Stephenville bid a heart-felt farewell to one of its greatest icons Thursday.

Col. Will L. Tate was honored by the city of Stephenville and Tarleton State University during a reception in the university's gymnasium.

"Today we are not only honoring a great man, but a true Tarleton and Stephenville legend," said university President Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio.

Tate was presented with a key to the city by Mayor Nancy Hunter for being a "great man for a great community."

"I do not give keys to the city out lightly," Hunter said before she bestowed the honor on Col. Tate. "And, I can think of no one more deserving."

She also proclaimed Thursday Col. Will L. Tate Day in the city.

"Col. Will Tate is a man to be respected and revered because of his exemplary life as a Christian, family man, an educator, athlete, a soldier and citizen," said Hunter. "[He] has remained faithful to his ultimate goal to 'produce things that do good things for others, and when asked to do little, he has done a lot. The city expresses its deep appreciation to Col. Tate for his vast contributions to this community, and we wish him Godspeed in his journey's forward."

Hunter wished her friend and mentor goodbye with a "heavy heart."

"I have known Col. Tate for quite some time, and my only regret is not knowing him my whole life," said Hunter.

Col. Tate has long been associated with Tarleton from his days as a student-athlete to generous benefactor.

Tarleton honored the oldest living member of the its Athletic Hall of Fame with a No. 3 Texan basketball jersey - the same number he wore while playing under head coach W.J. Wisdom during the university's record 86-game winning streak.

Tate was instrumental in the establishment of the Tarleton Alumni Association Military Memorial and a strong supporter of the reserve officer training corps.

The Texan Battalion ROTC presented Col. Tate with a plaque for his years of support.

Col. Tate was "truly honored" and had a simple reply to the honors bestowed upon him.

"Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I am the luckiest man alive," Col. Tate said with a wide smile.

Col. Tate is a 1934 graduate of the John Tarleton Agriculture College and was the university's first recipient of the Honorary Doctorate of Letters. He served on the alumni association's board of directors and was a member of the Tarleton State University Foundation Inc. board and the foundation's president in 1998-99. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1988.

Col. Tate graduated from Harvard with an M.B.A and served in the United States Army.

Col. Tate is preparing to move to Lubbock to be closer to family.

"Each graduation I tell our graduates this, and the same is certainly true for you," Dottavio said to Tate. "The gates to this university are always open."

And, with a key to the city in hand, the gates to Stephenville remain open as well.