Generational Love for Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is a school that becomes a part of you. Even non-Hokies who visit Blacksburg appreciate the beauty of the campus and the New River Valley. How many students decided on Virginia Tech after a single visit? The love of the school starts then and expands when they join the community. The bond amongst Hokies is often so strong that it becomes generational. In 2022 Virginia Tech will celebrate 150 years as the land grant university for the Commonwealth. This is the story of how Virginia Tech has impacted my family. My grandfather, Calvin McKinley Stowe, was born in 1923 in rural Dry Fork, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. His family had a tobacco farm and sometimes worked in a textile mill. Calvin did well in school and at a time when almost no one from that area of the county went to college he was encouraged by his father and an English teacher that he should go to what was then Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. There was something unknowingly special about starting at Virginia Tech. It’s doubtful that the son of a farmer planned on the impact that the school would have on future generations. Calvin spent a semester at school before enlisting in the Navy in February 1943 along with the majority of the student body.
In his memory, he didn’t have a great time that semester. He nearly flunked out because of chemistry and biology (I have seen the transcripts to prove it). The drilling was intense and the students unruly when not training. It was probably a good thing for everyone when the student body signed up to join the war effort. He recalls going to the recruiting office in Roanoke to seek a spot in the Army with what would become the 29th Infantry Division of Omaha Beach but instead being told that Navy was for him. He shipped out for basic training in Newport, Rhode Island then went off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and eventually to Tinian, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. In 1946 he finished his service and returned to Blacksburg, this time to study business instead of agriculture. He would graduate in 1950 and head back to Pittsylvania County to raise a family. Virginia Tech was a fixture in daily life. He’d take the family to visit Blacksburg occasionally and adorned the house in orange and maroon. It had its intended affect.
My uncle, Edward McKinley Stowe, was VT Class of 1980. He was GERMAN Club and a member of the Homecoming Court. He studied Management. My aunt was Accounting and a member of the Class of 1982. She was part of the first group to live in Slusher Tower. My mom was Class of 1989 and co-op’ed for a year to graduate in 1990. She was in school when Frank Beamer was hired, something that would become special when I was in school when Beamer retired. She lived in what is now Cochran and then East Campbell before living off campus on University City Boulevard. The thing they had in common was that my grandfather not so jokingly said they could go wherever they wanted but he’d pay for Virginia Tech. No pressure.
My uncle went to UVA Law School after Virginia Tech and after setting up a law practice in Danville he and my grandfather bought season tickets. He would intensely watch the game while listening to the radio announcers on a set of headphones. They eventually accumulated eleven seats on the 50-yard line in the west stands. These tickets are the basis for how I was introduced to Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. My parents, my sister, my grandparents, my uncle and his six children, and my aunt and her three children and assorted guests would all spend Friday night in Danville and then drive to Blacksburg early Saturday for tailgating. There would be homemade country ham biscuits, sweet tea and lemonade, and even though my family has called North Carolina home, we were only three and a half hours from Blacksburg. We were in Cassell Lot for the good years of Frank Beamer football in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with Michael Vick, Corey Moore, Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, and Bryan Randall. Our place for the Homecoming Parade was on Alumni Mall in front of Squires and Upper Quad, a place that I’d one day reside when I was in Blacksburg.
I remember watching the 2000 Sugar Bowl against Florida State. The loss created lasting repercussions as FSU was one of less than a handful of schools I was certainly not permitted to even consider applying to as a high school senior years later. Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones were idols. I had a #22 jersey for years until I out finally outgrew it. Bryan Randall was my favorite player and getting to meet him after storming the field against Central Florida in 2003 is one of my fondest memories. Looking back the memory of Blacksburg that lead to a lifetime of Hokie-fandom is the November 2003 victory against then Number 2 Miami. My cousin and I were eight years old and were painted orange and wore maroon wigs. It was a full on blow out. Bud Foster’s Defense dominated the game. DeAngelo Hall stripped the ball and ran it back for a touchdown to start a scoring run that ended 31-7 with fans storming the field and tearing down the goalposts.
My uncle was killed in a car wreck in August 2003 just before the season started. Virginia Tech and Miami had accepted membership into the ACC for the following season starting 2004. The decision was made to give up the season tickets after 2003. This started a change in the connection to Blacksburg. My grandparents moved from Danville to Cary, North Carolina to be closer to my mother and aunt.
For several years we would go up to Blacksburg for Homecoming but not much else. I can vividly remember the 4/16 shooting because I was staying at my grandparent’s house. A couple months after that our family all attended the first post-shooting game against East Carolina and visited the memorial in front of Burruss.
Luckily for our family, Cary is the heart of the Triangle Region of North Carolina and is twenty minutes from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke, and North Carolina State. We became part of the loyal Hokie fans attending away games, a trend that has continued to the present. The 2004 Southern California game is Washington DC and the Battle of Bristol were both big favorites (rather unfortunately both losses).
When I was in high school and started looking for colleges I was set on the Naval Academy. My grandfather had served in the Navy and I wanted to do military service. I visited the campus, went to cross country camps and made sure I was as qualified as possible. My list of schools was small, Virginia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Alabama, the Naval Academy and one that is difficult to admit, the University of Virginia. My mom’s affection for Virginia Tech was so strong that while touring in Charlottesville, a beautiful area, all she could say was “This place is so ugly, it’s nothing like Blacksburg.”
By August of my senior year the infatuation with the Naval Academy was over. I wanted to attend a regular college. Fate intervened. Years of brainwashing by my mom and grandfather finally came to fruition. Virginia Tech is one of only six senior military colleges in the country and has an excellent Army ROTC program. I was accepted early decision on December 13th, 2013 and started New Cadet Week in August 2014 and became an actual Virginia Tech student, not just a fan. The Corps of Cadets helped provided structure to my time in Blacksburg and I had the distinct privilege of living on campus all four years. I resided in Main Eggleston, West Eggleston, Pearson, and New Cadet (now Pearson West) in addition to having a semester at the Virginia Tech Steger Center campus in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland. The semester abroad was carefully crafted ensure not missing a football season.
Going to the same school as my mother and grandfather added extra meaning to my college experience. Everything just meant more. My parents came up for one or two games a year. When learning about the school for the Corps of Cadets it was like I was confirming the stories that I had been told as a child. When I was a freshman, I went through the Bugle collection in Newman and discovered the organizations my grandfather and uncle had been a part of in school. I charted my own path at Virginia Tech, but it was founded in the legacy of what my family members had done in the years before. I got a kick out of attending meetings in Davidson Hall, the chemistry building, where my grandfather nearly got kicked out. I took a few classes in Pamplin, where my mother, aunt, and uncle all took their classes.
My grandfather is now almost 97 and has suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years. Sometimes he is lucid but often he is not. He doesn’t like to travel anymore and hasn’t really since moving to North Carolina. My freshmen year my parents were somehow able to convince him to go with them to a game in Blacksburg against East Carolina. He made it. He met the Commandant of Cadets and watched the game before being taken home. That trip was the last time that my mom and I will get to go to a game with him and it will be forever special in my mind. Out of his eleven grandchildren only one went to VT. Virginia Tech is one of the few things that he still likes to talk about. To the annoyance of my sister, who went to the University of Tennessee, Calvin still calls VT “The Good School.”
The weekend I graduated from Virginia Tech I also got a commission in the Army. My grandfather was enlisted in the Navy. The day I drove home to Cary I stopped at my aunt’s house where my grandparents were living. They were given a head’s up about my arrival and when I walked through the door, my grandfather, 94 years old and certainly not agile, popped to attention and saluted. In the fleeting moments of lucidity, he knew that I’d graduated from Virginia Tech and commissioned. It is the single proudest moment of my life. It means so much to him that I love Virginia Tech and it is indescribable how much it means to me that I was able to follow in his footsteps.
After graduation in Blacksburg I headed down to Columbia for law school at the University of South Carolina. Law school is great, the people are nice, but football isn’t the same. To put it in appropriate terms, it just ain’t the same as Blacksburg. My first year I didn’t return to Blacksburg for any games because I was establishing myself down here. But in Fall 2019 I tried to make it to as many games as I could, getting back for Furman and Old Dominion in September and Bud Foster’s last game against Georgia Tech in November. The piece de resistance was flying up to Chicago and driving over to Notre Dame It was the official start to the goal of watching Virginia Tech play at every ACC opponent. 2020’s game was supposed to be visiting Louisville.
After the season I thought about my time at Virginia Tech and what it meant to my family and how it led to me doing what I am doing today. For COVID I temporarily moved back to my parent’s house and to get my room set up I used Virginia Tech paintings and photographs from the 1940’s to the present. Two years after receiving it, I finally got my diploma framed and hung it next to my grandfathers and mom’s in what is now a completely decked out VT guest room. (Thankfully I’m back in Columbia, living at home is great, but a man has to grow up eventually.) With the proximity to all that Hokie gear it got me thinking about the things that are important to me. I officially joined the Hokie Club. I started donating to Corps of Cadets (small amounts, I’m not an attorney yet.) For my mother’s birthday we purchased football season tickets and eagerly awaited what we hoped would be a fun fall getting to go up to Blacksburg on weekends. Unfortunately, that can’t happen this year, but it is special to get to have the same relationship with my alumni mom that my grandfather and uncle shared as season ticket holders.
I have no idea where I’ll be living when my future children are deciding on where to go to college, but I have a pretty good idea that it’ll be within a 5-hour driving radius of Blacksburg. You can bet that I will subtlety be “brainwashing” them into loving Virginia Tech. A lifetime of trips to Blacksburg should be pretty convincing. Go Hokies.