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 their alma mater and with the Home of the 12th Man, Kyle Field, visible on the not-too-distant horizon.
In a December 2003 memorandum to the City of College Station from the “ad-hoc committee” promoting the Aggie Field of Honor concept, the half-dozen distinguished former students who made up the committee outlined their vision for the proposed project.
College Station’s original city cemetery was created in 1948 and built around an existing graveyard which had belonged to the local Methodist Church since 1873. While that tract of land was originally intended to encompass some 31 acres, more than half the land was repurposed for the creation of Bee Creek Park.
Thus, as far back as the late 1980’s, the City understood it would eventually need a second tract of land dedicated as a cemetery 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.
Still, 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 mentioned.
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 sporting the logo of the Baltimore Orioles, while another deceased man was displayed at his wake as though “he had fallen asleep on his recliner” watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play.
About the Aggie Field of Honor, the current director of the College Station Parks & Recreation Department, David Schmitz, explained that those buried at the site are laid to rest “head to foot” pointing toward Kyle Field so that their “spirit (can be) partaking in game-day activities.”
Schmitz was uncertain whether the “hallowed ground” came with any guaranteed success that the Aggie football team might claim a national championship to go along with the one the school captured in 1939.
Texas A&M’s first Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, was buried in the Aggie Field of Honor in the summer of 2015. Two years before, his former college teammate, Jack Pardee, was also laid to rest at the site.
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.”
The College Station Memorial Cemetery and Aggie Field of Honor sits on the northwest corner of the intersection of FM Highway 2818, the Harvey Mitchell Parkway, and FM 60, which becomes University Road on the A&M campus. Phase I of the project included a donation of approximately half the 27-acre tract of land by Texas A&M University with purchase of the remainder of the property by the City of College Station.
Advantages of the concept, according to the committee’s report, 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, along with other members of his family.
The committee also believed that 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.
Dick Birdwell, Class of ’53, was a Distinguished Student and Ross Volunteer while a student at The A&M College of Texas. 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.
He spent the majority of the next 20 years working with Dow Chemical, becoming president of Dow Engineering in 1972. In 1986, he retired and moved back to College Station, serving three terms as a city councilman.
He was buried at the Aggie Field of Honor on April 7, 2012.
In their 2003 report, Birdwell and the rest of the ad-hoc committee hoped 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 student’s mothers are organized for the purpose of supporting their children and the university they attend.”
Billie and Jimmie Holder raised three Aggie children whose own children 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 at the Aggie Field of Honor nearly five months later.
One of her sons, Jamie Holder, told The Eagle newspaper Billie was a “die-hard Aggie.”
“She was just a big champion of A&M,” Jamie Holder said. “She was probably 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 ever second on the radio or watch the game on television.
For all eternity now, her Aggie Spirit will be close to the school she loved most.