Texas A&M University's Century Tree

Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services,
TAMUtimes, Texas A&M
Century Tree
Texas A&M University "Century Tree"

The Century Tree is a Texas A&M campus landmark.

Branching out, the landmark "Century Tree" that graces the heart of the Texas A&M University campus will soon have a growing and scholarship-funding presence as far west as Washington state and the Carolinas to the east, thanks to an Aggie graduate's green-thumb labor of love.

Money still doesn't grow on trees, and – though certainly imposing with branches so extensive and heavy, they rest on the ground – the stately Century Tree still doesn't have coast-to-coast roots. Its 2010 crop of thousands of acorns, however, produced 500 seedlings under the constant care of enterprising Andy Duffie, a 1978 Texas A&M graduate who has grown them with the goal of selling them to raise funds for a $100,000 President's Endowed Scholarship at his alma mater.

"These special trees are living pieces of Aggieland and will be enjoyed by Aggies for generations to come," Duffie notes, pointing out the purchases are being made by former students of all ages.

As Texas A&M's premier scholarship program, each President's Endowed Scholarship is a permanent legacy that will benefit future generations of Aggies, university officials note. The scholarships are awarded to top students who excel in both academics and leadership potential.

To date, Duffie has purchase commitments for more than 400 of the seedlings, which translates into about $84,000, underscoring that he is well on his way to attaining his $100,000 goal. The trees are priced at $250 each, or $200 each if someone purchases more than one. Two Aggies, one residing in Fort Worth and the other in Brownsville, have each signed up to buy eight trees.

At least three Aggies are so enthusiastic about the project that they signed up even though they have no place personally to plant the trees – so they are donating them. One of the donors, David Eisenlohr, a 1978 graduate residing in Dallas, is giving one tree to R. C. Slocum, the Aggies' former head football coach, for planting at his new home in College Station, and the other is headed to the state of Washington as a gift to Dr. Robert Gates, former Texas A&M president, and wife Becky for their home there. Bill Owen of Austin, a 1983 graduate, is donating a tree to be planted at the San Antonio Aggie Park, a unique facility owned and operated by the San Antonio A&M Club. Kevin Jordan of Missouri City, a 1996 graduate, is donating one to be planted on Texas A&M's marine-oriented branch campus in Galveston, officially known as Texas A&M University at Galveston.

The Century Tree is beloved by Aggies, many of whom – Kevin Jordan among them – have proposed to their future brides beneath its sprawling branches. It is believed to be one of the first trees planted on the campus of the state's first public institution of higher learning, which opened in 1876.

It's not just Aggies who consider the tree famous. The Century Tree has received “Famous Tree of Texas” designation by the Texas 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.

Getting the acorns to sprout was just the start of Duffie's labor of love. He watched over them daily at his Vernon, Texas home. To protect the tender seedlings during freezing weather, he trucked them to the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in Lockett, where an obliging staff provided him greenhouse space. Still, he had to make twice-weekly trips to the center to water and otherwise care for the plants.

The next challenge facing Duffie, now that the trees have grown enough to be planted permanently, is delivering them. They now range in height from four to seven feet and, Duffie reports, are adding about a half-inch a day during the current growing season.

He has mapped out a distribution plan. It will begin with him renting a U-Haul truck for a Sept. 15 trip to Grapevine to accommodate buyers in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He plans to bring a load of the trees to College Station Sept 22-23 to distribute to purchasers from an area stretching as far south as Houston. Beginning Sept. 2, he will head to West Texas, with stops in Abilene and San Angelo, and then complete that swing in Austin on Sept. 30.

Duffie says he will depend on UPS for shipments to Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia – and, for the longest haul, to Washington state. UPS is also a Texas option for buyers who are not able to meet Duffie during his scheduled deliveries around the state. Several Aggies have already opted for that option.

The project's Facebook page (Aggie Century Tree Project) shows pictures of the trees at different stages of development and includes care and planting instructions. The trees can be reserved for purchase by contacting Duffie at centurytree@aggienetwork.com.

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