Mike Dillingham ’35 was a true pioneer at Texas A&M University. The Commerce, Texas, native was part of the petroleum engineering department’s first class, knew the first Reveille and played on the Aggie baseball team that claimed the 1934 Southwest Conference Championship, the second-ever in school history. He also became one of the university’s oldest former students, living to the age of 102.
Five years after his death, Dillingham’s legacy continues, thanks to the establishment of the Mike C. Dillingham ’35 General Rudder Corps Scholarship Endowment Fund through a charitable gift annuity. At the time of pledging this gift, Dillingham said he hoped it would show Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band members how much their dedication, discipline and performances are appreciated. Now realized, his gift is doing that and much more.
“I really can’t thank Mr. Dillingham enough for his scholarship,” said Ben Stanish ’20, a civil engineering major and member of the A-Battery in the Aggie Band. “I am the second of six kids in my family, so money has always been tight. I was blessed to receive this scholarship, which has been immensely helpful in allowing me to attend college debt-free. Being in the Corps of Cadets incurs many extra fees for uniforms, haircuts, dry cleaning, etc., and this scholarship has helped me easily tackle these financial obstacles,” Stanish explained.
A Rapid Response
Dillingham has a long history of giving to Texas A&M. Dr. Bob Walker ’58, who recently retired as one of Texas A&M’s longest serving development officers, met Dillingham during his first trip to Alice, Texas, to speak to its A&M Club in the mid-1970s. Walker shared information on the recently established President’s Endowed Scholarship program. “He approached me and said, ‘I’m Mike Dillingham, Class of 1935. I like this program, and I’ll consider giving one of those,” Walker remembered.
In the ensuing years, Dillingham and his wife, Georgia, continued to financially support Texas A&M through a significant bequest for the Corps of Cadets and by funding multiple General Rudder scholarships. The latest scholarship fund was created with a charitable gift annuity. The couple created the annuity in 2004 through cashing out $50,000 in tax-free municipal bonds that paid approximately 5%. In turn, they converted these funds into the annuity, which paid more than 11%, based on Dillingham’s age.
The annuity provided the Dillinghams with payments for life at an attractive fixed rate. These payments were more than double what they received from the municipal bonds. An added bonus, the annuity offered a tax deduction and part of their payments were tax-free. After his passing, the funds transferred to endow the scholarship fund.
Outspoken and Honest
After graduating at age 16 from Fort Worth’s Central High School, Dillingham initially attended Texas Christian University. However, he transferred to Texas A&M after Harvey C. “Dutch” Dillingham ’22, his brother who was a member of Texas A&M’s engineering faculty, told him about the new petroleum engineering department.
Known for his candor and commitment, Dillingham was a proud member of the Corps of Cadets and served as a Ross Volunteer. During his time at school, he had many memorable moments, including meeting the first Reveille. As a student, he frequented football games at Kyle Field, which at the time was one story tall with a press box that could only be reached by climbing a primitive ladder. During his life, Dillingham recalled a memory of Houston Post photographers releasing homing pigeons with canisters of film at half-time. The birds returned to Houston so that photos of the Aggie game could be published in the early edition of the Sunday paper.
Dillingham didn’t see much playing time on the Aggie baseball team. Instead, he served as a student assistant coach covering the third-base line. He remained committed to the team throughout his lifetime and threw out the first pitch at an Aggie game at age 98. “He had perfect form, even at that age,” said Gina Jett ’79, the Texas A&M Foundation’s gift planning stewardship officer, who worked extensively with the Dillinghams.
Service and Commitment
After graduation, Dillingham fought in World War II, serving as a battery commander in the Pacific campaign. He was also a member of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff at the end of the war, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
After leaving military service, Dillingham founded Dillingham Drilling Co. in Alice. He led this company until his retirement in 1977.
During his retirement, Dillingham frequently visited Gunnison, Colorado, where he stayed at the Tall Texan RV Park and fished daily. There, he met Georgia, who came to the area with her first husband. After both spouses passed away, Dillingham and Georgia reconnected and romance bloomed. Once married, he converted his new wife—who grew up in a family devoted to The University of Texas—into a die-hard Aggie. On their 23rd wedding anniversary, Dillingham presented her with an Aggie sweetheart ring.
A regular at Aggie sporting events, Dillingham enjoyed the same seats at Kyle Field since 1967 and attended home football games until he was nearly 90. In addition, the couple purchased a golf cart, dubbed the Dilly Whack ’35, for the Corps of Cadets. This cart was the first to be used on Texas A&M’s campus. As the Dillinghams aged, the couple was chauffeured by a cadet driving the Dilly Whack from the Texas A&M Foundation parking lot to Kyle Field and then back at game’s end.
Golden Years in Bryan
The Dillinghams moved to an assisted living center in Bryan when Mike was 97. They continued being actively involved with Texas A&M, including attending sporting events and regularly visiting the Texas A&M Foundation. Dillingham celebrated his 100th and 102nd birthdays with large parties attended by Texas A&M Foundation staff and Corps members.
Dillingham’s legacy continues to permeate Texas A&M’s campus. “He was a very unique man. He loved Texas A&M more than almost anybody I know,” Jett said. “He would get tears in his eyes when he talked about the Corps of Cadets. He was the perfect example of the Corps values.”
A Mutually Beneficial Gift
A charitable gift annuity is a simple way to give back to Texas A&M and has attractive benefits. In exchange for gifts in the form of cash or publicly traded securities, the Texas A&M Foundation agrees to pay you or your loved one a fixed amount annually for life, with the payments guaranteed by the Foundation. At the end of the gift annuity, the remaining assets support the college, program or scholarship you desire. In a past interview with Dillingham, he said it best: “These gift annuities are so good. Why doesn’t every Aggie have one?”