Charlie Wilkinson had only a sixth-grade education, but the East Texas farmer shared the vision for a great new center of higher learning with academics Robert Stewart Hyer and Hiram Boaz. Wilkinson, who observed his 29th birthday April 15, 1911, was among those who provided financial support to help The United Methodist Church build SMU.
“My grandfather was a farmer whose only source of income was the sale of cotton,” recalls grandson Fred Head ’61, ’63. “In a good year, he would make six bales, which would sell for a top price of $25 per bale.”
Wilkinson and his wife, Alva Lena Burton Wilkinson, were active members of Henry’s Chapel Methodist Church, a small congregation in Cherokee County, Texas. Like Methodists across the state, the Wilkinsons were encouraged to contribute what they could afford toward the proposed university.
Even though he had four children to support – Lou Ella, Emery, Pauline and Annelle – Wilkinson pledged $25 to be paid over several years. It was a princely sum for a family that earned $150 in a good year.
Head cherishes the documentation of his grandfather’s contribution:
• An acknowledgement of Wilkinson’s $25 subscription to the “Million Dollar Fund” signed on April 27, 1913, by SMU President Robert Stewart Hyer, Vice President Hiram A. Boaz and Bursar Frances Reedy.
• A subscription note signed by his grandfather June 1, 1915.
• A receipt for the final payment of $8.34 dated November 2, 1917, and a letter acknowledging their pledge fulfillment dated November 17, 1917.
• A Dallas Hall medallion, sent in recognition of full payment.
“My grandfather believed it was one of the best investments he had ever made,” Head says.
Although he did not realize it at the time, Wilkinson had planted family roots with SMU that would grow over generations. Fifty years after the filing of SMU’s charter in 1911, grandson Fred earned a B.B.A. from the University. Two years later, he graduated from Dedman School of Law. Head established a successful practice in Athens, Texas, and represented Rusk and Smith counties in the Texas Legislature from 1967-81. One of Head’s five children, Catherine Marsha Head Lenz, received a Bachelor’s in communications from SMU in 1991.
“My grandfather, who died in 1970, never could have imagined that SMU would begin its Centennial celebration with Founders’ Day on his birthday,” Head says. “He was so proud that the fruits of his investment returned to his family and so many other families over the years.”
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