Singer Jimmy Dean and wife donate $1 million to Wayland

Release Date: May 16, 2008

PLAINVIEW – Country entertainer and entrepreneur Jimmy Dean and his wife Donna have given Wayland Baptist University’s upcoming Second Century Campaign a giant boost. With a $1 million gift to the university, the donation is one of the largest gifts by an individual in Wayland’s nearly 100-year history.

Dean informed the Advancement Office of his intentions recently, and within days the money was deposited with the Baptist Foundation of Texas, which handles investments for the university.

“We have to do something to try to improve the literacy level in this country, and I hope this may help a little,” said Jimmy. “I’ve been so blessed, and it makes me proud to give back, especially to my hometown.”

The Deans, who live in Varina, Va., near Richmond, designated $25,000 for the Jimmy and Donna Dean Endowed Scholarship in memory of Jimmy’s late mother, Ruth Taylor Dean. As a devoted and single mom Mrs. Dean taught Jimmy to play the piano as a young boy, and provided for her family by cutting hair in their home in Seth Ward, a community just northeast of Plainview. She was a faithful member of the Seth Ward Baptist Church, and in April of this year Jimmy and Donna donated a new digital organ to the church in her memory.

The Deans also expressed interest in assistance for the Museum of the Llano Estacado, where a display of photos and memorabilia from his career recently was completed and displays of other local notables is planned. The remainder of the funds will be used in the campaign as the university sees fit. Seeking gifts and pledges over a 3-year period, the Second Century Campaign has a goal of $14 million with projects including a new religion building and missions center, renovations to Harral Auditorium, expansion of the Fine Arts space, endowment dollars and campus enhancements.

“Words cannot adequately begin to express Wayland Baptist University’s gratitude to the Deans for their very generous gift. The joy created on our campus by their extraordinary kindness is indescribable,” said Wayland President Dr. Paul Armes. “Their act was an answer to prayer, and we are deeply thankful. Because the Deans’ gift is one of our earliest, it will be a strong encouragement to others who are considering a commitment to our Second Century Campaign.”

Jimmy Dean was born in Olton on Aug. 10, 1928, but grew up in Plainview. He dropped out of Plainview High School in 1946, and after a few odd jobs he joined the Merchant Marines and then the Air Force. While stationed at Bolling Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., he enjoyed entertaining his buddies and eventually formed a band called the Texas Wildcats. He became a popular attraction at service and civilian clubs and remained in the D.C. area after his discharge.

In 1952, Jimmy toured U.S. military bases in the Caribbean, made his first recordings – including “Bumming Around” – and began appearing on local TV around Washington. In 1957, CBS brought Jimmy to New York City to star in a live country music show early each morning. That same year he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records.

After the blockbuster success in 1961 of his self penned “Big Bad John,” Jimmy recorded other narrative ballads including “PT-109” and “IOU,” a tribute to his mother. From 1963-66 he starred in “The Jimmy Dean Show,” presenting country music with an easy charm on Thursday evenings on ABC-TV. Jimmy introduced to a national audience such country stars as George Jones, Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, Roy Clark and Buck Owens, as well as Jim Henson and his Muppets.

He was also a popular guest host for Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore and Joey Bishop. Jimmy played a recurring role, Josh Clements, on the hit TV series, “Daniel Boone” from 1967-70, and in 1971 he played opposite Sean Connery in the James Bond film, “Diamonds Are Forever.”

As a popular entertainer Jimmy became the first country artist to play the Las Vegas strip. He has also graced such high stages as the Hollywood Bowl, London Palladium and Carnegie Hall.

In 1991, Jimmy married Donna Meade, a former Mercury-Polygram recording artist and songwriter, and together they joined forces to write a song that was chosen to be the next state anthem of Virginia. Jimmy and Donna also collaborated on his autobiography, “Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham,” which was released in 2004, and in 1997 Jimmy was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Deans return to Jimmy’s native Texas on occasion, where in recent years he was celebrated with Jimmy Dean Day in Plainview in 2000, and his likeness was placed in the “Walk of Fame” in front of the Fair Theater. His most recent honor was in 2005 when Jimmy was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in the East Texas town of Carthage.