By Carroll Smith
Willis Durden “Dan” McGeary left Mississippi to follow his dream of becoming a pilot, but he never forgot his connection to his home state or his alma mater, Mississippi State University.
The last surviving member of a prominent Delta family, McGeary willed Sidon Plantation in Leflore County to Mississippi State University. The bequest includes 2,069 acres of farmland and 568 additional acres around Sidon Plantation near Greenwood, as well as one of the oldest homes in Leflore County. McGeary died in 2011 at age 91. The $8 million bequest of real estate, the largest in university history, is designated “unrestricted,” meaning agricultural lease proceeds from the property will provide an annual source of revenue for MSU as part of its Bulldog Properties program.
“Row crops are still grown on the farmland – cotton, corn and soybeans – and we are proud to say our efforts are prosperous each year,” says John Doty Porter, the property’s tenant farmer, whose family has farmed the property since the early 1970s.
Although McGeary deeply appreciated agriculture, he had aspirations outside of farming. He decided at the age of 10 to become a pilot. His dream led him to then-Mississippi State College, where he earned an aeronautical engineering degree in 1940.
After graduation, McGeary was employed with several aircraft manufacturing companies as an engineer before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps. He became an aircraft commander, flying missions in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war, McGeary returned to Mississippi and managed the family plantation. He later became a captain for American Airlines for 29 years. In later years, he lived in Marina Del Rey, Calif.
Although his adventures took him away from Mississippi, McGeary wanted to sustain his legacy in his home state.
“My husband wanted to leave the plantation and farmland to MSU because he felt the university would be good stewards of the property and because of his genuine fondness and appreciation for the school,” says Joy Andresen McGeary, his wife of nearly 18 years.
“Mississippi State University is extremely grateful to Willis McGeary for allowing us to transform his treasured possession into a valuable resource for the students, faculty and programs of the university,” says Jud Skelton, director of real estate giving for MSU’s Foundation. “The gift is remarkable, not only for the level of generosity, but also for the investment in future generations and the demonstration of confidence he placed in Mississippi State.”
By Amy Cagle, MSU Foundation