The business cards that Bulinda and Jerry Ebanks carry in their wallets look simple, but they hold a powerful meaning. Given to everyone for whom the Ebanks perform a kind act, the cards bear a picture of a cross and this message: “This random act of kindness has been dedicated to the memory of two treasured young men, Keith and Michael Ebanks, who must live on through others.”
These young men, Keith ’89 and Michael ’03, are their sons, both Aggies, and both of whom lost their lives at a young age. Their oldest son, Keith, died in a car accident in 1994, while their younger son, Michael, was one of the 12 victims of the 1999 Bonfire collapse.
“They were both incredible men,” Jerry said. “Both of us could talk about those two until the sun burns up.”
Now, whether they are showing kindness to others, attending an Aggie sporting event or talking with students, the Ebanks remember their sons in everything they do. They also recently established planned gifts in their sons’ honor as another way to keep their memories alive.
Two Treasured Young Men
Although there was a 14-year age difference between Keith and Michael, both displayed common core qualities. “They were honest, and both of them had incredible empathy for everyone,” Jerry said. “When they befriended someone, they treasured that friendship.”
Keith was the first Aggie in his family. “He was laid-back, calm and happy-go-lucky,” Bulinda said. “He had a lot of friends and would do anything for anybody.”
An outdoorsman, Keith was a charter member of his Boy Scout troop and its first Eagle Scout. He spent every opportunity in nature, whether he was leading his Eagle Scout service project, mowing lawns, rock climbing or spelunking with friends, holding a crawfish boil for his neighbors, or hunting and fishing with his father. “Whenever he and I had a chance during duck season, we were off to the lake or the marsh,” Jerry said, adding that on one trip, Keith brought an injured duck home to nurse back to health.
Motivated by a love for animals, Keith chose to attend Texas A&M University to become a veterinarian. However, admission to the major was competitive, so he followed his passion for the outdoors instead and earned a degree in agronomy with a focus on turf management. After graduating, he obtained a job as assistant golf course supervisor at The Woodlands Country Club. “For a starting position, I thought it was very impressive,” Jerry said.
While Keith was focused on the Earth, his brother, Michael, had a mind for space. “I think he was born in a spaceship,” Jerry laughed. “He took to NASA and everything related to outer space like a duck to water. By the time he was 4 or 5 years old, he could tell you quite a bit about the space industry.”
Both brothers were hard workers, but Michael went above and beyond, working four part-time jobs to pay for flying lessons. After starting lessons at
age 16, he began working for the flight school, where he managed the office and cleaned and fueled planes. “He did almost everything except own the place,” Jerry said. “He ran the show, and he loved it.” Michael earned his pilot’s license the day after his 17th birthday.
Michael’s diligence displayed itself in other areas of his life as well, such as teaching himself how to play the piano in high school. “He would visit our local music shop and ask the guy to play a piece for him, usually Beethoven,” Bulinda explained. “Then he would buy the sheet music and practice at home. He played beautifully.”
Hoping to pursue a career at NASA, Michael decided to major in aerospace engineering and follow in his brother’s footsteps to Aggieland. “He strongly looked up to Keith,” Bulinda explained. “He only lived in Aggieland for a short time, but he knew from day one that it was where he wanted to be. Keith told him everything he needed to know.”
Texas A&M had a profound impact on both brothers. “Keith made lifelong friends and memories,” Bulinda said. “He loved all the traditions and explored everything the university offered.” Michael also enjoyed the Aggie traditions, especially Bonfire, and he spent most of his free time, including his birthday weekend, working on its construction.
Both men left an impression on the university during their time there. Even Michael, who only attended Texas A&M three months before the Bonfire collapse, “left a heck of an impact on the students he met,” Jerry said. This impact was also reflected in 2016, when Michael was made a Fish Camp namesake.