James Earl Rudder returns to his beloved Tarleton on Thursday, Oct. 19, when the university unveils a life-size bronze of the Army major general and American hero who later became president of Texas A&M University and chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.
Rudder started college at Tarleton in 1927 and graduated from Texas A&M. He returned in 1938 as a teacher and head football coach, serving as the university’s athletic director for one season before being called into active military duty in 1941.
The public unveiling of Rudder’s statue—part of Tarleton’s centennial celebration as founding member of the A&M System—begins at 4 p.m., following the fall meeting of the Board of Regents on the Stephenville campus. The event takes place between Wisdom Gym and the Nursing Building, near the intersection of North Rome Avenue and West Vanderbilt Street, at the end of a new pedestrian walkway.
In concert with the ceremony, Vanderbilt Street on the university campus officially becomes Rudder Way.
Rudder rose to fame during World War II as commander of the historic assault up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc—part of the Normandy Invasion—and is remembered as Texas A&M’s innovative president who transformed a regional all-male military school into the renowned university of today. He oversaw the admission of women and African Americans to A&M, and championed its research function. Rudder died in 1970 as chancellor of the A&M System, having spent his final day on the Tarleton campus.
“Maj. Gen. Rudder loved Tarleton,” said President F. Dominic Dottavio. “It is where he discovered who he was, and what he wanted to be. A monument to honor this distinguished alumnus, heroic soldier and visionary leader is truly fitting as we celebrate our centennial. He will long be remembered for the Rudder Way of doing things and as a true example of Tarleton’s core values.”
In addition to A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and Regents, more than a dozen members of the Rudder family plan to attend the unveiling of the statue, created by Tarleton Distinguished Alumnus Mike Tabor and funded by Regent Anthony “Tony” Buzbee.
As a member of the A&M Board of Regents, Buzbee had passed Rudder’s statue on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station hundreds of times and thought it made perfect sense for Tarleton to have one, too. Like Rudder, Buzbee is a Texas Aggie. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M and a law degree summa cum laude from the University of Houston Law School.
Tabor graduated from Tarleton in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in art. One of America’s most respected Western Expressionist painters and an accomplished sculptor, his multiple-media portfolio includes the national renowned life-size bronze of Team Hoyt, the father-son duo best known for their 32-year participation in the Boston Marathon.
Tabor started work on the Rudder bronze at year’s end 2015, taking eight months to create a statue that portrays the military hero as a true American soldier and leader.
“My goal was to honor a fellow Tarleton alumnus with something meaningful for others to look at,” he said, “and to inspire them to live the Rudder Way.”