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From Down the Hall: February 2024

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Last month, the journey through West Virginia University history was met with enthusiasm, nostalgia, and pride for our alma mater. If you missed January’s edition, take a trip down memory lane with me here. Sharing our story is not just a duty, but a joy that binds us together, emphasizing the importance of each chapter in shaping our vibrant community. As we stand at the threshold of a new chapter, embarking on the next 150 years of the WVU Alumni Association, let’s delve deeper into the organization's most memorable moments. 

In the pursuit of our historical narrative, kudos to our dedicated Alumni team members, Catie and Will, for combing through decades of meeting minutes, captivating stories and cherished traditions that were hidden gems, even for someone deeply connected to our alma mater. It's astonishing how, after 150 years, we find ourselves linked to those visionaries who laid the groundwork for our enduring legacy.

Old photo of Martin Hall

The journey commences on June 19, 1873, in the hallowed halls of what is now Martin Hall, the birthplace of the WVU Alumni Association. The minutes, penned by Daniel Boardman Purinton,  (Class of 1873), exude the spirit of the occasion, capturing the essence of that seminal gathering. This meeting marked the inception of an organization that would go on to serve hundreds of thousands of alumni, a legacy we continue to uphold. 

As you stroll past Martin Hall during your next Homecoming or campus visit, take a moment to contemplate the pivotal role it has played in shaping WVU's journey to success. Nestled within the confines of the iconic Woodburn Circle, the buildings surrounding Martin Hall harbor the secrets of a rich history often overlooked by passersby.

alt="a colorized photo of the Parthenon Literary Society room in 1896"

Imagine stepping into the Parthenon Literary Society room in 1896, captured in the colorized and meticulously preserved image above. This vivid snapshot beckons you to explore further, inviting you to venture to the Erickson Alumni Center where a cherished artifact awaits: a chair from that very room.

Marmaduke Dent, West Virginia University's inaugural graduate and sole member of the Class of 1870, held the distinction of being the first president of the WVU Alumni Association from 1873 to 1876. Remarkably, Dent's leadership extended beyond his initial term, as he graciously accepted two subsequent presidencies from 1892 to 1894 and again from 1900 to 1902, leaving an indelible mark on the Association's early years.

In its earliest days, the Alumni Association would conclude its meetings at the Kigers Ice Cream Saloon or the Wallace House, where fresh strawberry sundaes with whipped cream awaited, offering a sweet end to serious discussions. While these establishments may be relics of the past, reintroducing such delightful treats could infuse our modern meetings with a touch of tradition and joy.

The WVU Alumni Association operated exclusively through volunteer efforts until the pivotal appointment of F. Roy Yoke as its inaugural full-time staff member and Director. Yoke's tenure signified a transformative era for the Association, ushering in professional oversight and strategic guidance. Over the course of 150 years, the Association has seen the stewardship of nine Directors, each contributing to the vibrant legacy of alumni engagement and advancement. It is with great honor and humility that I assumed the role of Director in 2021, entrusted with the responsibility of carrying forward the Association's rich traditions and forging new pathways of alumni connection and support.

One of the rarest pieces of Alumni Association memorabilia, a 91-year-old minute book, now rests in the West Virginia and Regional History Center in the West Virginia University Library's collection, a testament to our commitment to preserving history. 

While reflecting on this captivating history could take hours, let's fast forward to the early 20th century, where the landscape of our association transformed with the emergence of Association activity across the nation. Alumni chapters, though varying in founding dates, emerged as powerful conduits connecting alumni residing in different regions or sharing common interests, fostering a global sense of community and camaraderie among Mountaineers.

Members of the Black Alumni Association standing with a large WVU Alumni logo

In the transformative landscape of the early 1990s, the WVU Black Alumni Association (WVUBAA) emerged with a visionary goal—to foster meaningful connections among Black alumni of WVU. With an unwavering commitment to providing invaluable support, networking opportunities, and essential resources, the WVUBAA embarked on a journey that has played a pivotal role in enhancing the experiences of Black alumni and students at WVU. As we observe Black History Month and extend our reflections throughout the year, it is imperative to honor and celebrate the invaluable work of the WVUBAA. This dedicated volunteer group has played a crucial role in building bridges, both figuratively and literally, connecting Black alumni and students across the country. Their commitment to fostering a supportive network echoes the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, enriching the fabric of the WVU community.

WVU Alumni Chapter Impact graphic

While specific founding dates may not be universally documented for each chapter and interest group, their establishment speaks volumes about the enduring commitment of WVU alumni to stay connected to their alma mater and champion its mission. Today, our vibrant network of 65+ chapters and interest groups thrives as essential hubs for alumni engagement, networking, and philanthropy, embodying the Mountaineer spirit that transcends geographical boundaries.

The year 1988 stands as a milestone marked by the inaugural ceremony of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni, a momentous occasion orchestrated by the WVU Alumni Association. This distinguished event was not only a celebration of academic excellence but also a testament to the profound impact of WVU's alumni on society at large. With great reverence and admiration, the Association bestowed this prestigious honor upon four exemplary individuals whose contributions reverberated far beyond the borders of our university. Through their groundbreaking work, they elevated WVU's reputation as a beacon of intellectual inquiry and societal progress. This historic occasion not only celebrated individual accomplishments but also underscored the collective impact of WVU's alumni community in shaping a brighter future for generations to come.

The Erickson Alumni Center on a clear sunny day

The WVU Alumni Association has woven its story through four distinct homes over its 150-year journey. From its inception in Martin Hall, where the seeds of alumni connection were sown, to its subsequent residence in the Purinton House, the Association has continuously evolved to meet the needs of its growing community. The transition to the first Erickson Alumni Center, now the home of the Music Education Center at WVU, marked a significant moment in the Association’s history, showcasing its adaptability and commitment to progress. Finally the current location of the Erickson Alumni Center stands as a testament to the Association’s enduring legacy, providing a home for Mountaineers to gather, reminisce and forge new bonds. 

The Erickson Alumni Center stands as a testament to the enduring legacy and unwavering commitment of our alumni community to WVU's core values of excellence, service, and innovation. It is a hub where alumni from diverse backgrounds and experiences come together to celebrate their shared alma mater, foster lifelong friendships, and collaborate on initiatives that propel WVU forward. The Erickson Alumni Center serves as a beacon of unity, embodying the spirit of Mountaineer pride and camaraderie that defines our esteemed institution. Its inauguration marked a historic milestone that continues to shape the fabric of our alumni and Morgantown community, inspiring us to uphold the tradition of excellence and service that defines West Virginia University.

The WVU Alumni truck

The Alumni Truck hit the road in 2016 and began traversing the country visiting Mountaineers and fans in communities across the continental United States. From appearances at football game pregame tailgates filled with laughter and cheers, to spirited chapter events featuring Mountaineer traditions and camaraderie, to becoming an iconic staple of the WVU Homecoming parade this beloved truck has been there, uniting us in celebration and solidarity. But its significance extends far beyond the asphalt and the roar of the crowd. The WVU Alumni Truck is a symbol of connection—a tangible reminder that no matter where life may take us, our Mountaineer spirit remains unbreakable. The next time you see us out on the road, be sure to wave hello or chant “Let’s go!”

The insights provided here merely scratch the surface of the vast historical tapestry concealed within our archives. Countless meeting minutes, brimming with earnest discussions on topics and challenges faced by our Mountaineer predecessors, serve as a portal into the struggles and triumphs that have shaped our university. It is truly remarkable to contemplate how the decisions made by these trailblazers resonate and continue to influence our institution today.

As we navigate challenges reminiscent of the past, the responsibility lies not only with university leaders but collectively with us to ensure that WVU not only endures but thrives for another 150 years. The decisions we make today echo the enduring vision our alumni held in the 1800s: to leave WVU stronger than they found it. I take immense pride in our collective accomplishments and reaffirm my commitment to our ongoing efforts.

In charting the course for the WVU Alumni Association's next 150 years of connecting with alumni, let this narrative serve as inspiration. Reach out to a friend from college, express gratitude to a mentor, plan a visit back to campus, don your favorite WVU gear and perhaps indulge in a celebratory strawberry sundae. These small gestures echo the camaraderie and shared experiences that define our Mountaineer community.

Thank you for embarking on this retrospective examination of our shared history. Crafting this edition of "From Down the Hall" has been a genuine pleasure. Meanwhile, I urge you to share your own WVU Moments—those cherished experiences from Morgantown and your life as an alum. To those who have already shared their moments, thank you! Your stories have brought immense joy and inspiration to our community. 

As always, Let's Go Mountaineers!

Kevin Berry ('94, '95)
WVU Vice President of Alumni Relations
CEO of the WVU Alumni Association, Inc.

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