Happy New Year, Mountaineers! I hope that each of you had a joyous time with friends and family as we bid farewell to 2023. As we stand on the threshold of a new year, we find ourselves reflecting with immense pride on a remarkable milestone - 150 years of the WVU Alumni Association. Last month, I gave a sneak peek into what we had planned for 2024 as we continue to celebrate 150 years of the WVU Alumni Association.
The consistent theme interwoven in our history of West Virginia University and the WVU Alumni Association is that of moments, big and small. Today, as we enter the second half of our 150th-year milestone, I want to reflect on those shared moments while expressing our continued interest in hearing about your personal ones. More on that later.
Through the decades, our alma mater has been the canvas upon which stories of resilience, achievement and camaraderie have been painted. This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but a reminder of the rich tapestry woven from the founding years to the present day, with each generation of graduates contributing to the overall story. Forgive me if I miss any moment that’s especially meaningful to you and your experience at WVU; that’s exactly why we want to hear from you! For now, let’s reflect on the past and celebrate the milestones that have made WVU and the WVU Alumni Association what they are today.
In 1867, WVU opened its doors as the Agricultural College of West Virginia, with Reverend Alexander Martin as its first president. The journey of WVU’s academic legacy began with Marmaduke Dent who in 1870, became the university’s first graduate before subsequently founding the WVU Alumni Association in 1873. The year 1889 marked a significant stride as women were officially admitted, with Harriet Lyon achieving the milestone of becoming the first woman to earn a degree from WVU, graduating top in her class. It’s worth noting that the university’s enrollment did not surpass 1,000 students until 1914!
The gridiron legacy of WVU took off in 1891 with the formation of our beloved Mountaineer football team. Although their inaugural game in 1891 resulted in a challenging 72-0 loss against Washington and Jefferson, the team has certainly come a long way (including our most recent win at the 2023 Duke’s Mayo Bowl)! Musical traditions found their place at WVU in 1901 with the establishment of the first marching band, and the university’s first Rhodes Scholar, Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke, was recognized in 1904. The WVU College of Law attained accreditation in 1923, the same year Colson Hall was completed to house the College. The iconic Old Mountaineer Field was completed in 1925, and the first Mountaineer mascot, Lawson Hill, appeared at sporting events from 1934-35.
The post-World War II era saw trailblazers emerge, such as Victorine Louistall, who earned her graduate degree in 1945, becoming the first known black woman to achieve this at WVU. Jack Hodge made history by earning his B.S. in journalism in 1954, becoming the university’s first-known black undergraduate degree recipient. The legendary WVU and NFL figure, Sam Huff, graduated in 1956, and in 1959, WVU played in the NCAA Championship game against California, where Jerry West and the team narrowly lost 71-70.
Advancements in technology marked the 1960s, with the installation of the first computer on campus in 1964. The Mountainlair opened in 1968, becoming the central hub for students to meet with friends, catch up on studying, or decompress at the bowling alley! The iconic Coliseum opened in 1970, with construction of the PRT beginning the same year. The Mountaineer Marching Band became co-ed in 1972, and the final game at Old Mountaineer Field against Pitt occurred in 1979. The Ride of the Future (the PRT) was completed that same year! A year later, in 1980, the inauguration of New Mountaineer Field was accompanied by the unforgettable memory of John Denver serenading the crowd with "Country Roads."
Barbara Schamberger became the first WVU female Rhodes Scholar in 1985, and Ruby Memorial Hospital opened in 1988. In 1990, Natalie Tennant became the first female to don the buckskins as the Mountaineer Mascot. In 1995, the Mountaineer Parents Club was created as one of five student life initiatives of former WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr.
The legendary coach Don Nehlen retired in 2000, marking the end of an era. The following year brought a new hotspot on campus for students to blow off steam - the Student Rec Center, a hub for wellness and relaxation. In 2008, the Erickson Alumni Center and proud home to the WVU Alumni Association, opened its doors, quickly becoming a cherished home away from home for all Mountaineers.
The year 2010 witnessed a historic triumph for the Men's basketball team as they secured their first Big East Championship and advanced to the Final Four. Just two years later, in a thrilling display of talent, the Mountaineers put up an impressive 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
In a pivotal move for WVU academically and athletically, the University joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012. Four years later, the university achieved R1 status, the highest research activity designation, symbolizing its commitment to academic excellence and the land-grant mission. That same year saw the Pride of West Virginia perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a moment of pride for the entire Mountaineer community. We can’t wait to see them in the Big Apple again later this year! Additionally, the Women's Soccer team played for a national championship in the NCAA College Cup Final and rifle student-athlete Ginny Thrasher earned the first gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The year 2017 marked a significant milestone as WVU celebrated its 150th birthday, a testament to its rich history and enduring legacy. Just three years later, the world faced an unprecedented challenge with the onset of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a temporary shutdown of the University. In 2021, amidst global uncertainties, WVU demonstrated resilience by maintaining its R1 status, renewing the designation every three years. Notably, Adventure West Virginia, a beloved experience among many incoming freshmen, marked two decades of creating lasting memories in 2023.
And now, in the present, we find ourselves celebrating the 150th anniversary of the WVU Alumni Association. As we reflect on these significant moments, we are reminded that each Mountaineer has their own unique story. Whether it’s the thrill of a WVU victory, a life-changing encounter with a professor, or the forging of lifelong friendships, these moments define our journey as Mountaineers.
In the coming months, we invite you to share your own WVU moments with us. Your experiences, like those highlighted here, contribute to the rich timeline of our Mountaineer history. We hope you will submit the moments that defined your journey at WVU as we celebrate together, looking back and embracing the possibilities of the future.
These accomplishments are stories that are not just ours - they belong to the thousands of Mountaineers who have come before. As we toast to the next 150 years and beyond, may our shared moments, big and small, continue to make our story as Mountaineers truly extraordinary. Here’s to continued growth, success, and the creation of cherished memories together.
Let’s Go, Mountaineers!Kevin Berry ('94, '95)
WVU Vice President of Alumni Relations
CEO of the WVU Alumni Association, Inc.