A $5 million naming gift from Ellie and Don Knauss for Texas A&M University's Veteran Resource & Support Center will provide critical funding for veterans scholarships and programs across campus. (Photo by Jim LaCombe)
As Don Knauss walked down his driveway in Sugar Land, Texas, on a hot summer day in 2018, a muscular young man approached and introduced himself as Richard Garner ’20, a Texas A&M University student. He had a singular reason for visiting Don and his wife, Ellie.
“Richard explained that he received one of our Aggie student veteran scholarships and that he wanted to thank us in person for our generosity,” Don said. “He drove an hour to our home just to shake my hand and say thank you. I was speechless.”
Ellie and Don Knauss’ support of Texas A&M’s
has positively impacted many student veterans like Garner. Since fall 2016, the couple has given more than $2 million toward 28 endowed student veteran scholarships. Veteran Resource & Support Center (VRSC)
In 2020, they partnered with Texas A&M to do even more. They fulfilled a major
priority for the Division of Student Affairs by committing $5 million to further enhance the VRSC’s efforts. Their gift will fund a new, permanent home for the VRSC in the Memorial Student Center—projected to be completed by the end of the spring 2021 semester—and provide critical support for on-campus veteran programs. They also designated that $500,000 be used as matching funds to encourage others to create new student veteran scholarships. In recognition of their generosity, the center was renamed the Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center. Lead by Example campaign
Ellie and Don’s gift arrived at the perfect time. Since the center’s opening in 2012, veteran enrollment has more than doubled in size to nearly 1,300 Texas A&M student veterans. The center’s 26 strategic programs—ranging from academic support and financial assistance to veteran networking and beyond—proactively support student veterans by focusing on academic, financial and personal well-being as well as career success.
Col. Jerry Smith ’82 (USMC, Ret.), director of the VRSC, said the center’s tremendous expansion has caused growing pains that the Knausses’ gift will alleviate. “We’ve been understaffed over the years due to space constraints, which prevented us from growing programs and starting new initiatives,” Smith said. “With this gift, I have a simple answer when people ask me what the VRSC will look like in 2030: There won’t just be hundreds of success stories like we’re currently witnessing; there will be thousands! Don and Ellie are changing lives for those who have served our great country.”
The Knausses are encouraged by Smith’s overall vision for the center. “All of this comes down to people,” Ellie shared. “When you meet someone like Jerry and his team, who have such a passion to make a difference, you understand why people want to give. It’s a personal belief that your support will make a difference. We can’t say enough about the people at Texas A&M and their dedication. There’s no doubt in our minds that veterans and their families will be given as much of a step up as possible during their studies at Texas A&M in return for everything they’ve given to us.”
The couple’s connection to veterans is extremely personal. Don formerly served in the U.S. Marines as an artillery officer, where he earned the rank of captain. Many years later, he was introduced to Aggieland’s unique military history when the Knausses’ eldest son, Jack ’10, and his wife, Kaylan ’10, were pursuing their undergraduate degrees.
“Being former military, I felt strongly connected to Texas A&M after I witnessed the tremendous support the university provides veterans,” Don explained. “Our vision is for Texas A&M’s VRSC to become a beacon for other universities to consider similar programs, extending this type of support to veterans and their families across the country.”
Dr. Daniel Pugh, Texas A&M vice president for student affairs, said the university’s military history is what sets the stage for it to lead the way in student veteran success. “Many forget that military science was one of three academic disciplines emphasized in the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act,” Pugh explained. “We have a vibrant Corps of Cadets and are one of only six service educational institutions that still exist in the U.S. outside of military schools. Texas A&M produces more service members than any other non-military institution, with 40% of cadets serving in the military. It’s part of our Aggie DNA to do all we can to support our nation’s veterans. With Ellie and Don’s support, we will provide a world-class veterans center that will be envied by many.”
To learn how you can support Aggieland’s student veterans, contact Dave Fujimoto '17, director of development for veterans affairs, by calling (979) 458-2634 or by submitting the form below.