STARKVILLE — Roughly 72 years after receiving his degree from then Mississippi State College, Willis Durden “Dan” McGeary exemplified his devotion by leaving a little something for his alma mater in his will.
That little something turned out to be the largest single land donation in the school’s history.
Sidon Plantation, an $8-million, 2,637-acre property in Leflore County was donated to Mississippi State University after McGeary, who graduated in 1940 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, passed away in 2011 at the age of 91.
Most of the property — more than 2,000 acres of the bequest — is harvestable farm land and is still consistently producing a number of row crops including cotton, corn and soybeans.
As an unrestricted gift, MSU will be able to draw annual revenue from the crops grown on the property, and the profits can be used without any stipulations.
Jud Skelton, director of real estate giving at the university, said the MSU Foundation plans on re-investing into the property in order to increase its profitability.
“Since so much of the property is farm land, we will do some things like precision leveling of the land, which allows us to irrigate 100 percent of the property,” Skelton said. “We think we have a number of ways, over the next 10 to 15 years, that will take the return off of this land and make it exponentially greater than it is today.”
Few know the potential yields like John Doty Porter, the property’s tenant farmer and whose family has worked McGeary’s property since the early 1970s. In a release, Porter provided some good news.
“We are proud to say our efforts are prosperous each year,” Porter said in a statement released by the university.
McGeary, who joined the U.S. Army Air Corps following graduation, became an aircraft commander during World War II and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. After returning from the European Theatre, McGeary managed the family plantation for a number of years, before becoming a captain for American Airlines, a position he held for 29 years.
With 70 percent of Mississippi land being privately owned, Skelton and the MSU Foundation are being more proactive in engaging alumni like McGeary.
“We feel like there are a large number of our alumni and friends of the university who have these types of assets and would be willing to donate to the university for use with scholarships or faculty support,” Skelton said. “A lot of times, these individuals are land rich and cash poor and would like to benefit MSU in some way, and this is a way to move a highly appreciated asset out of their estate and also benefit the university they love.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.