Around seemingly every corner in town Saturday, Texas A&M students in their Big Event T-shirts could be seen digging, sweeping, planting, raking, painting and clearing, happy to spend time together and give thanks to the cities that support them.
More than 21,000 students spread out across Bryan-College Station for the largest one-day student-run service project in the country.
In the Traditions Club neighborhood in Bryan, Texas A&M civil engineering professor Les Pittman and his wife, Sandy, were doing one of their favorite things -- communing with Aggie students outside the classroom.
As the seven members of sophomore-level volunteering group S.L.A.M. cleaned the windows inside and outside the Pittman home, the couple supplied them with limitless snacks, fresh-grilled burgers and conversation.
"This was our first year of participating in the Big Event," Sandy Pittman said. "Other friends of ours have done it before, and it's such a fun way to meet the students, even though they do this work to thank the community. I just wanted to thank them for giving up their Saturday."
The Pittmans are die-hard Aggies -- Les Pittman is both a professor and a Texas A&M alum. The couple moved to Bryan in 2013 after Les Pittman left his job with an engineering firm to teach. The couple chose the area to be close to their aging parents and to be near Aggie football games, for which they've had season tickets since 1986.
Sandy Pittman is a retired day care teacher who volunteered at her children's high school as an advisor to students entering college. Now that her two sons have grown, she tries to cater to the various nieces and nephews attending A&M and cherishes any moment to show love and guidance to an Aggie student.
"We just had to come up with something because we wanted to have a group come," she said. "We have been Aggie fans forever. ,,, We try to support the students however we can. We find that whatever group of students we meet up with, we are amazed with quality of people they are."
Haylie Tuttle, a Texas A&M junior and mentor to the sophomores in the group, said she was happy to work with and for the Pittmans.
"Each year is different," she said. "We might find a family with a big need who can't do things themselves, but it's also sweet to have a family want us to come over and help out, where they do work and talk to you, cook you lunch. It's nice. Regardless of where I am, it's always good to talk to people, and here it's about service, but also about communicating with the community and making those ties to them."
Mark Solano, another S.L.A.M. member, participated in the Big Event last year as a freshman, and it's something he plans to continue for the rest of his experience as an Aggie.
"I like meeting other people in the community," he said. "Last year I met another couple that went to Texas A&M. It was nice to hear their story, tell them about being students, and here it's nice hearing from a professor that went through things we go through. It's nice meeting older Aggies. I also love giving back, I love Bryan-College Station."
In South College Station, members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority worked in the spring sun painting fencing and a deck area at the home of Wess and Beverly Henderson.
Wess Henderson, a former member of the Corps of Cadets and an Aggie alum, met Beverly seven years ago after both their spouses had died. The two fell for each other while square dancing in Houston and now have become inseparable, with a large blended family. Like a dutiful Aggie, Wess Henderson quickly indoctrinated his wife into the A&M world. Now, nearly every inch of their home is covered in Texas A&M-themed decor and memorabilia.
The couple has lived in College Station since their wedding and participated in the Big Event five of those years.
The Hendersons truly benefit from the strength of their volunteers, who painted more than a third of an acre of fencing on Saturday.
"We need the help because of our age," Beverly Henderson said. "If we were to paint this fence on our own, it would take weeks."
Freshman Jacob McDonald, covered in maroon paint, was happy to serve the Hendersons as his first Big Event project.
"I like it," he said. "It's cool how this organization sends people around to different projects. I like helping out people who need it, and I think it's a good way to get out in community."
Morgan Himango, a junior with AXO, said she really appreciated that the Hendersons cared so much and wanted to bond with her and her sorority sisters, although ultimately one of the greatest parts of the Big Event was emulating the mission of Texas A&M.
"I think this is what Texas A&M is about," she said. "It's about getting together with Aggies and making our community better."
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