A tree is growing for each Aggie lost during the Bonfire collapse.
The 12 trees, planted near the Bonfire Memorial on Polo Road on March 4, 2000, were paid for by forest science alumni.
Even though the Bonfire Memorial Trees were planted more than 18 years ago, current students still visit and incorporate them into their own traditions.
Forensic and investigative sciences and entomology senior Nick Richter is a member of the Corps of Cadets Squadron 17. Richter said that after Bonfire Remembrance each year, the outfit goes to the tree dedicated to Jerry Don Self, Class of 2001 and Squadron 17 member. The squadron listens to stories about Self from those who were close to him. The outfit also stops by Self’s tree when they do physical training near the polo fields, completing 17 diamond pushups in his memory.
Self studied engineering technology, but eventually wanted to become a youth minister.
“It’s a way for us to remember him and the legacy that he left that we are trying to uphold,” Richter said. “Pursuing excellence and giving your all in all that you do, being personable to people and living life to the fullest.”
According to Richter, Squadron 17 often sits around and tells stories while sharing one of Self’s favorite snacks — Skittles and Dr. Pepper. They also make dents in all of their cans and call them “Jerry dents” in Self’s memory.
Freshmen in the outfit are taught about Self during orientation week and watch a Bonfire documentary, “The Burning Desire,” before the Remembrance ceremony.
“Going through the Corps and hearing the stories about how Jerry made such an impact on these people’s lives — he was constantly smiling, constantly happy,” Richter said. “We do [these traditions] because we represent something more than just ourselves and our outfit.”
Biology senior Drew Watts is the commanding officer of the Corps of Cadets Squadron 2, also known as Gator 2. Watts said his outfit goes to the tree dedicated to Bryan Allen McClain, Class of 2002, and listens to “Old Gators” tell stories about how they knew McClain. The outfit also visits the Bonfire Memorial to show freshmen cadets McClain’s portal before they receive their Corps Brass.
McClain was an agriculture freshman from San Antonio who loved music and spending time in the outdoors.
“He gave all of his time to the school and ended up giving his life,” Watts said. “I think it’s important to remember him and Bonfire because it’s people like him who represent what this school is all about.”
Senior yell leader, Squadron 2 member and industrial distribution senior Blake Jones said his outfit has a memorial saber hanging with a picture of McClain in their dorm, but the tree serves as a living memorial.
“It’s pretty cool to think that that’s a tree that’s going to be there as long as campus is here and is living and growing with this university,” Jones said.