John F. Stann Jr. ’69 is in a position many alumni would envy. Not only did two of his sons – John F. Stann III ’95 and William T. Stann ’98 – graduate from VMI, but now three of his grandsons are cadets: John F. “Jack” Stann IV ’21, Matthew W. Stann ’22 and Luke T. Stann ’24.
Looking back, Stann, who describes himself as “a proud alumnus,” admits that there was a VMI presence in the household as his sons grew up. “My diploma was displayed on the wall. I wore my ring constantly and, because of that, discovered that it is a great thing for toddlers to cut their teeth on.” A 20-year Air Force career – half of which was spent overseas – prevented visits to VMI. In fact, John ’95 says, “I remember making only one visit to VMI before matriculating, when my dad took me up to the balcony of Moody Hall to watch a parade.”
Stann was able to and did provide what he describes as “a constant stream of ‘Old Corps’ stories. I told some so frequently that, after a while, I would start a story and the boys would finish it.”
Asked if he had a favorite tale, Stann responded that he didn’t have a favorite, per se. “One just came to mind if it fit an ongoing conversation. I asked one of my sons which story I told the most. He said it was my recounting my Breakout, i.e. running the gauntlet up the Gold Coast stairs (southwest corner of Old Barracks) to the fourth stoop.”
While some might say that this somewhat subtle approach had its desired effect, Stann credits his sons with making a rational choice. “Both boys wanted commissions, to go on active duty and a degree in civil engineering. They then decided that VMI was the best fit to meet those goals and presented their decisions in those terms.” He also said that his initial reaction was relief. “My sons had engaged in well-reasoned, goal-oriented decision making, while many of their high school classmates were selecting schools for the parties and had not selected majors.”
His grandsons recalled their house having some VMI items in it, such as a shadow box in which their father displayed some mementoes of his cadetship. Visits were not possible for several years because the family was living in Japan until very soon before Jack matriculated. Then, as the family traveled from their home in northern Virginia to visit him, the other sons became better acquainted with the school.
But the stories were still present. “I heard so many from my father, and my grandfather offered his own, too.” said Matthew. “My dad would talk about some of the hijinks in which he was involved; one was stealing the evening gun.” Luke remembered that tale as well as others about the Rat Line and Breakout from both men. “Lots of crazy stuff,” was his description.
Yet, all the stories and the obvious family connections were not what convinced the two boys to attend VMI. Like their father and uncle, they gave the matter serious thought. Luke had determined he wanted to study engineering and looked at such schools as Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University. Initially, VMI was not a leading contender. “I wanted to do my own thing,” he recalled. But, eventually, the other schools fell away, and VMI remained. “What attracted me in the end was its academic quality and the structure it offered. I knew there would be parts of it I wouldn’t like, but the other factors outweighed that.”
Matthew didn’t need as much convincing. “I know the results, what happens in the end: I would be ready to be a productive citizen.” In the end, he applied only to VMI.
“My sons had engaged in well-reasoned, goal-oriented decision making, while many of their high school classmates were selecting schools for the parties and had not selected majors.”John F. Stann Jr. ’69
While his sons were cadets, Stann’s approach was to be “available with support – to include brownies, which I learned to bake – and sage advice when asked, and since I had been through the process, they actually asked.” Before they matriculated, however, he provided them with one bit of unsolicited information. “I told them to keep their eye on the goal, and the goal was not to go to VMI but to graduate from VMI.”
John ’95 remembers a no-nonsense warning. “My father told me that VMI was a great school to be from, and that I had four hard years of work ahead of me to graduate. He also told me to study hard and respect the Honor Code.”
Matthew and Luke both recall that their father gave them much the same advice before they matriculated. “It was solid advice then,” said John ’95, “and it’s solid advice now.” Furthermore, their grandfather’s advice was much the same as he provided their father. Matthew recounted that both men told the boys to keep focused on academics and to try hard. “My grandfather also told me that the object is to graduate.” Luke recalls the same advice from his grandfather, as well as some more practical advice, such as breaking in his shoes. “My father’s advice was to plan well and be smart about my choices.”
For Stann, the experience of watching his grandsons matriculate brought back a familiar feeling. “I again have to endure the suspense of watching them move toward the goal of graduating. I know that all three have what it takes academically and physically to get to the end of ‘the road less traveled.’ The question, therefore, is: Do they have the resolve to do so?”
There are many benefits to having sons and now grandsons in the Corps, one of which is keeping up to date on cadet life. “Our get-togethers always include comparisons of daily life in barracks: How it has changed – barracks rooms have thermostats now – and how it hasn’t – time management is still important, and the Honor System remains strong. I count myself lucky to have that information, and I wish all alumni did.”
For Luke and Matthew, there is another aspect of being a legacy: Having brothers in the Corps. Luke says it is interesting to be somewhat familiar to upperclassmen. “All the 1sts know me; to them, I’m Jack’s brother. All of my sergeants know my brother.” For Matthew, having brothers in barracks is “just as big of a deal as being the son and grandson of alumni.” Certainly, being in the same company as his older brother provided him an interesting experience. “During my admissions visit, I stayed in my brother’s room and met all his friends in the company – months later, they were my cadre corporals.” With Luke’s matriculation, he notes, he’ll have another extraordinary experience: Having a brother in the Corps for his entire cadetship.
I asked if their status as legacies is something they often think about. “It crosses my mind every now and then,” said Matthew. “For example, Captain Riester ’78 in the civil engineering department taught both my father and my uncle, and now he’s teaching me. More directly, my class ring will have the same stone as my father’s and grandfather’s. Also, I am the platoon sergeant in the same platoon in Bravo Company as my grandfather was.”
Luke admits that, with his cadre and others often talking about his brothers, he can’t escape that aspect of being a legacy. Yet, as he walks in barracks and other places on post, he thinks of the other aspect. “I’ll walk into a room and think, ‘My father probably was here.’ I’ll pass through Jackson Arch and think, ‘This is something my grandfather did, too.’ And that gives me motivation to keep going, to uphold our legacy.”
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.