January 11, 2018

Vergel Gay '73 had no idea that meeting the love of his life would start with an umbrella.

“We met at a Black Awareness Committee meeting on campus in 1969. I was a sophomore, and Cynthia '76 was a junior at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station,” said Vergel. “I had my umbrella leaning against a chair, and she knocked it down—at least three times!” That was all the introduction he needed.

“I accidently knocked down his umbrella, but it was only twice,” said Cynthia. “It wasn’t on purpose, but that’s how we met. He said that I had a nice smile, and asked if he could take my picture for an assignment in his photography class. Soon after, we began dating.”

Cynthia entered Texas A&M as a freshman education major, and the couple married during her senior year of college. From that point forward, the university that they loved became a central theme in their lives.

Cynthia '76 and Vergel Gay '73 and their daughter Christel '06 wanted to endow a scholarship that would serve a dual purpose: celebrate the life of Christel's daughter Christen as well as support pediatric nurses in the Texas A&M College of Nursing. 

Vergel received a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and a master’s degree in architecture before earning distinction as the first African-American Texas A&M graduate to become a licensed architect. He is currently CEO of Vergel Gay & Associates, a Houston-based project management, planning, design and construction firm.

Cynthia graduated from college in three years with a bachelor’s degree in education and taught for several years.  After earning an MBA, she worked in the corporate arena and then transitioned into higher education. She retired in 2016 after a 25-year career at Texas A&M University, most recently as director of external relations in the Division of Marketing & Communications. She now works alongside Vergel in the family business as the firm’s chief operating officer.

Vergel and Cynthia passed on their love for Texas A&M to their two daughters who are both proud Aggie graduates.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are of times spent on campus with my parents for alumni meetings and events, hanging out at the MSC, and of course going to football games at Kyle Field,” said Courtney ’04, who earned a master’s degree in kinesiology with a concentration in sport management. “Texas A&M has always been a very special place to our family.”

“Christel '06 received the same two degrees that I did, “said Vergel. “We even sat in some of the same classrooms and had a few of the same professors.” Christel and Vergel now work together at his firm.

Christen's Birth

In 2011, Christel was expecting her first child, and Vergel and Cynthia’s first grandchild. At 23 weeks and five days, she experienced symptoms signaling that something was wrong. A family friend, who was a nurse, met her at the hospital and confirmed she was going into labor. Her daughter, Christen, was born nearly three months prematurely.

“Christen was only one and a half pounds at birth,” said Cynthia. “She really was a miracle baby, and from the time she was born, we had family and friends praying for her, supporting us and showing so much love.”

Christen was born at Cy-Fair Hospital in Houston, where a pediatric nurse realized that her nasal passage was blocked. She was then transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital. After six months in the hospital, Christen was finally released and sent home.

“She had a trach, and the nurses taught us how to suction it, what numbers we needed to see for her oxygen levels, how to reattach the monitor and everything my husband and I needed to know to care for her at home,” said Christel.

“Christen seemed to be doing so well,” said Cynthia. “She was crawling, standing up, beginning to walk and she had so much personality.” But, at 13 months, Christen suffered sudden respiratory failure and passed away.

Funding Future Care

Emily Hovis '17, the  inaugural recipient of the Christen Addison Coleman Endowed Scholarship, hopes to use this opportunity to change the lives of children through pediatric nursing. 

“We envisioned our grandchildren coming to Texas A&M,” said Cynthia. “So when we lost Christen, we knew that we wanted to do something for the university in her memory. The impact that the nurses had on her care and on our family was a guiding factor in our decision.”

The Christen Addison Coleman Endowed Scholarship serves the dual purpose of celebrating the life of a beloved child and supporting students at the Texas A&M College of Nursing who are preparing to become pediatric nurses. “Our family and friends came together to make the scholarship possible,” said Vergel. “They contributed about a third of the endowment, and we are extremely grateful for their generous support.”

The scholarship was awarded for the first time last fall to its inaugural recipient, Emily Hovis '17.

“Receiving this scholarship meant so much to me and my family,” said Hovis. “I didn’t have to worry as much about money and how I was going to pay for nursing school. I am so grateful that I got to meet this wonderful Aggie family, and I look forward to honoring their faith in me as I begin my practice as a nurse.”