When Earle Shields Jr. ’41 arrived in College Station in fall 1937, the Corps of Cadets still used horse-drawn artillery units and the Quad wasn’t even constructed. He left in December 1941—before he officially graduated—when he was called to active duty and later served in Germany as a major in a field artillery battalion in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
Those years in between shaped Shields, age 95, into a man who would serve his country, his community and, in many capacities, Texas A&M University—where today he is one of its oldest and most storied donors, changing scores of students’ lives through his generosity.
“It always felt natural to me to give extra money I had to the university and my other favorite causes,” said Shields, a longtime Fort Worth resident. “At Texas A&M, I learned leadership and how to get along with others.”
Earle Shields Jr. ’41 worked in the investment field for more than 60 years. During that time, he and his late wife Ruby dedicated themselves to service in their community and to Texas A&M.
The Way It Was
Shields is matter-of-fact and not one for flowery language, but this ability to get along with others was crucial when he found himself a 17-year-old fish at Texas A&M. Short on dorm space, freshmen and sophomores bunked three per room. The third bed, where Shields slept, was rigged to rest on top of the other two bunks, right below the ceiling. “If the guy below kicked my mattress, I’d hit my head,” he recalled. He also remembered that for a month, before new furniture arrived, his desk was a large packing crate.
As a room orderly for three sophomores, his duties included making their beds every morning, taking and retrieving their laundry weekly and cleaning their room. Bed making was difficult, he said, as they were stacked three high and the bottom bed was roped off in front so visitors couldn’t sit on it.
He learned to be tough and not complain. As a freshman in Leggett Hall, he took part in “Leggett Downs”: a hazing custom whereby upperclassmen placed their steamer trunks in the halls and made freshmen hurdle them, swatting them with boards and belts as they ran.
“It never bothered me too much,” Shields recalls. But others minded, which is why in his day—before hazing in the Corps was brought under control—there was a lot of attrition among freshmen.
Later antics brought Shields face-to-face with a Texas A&M legend. After a night drinking at the off-campus watering hole Hrdlicka’s (pronounced like “hard liquors,” Shields recalled), he and some friends sang outside of a dean’s house. “We serenaded the whole neighborhood, maybe half the campus,” he said with a laugh. That landed Shields in front of then-Commandant Col. George Moore (Class of 1908), later famed as the general at Corregidor Island responsible for Aggie Muster there. “I got a stern lecture and spent the rest of my Saturday mornings walking the Bull Ring as punishment,” Shields recalled, referring to a corral at the stables.
Earle Shields Jr. ’41
Not All Play
Shields has many stories of adventure—taking unit horses out for rides on weekends, for instance. And of high jinks, such as when, as an upperclassman, he tried to hide the boards his unit used on freshmen as the Corps cracked down on hazing. But his tenure at Texas A&M took a serious turn with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In his fifth year, Shields only needed to complete two more courses during the spring of 1942 to earn his electrical engineering degree but postponed completing his education to serve in the army.
“I still recall the title of those two courses I needed and the names of the professors,” he said. “They were EE 402, Power Machinery with Professor Rhode and EE 415, Long Lines Transmission Theory with Professor Dutch Dillingham.”
After the war, the college determined he had enough hours and grade points for a degree, but without those two courses, it couldn’t be awarded in electrical engineering. His diploma says only “Engineering,” and not the exact discipline. “I think that’s pretty rare,” he said.
An Investor’s Mind
Shields made his name and fortune in finance, not engineering. He worked in the investment field for more than 60 years—many of those at Merrill Lynch—and during that time he and his wife Ruby (recently deceased) also dedicated themselves to community service. For 17 years, Shields served as the mayor of Westover Hills, a Fort Worth suburb, and volunteered for leadership positions in a slew of nonprofit organizations, such as the Fort Worth United Way. In 1987, he received the United Way’s Hercules Award as the outstanding volunteer in Tarrant County, and in 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fort Worth Tarrant County A&M Club.
At Texas A&M, he held key posts in the 12th Man Foundation and The Association of Former Students. In the early 1960s, he attended meetings at which then-university President Gen. Earl Rudder ’32 announced changes that transformed Texas A&M into the university it is today: making service in the Corps non-compulsory and allowing the admission of women and minorities.
“We were some dumb characters,” he recalled, “so we resisted. In hindsight, Gen. Rudder was absolutely 100 percent correct in his decision, but former students were so steeped in the culture and traditions of Texas A&M back then that many of us were upset for a while.”
Shields has lived through decades of Texas A&M history, but he invests in its future as well. “Whenever I had extra income to give to the university, I’d ask someone, ‘What do you need?’” he said.
Many times, the answer was scholarships to help students get an education and the chance at later opportunities. Shields created six Sul Ross Scholarships and one General Rudder Corps Scholarship that have benefited numerous cadets. He also endowed two scholarships for business and finance majors, an Endowed Opportunity Award, a bonfire scholarship, a journalism student scholarship and a scholarship for a Texas A&M School of Law student. Because all of these gifts are endowed, they will continue to provide scholarships forever.
Shields still has much left to give. “I’m from good genes,” he said, noting that his mother lived to the age of 101. Indeed, he drives himself to the gym almost every day for cardio and weight workouts.
He’s happy setting an example of generosity for others. Jackson Suplita ’19, a recipient of one of Shields’ Sul Ross Scholarships, wrote a thank-you letter saying he’d like “to continue the trend of giving and create a cycle of selflessness.”
When he heard of Suplita’s intention, Shields said, “That’s nice. I believe in spreading money around.”