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Class of 1973 50th Reunion

The Class of 1973 presented its 50th Reunion gift of $7,373,073 to the Institute during the reunion parade April 15, 2023.—Photo by Joe Czekner, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Class of 1973 Presents 50th Reunion Gift

The Class of 1973 presented its 50th Reunion gift of $7,373,073 to the Institute during the reunion parade April 15, 2023. Pictured are (from left) Meade King ’85, VMI Foundation chief operating officer and director of advancement; Ken Kalisky ’73, reunion campaign chair; Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent; Mike Kelly ’73, reunion committee co-chair; and Larry Mays ’73, reunion committee chair.

“My colleague, Jenny David, and I were privileged to work with the Class of 1973 and salute their many reunion successes,” said King. “Their affection for one another and for VMI was evident throughout the weekend, and we are especially grateful for their many gifts and strong financial support of VMI.”

1973 Resolution Affirms Enduring Value of a VMI Education

On the occasion of their 50th Reunion, held April 14–15, 2023, members of the Class of 1973 presented Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, with a resolution affirming their belief in the value of a VMI education. The resolution was presented at the class dinner held in Marshall Hall April 14, 2023.

“In light of recent public discussion on the current direction of VMI, members of the Class of 1973 felt compelled to demonstrate our unity and our unwavering support of our beloved Institute,” said Tom Linn ’73. “We felt an urgency to show that we stand united with the vast majority of VMI alumni in our support and belief in VMI. The intent was to share our conviction with them and invite them to express this support both within and to a broader community. “

Members of the Class of 1973 present the class resolution on the value of VMI’s education

Members of the Class of 1973 present the class resolution on the value of VMI’s education to Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, superintendent, April 14, 2023.—Photo by Jenny David, VMI Alumni Agencies.

The resolution gained widespread support. Of the 139 surviving brother rats who could be contacted, 125 voted in favor of the document, which declares that “VMI stands as a bulwark against a chaotic world of mediocrity, educating for a world of accelerating change and intense challenges, while providing a foundation of honor, service, and gentility that creates fair specimens of gentlemen and gentlewomen.”

The document, Linn noted, grew out of the spirit of reflection that a milestone celebration often engenders. “As we prepared for our 50th Reunion, we reflected on the value of the VMI education—academic, leadership, and character development, and how it has positively impacted our lives,” he stated. “A resonant chord emerged: The value of the VMI education endures and is essential to the future we face.” An overarching theme of the resolution is the common bond that unites VMI men and women and encouragement for all who love the Institute to support it and the Corps of Cadets.”

That call to unity extends to all alumni. “VMI graduates are a singular fellowship of like experienced men and women celebrating differences, applauding opportunity, and unabashedly welcoming all who wear our ring,” the resolution states. “When VMI men and women disagree, we do so inside our unique bond, at our own campfires, and within our own councils of war. We are one brotherhood/sisterhood, one fight, one Institute, bound by our historic legacy and stronger together—dedicated to preserving and protecting our traditions and the values we have lived.”

As such, the resolution concludes with a look to the future: “The Class of 1973 believes a Virginia Military Institute education will continue to be synonymous with honor, duty, and excellence and that VMI-trained leadership is essential to our United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The Unity Tree: “An Inclusive Oak”

In gratitude for all that the Institute has done for them and recognition of the common bond that all VMI alumni share, members of the Class of 1973 gathered April 15, 2023, during their 50th Reunion to dedicate the unity tree, a gift to VMI from the class.

The unity tree, which stands in the roundabout near Third Barracks, is a visual reminder of the love for the Institute that all alumni share, according to Tom Linn ’73. Class members hope that the tree will become a gathering spot, as trees often were in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as a backdrop for photos celebrating engagements, graduate school admissions, and other memorable events.

cadets and alumni pose in front of Unity Tree

Members of the Class of 1973 join with Institute officials and other members of the VMI family gather to dedicate the Unity Tree near Third Barracks April 15, 2023.—Photo by Joe Czekner, VMI Alumni Agencies.

The idea of marking the Class of 1973’s 50th Reunion with a unique gift showcasing support for the Institute began on the class Facebook page as their reunion neared. Soon, online chat moved toward real-life action as Scott Lingamfelter ’73 proposed planting a tree, and other members of the class quickly rallied behind the idea. “We need an inclusive oak that can provide shade for all people,” said Bill Spencer ’73, voicing his support for the tree.

The unity tree is meant to replace the Guard Tree, deemed “an emblem of VMI” on the concrete memorial on the Parade Ground marking the spot where the tree once stood. During the 19th and early 20th century summers, the cadet guard slept in tents beneath a large tree on the Parade Ground, which is how the Guard Tree got its name. It was planted the year VMI was founded, 1839, and lived until 1951. Fittingly, 1951 is the year that many members of the Class of 1973 were born.

The unity tree, a 30-foot-tall water oak grown and planted by Grelen Nursery of Orange, Virginia, is also known as a swamp oak or bi-color oak, as it keeps its leaves into the winter, at which time they turn a reddish color, explained Jeff Minch ’73, who coordinated the purchase and installation of the tree. “Folks will suggest it is a ‘short-lived’ tree, meaning it only lives to 80–100 [years], but there are plenty of these trees that last for 300 years,” Minch commented. “[They are] first-rate for lumber and shipbuilding.”

The unity tree is believed to be the first tree on the VMI post given by a class. As its name suggests, it is meant to signify oneness and commonality of focus. “Even if we VMI persons should disagree about some specific subject … we are united in that same sentiment—we love VMI, what it stands for, its history, and the transformative value of a VMI education,” said Minch. “The Class of 1973 has had half a century to arrive at that sentiment, and we have the benefit of the accumulated wisdom of that time. We are also trying to remind all cadets, grads, and stakeholders of this critical value and to splash a bit of oil on stormy waters.”

Many class members and members of the Rockbridge Chapter of the VMI Alumni Association attended the reunion weekend dedication ceremony, as did Col. Adrian T. Bogart ’81, commandant, and Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent. The commemorative plaque near the tree reads, “This tree symbolizes the enduring bonds of all VMI classes, past, present, and future, and is planted in their memory and honor. May it remind passersby that the Institute is firmly rooted in the honorable tradition of the citizen-soldier.”

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.