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Shiner family's Aggie roots stretch back to first A&M student

By Bianca Montes
Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:03 a.m.

Zachary Lawrence stands next to a picture of his great-great-grandfather, John Archibald McIver, a member of the school's first class.

Zachary Lawrence knew that he would be an Aggie the first time he attended a football game.

The crowds roared.

But it wasn't just the excitement rumbling in the stands or the golden lights illuminating the field that solidified the then-8-year-old's desire to enroll at Texas A&M University; it was the pride he felt while watching his family root on its alma mater.

"It's the atmosphere - the whole spirit thing - it's really lively; everyone stands up; all the fans are hyped up and ready to go," he said. "It was neat to go there and know that's what my dad and mom and grandparents all experienced."

Lawrence, a psychology sophomore, is a fifth-generation Aggie whose family roots date to the school's first student.

His great-great-great-grandfather rode into what is now College Station to register at the then-Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets.

He was a day early.

He also was a poor farmer from Caldwell, a small town 25 miles west of the university and couldn't afford a room at the local inn.

So he slept under a tree.

"I always knew that he was the first student," Lawrence said, reminiscing on the memory of his grandmother telling him the story. "It's kind of silly, but that's what's amazing about the whole thing, especially because he was only 16 when he came to A&M - he was making his own life at that point."

According to a newswire story submitted by the university, John Archibald McIver wasn't only a member of the university's first class in 1876 but also was one of the first students to enroll at a public college in Texas.

According to the university's history page on its website, the school owes its origin to the Morrill Act, an act that provided public land to be donated to the states for the purpose of funding higher education. The first class began in 1876, according to the website.

Despite having such a rich A&M history, Lawrence said he didn't want to use it to get into the university. "I wanted to get in on my own merits," he said.

The same holds true for his sister, Lindsay Lawrence, an allied health senior, and his brother, Ryan Lawrence, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in history last spring.

"It was something we all kind of grew up around - it was a pretty big part of our upbringing," Ryan Lawrence said. "But it wasn't the reason I wanted to go."

Ryan Lawrence said his father's memories of being in the corps stemmed his interest:

The camaraderie.

The friends for life.

"I wanted to have that experience," he said. "I made my best friends through that program."

The corps is something most of the Lawrence men share; Ryan Lawrence, his brother Zachary, his father, his grandfather, great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather were all members.

"The corps was always interesting to me," Ryan Lawrence said, recalling photos of his dad in the 80s. "You really make lifelong friends in the corps, and seeing that was something I wanted to be a part of."

It was a visit to the Sanders Corps of Cadets Hall of Honor museum during freshman orientation that Zachary Lawrence and his father were able to solidify the age-old family tale of his Aggie heritage.

Walking through the center, the two found a plaque and picture of John Archibald McIver on the wall. Lawrence's grandfather said he almost could not believe it when his son sent him a picture through a text message.

"I've always been proud of being an Aggie," Allen Lawrence, the grandfather, said.

Allen Lawrence is married to Patsy Lawrence, granddaughter of John Archibald McIver.

Patsy Lawrence, of Goliad, however, is a little more humble about the story.

"It's nothing to be proud of," she laughed over the telephone, saying that she never got a chance to go to A&M because it was an all-male university in her time. She did, however, get her education at Del Mar Community College in Corpus Christi and later Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma.

"I wish I could have gone," she said. "I really, really wish I could have gone."

Patsy Lawrence said when her oldest son was a student, she and her husband drove up to the university for almost every game.

"When I was dating my husband, we went to all the games," she said. "It was just a sense of pride. Back in those days A&M football wasn't the greatest in the world, but we did out best to root them on.

"I'm just so proud our children and grandchildren were involved."

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