A Living Legacy
J. Michael Yeager ’76 and his wife Robin have been supporting the Naval Academy through the Naval Academy Foundation for many years and have been President’s Circle donors since 2004. The couple has also made a provision for the Academy in their estate plans. In recent years, however, Robin began to mention making a larger, more immediate gift.
“We have been so blessed, so fortunate,” said Mike Yeager, now chairman and chief executive officer of a small startup oil and gas company. “We had more than we deserved, and Robin started to ask ‘why wait?’ We thought we should go ahead and do something now, have a chance to enjoy the impact of our gift and maybe motivate others.”
That’s exactly what they have done, with a $1.5 million gift supporting continued improvements to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where Mike played quarterback and wide receiver for Navy football many years ago, and where today the hospitality and recruiting suite in the southwest end zone is named “Yeager Pavilion” in recognition of the couple’s generosity.
“It’s very humbling to see our name in that stadium,” said Yeager. “This stadium is a beacon for the Naval Academy physical mission where we learn to succeed against overwhelming odds, and that’s what we wanted the gift to support.”
The 1 October dinner dedicating the Pavilion featured a personal message sent by Navy football legend and Naval Academy Foundation director Roger Staubach ’65. “Returning to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium each fall brings back a flood of memories for me. It also reminds me of the commitment and responsibility we—as members of the Football Brotherhood—share in ensuring that future generations of midshipmen have the resources they need not only to compete, but to thrive. Mike and Robin, thank you for your commitment and dedication to the Naval Academy, Navy athletics and especially Navy football!”
The Yeagers, who are both from small Texas towns, credit the Academy with creating opportunities their family could never have realized otherwise.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t know much about the world,” said Yeager. “I hadn’t traveled at all. I wasn’t from a military family. When I was presented with the opportunity to come to school and play football for Navy, it was an easy decision. It was an opportunity to step out, get beyond the city limits sign and begin my journey into the world. There wasn’t anyone more starry-eyed than me on I-Day. I didn’t know what existed. The Academy was a transcendent experience for me. The ability to be around such elite men—it was only men back in those days—was extremely motivating. You felt compelled to be of superior intellect, ethics, determination and physical performance. My fellow midshipmen reminded me that that was what I was expected to be. It affected me to the core of my soul and still does today.”
Throughout his Academy career, Yeager had an opportunity to experience many of the service assignments that would be available to him at graduation, including surface ships, flight school at Pensacola, submarines and an assignment with a Marine Corps unit deployed the Mediterranean that would prove fortuitous.
“The Marines were an extension of the Academy in that they take circumstances that most people would be completely overwhelmed by and turn them into normal events,” said Yeager. “I loved that and hoped I would be able to do that, too.”
Yeager’s five years in the Marine Corps, coupled with his Academy education, set the course for a lifetime of personal and professional success that shaped his life as well as his family’s.
“The Academy and the Corps gave Mike leadership skills and he’s honed them over the years,” said Robin Yeager. “He has a remarkable ability to get people to follow him, me included. His desire to be something, to do something, to go places stems directly from his Academy and Marine experiences.”
Between deployments in the Marine Corps, Yeager earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California and subsequently pursued a career in the energy industry, eventually holding leadership positions with Mobil and ExxonMobil before joining BHP Billiton Petroleum, where he served as CEO from 2006 to 2013 before joining his current company. Along the way, he and Robin had a son and daughter, and now have two grandchildren.
“If we look back on the life we have, the family we have, our mature and disciplined children, the crux of all of that is the Academy,” said Yeager.
The Yeagers returned to the Academy before President’s Circle Weekend 2015 to dedicate the Pavilion, which at varying times during home football games hosts prospective student-athletes as well as donors, in addition to providing a new event venue at other times of the year. The prominent signage took the two a bit aback.
“It was so visible—that was a real shock,” said Robin. “Throughout the rest of the weekend, people kept coming up to congratulate us. It was a good feeling.”
But while the Pavilion may bear the Yeagers’ name, they are quick to make clear that their motivation behind making the gift has very little to do with personal recognition.
“We did this because we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Mike Yeager. “To honor my classmates, as well as those who have come before and after us. This is a way of saying thank you for the decades of excellence we’ve been honored to call on—Robin, the kids, and me. We are all better people because of what this place has done for us. Thank God we have this placed and opportunity to express our gratitude.”
Source: From The Bridge, 2016 Issue 1