At Texas A&M, money does grow on trees. Sort of.
The Century Tree, one of the most beloved pieces of Aggie lore, officially has its own scholarship -- making it perhaps the first tree to hold such an honor.
The $100,000 endowed scholarship was donated by Andy Duffie, a 1979 A&M graduate.
The university announced the creation of The Century Tree President's Endowed Scholarship on Wednesday. Spokeswoman Monika Blackwell with the Texas A&M Foundation said the scholarship will pay out $5,000 per year starting in fall 2014. The scholarship will be merit-based and students competing for the award must score high on the SAT or ACT.
Duffie, a small business owner from the small Texas town of Vernon, made the 330-mile pilgrimage home to College Station in October 2010. He spent six hours spread over two days collecting 3,000 acorns. Of those he planted, 500 grew into saplings, which he nursed for two years.
The live oak with sprawling branches across the ground, located in the heart of campus, was one of the first trees planted at A&M. According to tradition, if a couple walks together under its branches they will eventually marry, and if a proposal is made under the canopy the marriage will last forever.
Naturally, the tree holds a special sentiment for countless Aggies. When Duffie offered its saplings for $250 each, he quickly sold out. From coast to coast -- all the way from western Washington state to the Carolinas and Virginia -- alumni bought the saplings for wedding gifts, memorials or birthday presents. More than 100 went to Aggie couples who were engaged beneath the branches of the Century Tree.
Duffie delivered the trees in September, most of which he drove across the state in a rented U-Haul van. He shipped the rest via UPS.
"I was greeted with everything from a handshake to a bear hug when I met them," Duffie said.
He created a Facebook page, AggieCenturyTreeProject, where enthusiastic Ags post pictures of themselves next to the trees. The page also links to a map that shows where the saplings are scattered across the nation.
The interest is still pouring in, he said, despite his being out of trees and not having any plans to grow more.
"Since September I have literally turned down 150 more tree orders and continue to turn them down weekly," he said.
There are no more plans for the mass sale of pieces of Aggie tradition, but Duffie said he was more than happy to provide pointers to anyone interested in growing their own.
The large majority of the trees were sold to Aggies in College Station, Duffie said, and a few ended up in some unique places such as Texas A&M's branch campus in Galveston, the San Antonio Aggie Park and the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham. Former A&M Head Football Coach R.C. Slocum got a tree, Duffie said, and one even ended up deep, deep in the heart of Texas.
In fact, the eyes of Texas have already gazed upon one of the offspring of the Aggies' most hallowed tree. Gov. Rick Perry, a 1972 A&M graduate, was gifted with a sapling, which was planted at the governor's mansion in Austin.
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said the tree was planted in the spring on the southeast side of the grounds -- which, if you're looking at the mansion, is to the front left.
Duffie said it took about seven months from delivery to installation at the governor's mansion, and that an aide in the governor's office took care of the Aggie sapling until the governor's office was cleared to plant it.
And while Duffie put in years' worth of work, he credited the scholarship to the hundreds of Aggies who purchased the trees. He said the scholarship being named for the tree, and not an individual, is part of what makes it special.
Even though Duffie has no plans to invest more years into growing Aggie trees, he said the experience was well worth it.
"I enjoyed growing the trees. It was a lot of work and did take a lot of dedication and time, but the reaction of the Aggies buying trees was just fantastic ... It's one of my life accomplishments, quite frankly. I really enjoyed doing it."