Homecoming came early this year as Randolph-Macon Academy honored its alumni as well as its 125th Anniversary with traditions and celebrations.
The weekend kicked off on Friday, October 6th. While the alumni gathered for a formal celebration dinner at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club, the students on campus participated in a pep rally consisting of mini competitions among the flights. The competitions included a donut eating contest, water balloon toss, and a relay race. Echo Flight, the overall winning flight, will enjoy the first-place prize of a future pizza party. Once the competitions concluded, the kids gathered around a bonfire to make s'mores.
After the 50th reunion class enjoyed their breakfast with R-MA President Brigadier General David C. Wesley, USAF, Retired, the R-MA family gathered together in Melton Memorial Gymnasium for the annual Memorial Ceremony, held in honor of those who gave their lives for the country as well as the alumni who passed away over the last year.
Each year, special members of the community are selected to receive flags flown over the Academy. This year the honorees were Mrs. Scarlet (Praml) Kibler ’89 and Lt. Jay Cullen. Kibler is the outgoing president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, a position she has held since 2012. Cullen was a flight instructor at R-MA during the early years of the flight program. He left R-MA in 1993 to attend the Virginia State Police Academy and joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit in 1999. He was promoted to Commander of the Aviation Unit in February. Tragically, Cullen died in August, while providing helicopter surveillance for a white supremacist rally on the University of Virginia campus. Cullen’s family was unable to attend Homecoming; Michael Turner ’86, a friend and former co-worker of Cullen, accepted the flag on the family’s behalf.
In place of the parade on Riddick Field, which has been a Homecoming tradition for over two decades, there was a Pass and Review Formation held on the Upper School campus. The Corps of Cadets formed up in front of Sonner-Payne Hall and marched to the far side of Crow Hall, with the reviewing stand on the steps in front of Melton Gym. This change originated from necessity, as many of the cadre members were taking the SATs that morning. Yet as Bandmaster Ed Richards pointed out when he originally presented the idea, the concept honored the retreat formations of earlier times. It was actually a way to once again honor R-MA’s heritage in this 125th Anniversary year.
“We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about the Pass and Review Formation,” said Director of Advancement Christine Meyer. She noted that the switch in location made the transition from the Memorial Ceremony to the Pass and Review easier; this was especially true for alumni who usually rode the shuttle because they found the steep hill down to Riddick Field difficult to navigate. (Alumni who attended and would like to share their opinions about the change are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
During the Alumni Luncheon and Annual Meeting, several awards were presented. The first, the Distinguished Alumnus Award, was given to Dr. Robert DeGise, Class of 1944. In 1938, as a 7th grade student at R-MA, Dr. DeGise dreamed of attending West Point. Three years later, however, the United States entered WW2 and Dr. DeGise enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was placed in the inactive reserves until graduating from R-MA in June,1944 and was then sent to the Pacific where he participated in one of the most ferocious battles in Marine Corps history on the island of Iwo Jima. After his discharge from the Marines, Dr DeGise attended college, married and had a son. He eventually earned a Master's and Doctorate in Education and spent 24 years teaching.
The Staff Recognition Award went to Bandmaster Ed Richards, who has been at R-MA for nearly 40 years. Hired in July 1978 as the Bandmaster, Richards has also held the positions of Assistant Commandant, Uniform Shop Manager, Summer School Director, Summer School English teacher, Middle School Principal, and Acting Academic Dean of the Upper School. In addition to Band, he teaches Handbell Choir and Middle School Band classes.
The Byron C. Gayle ’50 Dedicated Service Award went to Mr. Bill Abelkop ’70, who has been key in promoting the 20/70 Partnership and leading his classmates in supporting this unique pairing of alumni and current students.
The Young Alumni Award, which recognizes a recent graduate of R-MA who is outstanding in their field of expertise, was presented to Mr. Stephen Czarda ‘09. Czarda is the Senior Writer and Content Coordinator for the Washington Redskins, and graciously spoke at the R-MA Middle School Promotion Ceremony this past spring.
The last award is normally reserved for one person, but this year was an exception as the Class Agent of the Year Award went to Jim Hunter, Charlie Paris, George Riddick, and Bill Thomas, all of the Class of 1957. When their Class Agent was unable to plan their 60th reunion, these four stepped in to fill the gap and created a successful reunion weekend for the class.
The Alumni Association moved onto the business portion of their meeting, installing Jay Moore ’74 as a new member of the board, and re-electing Robert “Bo” Snitchler ’06, Xandi Middleton ’05, and Kibler. Byron Gayle ’50 was named Trustee Emeritus. The officers elected for 2017-18 were President, Snitchler; Vice President, Middleton; Combined Secretary/Treasurer, Andrew Pfister ’08; and Immediate Past President, Kibler.
For the Homecoming Football Game, the Yellow Jackets took on Fredericksburg Christian School. While a hard-fought first half kept the game fairly even, the home team struggled in the second half. The final score was 36-20, with the Yellow Jackets falling to the Eagles.
During halftime, the Class of 1957 presented a $20,000 check to Wesley and LtCol Mike Starling, USMC, Retired, who is R-MA’s Chairman for Leadership and Character Development. The gift will go into a fund to support the cost of bringing in guest speakers for the enhanced leadership and character development program.
The Homecoming Court was presented at halftime as well. Representing the Freshman Class was Prince David Idah and Princess Isabella “Izzy” Spencer. The Sophomore Class royalty consisted of Prince Jacob Gehly and Princess Sophia Poe. Junzhe “David” Zhang and Tianyi “Sunny” Sun were the Junior Class representatives. The members of the Senior Class Homecoming Court were Prince Shuai “Martin” Gu, Princess Katelyn “Kate” Ponn, King Miles Gilmore, and Queen Naomi Eke-Spiff.
The celebration continued as the students attended a semi-formal dance in Turner Hall and the alumni spread out among several festivities being held throughout Front Royal. The weekend concluded with a student-led service in Boggs Chapel on Sunday morning. To see the list of who came back to The Hill, visit the 2017 Attendees page.