On Post

Four VMI Retirees Recognized for Their Inspiration

aerial shot of barracks and parade ground during a parade

The Corps of Cadets stand at attention while the Regimental Band plays during the Retirement Parade.—VMI Photo by Lexie West.

Four longstanding employees were honored at the annual retirement parade for staff and faculty members, and they joined Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, in taking review. These staff members were Col. John Brodie (Hon), director of music; Col. James Coale, Ph.D., professor and Department of Human Performance and Wellness head; Col. Jon-Michael Hardin, Ph.D., professor and Department of Mechanical Engineering head; and Col. Richard Rowe, Ph.D., professor of biology and VMI Research Laboratories director of research.

Regardless of the occasion, a VMI parade would not be complete without the Regimental Band playing marches and beating a cadence, and for the past 36 years, the face, personality, and an anchor of the Regimental Band has been the highly recognizable and animated Brodie.

Brodie, a trumpet player, earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from West Chester University (formerly West Chester State College) in Pennsylvania, then moved to Granada, Colorado, where he taught high school for two years. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1983–88 as a member of the Commandant’s Own Drum and Bugle Corps while simultaneously earning a master’s degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he also studied with Adel Sanchez, principal trumpet with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Brodie arrived at VMI in July 1988 and could be found anywhere and during any performance of the musical groups under his direction—including the Commanders Jazz Band, the Institute Brass Ensemble, the Herald Trumpets and Drummers, the Cadet Buglers, the Concert Band, and the Glee Club. He has taken groups all over the world to perform, including New Orleans; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Savannah; California; Florida; Hawaii; Puerto Rico; France; Germany; the Czech Republic; New Zealand; Dubai; Morocco; England, Portugal; and Russia.

Brodie, who grew up in Chicago playing ice hockey, brought his love for the sport to VMI and established the ice hockey club. The team practices at the sports complex in Roanoke, Virginia, and competes in the Blue Ridge Hockey Association/American Collegiate Hockey Association.

While directing music at VMI, Brodie earned his doctorate from Catholic University. The VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors named him an honorary alumnus of the Institute in 2008. The Institute honored him with a Distinguished Service Award in 1991, the VMI Achievement Medal in 1999, and the Faculty Mentor Awards in 2004 and 2005. He was given honorary brother rat status by the Class of 1992.

Brodie shared that being at VMI has been a great experience. “The cadets have kept me young. They are full of enthusiasm. Whenever I suggest something new, they are keen to give it a try.”

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85 is joined by Col. James Coale, Col. John Brodie, Col. Richard Rowe, and Col. Jon-Michael Hardin in taking review of the Retirement Parade

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85 is joined by Cols. James Coale, John Brodie (Hon), Richard Rowe, and Jon-Michael Hardin in taking review of the Retirement Parade.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

Cadet Annie Townsend ’24, Band Company commander, stated that Brodie is the glue that holds Band Company together. “He is always encouraging, optimistic, and has taught us that persistence and passion will get us a long way. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on through the lives of many cadets—past, present, and future.”

Col. Adrian T. Bogart III ’81, commandant to the Corps of Cadets and Brodie’s commanding officer, agreed with Townsend. “John Brodie is a legend, and he will be missed,” he said.

Ryan Hayes O’Connor ’24, regimental drum major, said, “Colonel Brodie has demonstrated his love for the band and the Institute, as well as his passion for music, throughout his many years of service. The lessons I have learned from him are unmatched, and the experiences I have enjoyed with him will live with me for the rest of my life.”

Coinciding with the Retirement Parade was a reunion of nearly 225 Band Company members, who, along with their family members, cheered the Regimental and Pipe Bands throughout the parade and greeted Brodie with their well wishes and congratulations following the parade. Peter Del Vecchio, a local musician, friend of Brodie, and fellow trumpeter, composed the pass-in-review march played by the Regimental Band during the parade especially for the occasion and titled it simply, “Col. Brodie’s March.”

Brodie’s wife, Sarah, wanted to honor her husband upon his retirement and recently established the Col. John A. Brodie Band Scholarship.

Brodie plans to spend his retirement volunteering at the UVA Medical Center, mentoring cancer patients. He also wants to start a prison music program. He and Sarah will also spend time visiting their four children and enjoy sailing their boat.

Coale, who had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College in Massachusetts, was hired as an interim instructor in the Department of Physical Education in 1979. Coale knew little about VMI or Lexington before he arrived on post and had planned to move back to New England after his short-term employment. However, one year turned into two, and when another faculty member accepted a position at the U.S. Military Academy, Coale was offered a permanent position.

Coale, who played football in college, had always wanted to coach. He had developed an interest in the fledgling science of strength and conditioning after meeting Bill Starr, who coached for the Baltimore Colts and is credited for helping create and promote S&C. Coale offered to work with the VMI football team on a volunteer basis and the football coach, who had not yet been sold on the value of S&C, reluctantly agreed.

Coale’s work with the football team was so successful that by 1982, the S&C program was serving all NCAA athletes on all VMI teams. He recalled working with the basketball team when Wins was playing. “Major General Wins was a very talented player with a strong work ethic. I also remember many of the other players on that team, and as a group, they all worked hard, which made it a very enjoyable experience for me,” he said.

In the years that followed, Coale was instrumental in expanding curriculum offerings and improving the athletic experience for cadets. In 1992, he brought in a nutrition consultant to evaluate the food service in Crozet Hall, which led to converting the family style of dining to cafeteria style, allowing cadets more choices and quantity of food. Additionally, Crozet hours were expanded so cadets could graze-feed during the day to help meet nutritional requirements.

He was given the Distinguished Coaching Award in 2000, and by 2003, he was named head of the department. In 2005, he completely revised the boxing course to improve safety and enhance the learning experience for cadets, and in 2009, he oversaw the North Post renovation, allowing his department to continue to offer Rat Challenge. He served as onsite director for the College Orientation Workshop—a four-week summer educational enrichment program for male minority high school students held at VMI—from 1986–2018. In 2013, exercise science was added to the curriculum as a minor, and it has been popular with cadets. Upon his recommendation, his department underwent a name change in 2022 from physical education to HPW to better reflect the curriculum. He received his master’s degree from James Madison University and his doctoral degree from the University of Maryland.

Karen Moore, executive secretary at HPW, has worked alongside Coale for over 20 years and has considered him a friend as well as a boss. “I am grateful for all the support he has given me and for his outstanding leadership,” she said.

Coale’s wife, Kathy, who works as a prevention specialist at Rockbridge Area Community Services, is also retiring. They plan to stay in Lexington, where they both enjoy outdoor activities. They have three sons and four grandchildren whom they plan to visit often.

Hardin joined VMI as an assistant professor in ME in 1998 after attaining his doctorate in theoretical and applied mechanics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He later served as the head of the department and worked with other faculty members to develop and implement a hands-on, project-focused curriculum. He also developed and implemented a significant joint undergraduate research program and a guaranteed graduate acceptance partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2011, he and his wife Patricia, associate director of the VMI Office of Global Education and Project Global Officer, developed the engineering summer study abroad program, one of the first STEM study abroad programs, taking cadets to Berlin and Rome.

Hardin stated that he could not have had a more wonderful and challenging career. “In my 26 years as a faculty member and 14 years as department head in the M.E. department, I have come to love VMI and its principles. I love the intelligence and steadfast dedication of my colleagues and VMI family, but most of all, I love teaching cadets and seeing up close their tremendous personal and academic growth over their four years here. I, too, have grown so much during these 26 years, and I will carry many memories and my love of the Institute in my heart for the rest of my life.”

Rowe has worked at VMI for 33 years. He received his bachelor’s degree from Ripon College in Wisconsin, his master’s degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and his doctorate from Michigan State University. His area of specialization is vertebrate biology, and he taught courses in anatomy and vertebrate biology. He served as department head from 1997–2009 and served as director of research from 1994–2012. His research focused on two aspects of avian biology: Nest defense behavior in tree swallows and the diversity of birds in Rockbridge County. He significantly impacted the biology curriculum by adding courses in comparative morphology and developmental biology and was directly responsible for growing the biology department from four members in 1991 to 18 faculty and staff members. He has received the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Wilbur S. Hinman Jr. VMI Class of 1926 Research Award on two occasions, the VMI Achievement Medal on four occasions, and has been the holder of the Bruce C. Gottwald Sr. ’54 Chair for Academic Excellence for the past five years.

Though he has no concrete plans for retirement, Rowe will enjoy time at his cabin in the North Carolina mountains, do some hiking, and go on long-distance bicycle trips. He is an avid photographer of birds, and he will continue his work with the local bird club and the Virginia Society of Ornithology.

Brig. Gen. Robert W. Moreschi, Ph.D., dean of the faculty and deputy superintendent for academics, views the retirement of the three academic faculty members with a mix of joy and sadness. “We recognize and salute Colonels Jimmy Coale, Dick Rowe, and Jon-Michael Hardin on their upcoming retirements from VMI. Collectively, they represent over 100 years of VMI experience and wisdom. Throughout their VMI careers, they each have demonstrated leadership in the academic program with a steady presence that will be sorely missed. Having served VMI, their academic departments, and countless numbers of cadets with unswerving dedication, we wish them health and happiness in their well-earned retirements.”