Sonny Haley exemplifies the Aggie Spirit. Whether he’s saying “Howdy” to his friends or whistling the opening notes of the Aggie War Hymn, he loves to show his pride for Texas A&M University. For most Aggies, this behavior isn’t unusual, but Sonny isn’t a typical Aggie. In fact, he’s not a person at all. He’s a bird.
Nevertheless, the cockatiel doesn’t let this stop him from reflecting his family’s ties to Texas A&M. Although the university was still an all-male institution when owner Cherilyn Haley was in school, she has many fond memories of campus visits while dating her late husband, Bill Haley ’51. The couple has long supported the Corps of Cadets through scholarships, and all three of their children and six of their grandchildren are Aggies.
Although Bill passed away in June 2018, his Aggie Spirit lives on through his numerous contributions and this unique cockatiel.
A Feathered Aggie
Sonny’s life with the Haley family began when Cherilyn’s oldest son, William III ’75, was driving to Houston and saw a man selling cockatiels. Because Cherilyn had recently lost her son, Steven ’78, and her husband within four months, William decided to purchase Sonny to be her new companion.
“I was staying home a lot at that time,” Cherilyn said. “I didn’t feel like going anywhere. So, I sang to Sonny and talked to him.” Naturally, given her love of the university, she sang the Aggie War Hymn, and soon the cockatiel, who bears Bill’s childhood nickname, started whistling back. Currently, he can whistle the notes for “Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!” and say “Howdy.”
“It didn’t take him long to learn it, only two or three weeks,” Cherilyn explained. “I think it’s because I was with him so much, and he picked up what I sang.”
Like most cockatiels, Sonny loves to whistle and enjoys spending time with Cherilyn and her two dogs. “Every night, if I’m watching TV, I open the cage, and he comes out,” she said. “He flies around and sits on my head and talks to me. He loves the dogs and talks to them in his own special language, and they love him.”
As another testament to his Aggie Spirit, Sonny has been known to cheer on the Texas A&M football team while watching games on TV and once whistled the War Hymn throughout the 2019 game against LSU. “The whole time, he whistled, ‘Hullabaloo,’ and it was so funny!” Cherilyn said. “It was a disastrous game, but I watched the whole thing, and he watched it with me.”
Most people are amazed to learn of Sonny’s Aggie pride. “They love it,” Cherilyn added. “They can’t believe he can do that. My friends from The University of Texas think he’s hysterical too.”
For Cherilyn, Sonny has brought nothing but joy. “He came at just the right time in my life,” she said. “When my son showed up with him, I thought, ‘Oh no, something else to take care of.’ But he has been such a joy to me. I’ve enjoyed him so much and love having him.”
The Original Sonny
Texas A&M was as important to Sonny’s namesake as it is to the cockatiel. A Wichita Falls native, Bill first heard about Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets from a friend. “He saw a friend in his Corps boots,” Cherilyn explained. “He started questioning him about Texas A&M and decided he wanted to be a part of that.”
After earning his degree in animal husbandry, Bill married Cherilyn before being commissioned into the United States Air Force. He later had a successful career in the insurance and banking industry, but he never forgot his Aggie roots. He was closely involved with the Corps of Cadets’ Development Council, serving as chairman for a year, and two benches funded by the Haleys now stand on the Quad in memory of him and his son Steven.
Despite these achievements, Cherilyn said that the contributions they both found most meaningful are the numerous Corps scholarships they funded. Since 1998, the Haleys have created one Sul Ross Scholarship and 21 other general Corps scholarships to contribute toward Bill’s vision of financial support for every cadet. “Making it possible for every member of the Corps to receive a scholarship was very important to him,” Cherilyn explained. “We love that our contributions help students. The recipients write letters thanking us for the scholarships, and I enjoy reading them so much.”
And now, Sonny can enjoy them too, as he continues to help carry on Bill’s legacy.
For more information on how to create a scholarship to support the Corps of Cadets, contact Tom Pool ’96 at email@example.com or (979) 862-9154.