When Ben Grant reflects on his 95 years, he recalls a turning point 80 years in the past.
Estate Planning Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Animal Science
This was published before Ben Grant passed away on Jan. 19, 2014.
In the midst of the Great Depression, William E. Brown sought unique experiences to teach and inspire his Grandfield (Okla.) High School agricultural education students. In 1933, he loaded Grant and 25 other students into an old farm truck and drove more than 900 miles to the World's Fair in Chicago.
"Man, that was something," Grant said. "We went to a macaroni factory, a John Deere factory, a brewery and a natural history museum. He showed us what made the world go around."
Brown said college would help his students become better farmers.
"So, at 17, I liquidated my assets and I went to Oklahoma A&M," Grant said. "I had $82 and a new bicycle."
While completing his 1940 degree in animal science livestock operations, Grant's jobs included throwing newspapers, working as a janitor in his sister's beauty shop, unloading tiles and landscaping. But another turning point came when Andy Kinkead hired him to work at the university's horse barn. Grant's work ethic impressed Kinkead, who helped him follow his time at the horse barn with a stint working for Alex McKenzie at the sheep barn.
"Andy took a very personal interest in me," Grant said. "We just went together just like that. He saw things in me that I didn't know I had."
Along with the good, Kinkead also saw "the rough edges of a country boy." He said Grant should join his fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho. Kinkead even put up the money for Grant to become a pledge and bought his fraternity ring.
Grant says joining AGR benefitted him many ways, the greatest coming from the time he needed a date for a fraternity party and was set up with Alma Lynch.
"She hadn't even come all the way down the stairs when I fell in love with her," said Grant.
Later that night, Grant told a friend, "I'm going to marry that young lady someday, if she'll have me."
Cassie Bacon Dorran graduated in 2012 and then founded Rural Route Creations, a one-stop livestock marketing agency.
Their marriage began on Feb. 3, 1940, and continued until she passed more than 71 years later on April 12, 2011.
"From the day I married that young lady, she and I have been the happiest two people you can ever imagine," Grant said.
Grant served as a pilot in World War II, flying more than 100 missions. In 1950, he was selected for a 60-acre veterans' land allotment in Pasco, Wash. The couple opened a custom harvesting business that eventually grew to using 64 combines to harvest a variety of crops for six months every year. Their business was so successful they had saved more than enough money to retire by the 1960s.
In 1987, Bob Totusek, head of the Animal Science Department, arranged a reunion of the "sheep barn boys" in remembrance of McKenzie. It drew the Grants to campus for the first time in 24 years. They were so impressed with the way the department had developed that they were the highest bidders for a ceremonial brick from the old Animal Husbandry Building as well as a photograph of the facility. They donated them back to be resold each year, which established an ongoing tradition of donors "purchasing" these mementos to honor others. To date, this tradition has raised more than $78,000 for animal science scholarships.
Generosity toward OSU is a pattern for the Grants. Including an estate gift, their donations and commitments to their alma mater are worth millions. They have established and supported scholarships in honor of Brown, Kinkead, McKenzie, Totusek and Donald Wagner, former head of the Animal Science Department.
"All my life, I have wanted to do something for Mr. Brown and the others who helped me through life," Grant said. "I classify myself as one of the most fortunate individuals who can be in the right place, at the right time."
The impact of their generosity grows each year. Among the many beneficiaries is Cassie Bacon Dorran, an Arkansas native who received the Alex McKenzie Scholarship. The 2012 animal science and agricultural communications graduate then founded Rural Route Creations, a one-stop livestock marketing agency.
"I was humbled to leave school without any student debt, which gave me a huge start as a business owner in what society was calling a drowning economy," she said. "I am eternally grateful to those who had an impact on me receiving my secondary education. Someday my husband and I, too, hope to give back to students so that they might receive the education of their dreams."
Grant says he has spent his life fulfilling a promise he made during WWII.
"I asked the Good Lord to make me the best pilot so I could serve my country and return home," Grant said. "I asked Him to give me the opportunity to devote the rest of my life to helping other people. Alma felt the same way, and the Good Lord brought me back to her. It makes me so happy to know that I am still helping people."