Thousands of alumni and friends participated in An Uncommon Purpose: A Glorious Past, A Brilliant Future: The Campaign for VMI, and their exceptional generosity benefits every member of the Corps of Cadets and the Institute’s faculty, staff, and coaches. Below, you’ll find a number of stories about these donors and some of those on Post who are supported by their gifts and commitments.
From the earliest days of its planning phase through its ‘quiet phase’ and ‘public phase,’ up to its conclusion, An Uncommon Purpose: A Glorious Past, A Brilliant Future: The Campaign for VMI was led by a remarkable group of alumni, the Campaign Cabinet.
The unique experiences of the cabinet members, their professional expertise, and their knowledge of the Institute were invaluable in developing the vision that shaped the campaign and guiding it over several years to its magnificent conclusion.
Left to right: John P. Jumper ’66; Thomas G. Slater Jr ’66; J. H. Binford Peay III ’62, Superintendent; Donald M. Wilkinson Jr ’61, Chairman, Walter C. Perrin II ’62; William A. Paulette ’69; James E. Rogers ’67, Vice Chairman; and Conrad M. Hall ’65, Vice Chairman.
Keith Gibson ’77
Legacy programs at VMI go back to 1845 when Superintendent Francis Smith wrote a letter to the alumni in which he proposed to establish a museum at VMI, a place where future cadets would be inspired to future great deeds of service. For Smith, the museum’s collection would “speak with touching and eloquent voices,” voices as strong, instructive, and inspiring as any professor’s lecture.
Today the VMI Museum System – The Stonewall Jackson House, VMI Museum, Virginia Museum of the Civil War and New Market Battlefield — provide the stage on which those touching and eloquent voices still speak to the public, alumni, and cadets: the American flag made by Jim Berger ’61 out of a pillowcase, red shirt, and patch of blue cloth while he was a POW in North Vietnam; the First Classman’s cape of the civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels ’61; a hard hat decorated with a scribbled VMI logo and words “Never Say Die” worn by Jim Spellman ’85 on September 11, 2001 at “Ground Zero”. These artifacts and 30,000 others teach them about VMI’s legacy, heritage, and traditions—and remind them of the experiences and responsibilities they share with all alumni.
I am grateful that hundreds of alumni and friends who understand the importance of preserving and interpreting the history of the Institute were so generous in their support of legacy programs during the campaign.
VMI alumni have always profoundly influenced Brooke H. Pendleton. Her father was James Hume Jr ’42. Numerous other alumni were also part of her life growing up, and the Institute was never far from any conversation. “Numerous alumni I knew growing up weren’t just fun to be around. They also provided me with formative examples of good citizenship, leadership, strong character, and integrity which I have drawn upon during my legal career and in charitable and civic work in Atlanta.”
Serving as a trustee of the VMI Foundation since 2014 is one way she honors these men. Another is by donating to the Foundation Fund. “Giving unrestricted money helps ensure that the Institute can meet its most pressing needs and, by doing so, ensure that today’s cadets receive an education that is as effective in shaping them into leaders as it was for my father and the other alumni I have known.”
The members of VMI’s faculty don’t just teach and train cadets. They also serve them as advisors and act as mentors, often for a lifetime. Making sure that VMI’s faculty and staff have the resources they need to prepare our cadets for lives of success, service, and leadership was a campaign priority.
Several new professorships were added during the campaign, including the first Jackson-Hope Distinguished Professorship, which Colonel Dennis M. Foster of the Department of International Studies and Politics received. “This a tremendous honor,” says Foster, who has taught at VMI since 2004. “I am humbled by this recognition of my contributions in the domains of teaching, research, professional citizenship, and cadet development.”
According to Foster, establishing chairs and professorships sends a powerful message to the faculty. “It clearly demonstrates a commitment to retaining and rewarding high-performing faculty who dedicate their careers to VMI and who love teaching and working here.”
Ching-Pu Chen ’85 & Benjamin Chen ’86
Asking alumni why they attended VMI often yields interesting answers. For two brothers who came to VMI from Taiwan—Ching-Pu Chen ’85 and Benjamin Chen ’86—the reason was self-improvement. The younger saw VMI as a physical challenge and the way to achieve his dream of becoming a civil engineer. The older declares that he was inspired by a Chinese saying that God prepares men to perform great tasks through adversities which, in turn, strengthen their minds, bodies, and spirits. “So, I decided to come to VMI to become a better person.”
For both, VMI did that. Ching-Pu said, “It made me more confident to face challenges, shaped my character to be a better person, and enhanced my leadership abilities.” According to Ben, it gave him the tools—such as “the ability to achieve goals under any sort of pressure”—to succeed in California’s competitive real estate industry.
The Chen brothers met one of the campaign’s priorities—increasing scholarship resources—by establishing the Chen 1985-1986 Scholarship. Ching-Pu refers to another Chinese saying, “Be grateful to its source while drinking water” and explains, “We want to encourage more people with backgrounds like ours to have the VMI experience.”
Class of 1966 Reunion Gift
In April 2016, the Class of 1966 presented VMI with its 50th Reunion Campaign gift: a record-setting $50,000,019.66 from 219 members of the class and seven families of deceased Brother Rats. This amount more than doubled the previous record of $20,086,063.63, set by the Class of 1963. The class also posted a record 99% participation rate.
“The heartfelt and incredible generosity not only of the class in general, but also of anonymous donors, enabled us to raise the giving bar to an historic level—a level we are thrilled to set because it means that others will now be impelled to beat it,” said the Campaign Committee’s Chairman Richard K. Hines V ’66.
General J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 praised the Class of ’66 for its generosity and vision: “With this magnificent gift, the Class of 1966 has done much to ensure that future generations of cadets will receive a thorough, full-spectrum education that will prepare them to be active, effective, and honorable citizen-soldiers.”
Garland Gray II ’73
Ask Garland Gray II ’73 to share his favorite college story, and he doesn’t miss a beat: It was the VMI football team’s 1967 defeat of its long-time rival Virginia Tech, 12-10. “It was Thanksgiving Day, and I went with my father and best friend. I inherited a love for the game from my father,” says Gray, who, in conjunction with his son Garland Gray III ’10, established the Elmon T. Gray ’46 Athletic Scholarship to honor his late father.
Though Gray did not play football himself—he was on the swim team—and his son ran cross-country and track, he sees football as the thread that runs through the three generations of VMI rats. “My father was passionate about the game, and he passed that passion on to me,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to imagine VMI without football, and it’s an expensive sport to maintain. So, I do anything I can to help the Keydets.”
Asa Page ’79
Coming from a self-described “humble background,” Asa Page ’79 credits VMI with putting him on the path to success. “If not for VMI financial aid, college would not have been possible for me,” says Page, who retired from the Navy in 2010.
With gratitude in mind, Page has made gifts to funds that support cadets as well as the Department of Economics and Business. Recently, he and his wife, Karen, increased their giving. “We decided to stretch ourselves, but we have adjusted to it,” says Page, who continues to serve as a civilian employee supporting Naval Special Warfare.
What is most important to Page, whose two sons graduated from VMI, is that every qualified applicant receives the same opportunity that was given to him. “VMI taught me the meaning of hard work, teamwork, and quiet humility,” he says. “Call it payback, call it appreciation, but I hope that all graduates give back in accordance with their means.”
Bruce Gottwald, Jr. ’81
Bruce Gottwald, Jr. ’81 studied history at VMI, but had psychology been offered as a major at the time, he would have seized the opportunity to study the human psyche. “I think psychology is the fundamental basis of being a good manager and leader, and understanding and being able to work with the people around you,” says Gottwald, managing director of Jonah, LLC, a private investment management company and a member of VMI’s Board of Visitors. “It helps you gain individual insight into how to be the best you can be and how to get the best out of those around you.”
With that in mind, Gottwald established the Bruce C. Gottwald, Jr. ’81 Faculty Excellence Endowment, which supports the Psychology Department. “A psychology major can go on to the business world, the counseling world, or myriad opportunities,” he explains. “I also saw a need for funding the Psychology Department because it’s connected with the leadership program at VMI.”
William Wanovich ’87
Many people think of the Commandant of Cadets as an enigmatic figure who is best avoided. “Although I held rank as a cadet, I shared that attitude to an extent,” admits Colonel William Wanovich, U.S. Army (Ret.) ’87.
But, when Wanovich returned to VMI as a Professor of Military Science in 2010 and later became the Commandant of Cadets, he realized there was more to the job. “The more apt title might be ‘Commandant of Cadets and Director of Corps Life,’ he explains. “One of my goals is to help the cadets plan their time carefully and strike a balance between academics and everything else they must do—and especially the activities they want to do.”
Wanovich also knows that most VMI graduates do not serve a full career in the military. “While I am conscious of forming the ‘soldier’ in the term ‘citizen-soldier,’ I also am devoted to forming the ‘citizen’ as well,” he says.
“With support from alumni and friends, we have been able to sustain the program’s excellence and to expand its offerings,” says Wanovich. “This produces alumni who make their marks in their chosen careers and who take it as their special responsibility to serve and to lead.”
Joseph Munno ’12
As a cadet, Joseph I. Munno ’12 stood out: He received the Keydet Club’s Three-Legged Stool Award, was a class leader, and helped organize his class’s First Class Campaign. Now, as a graduate, he continues to stand out for his commitment to VMI. Over the past five years, he has given to the Cavallaro ’84 and Munno ’84 Athletic Scholarship and to the Team-Specific Fund, which provides scholarship support to VMI Wrestling.
“I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to compete in Division I athletics while getting an education at a world-class institution,” says Munno.
One of Munno’s goals is to provide the opportunities he enjoyed to other aspiring cadet-athletes. “VMI Athletics has a knack for recruiting leaders, and I want to help provide resources to further that tradition,” he explains. “My hope is that as time and my career progress, I can give back even more.”
Timothy Scott Hayes Jr ’19
There were three things that attracted Timothy Scott Hayes Jr ’19, a mechanical engineering major, to VMI. “They were the Rat Line, the military system in general, and the academic program,” recalls Hayes. “It also seemed to be a place where everyone would be striving toward a goal, which would provide a competitive and inspiring environment.”
Hayes plans to commission in the U.S. Air Force. After his military service, he hopes to pursue a career in biomedical engineering and eventually start his own research firm. “VMI offered an opportunity to learn in a hands-on way, not just from the book, and I figured that would prepare me better for my planned career.”
When it came to deciding on where to attend college, Hayes describes the offer of a merit-based Institute Scholarship as “a blessing.” He explains, “When I was considering what college to attend, my parents kept me focused by asking me, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I kept coming back to VMI, and the scholarship made the decision even easier.”
As a civil engineer and head of his own engineering company, Christopher Burke, father of Edmund Burke II ’08, is an expert in taking a plan from vision to successful completion. He also knows that all too often big ideas can become big headaches when planning is subpar. So, when he first heard about VMI’s plan for a new indoor training facility, he was intrigued. Ultimately, what most impressed him was how VMI Superintendent General J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 headed a team that so professionally implemented the plan for the $84 million Corps Physical Training Facility, which opened in December 2016.
“It’s an incredible feat to have achieved that level of betterment of the facilities,” says Burke, who with his wife, Susan, established the Burke Family Fund in Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The fact is that a lot of people have prepared drawings, but getting those plans funded and implemented is really a testament to General Peay’s tenacity and vision.”