of six distinguished former students outlined their vision for a proposed “Aggie Field of Honor” in a memorandum to the College Station City Council.
College Station’s original city cemetery is located along Texas Avenue, just north of Bee Creek. The site was built around an existing graveyard which had belonged to the Methodist church and dated back to 1873. The City of College Station took control of the property in 1948.
While that tract of land was originally intended to encompass some 31 acres, more than half the area was repurposed for the creation of Bee Creek Park.
Thus, as far back as the late 1980s, College Station municipal leaders understood a second cemetery site would eventually be needed.
Prominent A&M alumni Dick Birdwell, Jimmy Bond, Weldon Kruger, Dennis Goehring, Greg Taggert, and Joe Wallace led the push for the new College Station Memorial Cemetery to include the Aggie Field of Honor. Their vision for the site was “a place for Former Students, TAMU employees, and Friends of TAMU and their spouses to be buried.”
So strongly did the group feel about their idea, they assumed the role of “ad hoc committee” to the city’s parks department.
One advantage of the proposed concept, according to the committee, included providing a place to move existing graves located on university property, including that of former A&M President L.L. Foster, who died in office in December 1901, as well as other members of his family.
The committee believed the grounds would “satisfy a growing desire from Former Students for a place to be buried near the university campus.” At the time, according to the report, there were approximately 17,000 living Former Students over the age of 65.
Expected sales of burial plots, the report concluded, would easily cover the city’s cost for the land, development, and construction on the site.
While a university-themed burial ground might seem to be an idea uniquely suited to the culture and traditions of Texas A&M, the ad-hoc committee discovered that the concept had been employed by a number of U.S. colleges and universities. Virginia, Bucknell, Princeton, Syracuse, and Notre Dame all have college-affiliated cemeteries, many of them located on campus.
When ESPN, the sports television network, took a look at unusual sporting traditions in its 2012 series, It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports, the Aggie Field of Honor was prominently featured.
One episode of the series explored the topic, “Fans for Life and Longer.”
Featured were stories of funerals in which one fan was buried in a casket which featured the logo of the Baltimore Orioles on the coffin lid. Another segment told the story of the wake of a man whose loved ones displayed his deceased body as though “he had fallen asleep on his recliner watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play.”
About the Aggie Field of Honor, current College Station Parks & Recreation Department Director David Schmitz explained to ESPN that graves at the site are laid to rest pointing “head to foot” toward Kyle Field. The reason for that specific orientation, according to Schmitz: so that the spirit of the deceased can “partake in game-day activities.”
Schmitz went on to tell ESPN that he was uncertain whether internment came with any guarantee that the Aggie football team might someday again claim a national championship in football.
The last earned by the school came in 1939.
On the subject of football, Texas A&M’s first Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, was buried at the Aggie Field of Honor in the summer of 2015. One of Crow’s former Aggie teammates and fellow College Football Hall-of-Famers, Jack Pardee, was laid to rest at the site in 2013.
Former A&M president L.L. Foster and his family were successfully moved from the campus to the Aggie Field of Honor and are located in a prominent private plot near the center of the grounds.
After successfully campaigning for the concept, Dick Birdwell was buried at the Aggie Field of Honor in 2012. In addition to his duties on the site’s ad-hoc committee, Birdwell was also a Ross Volunteer and a Distinguished Student–Class of ’53–at A&M. Upon graduation, he served two years of active duty with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then another nine years in the Army Reserves, retiring at the rank of major.
Birdwell spent the majority of the next 20 years of his life working with Dow Chemical. He became president of Dow Engineering in 1972. In 1986, Birdwell retired and moved back to College Station, serving three terms as a city councilman.
In their 2003 report, Birdwell and the rest of the ad-hoc committee expressed hope the Aggie Field of Honor could be opened before the end of 2007.
It was dedicated Friday, July 17, 2009.
Four days earlier, the first body was laid to rest at the site.
That distinction went to an “Aggie Mom,” Billie Holder.
Billie and her husband, Jimmie Holder, Class of ’53, spent most of their adult lives in Lubbock, Texas. There, Billie became president of the Lubbock A&M Mother’s Club. The Federation of Texas A&M University Mothers’ Clubs was established in 1928 and today includes more than 6500 women representing some 108 clubs.
According to the federation website, Texas A&M is “the only university in the United States where students’ mothers are organized for the purpose of supporting their children and the university they attend.”
Billie and Jimmie Holder raised three Aggies. Their children also sent their children to Texas A&M.
After 55 years of marriage to Jimmie, Billie died on Valentine’s Day, 2009, and was buried at the College Station city cemetery. She was reinterred to the Aggie Field of Honor just days before dedication of the grounds.
One of her sons, Jamie Holder, told The Eagle newspaper his mother was a “die-hard Aggie.”
“She was a big champion of A&M,” Jamie Holder said. “She was a little bit quick-tempered if somebody put A&M down.”
Jimmie Holder said that when he and his wife were unable to attend football games, Billie would listen to every second of the radio broadcast or watch the game on television.
For all eternity now, Billie Holder’s Aggie spirit will be close to the school she loved.
Some may boast of prowess bold
Of the school they think so grand
But there's a spirit can ne'er be told
It's the Spirit of Aggieland
We are the Aggies, the Aggies are we
True to each other as Aggies can be
From Spirit of Aggieland, the alma mater of Texas A&M University
Original poem written by Marvin H. Mimms, Class of 1925