Mark and Kay Dierlam were beaming as they welcomed a pair of visitors inside their weekend home near the Texas A&M campus on a Friday afternoon late last month. The Dierlams had just arrived in College Station from their permanent residence in Montgomery, Ala., and were eager to discuss all things A&M, including the next day’s football game between the Aggies and New Mexico State.
The group exchanged pleasantries and meandered through the entry and living rooms adorned with dozens of A&M photos, paintings and memorabilia before Mark and Kay offered their guests a seat at the dinner table. After a few moments of conversation, Mark excitedly fetched an envelope from a nearby countertop and dropped it in front of his companions.
“You have to look at this,” he said with an animated voice and gleaming grin. “Isn’t it something?”
Kay also spoke enthusiastically with pride shining through each word.
“This is one of the traits that A&M instills in its students,” she said, gesturing toward the envelope. “I know we have all kinds of technology today, but there is just nothing like getting a note in the mail.”
On a piece of A&M football letterhead was a carefully crafted letter—hand-written and thoughtful—from Aggies’ linebacker Tyrel Dodson. A freshman from Franklin, Tenn., the heavily-recruited Dodson signed with A&M last February and immediately began earning meaningful snaps as a true freshman this season.
His gracious note to the Dierlams was to thank them for their generous gift to fund a scholarship for a student-athlete through the 12th Man Foundation’s 1922 Fund. The 1922 Fund is the vehicle through which friends and former students of A&M can create an endowment to forever benefit Aggie student-athletes.
Even though Dodson will have a chance to meet the Dierlams in person at a donor reception in March, the youthful playmaker had maturely decided to take the initiative to reach out to Mark and Kay to express his gratitude.
Dodson’s effort certainly struck a chord with the Dierlams, whose lives have been intertwined with Texas A&M for decades.
Mark enrolled at A&M in the fall of 1957 after visiting the campus with some friends. The only one of 14 grandchildren in his family to attend college, Dierlam majored in electrical engineering after learning the only computer on campus at the time resided in that department.
Dierlam said the rigors of college were overwhelming at first. In fact, he was one of just 12 cadets out of 58 in his squadron who returned to A&M for their sophomore year.
But his most significant road block actually occurred at the conclusion of his inaugural semester.
“I actually ran out of money around Christmastime, so I wasn’t sure I could go back,” Dierlam recalled. “Somebody back home told me about a scholarship—really, it was more of a loan with no interest—so I applied for it. They gave me some money, and it made a big difference.”
The scholarship allowed Dierlam to return to school, where he eventually earned his electrical engineering degree in January 1962. It also allowed him to continue his courtship of his future wife.
Kay and Mark actually met in Galveston in 1956 during a state high school convention. Mark needed a date for the Sophomore Ball at A&M in 1958 and Kay accepted. While women weren’t allowed to attend classes at A&M at the time, Kay was immediately infatuated with the aura of Aggieland.
She was also impressed enough with Mark that she agreed to marry him after his junior year. The Dierlams lived in a college apartment where Mark worked as a student manager. Kay, meanwhile, worked on campus in the horticulture department. Both the product of meager backgrounds, Mark even had to sell his Senior Boots after graduation so the couple would have enough gas money to leave town.
A 26-year career in the Air Force followed for Mark as a pilot and Wing Commander. In 1967 during the Cold War, he flew 24-hour Chrome Dome airborne alert missions in B-52s armed with nuclear weapons. During Vietnam he spent 30 months flying combat missions.
The couple eventually settled in Montgomery, Ala., where they have since lived for 31 years. Kay has spent 28 years working in the Alabama State Senate, while Mark retired as a Colonel and transitioned to civilian life. Since 1988, he has worked with First Command Financial Services, which provides financial planning services primarily to military families.
While the Dierlams have spent most of their adult lives far from College Station, A&M and Aggie sports have always been near to their hearts.
“We were doing good if we could even come back for one game per year, due to our military way of life,” said Mark, who coached youth football and baseball for years. “Being in the military, there is a lot of interest in athletics and what’s going on at everyone’s schools. And all of our children were involved in athletics, so sports were always something we have followed.”
The Dierlams, who have also endowed several Corps of Cadets scholarships through the Texas A&M Foundation, have contributed to multiple 12th Man Foundation projects, including the Bright Football Complex, the R. C. Slocum Nutrition Center and the Kyle Field Redevelopment.
“Mark and I have always thought sports were important in our children’s development,” said Kay Dierlam. “Mark has been a proponent of athletics because he has seen so many similarities between his life in the military and sports, like performing together as a team, discipline and hard work. We have always admired people who could do all that and still deal with the academic demands of a school like A&M.”
Kay and Mark travel to College Station often to attend Aggie games and other university events. They are active in the 12th Man Foundation’s Champions Council as well as the Athletic Ambassadors program, and for the last few years have enjoyed seeing the Aggies play many road games across the south as members of the SEC.
Living in the middle of Alabama, a state that is home to perhaps the most intense rivalry in college sports, the Dierlams are a proud beacon of maroon.
“I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard (Mark) tell someone ‘I am who I am today, in addition to what the good Lord has done for me, from my background at Texas A&M,’” said Kay, who proudly wears her A&M “sweetheart ring,” a replica of Mark’s class ring. “He has always said he wouldn’t be where he is today, and we wouldn’t be where we are, without the discipline and knowledge from the school.
“Our children (Tish, Scott and Todd) all wanted to attend the Air Force Academy and did great things during their careers. But we have nine grandkids, so we are holding out hope that we will get a few more Aggies in the family one day.”
Another crucial part of their legacy to A&M has been cemented through an estate plan that includes a bequest to the 12th Man Foundation from the living trusts of both Kay and Mark. Through that, the Dierlams will continue to positively impact Aggie athletics for generations.
“Mark and Kay bring such positivity and energy to whatever they are doing, and it is truly infectious,” said Clint Dempsey, 12th Man Foundation vice president of major gifts and planned giving. “Their enthusiasm toward Texas A&M and the lifelong skills that athletics provides to young men and women is very evident when Mark and Kay start talking about Aggie athletics. We are extremely grateful they have chosen to be such generous financial supporters of not only our current projects that immediately impact Aggie student-athletes, but through a legacy gift in their estate plan that will continue their passion in perpetuity.” a
To learn how you can provide a student-athlete scholarship through the 1922 Fund, please contact a Major Gifts officer at the information below.
To those who support student-athletes by giving, I want to say thanks and gig 'em.
Without them, many young people who aren't financially stable or can't provide an education for themselves have a great opportunity. It makes A&M a better place."