Caitlin "Cait" Shields '11 January 4, 2018 4:09 PM updated: January 8, 2018 8:58 AM
Marietta Gaffney Die '68 shows off her new Aggie Ring in November.
Fifty years later at 100, a Class of 1968 Aggie got one big, shiny surprise from her family.
Marietta Gaffney Die was presented her first Aggie Ring by family members during Thanksgiving.
“I like it very much,” she said of the gift, received just weeks after she became a centenarian. “I look on it as a very special gift.”
Die has fostered a veritable brood of Aggie descendants--11 and counting (including spouses)--and has maintained her love of Aggieland since she earned her master’s of education.
“We are all Aggie pushers,” she said. “When my husband was living and we lived in Bryan, he never missed a ballgame. (Grandson) Jim Sheffield (’85) is the same way--he never misses an Aggie ballgame. He has year-round tickets.”
Three generations of Aggies all came together to present Die with the tangible connection to the school she loves so much, said Jim's wife, Carmen Sheffield ’85. She and Jim have three Aggie children and one Aggie daughter-in-law.
“We were all back and forth about what do we get grandma,” Carmen said on Die approaching the triple digits. “She’s such a proud Aggie. She just loves Aggieland and all the traditions. We took her to an Aggie game two years ago when the new stadium was finished. She was 98 and hadn’t been to an Aggie game in forever. She was sitting there in tears, she just loved it.
Marietta Die '68 and family members show off their Aggie Rings in November 2017 when she was surprised with her first Ring for her 100th birthday, almost 50 years after she earned her degree.
“We were all just so happy to give her something that is to us very special,” she said. “It’s such a big deal to be recognized with an Aggie Ring, to be recognized as an (alumna) by people seeing that Ring on your hand.”
As for why Die waited so long to don her own Aggie Ring, she said when she graduated she already had rings she wore on both ring fingers, opting instead for an Aggie pin that was later lost at the drycleaners. Giving her daughter one of the rings freed up the real estate for her Aggie gold.
“So it was empty and my grandchildren thought I needed a class ring,” she said.
A winding road
Die’s road to her Aggie Ring took a few turns. The Kentucky native earned her bachelor’s in English in her home state before moving to Florida for a teaching position.
“Florida was paying (teachers) better than Kentucky,” Die said of her move as a young woman. “I was teaching in Florida, and I was having a hard time supporting myself on a teacher’s salary, and I read that the salaries were higher in Texas. So I applied to Texas and was accepted in Beaumont, and that is where I met my husband. His mother was ill and he had come home from Bryan and I met him, and we ended up in Bryan.”
Her husband, Donnie Lloyd Die ’50, taught at Allen Academy in Bryan where Marietta kept teaching English in public schools when she felt the call to the A&M campus.
“I guess I was just wanting to go back to school and refresh myself,” she said of going for her second degree in her 40s. “It increased my salary.”
She spent the better part of a decade taking classes largely with male members of the Corps of Cadets half her age. “It took seven or eight years. I was just taking a class after I taught all day. One of my professors got me a parking permit to park in the teachers’ parking lot so I wouldn’t be late after teaching all day. In the summer I got more hours. There was very few women; they didn’t take anybody but local teachers for a few years there, and the daughters of professors.
Marietta Die '68 is pictured at about the time she graduated Texas A&M, at 50 years old.
“The thing about it, the cadets were usually a lot younger than us,” she said of the other female teachers taking classes at A&M. “They were still undergraduates and we were doing graduate work. There were never more than three or four women in a class. When I first started, there were times when I was the only women in a class. And of course I didn’t live on campus, I lived in Bryan with my husband and my children. I wasn’t on campus very much except the library; I went to the library (a lot).”
Die was 50 when she earned her degree from A&M, five years after the school formally opened its student body to women.
She and her family eventually moved back to Florida, where she taught for the next 20 years. Die made her way back to Texas after her husband passed away, moving to a retirement community near family in Austin and closer to Aggieland where a child, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have followed in her footsteps.
“I have a whole line of A&M graduates for grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There’s just so many graduates from Texas A&M it’s hard to quote them all.”
Marietta Die '68 poses with great-grandsons Michael Zeke Sheffield '21 and Myles Sheffield '21, both Texas A&M freshmen, during an Aggie football game in 2015.