Jimmy, Donna Dean honored at luncheon for gift to WBU

PLAINVIEW – Jimmy Dean made the trek back to his hometown of Plainview Friday to be honored with wife Donna for their $1 million gift to Wayland Baptist University’s Second Century Campaign.

The Deans were honored at a luncheon held Monday on campus, where they also formally dedicated a scholarship in memory of his mother, Ruth Taylor Dean, endowed with part of the donation funds. With a room full of community guests, dignitaries and friends from the city, the university showered the couple with gifts, thanks from various groups on campus and personal memories of Jimmy’s career.

After a welcome from Plainview mayor John Anderson and a serenade of “Walking After Midnight” by Miss Wayland Terra Watson, Wayland board chairman Gen. Edgar Murphy thanked the Deans, noting that “for those of us in Texas, you’re a Texas hero.”

Dr. Ann Stutes, dean of the School of Music, thanked the Deans on behalf of Wayland faculty, sharing a few of her own memories as a Lubbock native born to big fans of Jimmy’s music, noting the impact the gift will have.

“Your list of accomplishments is staggering, but nothing means more to us as faculty than the ongoing gift of education,” she said. “Your gift will mean so much to our students and our programs. Thanks for believing in what we do and giving us hope for the future.”

Kevin Burrow, a junior from Tulia who serves as a President’s Ambassador, echoed the sentiment from the students’ point of view.

“As a student who receives endowed scholarship, I know what a blessing they are to us. This is a gift that will keep on giving, and for that I say, ‘Thanks a million,’” Burrow said.

Dr. Paul Armes, WBU President, presented the Keeper of the Flame Award to the deans, given to donors of more than $250,000. In his presentation, he explained the symbolism of the flame – representing both the light of knowledge and the light of Jesus Christ – and the importance of the award in honoring individuals whose generosity keeps that alive.

“The gift that Wayland received from you all has made a special impact on our campus, because it was a lead gift for our Second Century Campaign,” Armes noted. “It’s not the million-dollar amount so much as it was that it was made at the beginning of the campaign, so it sets the tone for others to give as well. We’ve come to love the Deans for their heart, their love for special friends and especially for our Lord.”

In his response, Dean took the microphone for a moment of levity, joking that there had been a lot of seriousness so far. After telling a few “country boy” jokes, he turned serious himself in pondering the gift.

“Poverty was the greatest motivating factor in my life. They laughed at the clothes I had to wear to school and the house we lived in. But what they did, unbeknownst to them, was they lit a fire in here,” Dean said, patting his chest. “And for a long time, I’d say, ‘One day, I’ll show you.’ That was a great driving force in me.

“But I hope that with this donation that we’ve done nothing to destroy the ‘I’ll show you’ in somebody else. It gives you a little backbone. We hope that (this gift) helps some kids that have got some ‘I’ll show you’ in their being.”

Donna Dean added her thanks for the university’s hospitality as they spent a long weekend in Plainview, attending Saturday’s Plainview Pioneer Palooza event and visiting Seth Ward Baptist Church, where Jimmy attended as a young man.

“When we first starting talking about doing this, I thought it was just the perfect arrangement for Jimmy, to give back to his community, to his passion of education and especially to an institution that is faith-based,” said Mrs. Dean. “I hope it blesses you all half as much as it blessed us to give.”

The Jimmy and Donna Dean Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to students in need of assistance to complete their education. The scholarship was established in memory of Jimmy's mother, Ruth Taylor Dean, a single mother who taught Jimmy to play the piano and raised him in Seth Ward, a community just northeast of Plainview. Ruth provided for them by cutting hair in her home and was a faithful member of the Seth Ward Baptist Church, to which the Deans donated a new digital organ recently in her memory.

In 1946, Jimmy dropped out of Plainview High School to help his mother, and then went on to serve his country in the Merchant Marines and later in the U.S. Air Force. Under a special program for veterans, he received his high school diploma in 2003.

Following his military years Jimmy performed with several bands in the Washington, D.C., area, and he eventually landed his own television show on CBS in 1953. He was the first country music performer to have a variety show on network TV, and from 1963 until 1966, “The Jimmy Dean Show” on ABC helped launch the careers of such stars as Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Roy Clark and Roger Miller.

Jimmy had several hit records including the self-penned, 1961 Grammy Award-winning “Big Bad John.” Another huge hit was “I.O.U.,” a tribute to his mother which sold a million records in three weeks. As his popularity as a singer and entertainer soared, he played such venues as Las Vegas, Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium. He had a co-starring role on the TV series “Daniel Boone” and also starred with Sean Connery in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever.”

In 1969, Jimmy founded the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in Plainview and his products were sold nationwide. From his appearances in commercials he became known as “The Sausage King.” His likeness is part of the Plainview “Walk of Fame” in front of the Fair Theater, and in 2005, Jimmy was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 1990, Jimmy moved to Richmond, Va., and married country music artist Donna Meade. In 2004, they collaborated on his life story, “Thirty Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham.”