Transformative opportunities endure through memorial endowment

Sydney L. Cate Jr. was a leader in many ways. An entrepreneur, veteran and altruistic public servant, he was deeply devoted to higher education and the arts and helping others to achieve their goals. Although he never attended Mississippi State University, Cate’s encouragement continues to impact the academic pursuits of MSU students through an endowed scholarship he created in memory of his father nearly two decades ago.

Born on October 29, 1922, in Grace, Idaho, and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cate earned an engineering degree from the University of Utah and later attended Stanford University’s Executive Development Program. After serving as 1st Lieutenant Aide-de-Camp in the U.S. Army during World War II, Cate founded Bannock Steel, a heavy equipment company in Idaho Falls, Idaho. In 1960, he expanded the business into a major steel fabrication firm through a merger with Gate City Steel of Boise, Idaho.

Cate and his family later moved to Gate City Steel’s headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, where he became deeply committed to the area’s business and philanthropic communities. Serving on the boards of numerous corporations, he contributed to many local organizations and foundations. As a member of the Young President’s Organization and the World Business Council, Cate and his wife, Betty, traveled throughout the world.

In 2000, Cate created the Sydney L. Cate Endowed Scholarship in the MSU James Worth Bagley College of Engineering. Memorializing his father, Sydney L. Cate Sr., a 1917 Mississippi A&M engineering alumnus, the award ensures promising students are afforded the opportunity to study engineering at his father’s alma mater.

“My family is proud of the charitable work that my father has done over his lifetime,” said Cate’s daughter, Rebecca. “He spoke to us about my grandfather, who was from Tate and DeSoto counties in Mississippi, and his financial struggles to receive his engineering degree at Mississippi A&M prior to World War I.”

Recognizing the difficulties his father faced and worked to overcome in pursuing a higher education, Cate was committed to supporting other ambitious students in earning their degrees. In addition to his scholarship at MSU, Cate also contributed to engineering scholarships at the University of Nebraska and the University of Utah.

The Sydney L. Cate Endowed Scholarship, which gives preference to students from Tate and DeSoto counties, as well as those from single-parent homes, has provided financial support for 17 MSU students to date. As an endowment, the gift will continue to uphold Cate’s legacy of investing in educational opportunities for years to come.

Jeremy Wigginton, a 2005 biological engineering graduate, was the first recipient of the scholarship award in 2001. Like Cate’s father, Wigginton faced many difficult times as a child. Several years after losing his mother to breast cancer on his 11th birthday, Wigginton’s father died from complications of alcoholism. Despite the tragedy, the Belmont native pushed himself and graduated valedictorian of his senior class.

Inspired by many of the doctors who helped his mother during her battle with cancer, Wigginton said he knew he wanted to one day become a doctor to help people. He began searching for the support needed to enroll in the biological engineering program at MSU, a precursor to medical school. That opportunity arose when he was awarded the Sydney L. Cate Scholarship.

Following graduation, Wigginton went on to earn a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson. Today, he continues to lead a progressive career in medicine in New Orleans—a dream that may never have been attained without Cate’s private support and encouragement.

During his lifetime, Cate kept in touch with many of his scholarship recipients, including Wigginton. Despite never meeting them in person, Cate saved each letter, reading and sharing them with his children on many occasions. Following his passing in July 2017 at the age of 94, Cate’s daughter, Rebecca, found the letters, which he had saved in his personal files. She plans to uphold his outreach by continuing to receive the award recipient’s letters and share them with her family.

“It is a great reminder that my dad’s legacy continues,” Rebecca said.

The current 2018 recipients of the Sydney L. Cate Endowed Scholarship are Kendall Billingsley, a junior biological engineering major from Nesbit; Joseph Carter, a freshman biomedical engineering major from Horn Lake; and Anna Kate Goldman, a senior biological engineering major from Nesbit.

“A major influence for coming to MSU was the outstanding engineering program offered here,” Billingsley said. “Without the Sydney Cate scholarship, I would have been struggling to pay for my education.”

Billingsley explains that beyond helping to relieve the financial burdens of her education, the scholarship has also served as an incentive to continue doing well in her classes.

“Scholarship support really makes a difference in the lives of students,” Billingsley said. “It can be a determining factor in what allows someone to continue their education and one day obtain their goals of bettering their lives.”

For more information on how to create endowed scholarships at MSU, contact Jack McCarty, executive director of development for the MSU Foundation, at (662) 325-9580 or

By Addie Mayfield