Rocky (second from right) and Barbara Choate (furthest right) started Choate Monument Company in 1999. Kim (second from left) and Chris Ross ’94 (furthest left), their daughter and son-in-law, began running the family business in January 2017. 

Throughout the Texas A&M University campus, Rocky and Barbara Choate’s legacy is literally etched in stone. Since 1999, Choate Monument Company, an Aggie owned and operated memorial services company, has overseen the engraving of almost every major memorial on campus. Their business partnership with Texas A&M began with the construction of the Jon. L. Hagler Center, when they took on the project of memorializing the names of donors to the Texas A&M Foundation in its headquarters building. As this project has grown over the past 20 years, so has the Choates’ relationship with Texas A&M.

“We feel like we have become part of the Aggie family through the work we’ve completed for Texas A&M,” Barbara said. “Our son-in-law is an Aggie and we’re Aggies at heart, so the work we do for the Foundation and Texas A&M makes us feel like we are giving back to something greater than ourselves. We know the importance of private philanthropy in supporting higher education, and it’s truly an honor to preserve that value in our work for Texas A&M.”

In addition to their ongoing work for the Foundation, Choate Monument Company completed the engraving for the Bonfire Memorial; refurbished the quotes found on the grounds of The Association of Former Students’ Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center; and worked on engravings at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. With each letter they etch, Rocky and Barbara document the history of Texas A&M.

“Our work always carries an emotional aspect, but we felt the enormity of that especially when working on the Bonfire Memorial,” Barbara said. “We were so humbled to have a role in memorializing the lives of the students we lost and creating a monument to ensure their lives would be remembered for years to come.”

A Long-Standing Business

Since opening their business in 1978, Rocky and Barbara have served the Bryan-College Station community with quality and care. “The Choates lead by example through their service to people, their community and Texas A&M,” said Vickie Cook, human resources and Maroon Coats coordinator for the Foundation. “I’ve known this family since they opened their business, and they have never wavered in their dedication to excellence. Just as Texas A&M is deeply rooted in tradition, so is the family of Rocky and Barbara Choate.”

In a market that takes the phrase “written in stone” seriously, Choate Monument Company has no room for error. To ensure their memorials reach perfection, the Choates complete each step of the memorial-making process with the utmost care. First, they cover the monument’s surface with vinyl stencil, then use a machine equipped to minimize dust to blast sand through the stencil and engrave the memorial design. Once they have gone over every cutout, they spray specially-mixed paint into the text and peel away the stencil to reveal the finished engraving.

“Every morning before we start working on anything for the day, our team huddles together and prays over every step,” said Rocky and Barbara’s daughter, Kim Ross. “We’ve caught mistakes just minutes before blasting into stone, saving us from major disasters. Once you start, there’s no going back.”

  • Choate Engravers

    Choate Monument Company began etching the names of donors to the Texas A&M Foundation in Legacy Hall in 1999. First, they cover the monument’s surface with vinyl stencil, then use a machine equipped to minimize dust to blast sand through the stencil and engrave the memorial design. Once they have gone over every cutout, they spray specially-mixed paint into the text and peel away the stencil to reveal the finished engraving.
  • Bonfire Memorial

    Since 1999, Choate Monument Company, an Aggie owned and operated memorial services company, has overseen the engraving of almost every major memorial on campus.
  • Donor Wall in Jon. L. Hagler Center

    Choate's business partnership with Texas A&M began with the construction of the Jon. L. Hagler Center, when they took on the project of memorializing the names of donors to the Texas A&M Foundation in its headquarters building.
  • Jon. L. Hagler Center Donor Wall

    As this project has grown over the past 20 years, so has the Choates’ relationship with Texas A&M.
  • George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

    In addition to their ongoing work for the Foundation, Choate Monument Company completed the engraving for the Bonfire Memorial; refurbished the quotes found on the grounds of The Association of Former Students’ Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center; and worked on engravings at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Laying the Foundation

Before launching their monument company, Rocky worked as a funeral director and embalmer. After a few years, however, he and Barbara decided to explore opportunities that would offer their family a better work-life balance. Hoping to remain in the same industry, Rocky took a chance on selling monuments. Starting with the little experience he gained from working for a funeral home in high school, he went door to door to visit families and discuss memorials for their loved ones, often sitting down with them to sketch their ideas and provide a picture of what they envisioned. For four years, Rocky and Barbara operated their budding monument business from home until they constructed their own building in 1982.

As their company began to grow, they kept their focus on caring for their clients by remembering all those in-home visits. “I look back and wonder how 40 years have passed so quickly,” Barbara said. “Once word got around that we provided memorial and architectural engraving, business grew.”

Over the years, the Choates have completed a multitude of projects, from mausoleums and pet memorials to monuments that look like guitars and R2-D2 shaped headstones. “It’s always exciting to receive a challenging order,” Barbara said. “When customers bring us their unique ideas, we do all we can to bring their vision to life while handling their order with compassion and care.”

Leaving Their Mark

In 2013, however, it was Rocky and Barbara’s turn to receive compassion and care. After more than 30 years of managing their business, Rocky suffered a severe stroke, leaving him unable to continue running the company. Barbara began operating the business on her own until 2016, when her daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Chris Ross ’94, approached her about taking over.

“It seemed like a divinely appointed resolution for us to begin running the business,” said Chris, “and we felt confident in our decision even though it was new to us. Since we started in January 2017, we’ve put our own gifts and interests to use in the business.”

Previously, Kim worked as a nurse while Chris taught classes at a local high school and Houston Baptist University. “In creating a memorial, there’s an emotional aspect to every order you receive, so you must be kind, courteous and respectful,” Kim said. “Having been a nurse before, I bring in that nurturing side, and Chris brings his artistic ability. In joining those two traits, we hope we can be as successful as my parents have been in this industry.”

For Kim, pouring her talents into the company allows her to continue the legacy her father started so many years ago. “It truly is an honor to carry out my dad’s tradition of excellence and commitment to serving others,” Kim said. “Everything we create is meant to last more than a lifetime, so we feel the weight of what we do. We’re literally leaving our mark, and we want every single project to be perfect.”

Contact:

Dunae Reader '15

Marketing Communications Manager/Spirit Editor
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