May 1, 2018

For more than 40 years, Leroy “Shafe” Shafer ’67 and his trademark western hat (with a cattleman’s crease) were representative of the entire Houston Rodeo experience—part country, part rock ‘n’ roll and 100 percent Texan.

Texas agricultural legend Manzell Leroy “Shafe” Shafer ’67 and his wife Nancy have established an impactful planned gift for Texas A&M.

Shafe, who retired in 2014 from his position as chief operating officer of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, was instrumental in growing the event into the largest livestock show and rodeo in the world and the largest fair, event or festival in North America. He began working for the organization in 1973 as assistant manager for public relations while the show was struggling to grow into the Astrodome after leaving its old home in the Sam Houston Coliseum. Through the course of his tenure, he helped to transform the show into a multiweek entertainment destination that attracts millions of visitors each year.

One of the keys to that growth was bringing in bigger musical acts that were more in tune with the interests of a wide range of audiences—the hottest names in country, rock and pop music. Under his early tenure, he watched a concert lineup of iconic country stars like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash grow to include mainstream pop acts like Tony Orlando & Dawn, the Jackson 5 and Sonny & Cher.

Aside from his role in researching, analyzing and securing entertainment, vastly improving presentations and promoting ticket sales, Shafe was intimately involved with the rodeo’s scholarship program, a major supporter of Texas youth. The rodeo awarded its first scholarship in 1957 and has since provided nearly 17,000 scholarships of more than $200 million to Texas students. Currently, more than 2,200 students are on rodeo scholarships, attending more than 80 different Texas colleges and universities.

“History, culture and education are all integral parts of the Houston Livestock Show, as well as values held in high esteem at Texas A&M,” Shafe said. “Nancy and I feel that both organizations provide a huge impact on the state of Texas.”

To that end, the Shafers established a planned gift through the Texas A&M Foundation that will benefit a multitude of areas at Texas A&M University.


Small Town Roots

Shafe grew up in Trent, a small West Texas town. In junior high, he got his first introduction to the Houston Livestock Show by showing heifers and steers through FFA and 4-H.

He attended Texas A&M in the late 1960s with the support of an Opportunity Award Scholarship and later, additional scholarships and fellowships. “I absolutely don’t know where I’d be today if I hadn’t received so much support,” he said. During his time in Aggieland, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets, serving on Corps staff his junior and senior years, as well as a class officer, a Ross Volunteer and editor of the Agriculturist Magazine. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism in 1967, he earned a master’s degree in technical journalism from Iowa State University.

We choose to give back to the programs that helped us find success in life.

Shafe Shafer '67

Nancy grew up just 25 miles away from Shafe, on the opposite side of Taylor County. She also comes from agricultural roots, as her family was well-known in the area for farming and ranching. She attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, also with the help of scholarships. Her profession as a junior high and high school science teacher opened their eyes to what having a helping hand can mean for students. When they were ready to make their planned gift, the couple referenced their interests to establish giving focus areas.

You Can Support Your Passions Through a Planned Gift:

The Shafers created a multifaceted planned gift through the Texas A&M Foundation to establish:

  • An editorial internship position at the Texas A&M University Press
  • A memorial scholarship through The Association of Former Students
  • Endowed scholarships to benefit the following areas:
    • Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications
    • Department of Entomology
    • The Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health
    • Veteran Resource & Support Center
    • Corps of Cadets
  • An enrichment endowment for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Plans Fueled by Passion

Their support to the Texas A&M University Press is a nod to Shafe’s journalism background. “The internship we’ve endowed is different from a scholarship. It’s a hands-on position for a senior undergraduate at the press that will provide real-world experience in the publishing world,” Shafe said. Founded in 1974, the press is the principal publishing arm of the university with a primary mission to select, produce, market and disseminate high-quality scholarly publications.

Highlighting their love of agriculture and communications, Shafe and Nancy established two endowed scholarship programs in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. One endowment will benefit students majoring in agricultural communications, while the other will benefit students in all three of the department’s degree curriculums.

The Shafers also decided to establish an endowed scholarship through The Association of Former Students to honor of one of Shafe’s college roommates, Neal “Clint” Ward ’67, an Air Force pilot who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. “This was the perfect opportunity to memorialize Clint and bring recognition to all Aggies who lost their lives in Vietnam,” Shafe added.

In his own service in Vietnam, Shafe served as an Army helicopter pilot where he flew 327 combat sorties. Midway through his Vietnam tour, conflicts between the military and the media prompted the need for select officers experienced with communications and military operations. Shafe took on extra duties serving as a public information liaison and escort pilot to network media correspondents until his tour of duty was over. 

  • Manzell Leroy "Shafe" Shafer '67

    Shafe served as the chief operating officer of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. He helped grow the event into the largest livestock show and rodeo in the world.

  • A New Passion

    Since retiring, Shafe spends more time pursuing his passion for photography.

  • Their Last Rodeo

    Shafe and Nancy feel confident that their planned gift will establish their legacy at Texas A&M.

As a nod to his military service, the Shafers established two additional scholarships: an Aggie Veteran Freedom Scholarship to benefit a deserving student veteran or a veteran’s spouse, and a Corps scholarship to support one student throughout their academic career.

Finally, the Shafers chose to create entomology and public health scholarships that tie in with key interests of Nancy’s. “I was a biology and science teacher, but even from a young age, I was interested in insects and gardening. After I retired, I continued that passion through the Fort Bend County Master Gardeners,” she said. A program administered through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Master Gardeners throughout the country work to educate the public about the many aspects of gardening and to inform adults and children about the unique lives of insects and their importance to food production and public health.

“We would encourage all Aggies who are considering planned gifts to look at something like this,” Shafe said. “It gives you the freedom to say, ‘Here’s how we would like our estate to help Texas A&M.’ It’s also fluid in that you can pay some now instead of later. Whether it’s life insurance, IRA distribution rollovers, planned giving or active gifts, there’s a way to help Aggies now and in the future.”

Today, Shafe prefers to stay out of the limelight and focus on his other interests—particularly photography—but he and Nancy feel confident in their planned gift and content to have their legacy at Texas A&M established. You could say it’s their last rodeo.

To learn more about creating a planned gift, contact Angela Throne '03, gift planning officer, below.