Teachers can change the world, even just one student at a time. Edwin Kyle was one such teacher. The longtime Texas A&M professor and dean not only taught a generation of students, but also helped modernize farming in the United States and across the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps known more today as the namesake for the home of Aggie football, Kyle built a worldwide reputation as an educator, scientist, diplomat and humanitarian.
Edwin Jackson Kyle was born in the Central Texas community of Kyle in 1876. His father, Fergus Kyle, founded Kyle in Hays County, just south of Austin. It has since exploded into a bustling Austin suburb of nearly 40,000 residents. He was also a former Confederate officer and veteran of the state legislature. It was his father who co-sponsored the 1905 bill with Sam Ealy Johnson, father of future President Lyndon B. Johnson, that allowed the state to buy the Alamo and preserve it as a historic site.
In 1896, he enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (which became Texas A&M University in 1963). As was the custom at that time, he became a member of the Corps of Cadets and underwent military training. He was so respected by faculty and his fellow students that he stepped into the position of Commandant of Cadets for three months after the previous commandant resigned. Kyle is the only student to ever serve in that role. Kyle proved very skilled with his academic work also and graduated at the top of his class in 1899.
He traveled to Cornell University in New York where he received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1901, followed by a master’s degree the following year. In 1902, he was invited back to A&M as an agriculture instructor. In addition to his classroom duties, he had a large field on campus where he experimented with different crops.
By 1904, he was also put in charge of athletics. Seeing as there were few facilities for the football team to practice or play, he set aside a portion of his experimental field and began building a stadium. He purchased the lumber for bleacher seating and bought a grandstand, all out of his pocket for roughly $650 (or more than $18,000 in 2018 dollars). Students began calling it Kyle Field in his honor.
In 1911, he was named founding dean of the new School of Agriculture. The next year, he published Fundamentals of Farming and Farm Life, a classic work on agricultural education that was the standard for decades. His expertise as a horticulturist grew steadily. He wrote numerous articles on growing fruits, vegetables and pecan trees. In 1941, the federal government asked him to tour Latin America to study their agriculture and to teach more modern techniques. Kyle formally retired from A&M in 1944.
However, even at the age of 68, some of his most important work was just beginning. That year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him as director of the Houston branch of the Farm Credit Administration, a program designed to help farmers with their finances and to help them with the means to modernize their farms.
In February 1945, Roosevelt nominated Kyle to become the United States Ambassador to Guatemala. With Roosevelt’s death in April and other emergencies surrounding the war, his nomination had some delays. However, he was approved by the Senate in May and sent to his new post in Central America by the new president, Harry S. Truman.
Kyle helped Guatemala continue to modernize its farming techniques during his time as ambassador. He quietly stepped down from the position in 1947. However, after his departure, the Guatemalan government invited him back for a special ceremony to receive the Order of The Quetzal. It is the highest award offered by Guatemala, given to Kyle in honor of his humanitarian efforts for that nation. He is the only American to ever receive the award.
After his return from Guatemala, he returned to Bryan and settled into retirement. The A&M Board of Directors formally named Kyle Field in his honor in 1956. Kyle died in December 1963 at age 87, a beloved figure in the Texas A&M community. His namesake Kyle Field in the years since has continued to be a focal point for the university community and has since expanded into a gigantic stadium capable of seating more than 110,000 people.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.