Campus Life

Community Celebration Highlights Lasting Bond Between George H.W. Bush And Aggieland

Festivities at the Presidential Library and Museum included new exhibits, parachute jumps by Bush family members and personal stories from the late president’s grandchildren.
By Luke Henkhaus, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications June 13, 2024

two men hang from a red white and blue parachute with clouds in the background
The George & Barbara Bush Foundation hosts 41@100: A Celebration of George H.W. Bush on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center in College Station, Texas.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

 

In December 1988, Aggie oil magnate Michel T. Halbouty ’30 made a call to the office of George H.W. Bush, asking again if Bush would consider building his presidential library at Texas A&M University. There was just one problem: Bush wasn’t actually president yet.

In his reply, written a month before his inauguration on vice presidential letterhead, Bush politely informed Halbouty that the offer was appreciated, if a bit premature.

“I love A&M, though I have no personal ties to that great school,” Bush wrote. “Your looking into this with such enthusiasm means a lot to me, too. Let’s vow to keep in touch down the road on all this.”

The brief typewritten letter now sits among the millions of personal and official documents housed at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, which continued its commemoration of the late president’s 100th birthday on Thursday by inviting friends and family of the 41st president and members of the public to a daylong community celebration on the library grounds.

a group of people look at the 4141 Locomotive with Marine One in the background
The George & Barbara Bush Foundation hosts 41@100: A Celebration of George H.W. Bush on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center in College Station, Texas.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

 

If there weren’t personal ties between the Bush family and Texas A&M back in 1988, there certainly are now, said Bush’s grandson Sam LeBlond, who moderated an afternoon panel discussion with seven other Bush grandchildren at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center.

“He’s part of the school,” LeBlond said of his grandfather. “He really had the foresight to look ahead and (say), ‘This is where my legacy will be nurtured.’ … It’s really special that the Texas A&M Aggie family has taken us in, (and) now we’re Aggies for life.”

In addition to the panel discussion, visitors from Bryan-College Station and beyond enjoyed free admission to the museum complex, including a new exhibit telling the story of how and why Bush built his library at A&M. Bush’s letter to Halbouty is there, along with early concept drawings for the museum building, a treasure trove of archival photos, and a visual history of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, which opened alongside the presidential library in 1997.

“I think Texas A&M and George H.W. Bush was a match made in heaven,” said Texas A&M President Gen. (Ret.) Mark A. Welsh III, who served as dean of the Bush School from 2016 to 2023. “The things he believed are important in life, Aggies believe are important in life, and for almost every Aggie I’ve ever talked to, he was a phenomenal role model. So the fit was just perfect, and I think he recognized that, which is why he decided to come here and why he rests here forever with us.”

two people look at a museum exhibit. a mannequin in a Marines dress uniform stands in the background
The George & Barbara Bush Foundation hosts 41@100: A Celebration of George H.W. Bush on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center in College Station, Texas.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

 

Thursday also saw the grand opening of the newly constructed Marine One/4141 Locomotive Pavilion. Area resident Dena Autrey drove in from Franklin with her grandson Maddox to see the helicopter that carried Bush and other world leaders during his time in office, as well as the custom-painted diesel locomotive that carried the president to his final resting place in 2018. “It’s great to have (this) history so close,” Autrey said.

Former members of the Marine One flight crew who served under Bush were also on hand to talk with guests, answering questions about the aircraft and sharing personal stories from their time with the president.

Dr. Frank B. Ashley III, interim dean of the Bush School, said the pavilion opening marks the next chapter in the long and beneficial relationship between the Bush Library, Texas A&M and the broader Bryan-College Station community.

“I’ve lived here a long time,” he said. “I know what this place means to the university and to the community, and with these new exhibits, it’s going to bring so many more people to Bryan-College Station to experience how great this community is.”

people in chairs and standing on grass look up to the sky and take photos
The George & Barbara Bush Foundation hosts 41@100: A Celebration of George H.W. Bush on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center in College Station, Texas.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

 

Other festivities included a free ice cream and cake reception with Texas A&M mascot Reveille X and service dog Sully, who stayed by the president’s side during the final months of his life. Guests who kept an eye on the sky also had a chance to see members of the Bush family — along with close friends like George & Barbara Bush Foundation CEO Andrew Card — parachuting onto the museum lawn. Former Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was among those who took the plunge in honor of his grandfather, who famously commemorated major birthdays by skydiving and, prior to his death at 94, had hoped to make one last jump at the age of 100.

“To step into those big shoes, those big boots so to speak, was a lot of fun, and to emerge in one piece,” George P. Bush said. “He loved speed and adventure, and so we got to relive that ourselves.”

Rhonda Lazenby of Caldwell, who came to watch the jumps with her husband, Bill, said she was happy to see Bush’s grandchildren carrying on the tradition, and proud of the community’s lasting connection to the 41st president, First Lady Barbara Bush, and the whole Bush family.

“It makes you really proud to be in Aggieland. It’s an honor to have (the library) here,” Lazenby said. “They would (both) be proud that their family is always going to be participating in something that happens here.”

Media contact: tamunews@tamu.edu

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