Texas A&M AgriLife’s main facility for academic events on Texas A&M University’s west campus in College Station was officially named the Shirley and Joe Swinbank ’74 AgriLife Center February 27 during a reception and dinner in honor of the Houston-based couple.
“For decades, Shirley and Joe have been gracious supporters and visionary advisers in our ambitious plans,” said Patrick Stover, Ph.D., vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “In recognition of their contributions and dedication to our mission of reaching every Texan, we are honored to officially name the AgriLife Center in their honor. Through their generous giving, the Swinbanks will continue to support AgriLife for many years to come.”
“We see this privilege of having our name inscribed as an opportunity to leave a legacy for our family, our friends and for future generations of Aggies,” said Shirley Swinbank. “We desire our legacy here at Texas A&M to reflect our shared interest in continuing to impact educational opportunities for future Aggies and hopefully to inspire others to leave their legacies on Texas A&M, too.”
The unique, glass facade AgriLife Center is a multi-use event and exhibit center used for lectures, workshops and symposiums, as well as providing a venue for other premium events related to Texas A&M AgriLife.
The Swinbanks’ gift funds to the AgriLife Center, part of the Dean’s Excellence Fund, will provide resources for ongoing maintenance and other operating requirements for the center to meet the needs of reaching every Texan through education outreach and other activities.
Joe Swinbank, a native of Houston and Texas A&M Distinguished Alumnus, graduated from Westchester High School in 1970 and from Texas A&M in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics. Swinbank is a partner of The Sprint Companies and has an investment portfolio consisting of businesses in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast area in fields such as transportation, landfills, waste management, sand mining, tank leasing, pipeline maintenance and commercial real estate. The Swinbanks have been avid supporters of Texas A&M for many years.
“Gifts come in a variety of ways. It is a tribute and honor to our parents, families, and all those who have helped us along the way,” said Shirley Swinbank. “Our parents modeled lessons of love, dedication, direction, sacrifice, values and morals to live by, as well to give in any way you can, wherever you are with what you have. It may be money but moreover with time and actions.”
She said she and her husband “hope and pray” the AgriLife Center will be a gathering place to learn, build long lasting relationships, where stories of blessings, failures, and successes are told.
“More than a building or a name on the building, it’s a place where present lives are transformed individually surrounded by others with the support of Texas A&M, its alumni and friends, thus imparting tremendous impact today and for future generations,” Shirley Swinbank said. “God has graciously provided us with blessing opportunities and we humbly pay it forward. And so we celebrate the past, present and future of the ‘life’ of the AgriLife Center and its impact forever.”
Catalysts in Giving
The Swinbanks have been catalysts in providing support to Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for many years, with Joe Swinbank serving as a decade-long member of the COALS Development Council. This leadership of college alumni and friends serves the Vice Chancellor and Dean to advise and promote additional philanthropy.
The Department of Agricultural Economics has been among the beneficiaries of the Swinbanks’ generosity. In 2017, the Swinbanks established an assistantship in their name to support graduate students studying rural entrepreneurship in the department. Additionally, the Shirley and Joe Swinbank ’74 Rural Entrepreneurship Graduate Teaching Assistantship, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, supports agricultural economics graduate students.
The Swinbanks said they established that fund because they support the rural entrepreneurship program and the real-world experience that associate department head and professor, Dr. Ed Rister, instills through capstone projects and business plans for entrepreneurial startup businesses.
The Swinbanks have also provided financial support to create the endowed Agricultural Economics Rural Entrepreneurship Seminar Series; donated a dedicated gift to the Agricultural Headquarters Building Fund to name the Swinbank Rural Entrepreneurship classroom in the new Agriculture and Life Sciences complex; and established The M. Edward Rister ’74 Chair in Rural Entrepreneurship.
The Swinbanks have also provided key leadership and financial support to The Gardens at Texas A&M with the naming of the Joe and Shirley Swinbank Farmer’s Market Stand where students and visitors can visit for fresh produce.
Entrepreneurship creates Opportunities
“As a wife to an Aggie, I value being involved with the agribusiness entrepreneurship program because it provides a tremendous educational value,” said Shirley Swinbank
Joe Swinbank paid his way through college with part-time jobs. He credits this “mixed curriculum of work and academics” with giving him the foundation to become a self-described “serial entrepreneur.”
While still in school, he served as president of Petroleum Express Co., a wholesale and retail petroleum product sales company. After graduating from Texas A&M, he built a company that installed self-serve gas pumps at convenience stores.
Swinbank next co-founded Sprint Sand and Gravel to supply materials to ready-mix concrete producers in the Houston area. He and his business partner later formed the Sprint Waste Disposal Co. They continued their acquisitions and expansion in the 1990s by co-founding Sprint Industrial Services, an amalgamation of several transportation and industrial companies.
Swinbank routinely participates as a “prof for a day” in agricultural economics rural entrepreneurship classes and serves as a mentor for students and former students interested in start-up operations.
“Entrepreneurship is at the core of economic vitality for the state and for our country,” he said. “When approached about this naming opportunity, one of the principal reasons we agreed was our shared interest in advancing entrepreneurship. We are both entrepreneurs, and we value the applied entrepreneurial opportunities afforded to Aggies through the Department of Agricultural Economics and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. We see this as an opportunity to represent other entrepreneurs and to recognize the significance of entrepreneurship.”
An active supporter of Texas A&M athletics, Swinbank is a former board member of the 12th Man Foundation. He has served on the boards of Prosperity Bank of Houston, Fort Bend County Habitat for Humanity and the Economic Development Board of Fort Bend County. He also has donated land used to create parks and charter schools.
“Our giving to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is truly about the process, about paying it forward, and about remembering where we came from,” said Shirley Swinbank.