Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities

corn field

Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities

Willie Nelson’s lifelong advocacy for rural America has found its home at The University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

The Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities will fund research and student fellowships focused on sustainable agriculture, eliminating hunger, resilient energy, sustainable water, and natural disaster recovery to benefit rural and farm communities. Named in honor of Willie Nelson, the fund celebrates his legacy and numerous contributions over his lifetime, including Willie’s longtime leadership of Farm Aid, which has raised over $70 million to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in the United States. The endowment leverages The University of Texas's unmatched potential to improve food policy and sustainable water in rural areas, and enables a continuation of Willie's ardent support of American communities recovering from and adapting to natural disasters. Finally, this generous gift recognizes Willie’s entrepreneurship and his commitment to energy development and creating a healthy environment for everyone.

Willie Nelson by Pamela Springsteen
Photo by Pamela Springsteen

Willie Nelson

President Johnson and Nelson share similar backgrounds as rural Texans, aware of the struggles of those who work in the agricultural industry. As President Johnson said in a 1965 Special Message to Congress on Agriculture, “The bounty of the earth is the foundation of our economy. Programs in every aspect of our nation’s life depend on the abundant harvests of our farms.”

Nelson has long supported our nation’s farmers through Farm Aid, an event he co-founded in 1985. He has also helped raise millions around disaster relief, for families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and for veterans, as well as working toward environmental and animal advocacy, and voting rights.

Nelson is a legend in the music world. With a seven-decade career, Willie Nelson has earned every conceivable award as a musician and amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor, and activist. He continues to thrive as a relevant and progressive musical and cultural force. In recent years, he has delivered more than a dozen new albums, released a Top 10 New York Times' bestsellers book, again headlined Farm Aid, been honored by the Library of Congress with their Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, received his 5th degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yu Sul, headlined the annual Luck Reunion food and music festival during SXSW, launched his cannabis companies Willie's Reserve and Willie's Remedy, and graced the covers of Rolling Stone and AARP The Magazine. Throughout 2023, Willie celebrates his 90th birthday with multiple projects and events including a two-night star-studded concert, Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90, in April at the famed Hollywood Bowl.

Impact Areas

cotton field

Sustainable Agriculture

variety of grains

Eliminating Hunger

solar panels

Resilient Energy

watering soil

Sustainable Water

woman hands out supplies from truck

Natural Disaster Recovery


Faculty, alumni and students are undertaking world-changing research and pursuits like working with farmers to advance sustainable agricultural systems; advancing the science of mitigating and preparing for natural disasters; and fighting food insecurity through U.S. food aid and food assistance policies. Meet our impact-makers. 

Raj Patel headshot

Raj Patel, Research Professor

Areas of teaching and research: the world food system, agroecology, hunger, climate change and health

Kathleen Merrigan headshot

Kathleen Merrigan (MPAff '87), Professor and Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University

Phil Gurley EPA Headshot

Phil Gurley (MGPS '23), Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Headshot of Maddie Sloan

Maddie Sloan (MPAff '05), Director of the Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing Project at Texas Appleseed

headshot of erin lentz

Erin Lentz, Associate Professor

Areas of teaching and research: food security; gender, nutrition, and agriculture linkages; and U.S. food aid and food assistance policies

carolina mueller headshot

Carolina Mueller (MPAff '21), Coalition Manager for the National Young Farmers Coalition  

Headshot of Varun Rai

Varun Rai, Walt and Elspeth Rostow Professor

Areas of teaching and research: broad diffusion of sustainable energy technologies globally

sheila olmstead headshot

Sheila Olmstead, Professor

Areas of teaching and research: the environmental and economic impacts of water quality and water scarcity

Patrick Bixler headshot

Patrick Bixler, Assistant Professor

Areas of teaching and research: environmental governance; advancing
the science and practice of mitigation, preparedness and response to natural
hazards across Texas

headshot of Ben Hirsch

Ben Hirsch (MPAff '17), Director of Hurricane Harvey home repair program at a Houston-based nonprofit

Melanie Levine headshot

Melanie Levine (MPAff-DC '18), Manager, Food & Agriculture, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

David Eaton headshot

David Eaton, Bess Harris Jones Centennial Professor of Natural Resource Policy Studies

Areas of teaching and research: systems analysis and environmental and energy policy

It all starts with you

The Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities is made possible through the LBJ Foundation. The LBJ Foundation will present its most prestigious honor, the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award, to Willie Nelson on Friday, May 12, 2023, at a gala dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library. The LBJ Foundation Board of Trustees invites you to join us as we celebrate this iconic Texan. In tribute to Willie, net proceeds will support the establishment of the Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. A musical lineup for the event was announced on April 25.

Your support will tap UT Austin's unmatched potential to work hand in hand with rural and farm communities to find solutions for big challenges. No other school can shine a light on regional issues of national influence the way the LBJ School can, with its legacy of enacting major societal change through the power of policy. 

  • Support our  people — LBJ's talented students and faculty 
  • Amplify the unmatched potential of our place Texas  
  • Lead innovation through our world-changing research pursuits  
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Giving Contacts

Leighton Wilson

Leighton Wilson
Chief Development Officer



Rachel Fogle Ciullo

Rachel Fogle Ciullo
Associate Director of Development and Alumni Relations

SRH 3.380

512-471-3004 / cell: (512) 569-1336


Headshot of Dan Perry

Dan Perry

Chief Development Officer, LBJ Foundation


LBJ Presidential Library