At a football game at VMI, the focus is properly on the players and the coaches. However, many people are essential to ensuring a proper game day experience: Those who prepare the field, stock the concession stands, ensure the team’s equipment is ready, and sell and collect tickets. And there are some who might not even be present but who play an important role in VMI athletics as a whole: Those who give so generously of their treasure, talents and that most precious commodity of time in support of VMI’s cadet-athletes.
Two such people are Paul Bouis ’67, Ph.D., and his wife, Lois W. Ford-Bouis. Both have been longtime donors to the Keydet Club. Bouis made his first gift to what was then the Alumni Educational Fund in 1967, and through graduate studies in chemistry and a long career in the chemical industry, he has given every year since then – with the sole exception of one when he served in Vietnam. He later honored his first wife who died in 2004 by establishing the Nancy Peterson Bouis Scholarship, which supports multiple sports teams because “it would keep her spirit – her memory – alive at a place of which she was a big fan.”
Ford-Bouis’s first gift in support of VMI athletics came in 2004, after she had retired to Lexington following a decadeslong career managing human resources for many large corporations. Greg Cavallaro ’84, then-Keydet Club chief executive officer, approached her to consider establishing a scholarship in honor of her brother, Robert L. Watson ’64, who had captained the basketball team that won the 1964 Southern Conference championship. In 1977, Watson, who was then the head coach of the University of Evansville basketball team, and his entire team died in a plane crash. She liked the idea of a scholarship, because as she recalls, “It is what [Bobby] would have done if he were alive.” However, rather than create the scholarship in his name alone, she decided to honor everyone who was on that VMI championship team. “Like Bobby, those teammates went on to do great things with their lives, and I wanted to recognize their accomplishments by giving other young men the same opportunity they had.” Thus, she established the 1964 Championship Team Basketball Scholarship.
Their support of VMI cadet-athletes doesn’t end there. Both have served several years as academic advisers for the Athletic Department, each helping approximately 10-15 cadets a year. In this role, they meet with cadets once a week and, as Ford-Bouis describes it, “help them with their study skills, help them learn time-management skills and, overall, keep them on track, which often isn’t easy considering the distractions that they encounter being a VMI cadet.” Bouis also tutors some of them in chemistry, applying the teaching skills he picked up as an adjunct professor at many schools and as a cadet. “During my 1st Class year, one of the assistant football coaches, Jim Sam Gillespie ’59, brought me three rat football players and told me they were in danger of flunking chemistry. We worked hard, and they all passed. And, I am happy to say, all three were instrumental in VMI’s victory against VPI in November 1967.”
“These young people become a valued part of your life, and you have the satisfaction of seeing them go and do great things with their lives, in their careers and in their communities.”Ford-Bouis
Asked what they enjoy about their role as academic advisors to cadet-athletes, Ford-Bouis said, “You see them mature over time. It’s amazing how much progress they make in just one year as you encourage them and build them up.”
Bouis observed that the interaction with the cadets allows them to “get to know them as individuals, and that’s important because there’s more to them than being athletes. For example, two of VMI’s current football captains have academic stars in STEM majors.”
“I wish more alumni and friends could interact with cadet-athletes like we do,” said Ford-Bouis. “Often they don’t have a good understanding of all they have to do. They forget the demands on them as cadets and students and just see them as athletes.”
The couple also has served as host families for cadets since 2005. Asked what the challenges associated with that are, Ford-Bouis replied, “Every cadet is different. Some definitely need help adjusting to VMI’s demands; others are just fine with them. We just need to adapt to them. But, as with academic advising, the effort is worth it, because we get a front-row seat as they mature. It is amazing to witness.”
And the two don’t limit their service to just cadets. Both have served on the Keydet Club Board of Governors, and Ford-Bouis was a member of the VMI Alumni Agencies’ search committee that eventually hired Steve Maconi as the Agencies’ first CEO in March 2017. They also assist new coaches at VMI with acclimating to the area and the Institute. Bouis also serves as an unofficial photographer, attending games and practices of many sports and shooting pictures of the cadet athletes. He adds a personal touch by sending the images directly to the cadets.
“I know from firsthand experience what being a NCAA athlete at VMI can give you,” said Bouis. “For me, it gave me a lot of confidence – and not just in my physical abilities – and it gave me my first opportunity to be a leader. It was something that I saw in other athletes when I was a cadet. For example, as a rat, I dyked for Buzz Birzenieks ’64, who roomed with Lois’ brother. I saw how Bobby acted as team captain, and I learned from him that your walk had to match your talk.”
Ford-Bouis said she thinks that for many athletes at VMI, the experience is something of a wake-up call. “Many of them were the stars on their high school teams and among the best players in their region. They come here and see that their teammates are often better than they are, and they realize that, if they want to get some playing time, they’ll need to work hard. Then, they confront the challenges of barracks and the classroom. All that helps them develop not only humility, but also a sense of purpose and an ability to focus.”
Some might wonder why these two have been so generous with their treasure, talent and time for so many years, but for them, there are no such questions. “I’m aware that, for many, athletics is all about wins and losses,” said Bouis, to whom the Keydet Club presented its highest honor, The Spirit of VMI Award, in 2011. “But, at VMI, it’s different, because its cadets graduate with a set of values that are timeless and invaluable and an education second-to-none. They are ready to win at the game of life.”
“Parents often come up and thank us for what we do for their son or daughter. I always tell them there’s no need, for it’s we who are truly blessed.”
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Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.