Danny Thornton ’78, VMI Keydet Club president, announced the organization’s board’s decision to present William T. Hupp ’77 and Stephen E. Hupp Sr. ’84 with its highest honor, the Spirit of VMI Award, in September 2023. First presented in 1975, the award recognizes outstanding service to and support of VMI intercollegiate athletics.
The story of the brothers’ involvement in VMI athletics began in fall 1940 when their father, H. Thomas Hupp Jr. ’44, matriculated and, as Steve puts it, “started pulling for VMI athletics. He cheered on and faithfully supported VMI athletics for the next 70 years.” As they grew up, the brothers often accompanied their father to the Institute and elsewhere. Steve recalled, “Attending VMI athletic events on a regular basis was something I looked forward to and loved doing.”
Billy Hupp’s time in barracks, starting in 1973, gave him the same perspective his father had initially enjoyed as a fan. It also coincided with what he describes as “a great time for VMI sports.” The football team won several championships, and the basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen levels of the NCAA Tournament.” It is not just these successes that Billy enjoyed, however. He also appreciated “the positive effect they had on the Corps’ camaraderie and pride. It made for a better experience.”
After he graduated, Steve followed his father’s example and regularly brought his children to post for sporting events. “My wife, Renee, and I were blessed to continue this tradition,” he said. The tradition was reinforced by the fact that their sons—Stephen E. Hupp Jr. ’16 and Thomas B. Hupp ’20—were cadets, and Stephen Hupp played football. “We established great relationships with the cadet-athletes on the football team from 2012–21.” The Hupps’ relationship with cadet-athletes broadened when his younger son served on the S-6 (now S-9) staff as a liaison between cadet-athletes and the rest of the Corps. Through this work, Thomas met Kiley Cropper ’21, who played soccer, and they later married. “We loved getting to know all of Stephen’s and Kiley’s teammates and friends.” Steve also cites his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ “huddles” on post as allowing him to “get to know more cadet-athletes and do so on a deeper level.”
In October 2005, the brothers decided to honor their father’s legacy by endowing the Hupp Family Athletic Scholarship. “We wanted to do it while he was around to enjoy it, which he did for five years,” remembers Steve. “He made it to several Keydet Club Scholarship Banquets and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the cadet-athletes who benefitted from the scholarship.” The permanence of an endowed scholarship attracted them as well. “I believe individuals are more open-minded to give in a way that benefits a cause in perpetuity,” Billy Hupp explained. “Endowments do that by growing and spinning off an increasing amount of money for the purpose donors established them—and will continue to do so after donors are not able to give anymore. While that is good in and of itself, endowed funds also ease the pressure on annual giving efforts, and that is incredibly beneficial.” Steve Hupp agreed, “I understand the value of an endowment as something that will help future cadet-athletes on a perpetual basis. That unique feature is very special, and it constitutes an addition to whatever I can give annually.”
The brothers became annual leadership donors to the Keydet Club—and have sustained their generosity—in part because of the example their father set as a consistent donor to VMI. But it was more than that example, warm memories, and personal experiences that motivated them. “Offering the VMI education to young people who possibly would not have the opportunity to even go to college is very rewarding,” Billy said. “Furthermore, cadet-athletes follow a challenging path, and I want to encourage them to stay on it and earn a VMI diploma.” Steve Hupp’s inspiration was one of the most dedicated alumni leaders in recent history, G. Gilmer Minor III ’63. “When I first joined the VMI Foundation’s board in 2006, there was a desire to improve the unity between the Foundation and the Keydet Club. On one occasion, I had the privilege of hearing Gil speak to our board about ‘One VMI,’ that is the need to elevate all aspects of the VMI education to include athletics and to achieve it for increased cooperation among the Agencies. Gil’s words hit home, and I resolved right then to become an annual leadership-level donor to the Keydet Club.”
Just as Billy and Steve are continuing their father’s legacy with their giving, Thomas and Kiley have continued the family’s legacy by establishing the Hupp Family Women’s Soccer Scholarship, which Steve generously supports. “Renee and I are obviously very thankful that the women’s soccer program brought Kiley from Colorado to VMI. Supporting their endowed scholarship and so helping it offer more scholarships to women soccer players, therefore, is something we love doing. Plus, it exposes us to an entirely new group of wonderful cadet-athletes.” Renee and Steve are not alone in the Hupp family in supporting the scholarship. Their daughter, Maj. Rebekah Martin, and her husband, Donnie Martin ’13, who are an assistant professor and adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, respectively, support the scholarship, too.
"I feel an obligation as a citizen and alumnus to do all I can to ensure VMI continues that important work and continues to do it with excellence.”Stephen E. Hupp Sr. ’84
For several years, Steve has also supported funds that increase the operational support for the basketball team and enhance the compensation for VMI’s coaches. Asked why he does the latter, he answered, “First, coaches impact cadet-athletes’ lives as much as anyone, besides their parents, ever will while they are at VMI and for the rest of their lives. Therefore, I want to always have the best coaches possible at VMI. In 2019, when I was the VMI Foundation’s president, the Alumni Agencies leadership team was preparing a progress report on VMI athletics. In that process, we learned VMI was last in the Southern Conference in most funding categories, such as coaches’ pay and operating budget. I knew when we presented this problem to the VMI family, we would need to provide some solutions to it. So, the VMI Keydet Club created two coaches’ compensation funds—one for football and an unrestricted one for all sports. These funds have allowed us to attract and, better yet, retain many high-quality coaches, and that is to everyone’s benefit.”
Both Billy and Steve have also generously given of that most precious commodity—their time—as volunteer leaders. Billy served on the Keydet Club Board of Governors from 1991–97, and Steve began his service in 2022 (he also was a VMI Foundation trustee from 2006–21 and the organization’s president from 2019–21). Steve primarily sees his service in terms of giving back. “I can never repay VMI for all it has done for me and my family. My father was a POW in Germany during World War II. He credited two things for his survival: First, God, and second, what he had learned at VMI. Likewise, VMI has had an enduring impact on me, and it transformed my sons, my son-in-law, and my daughter-in-law. Second, our country desperately needs the citizen-soldiers of honor, loyalty, and integrity that VMI graduates, and I feel an obligation as a citizen and alumnus to do all I can to ensure VMI continues that important work and continues to do it with excellence.”
As to why he served, Billy said, “Partially, because I struggle saying no, but primarily because there always is a core group of alumni who have a ‘can-do’ attitude and who are willing to work to benefit VMI. So, when offered the opportunity to be part of such a group, I took it without hesitation.”
When asked how they respond to those who asked why they should give to VMI athletics, Billy replied, “In general, I ask if a VMI education benefitted them or members of their families. If they say ‘yes,’ I tell them that creating an opportunity for a young athlete who probably could not otherwise attend VMI, therefore, would seem worth a small financial sacrifice on their part.”
Steve’s reply turns on one word: Excellence. “VMI does such an impressive job training young men and women to be leaders of strong character, integrity, and honor. It does so because it strives for excellence in the classroom and the barracks. Our alumni and friends know this and expect it. All of us should, therefore, want our athletic teams to achieve excellence, and for that to happen, we must support them financially with excellence—in other words, in the VMI way!”
Thornton said of the Hupps, “Billy and Steve have kept their father’s legacy alive and honored him by creating an amazing legacy of their own—and inspiring a younger generation to do the same. May God continue to bless the Hupp family.”
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.