June 4, 2018

Debbie and Mike Hilliard '73 created a planned gift to support the Texas A&M Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance.

Like many children of Aggie parents, William M. “Mike” Hilliard ’73 was told he could attend any school in Texas—minus a small few—but knew there was a sure-fire choice. His father, Class of 1948, encouraged him from a young age that Texas A&M University was the place to be, and Mike followed suit, joining many of his high school classmates in Aggieland.  

He began his time at Texas A&M in the College of Liberal Arts, but after participating in intramural activities and volunteering in the Special Olympics program, he developed a lifelong interest in sports medicine. These factors influenced him to change his major to physical education and move to the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

It was Mike’s love for athletics that led him and his wife Debbie to meet Dr. Timothy Lightfoot, director of the Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance in the CEHD. The friendship that formed sparked the beginning of the Hilliard legacy at Texas A&M.

Science in Motion

The Huffines Institute’s primary focus is to educate the next generation of exercise scientists, researchers and practitioners in sports medicine and health. The institute works to close the gap between those who conduct research in sports medicine and athletes who use sports medicine, and today, it is a leading force behind providing quality sports medicine outreach and education to the public. In addition to hosting lectures and a weekly podcast, the Huffines Institute also assists Texas A&M Athletics coaches and trainers.

In December 2017, the Hilliards created a $2 million planned gift for the institute through a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT) that they funded with appreciated securities. A CRUT combines substantial tax savings with the ability to produce payments for you or your family members. This type of gift is especially helpful for retired individuals who would like to sell land or stock tax-free and receive generous payments. At the end of the trust term, the assets in the trust benefit the cause of your choice at Texas A&M.

“This method allowed us a large charitable tax deduction and gave us a steady stream of income for our lifetimes as well as for our children’s lives,” Mike said. “If we want to, we can also take the annual proceeds from the CRUT and support other causes if we don’t need the distributions personally. The flexibility of the CRUT’s structure was exactly what we were looking for.

“The ability to add to the CRUT in the future with other assets, thereby increasing value, was a huge enticement as well,” Mike added. “Besides, the Foundation has experienced better average returns in its trust investments than our private account was yielding, so we thought this was a win-win deal.”

The couple hopes their gift will bring more attention to Texas A&M and improve the impact made by the CEHD on the human performance field. “We absolutely fell in love with what Dr. Lightfoot is doing at the institute,” Mike said. “Texas A&M should be one of—if not the best—sports medicine and human development programs in the country. Dr. Lightfoot and the institute are advancing this narrative and providing the window to Texas A&M as a major player in this field. With the right support, financially and administratively, Dr. Lightfoot's program can become a ‘front porch’ to Texas A&M nationwide.”

The Hilliards’ recent gift supplements a previous planned gift they established a few years ago for the Huffines Institute, also through a charitable remainder unitrust. A portion of that gift will be used to provide fellowships for graduate students and will also create a chair to support the institute’s director. Additionally, their gift will be used to upgrade production and broadcast quality for The Huffines Discussion, an annual one-day symposium which brings national leaders and thinkers in human performance and sports medicine to Texas A&M. In recognition, it will be renamed the Debbie and Mike Hilliard ’73 Discussion.

The Huffines Institute works to educate new generations of exercise scientists, researchers and practitioners in sports medicine and health.

“It’s exciting to watch people from across the country come to Texas A&M to participate in sports medicine discussions, studies and collaborations with our faculty and students,” Mike added. “The institute’s interaction with Texas A&M’s athletic programs through testing and methods of training is just a bonus to the overall benefit they are providing to the population.”

Mike and Debbie met at Texas A&M and married shortly after Mike graduated in 1973. The couple soon found out they were going to be parents, forcing Debbie to cut her degree short and Mike to find a job—fast. He received an offer from an insurance company in San Angelo, Texas, and worked in the insurance industry for the next three years before starting his own business in his hometown of Tyler, Texas. He later sold the company—Hilliard Box Insurance—and the rights to Risk Alternatives, a risk management entity, to Guaranty Bank and Insurance Group. He retired in 2009, exactly 35 years to the day that he began working after leaving Texas A&M.

In addition to the couple’s generous gifts to the Huffines Institute, Mike and Debbie created a $3 million planned gift benefitting Texas A&M’s College of Liberal Arts. The Debbie and Mike Hilliard ’73 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment will fund scholarships and faculty support for the creation of an innovation and entrepreneurship minor and certificate program within the college, better preparing students with skills in critical thinking, transformational learning and interdisciplinary collaboration.

To learn how a charitable remainder unitrust can benefit you, your family and the university, contact Angela Throne ’03 in the Office of Gift Planning at athrone@txamfoundation.com or (979) 845-5638.