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Blue Bell, Kruses Pledge $7 Million To Upgrade Texas A&M’s Baseball Stadium

Thanks to the generosity of two brothers and a well-known ice cream company, Olsen Field is on the verge of becoming one of college baseball’s ultimate “sweet spots.”
By Miles Mark, Texas A&M 12th Man Foundation November 22, 2010

blue bellSince it was first opened in 1978, Olsen Field has been the home to Texas A&M’s “boys of spring and summer.” Now, thanks to the generosity of two brothers and a well-known ice cream company that was named for a Texas wildflower that blooms in the summer, Olsen Field is on the verge of becoming one of college baseball’s ultimate “sweet spots.”

Texas A&M former students and Blue Bell Creameries executives Ed. and Howard Kruse of Brenham along with Blue Bell Creameries have pledged a $7 million lead gift to the 12th Man Foundation’s Championship Vision capital campaign for the renovation and expansion of Olsen Field. In recognition of this generous gift, the Texas A&M athletic department leadership has requested that the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents name the extensive new construction as “Blue Bell Park,” and that the official name of the baseball facility be changed to C.E. “Pat” Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park. The Board of Regents will consider formal acceptance of the gift at its meeting on Dec. 2, 2010.

“When we thought of a perfect partner to complete this fantastic facility, the
name of one family came to mind. The support of the Kruse’s and Blue Bell for Aggie baseball go together like Peaches and Homemade Vanilla!”, said Miles Marks, President of the 12th Man Foundation.

Blue Bell Creameries, located about 40 miles south of College Station has become known to ice cream lovers across the country as “the Little Creamery in Brenham.” It was founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, which made butter from the excess cream produced by local farmers. Ice cream was added to the product line in 1911, produced at the rate of two gallons a day, which were made in a wooden tub filled with ice. In 1930, the name of the company was changed to “Blue Bell” after the favorite Texas wildflower of the company’s manager, E.F. Kruse. Not to be confused with the Texas state flower the bluebonnet, which blooms in early spring, the blue bell blooms in the heat of the summer, just when ice cream is most popular.

Kruse, a former schoolteacher, joined the company as manager in 1919 when he was just 23. He guided and built the creamery until his death in 1951 when his sons Ed and Howard took over leadership. Paul, Ed.’s son, has been CEO of the privately-held company since 2004. The family-run company has slowly expanded from its humble beginnings to now sell ice cream in parts of 19 mostly southern states.

Like the company, Texas A&M University has been a significant part of the Kruse family’s legacy. Ed. graduated in 1949, Howard in 1952 and Paul in 1977. Among the numerous honors they have received, both Ed. and Howard are distinguished alumni of Texas A&M and are outstanding alumni of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Howard and I are proud of our association with Texas A&M and what it has meant to us over the years. We are honored to be able to give back in some way,” said Ed. Kruse.  Added Howard, “Texas A&M has certainly influenced the way in which we do business at Blue Bell, so what better way to show appreciation from our family and our company than to support this project. Besides, nothing goes better with baseball than Blue Bell ice cream.”

Although Blue Bell is available in only a small percentage of the nation’s supermarkets, it is the third best-selling ice cream in the country. The creamery’s success has enabled the Kruse family to generously give back to the community. The Kruse family is involved in many civic endeavors in Brenham and throughout the state, and they have been particularly supportive of Blinn College and Texas A&M University.

As such, the “Blue Bell” name is a natural fit at Olsen Field, which is known nationally for being the home of some of the most passionate fans in all of college baseball. Texas A&M is traditionally among the nation’s leaders in annual baseball attendance, and the playing surface at Olsen is known as one of the premier fields in the country. A new covered batting facility was added along the left field line in 2004, and the planned improvements will make it the finest collegiate baseball facility in the country.

To address the competitive needs of the baseball program, the 12th Man Foundation formed the Olsen Field committee, led by co-chairs Jerry Cox and Steve Morris, in 2009. The committee held gatherings across the state to inform potential donors about plans for a two-part renovation. The $16 million first phase of that plan includes the construction of a two-story student-athlete center housing a new locker room, player’s lounge, coaches’ offices, training and weight facilities as well as club seating, widening of the concourse, and new concession stands and restrooms.

A secondary $8 million phase includes a dramatic new exterior façade of the facility, removal of metal bleachers and construction of grassy berm seating areas on both the first base and third base sides. Additionally, construction of suites along the top of the stadium and numerous fan and family amenities throughout the ballpark will be added.

Along with the current campaign commitments of over $15 million toward the Phase I goal of $16 million and the sales of premium seats and suites, the $7 million gift from the Kruse brothers and Blue Bell to the 12th Man Foundation will make it possible to complete all phases of the $24 million renovation and expansion of the baseball stadium.

Construction will begin in February 2011, and once complete, Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park will combine the best of both worlds: State-of-the-art facilities and the most enthusiastic collegiate baseball fans in the country. A reception honoring the Kruse family and the formal unveiling of new renderings of Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park is planned for early 2011. The construction of this project will bring to an end the 12th Man Foundation’s Championship Vision capital campaign.

Thanks to the generosity of more than 2,500 donor families who have invested $135 million over the last decade, Texas A&M’s athletic facilities have dramatically improved. These upgrades have, in turn, helped advance its many athletic programs and the payoff has been seen in the championship prizes. Prior to the Championship Vision campaign, the Aggies’ highest finish in the Directors’ Cup was 20th in 1995-96. In 2006-07, Texas A&M won seven Big 12 titles, the most in school history. In 2008-09, A&M won more national championships (three) than any other school in the country. And in 2009-10, Texas A&M finished a school-best sixth nationally in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings.

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