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Before the game-winning championships, before the distinguished academic programs, before Old Main, and even before Marshall University itself – there was the Beech Tree.

A campus landmark with roots stretching as far back as the 1500s, the Beech Tree welcomed the first students and teachers in 1837 when then-Marshall Academy opened its doors. In the years that followed, the tree stood alongside Old Main, the oldest structure on the university’s grounds. Though Marshall’s landscape was ever-changing during the late 1800s through the early 1900s, the tree was constant.

On April 27, 1987, tragedy struck when the Beech Tree was toppled during a storm, according to a story in The Parthenon, the school newspaper. The Marshall community gathered to mourn the historic sight. Before the tree’s demise, students and staff would etch their initials in its wood to commemorate their time at Marshall. The tree was a solace to students who would often eat lunch under its branches. It saw numerous engagements, weddings and other important milestones. It was as much a part of Marshall’s heritage as any living human being.

But all was not lost, as the previous year local artist Byron Johnson had used a limb from the Beech Tree to create the Grand Mace. According to Marshall’s website, the Grand Mace is carried by the Chief Marshal of the faculty at all formal university occasions. Johnson, a graduate of Marshall, is a wood carver and sculptor, as well as an art teacher in Wayne County.

The Grande Mace, a symbol of authority and leadership, consists of a gold-plated bronze casting that features the Seal of Marshall University on one side and the Great Seal of the State of West Virginia on the other. Below the casting features a four-sided wood carving that signifies distinct symbols of the university, including the towers of Old Main, the Memorial Fountain, the Seal of Marshall College and a bison, Marshall’s official mascot.

Marshall’s faculty members who have had the privilege of carrying the Grand Mace and serving as Chief Marshal consider the responsibility an honor.

“I don’t know that many people who have had the honor of carrying the Mace enjoyed it as much as I did,” said Dan Hollis, a professor with the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications in the College of Arts and Media. “It was just so cool to be a part of that tradition.”

Hollis was Chief Marshal during the winter commencement ceremony in 2014 and for a two-year cycle from 2017-2018.

“Wherever I placed it, it was always my goal, whether it be at commencement or convocation, to have it point toward campus and to have the face of John Marshall look upon his students,” Hollis said.

In the two years following the Beech Tree’s passing, a Beech Tree committee was formed to decide what to do with the remains. As luck would have it, a few years before the tree was lost, James D. Rogers, then an assistant professor of geography, had picked up a few nuts that had fallen from the tree. In a 1989 edition of The Parthenon, Rogers said he planted these nuts at his home in Milton, West Virginia, and thus a seedling was born.

On April 22, 1989, as part of Marshall’s alumni weekend, a planting ceremony occurred and the seedling was planted next to the stump of its predecessor, known now as the Old Beech, and the new tree was known from then on, jokingly and affectionately, as the “Son of the Beech.”

A few feet away from the “Son of the Beech” sits a plaque, originally dedicated in 1957 by Omicron Delta Kappa that encapsulates the trees’ importance to the university. The inscription reads “I am part and parcel of the growth and history of Marshall College. Under my branches I have gathered great personages, educators, philosophers, doctors, lawyers, musicians and artists. I am the symbol of all noble attributes and ideals of man, industry and honesty, courage and strength, knowledge and fruitfulness, goodness and inspiration and wisdom, simplicity and peace, modesty and loyalty, beauty and grace. I am the spirit and symbol of Marshall College. I am The Marshall Beech Tree.”

In the fall of 2022, the Marshall University Foundation announced the hiring of Matt James as the new executive director of alumni relations at Marshall University.

A bright young mind from Bluefield, West Virginia, with more than a decade of experience on the student side of the university, James hit the ground running with a plethora of fresh ideas and a vision for how to better connect Marshall’s alumni population to the university. Through that vision, James hopes that alumni around the globe will experience a renewed passion for their alma mater and, in turn, get involved in ways that they never have in the past.

So where does that vision begin? Right in their own backyards through an extensive alumni chapter network.

“My first mission in this position is to rebuild our alumni chapters around the world,” James said. “It is no surprise that the pandemic was detrimental to many programs, but especially difficult for our alumni chapters. After assuming this position in October, our alumni and Foundation team wasted little time facilitating the growth and cultivation of multiple alumni and affinity chapters.

“We are also working closely to support President Smith’s vision and priorities, specifically to grow enrollment, build scholarships and provide mentorship and employment opportunities for our students and alumni. I also feel compelled to identify fresh and innovative ways to engage our young alumni population. We are in the process of strategically planning new initiatives and programs to grow our young alumni network and celebrate their accomplishments.”

Alumni chapters are a vital cog in the wheel of success at Marshall. Each alumni chapter provides its members with the means to stay connected to Marshall, while offering unique events and opportunities to give back to the university. These chapters can be regionally based, or affinity based centered around specific programs, areas of study or shared interests.

To facilitate success across these groups, all alumni chapters share in four key principles for advancing the goals and objectives of Marshall. Those goals are achieved through student recruitment and enrollment, professional mentoring and networking, fundraising and scholarships and overall university support and fellowship opportunities. In summary, alumni chapters provide a place for passionate supporters of Marshall to gather and make a difference for their alma mater.

“Alumni chapters are a great way to gather together and cheer on the Herd in a welcoming environment of individuals that shared together in the Marshall experience,” James said. “But our hope is that these groups go far beyond simply watching games together. We want our alumni to get involved and to give back, either through service by helping recruit and mentor students and young alums, or financially through supporting important initiatives on campus such as scholarships. Either way, I think alumni chapters are the key to future success at Marshall.”

Over the years, alumni chapters have provided outlets for game watching parties, family gatherings and academic interests, while at the same time helping recruit students from their region to Marshall through high school outreach and fundraising. Marshall’s alumni chapters have raised millions of dollars for scholarships and have provided the funding needed for thousands of students to obtain degrees.

Leaning on past successes, combined with his own vision for the program, James hopes to see the alumni chapter network thrive like never before over the coming years. Already, James has seen an outpouring of support from individuals looking to start new chapters in their area, and through others looking to rekindle previously thriving groups.

“Over the next decade, I can see a path toward a thriving global alumni network of dozens of chapters that are collectively contributing to increased scholarships, mentoring and job opportunities for our students,” James said. “I am also striving to create new programs to bridge the gap between our student body and our broader alumni base through mentoring programs like our student-alumni ambassadors. I can see a future with annual events on the eve of every commencement to connect graduates with regional alumni chapters based on where our students plan to move after graduation. Lastly, I see alumni relations playing an even larger role in recruitment endeavors and academic initiatives in future years.

“In large part, our alumni are currently an untapped resource that we plan to leverage with more intentional practices moving forward.”

Having spent the majority of his life serving his alma mater, James is excited about the new direction of alumni relations, and looks forward to connecting with people who have supported the university for years, as well as with individuals that have fallen out of touch with Marshall.

“I fell in love with MU and never left, having spent exactly half of my life here over the past 19 years as a student and staff member,” James said. “The impact Marshall University has made on my life is immeasurable. I’ll never be able to pay back everything this school has given to me over the last two decades. Marshall is a special place, but it’s the people who make it so special.”

For more information about alumni chapters, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at (304) 696-2523 or

College students often face financial hardship while earning their degrees. Some take part-time jobs. Some take out loans. For many, it becomes quite cumbersome.

The chance at a scholarship can make all the difference in a student’s life. The Marshall Rises campaign opened new doors for students as it increased scholarship aid by 44 percent. Now more than ever, Marshall students can attend college with less strain to their wallets.

Nico Raffinengo, a sophomore from West Palm, Florida, is a Yeager Scholar. The Society of Yeager Scholars is a prestigious academic and leadership program. Yeager Scholars like Raffinengo are able to attend Marshall with a full scholarship all four years. For Raffinengo, the experience has been life changing, and it all occurred by happenstance.

“I didn’t really know about Marshall, and I found out about it through a colleague at my old high school. She was a Yeager Scholar and she told me about the scholarship opportunity,” Raffinengo said. “I decided that this was going to be the best opportunity that I think I could have.”

Raffinengo, who is studying international business and political science, has delved headfirst into campus life. He is part of Marshall’s pre-law club, becoming president this year. He is also a student senator for Marshall’s Student Government Association, as well as a presidential ambassador, which is a group of representatives of the university’s student body who assist the Office of the President at special events and meetings throughout the year. They also represent Marshall and its president in the community.

With all that Raffinengo has been able to accomplish so far during his time at Marshall, he is already looking ahead to his next steps. He has two goals. One is to be a recipient, and the first Marshall graduate, of the Rhodes Scholarship. The second is to attend law school.

The Rhodes Scholarship is a fully funded, full-time postgraduate award that enables young talent around the world to study at the University of Oxford for two or more years. Many representatives and senators in the United States Congress, as well as presidents and diplomats of other nations, have been Rhodes Scholars.

“It’s just one of the most amazing experiences that somebody can get in their educational career,” Raffinengo said. “The opportunities it provides is bar none. Because all the students are academically amazing and amazing people on top of that, they’re doing great projects in their communities. You have this insanely dedicated group of students who, when they graduate, are going to do wonderful things.”

Raffinengo said he owes his current and future success to the scholarships he’s received at Marshall.

“I think scholarships are something that can even out the playing field,” he said. “A lot of students can’t go to college because of the cost, and when people are able to donate to universities it lowers the cost for students overall, which allows more students to attend university and seek higher education.”

There are many reasons an individual decides to give back to a university.

From their personal experience at the institution as a student, to gifts of impact designed to change the lives of current and future generations of alumni, gifts of any kind are as personal and unique as the individuals that give them.

And then there are some gifts that come about just to say thank you.

When Sarah Shepherd was busy working on her thesis for her M.S. in library science and M.A. in history at Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, she reached out to Marshall University’s renowned Special Collections Department for assistance and what she got in return was more than she could have imagined.

“I am very impressed with Marshall University’s Special Collections and have used several collections, such as their amazing oral histories that are available online,” Shepherd said. “I became interested in Lucille Todd, one of the first women lawyers in West Virginia, and searched Marshall’s digital collections. There was a wealth of material from the Mirabilia yearbook to the Longview newsletter from the Owen Clinic Institute. Listed as well was the finding aid for the Nancy Voiers Whear Papers. Whear ran a research project funded by the West Virginia Humanities Foundation in 1985 on ‘History-Making Women of Huntington.’ Lucille Todd was one of the women featured.

“I emailed Special Collections asking for a scan of the folder, ready to pay a significant sum as scanning can be very labor intensive depending on the size of the folder. I’ve had to wait six weeks before for scans at different institutions and yet three days later Jessica Lowman, assistant professor and archivist at Marshall, sent me the entire folder without charge. I was astounded and immediately donated in gratitude.”

Shepherd is currently a graduate student at Simmons University and works as an archivist at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. Previously, Shepherd worked at the Greenbrier Historical Society in Lewisburg, West Virginia, giving her ample knowledge about what it takes to operate libraries and archive facilities. As a former West Virginia resident, Shepherd also recognized the value of supporting institutions from her home state and was proud to make a gift to the department.

Founded in 1971, the Marshall University Special Collections Department is home to the university’s archives, manuscripts, rare books, audiovisual materials and other unique items. The department is charged with collecting, preserving and making accessible all of its collections to support the university’s administration, teaching and research goals. In addition to financial contributions, individuals can donate select items to be housed in the archives, as the department includes many rare and unique items that showcase the history of Marshall and the region that have been donated through the years.

Heading the Special Collections Department is Lori Thompson, an alumna with a passion for preserving the history of our university. She shared that gifts of any amount can go a long way in the mission of her department, which is not only meant to archive, but share that history with the public.

“Much of our work is spent organizing, sorting and inventorying materials in the hopes that just one person will find what they need,” Thompson said. “That could be the voice of a grandparent they never met through our digitized oral history, a photo of an ancestor that attended Marshall, or the missing piece of information to solve a historical mystery. I take great satisfaction knowing that my work can directly impact the happiness of others. It is such a great compliment to myself and team when someone believes in our work so much that they feel compelled to give back.

“Our work requires a lot of resources in time and money. Materials don’t just jump into boxes on their own. When we receive a financial gift, it allows us to purchase archival supplies to store materials in, to upgrade our equipment, especially digitization equipment that changes frequently, to pay for student labor, or attend continuing education courses. These resources directly impact our ability to select, preserve and make accessible the unique and historical materials of Marshall University and the surrounding community.”

Thompson shared the unique nature of her department means that no two days are alike, and that anything can come in the doors of her office at any time. While the primary focus of Special Collections is to collect material related to Marshall, the Huntington region and surrounding areas, they do collect diaries, letters, photographs, business records and personal pages that document the community and people of the area.

Because of the wide range of items housed within their office, Thompson said that many of the materials are used by students for projects such as thesis papers, dissertations, documentaries and artwork. She has also provided materials to ESPN, CBS, PBS, The History Channel and others for historical projects.

“Every day is like Christmas,” Thompson joked. “You never know what will show up. Each box, each item, each patron has a story to tell. As a lover of history and all things Marshall, I have the most rewarding job. I get to share that excitement and experience with each person that requests items or donates materials.”

So what are some of the more unique items that have been donated to Marshall’s Special Collections? Thompson shared that her department has been gifted everything from an entire archive of WSAZ film dating back to the 1950s, artifacts from Chuck Yeager and his time in the military, props from the ‘We Are Marshall’ movie, and even the diaries of Huntingtonian Charles F. Frampton from his time serving in World War I. But there are a few items, not of historical value, but of personal value, that really stand out to Thompson.

“I personally enjoy the items that shed light on an average person’s life experience,” Thompson said. “We have a scrapbook from a female student in the 1920s that I joke was the 1920s version of Instagram where she documented her travels and her friends through photos and mementos.”

Shepherd said the work Thompson and her team provides is invaluable, not just to the university, but to individuals around the country. And the helpful nature of the team is noticed and should be commended.

“The Special Collections at Marshall helped me immediately and graciously with my research,” Shepherd said. “I was inspired to give because of their kindness and support. I hope that my donation will help in paying archivists and librarians so they can continue doing incredible work.

“Libraries and special collections are a vital resource. As an archivist, I understand deeply all the labor and funding required to keep our libraries and special collections running. I always try to give, no matter how small an amount, to support these necessary institutions and I encourage you to do the same!”

Marshall’s Special Collections department is open to the public Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

After graduating from Marshall University in 2016 with a degree in psychology and working in the addiction science field for over four years, Abbagael Seidler is back on campus and finally feels she has found her niche in the Master of Business Administration program.

“My favorite part about the MBA program is the different courses that are required. Each course provides a different experience, with a different environment. It gives us students an opportunity to meet other students and explore topics we never knew we had an interest in,” Seidler said. “For example, I fell in love with Accounting 215 with Thomas Norton. He is enthusiastic about teaching his students and is one of the reasons why I fell in love with accounting. He has a welcoming and bright personality and can easily break things down for students who need a little extra help in the subject. I remember being terrified the first day of his course and by the end of his first class, I felt comfortable with trusting him and the class as we took the journey of Accounting 215 together.”

Seidler was born in Portland, Oregon, and moved to Charleston, West Virginia, in 2005 to be closer to her father’s family. She chose to attend Marshall after graduating from George Washington High School in 2012 because it was close to her family’s home.

“I love the old-time feel you get as you walk through campus and see all the brick buildings. Marshall’s campus is a beautiful, quaint gem in the middle of Huntington. I always enjoy being on campus especially when the weather cooperates,” she said.

Seidler has been a member of Delta Sigma Phi since 2021. During her Fall semester of 2022, she was the officer of community service where she used her resource knowledge of the Huntington community to provide members of her co-ed fraternity an opportunity to receive business clothes from either Hire Attire, a Goodwill professional clothing program for men, or Dress for Success, a professional clothing program for women. She has also collected pop-tabs to support the Ronald McDonald House.

“As an undergraduate, I was very reserved and unsure of what life direction I wanted to pursue,” she said. “I flip-flopped from becoming a nurse to going to medical school to biomedical research and then back to psychology. This made me not reach out to people or ask questions. Once I graduated, I realized that I missed the perfect opportunity. The university is the perfect place to be able to meet friends, professors, opportunities for jobs and internships, and even future employees. Campus is full of so many young and bright-minded individuals. All you have to do is put yourself out there! Meeting new people is a must as you try and navigate your time as an undergraduate student.”

Seidler is the recipient of the Frank Deacon Scholarship, which supports graduate students in the Lewis College of Business.  It has provided Seidler the opportunity to grow and learn about her passions and interests without having a high financial burden.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity. This scholarship has helped aid in buying my textbooks, online programs required for homework and to help cover fees in different business competitions provided by Marshall University and West Virginia University,” she said. “It could also help cover the costs of the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) membership where I have access to their Maker’s Vault. I am a very new member at RCBI, however, Deacon Stone has been very welcoming and helpful with showing me around the facility and assisting me in building my prototype for the business competition.

“I have completely fallen in love with innovation and invention and plan to pursue the creation of my own patents, trademarks, and intellectual property. Olen York was my entrepreneurship professor last semester. He is a very kind and knowledgeable man. He has helped me cultivate enough confidence to get out there and make my ideas turn into something.”

Last semester, York had his class submit an idea to the 2022-23 WV Collegiate Business Plan Competition. Seidler was the only student (undergraduate and graduate) to be chosen to represent Marshall University in the semifinals.

“We just submitted our second deadline which will determine if I made it into the finals. Either way, I am grateful for the experience and am excited to see where my idea goes!”

After graduation, Seidler isn’t sure where her degree will take her. She has a wide range of interests ranging from accounting, human resources, and entrepreneurship. Her ultimate dream is to start a clean beauty business with her twin sister, Jessica Seidler who also graduated from Marshall with a master’s in biomedical sciences.

“Using truly clean products and incorporating these into our everyday life is high on our priority list,” she said. “Brands can put whatever they want on the front of their packaging to entice their customer, it does not even have to be true. Flipping the product over and reading the active ingredients is key to finding out what is exactly in these beauty products. Our skin tells us a lot about a person and feeding it natural and clean ingredients that nurture us rather than hurt us isn’t too much to ask for from a company serving in the beauty industry.”

Seidler also dreams of having her own patent or invention.

“My twin sister and I were adopted at the age of three by Donald Seidler. In a sense, he gave us his last name, and being able to create something that is mine and representing that by putting my name on it means a lot more to me than what I ever expected.”

“I am here to chase opportunity and creativity,” she said. “I would love to create a product that would make a simple task less complicated. Convivence is everything and creating a patent with my last name on it would mean everything to me. I come from a family of four females and having our last name ‘Seidler’ on a patent would be an honor.”

According to Jan Haddox, nothing in his life has been planned.

Haddox, a long-time resident of Mason County, West Virginia, built a career as an educator and later as an artist. Haddox graduated from Marshall University in 1970 with degrees in art and language arts.

“I had just gotten out of the service,” Haddox said, of his decision to attend Marshall. “I had always been a Marshall fan, and I have two brothers-in-law who had athletic scholarships to Marshall. I have a brother-in-law who played football for Marshall in the ‘70s. Actually, my mother-in-law wouldn’t have allowed me to go anywhere else.”

Haddox said he always knew how to draw, which is why he chose to major in art, but he double majored in language arts on a bit of a whim.

“Most of what I’ve done in life just happened,” he joked. “Not a lot of planning.”

Nonetheless, Haddox took those majors and ran with them, eventually obtaining a master’s degree from Marshall in vocational education, and certifications in gifted education, elementary education, a principal’s certification, and lastly, a certification in social work.

During his time at Marshall, Haddox taught a class as a graduate assistant on the personalities in West Virginia History, which later inspired the subjects of many of his paintings.

“We talked about the history of West Virginia, and the reasons why they came here,” Haddox said.

After graduating, Haddox worked in the Mason County school system. He started as a reading teacher before becoming a vice principal and principal. He then served as an attendance director overseeing attendance and social work.

“I did get to help a lot of kids,” Haddox said. “I was an advocate, and kids need an advocate more so today than ever.”

Haddox retired in 2000, but taught nights at Marshall’s Mid-Ohio Valley Center from 1999-2016. Once retired from education, Haddox turned his attention to a new passion.

“I didn’t really paint until I retired,” Haddox said. “I’d always done artwork. I did the logo for the Point Pleasant River Museum and other businesses. I did whatever people needed, and if I didn’t know how to do something I learned on the job.”

Haddox’s work, which can be found on his website, initially combined his love of history and art when he first began painting regularly. Many of his paintings feature historical figures in West Virginia history, including Mad Anne Bailey, Cornstalk, Simon Kenton and Chief Logan. Haddox has since branched out to feature landscapes and still life, as well as pet portraits and wildlife, affectionately called “Janimals.”

Haddox’s work has been exhibited at the Tamarack’s Fine Arts Gallery in Beckley, West Virginia, as well as the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, the West Virginia Cultural Center and State Museum in Charleston, and outside the state in Columbus, Ohio, and Chillicothe, Ohio. Haddox also offered historical insight to Robert Griffin, who painted the mural along the floodwall in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Though his work stretches across many counties and cities in the Ohio River Valley and is considered in-demand by those around him, Haddox creates his artwork primarily for the good of the community.

“I do some commissions, but it’s mostly free,” Haddox said. “One of my favorite presents is just to give somebody artwork.”

In addition to Haddox’s well-known career as an educator and artist, he is also heavily engaged in different service projects and giving back to his community.

Haddox has served on the Mason County Public Library board, during which the library board built three new libraries, and he also served on the Mason County Development Authority board. The MCDA focuses on fostering new businesses and a strong economy in the Mason County region.

Perhaps Haddox’s biggest passion project of late is the Mason County Veterans Memorial. The Veterans Memorial will establish a permanent tribute honoring all Mason County, West Virginia, veterans from World War I to present day that have been honorably discharged, all those who currently serve, and those who will serve in the future. Haddox, who is a United States Army veteran and served during the Vietnam War, is the art consultant for the project.

Steve Halstead, president of the Veterans Memorial project, said Haddox is a true asset to their community.

“Jan was the first person I thought of for the project because of his art abilities and history awareness,” Halstead said. “He’s been a staple and is always involved in the community.”

The Veterans Memorial project began in February 2022 and is divided into two phases. The first phase will recognize Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients, including a bronze statue of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jimmy G. Stewart, a recipient and Mason County native who was killed in the Vietnam War. Phase one will also honor the fallen veterans from Mason County who were lost in battle from World War I to present day, as well as list the names of the POW-MIA, and the six branches of service. Phase two will honor all Mason County residents who served in the U.S. military and were honorably discharged.

Haddox and Halstead said they are pleased with the positive response they’ve received regarding the memorial.

“It’s a huge project,” Haddox said. “We’re shocked at how much support we’ve gotten from the community, it’s just super. That’s the kind of community we live in here.”

The committee broke ground on the project in November 2022, and is planning a dedication on Veterans Day 2023. The memorial will be located next to the Bridge of Honor in Mason. More information about the Mason County Veterans Memorial can be found at

On Sept. 6, six Marshall University staff members received quite the surprise, complete with balloons, visits from Marco and Ms. Marshall, and most of all, recognition for their years of generous contributions to the Marshall University Foundation.

The surprises were a part of the Marshall Foundation’s Thank A Donor Days, which took place Sept. 26-30, and celebrated the university’s various supporters from staff giving, scholarship endowments and friends and family members of students who helped them achieve their dreams.

Thank A Donor Days also celebrated the conclusion of the Marshall Rises campaign, the Marshall Foundation’s first comprehensive campaign, which raised $176 million for the university in six years.

“The Marshall Rises campaign has been tremendous. I think it helps with our national prestige, especially with our peers in comparison,” said Monica Brooks, dean of university libraries. “We’re a force to be reckoned with. We’ve elevated our academic standing, our athletic standing, and now we’re elevating our financial standing.”

While the decision to give to the Marshall Foundation varies slightly among each staff member, it is always rooted in student success.

Perry Chaffin and Bob Walker both work in Marshall’s finance department. Though, the similarities don’t end there. Both are from Kenova, West Virginia, and were both first-generation college students. While they are nearly 10 years apart in age, they even grew up on the same street. For both Chaffin and Walker, giving to Marshall was their way of saying “thank you” for the opportunities they received after earning their degrees.

“I felt that I should give to the Foundation because I had opportunities that others in my family did not,” said Chaffin, director of internal audit. “I was given this jumpstart, so I decided to give back. I felt really proud and fortunate that my parents would support me. My parents really valued an education, and said, ‘Hey, we want better for you.’ It was just a great situation, and that’s really what got me started giving.”

Walker found that giving to the Marshall Foundation allowed him to extend the same opportunities he had to students who might face disadvantages.

“I wanted to support the university because it supported me in getting the education I have, and to be where I am today,” said Walker, director of finance information. “I thought it’s best to support where you come from. I like to think I’m helping someone who may not have the same opportunity to get an education, which I feel is very important for everyone.”

Karen McComas and Mary Beth Reynolds know firsthand the importance of what a quality education can provide. Both work in the Office of Academic Affairs and are instrumental in crafting the university’s curriculum. McComas is the interim associate vice president for academic affairs and associate provost. Reynolds is the associate provost and associate vice president for assessment and quality initiatives.

“The most important part of a university is the students. Everything we do is in service of students,” Reynolds said. “When I first became a faculty member at Marshall, I felt like that was almost a sacred trust.”

Reynolds and her husband, Nick, decided to start contributing to the Marshall Foundation because of the impact the university has made in their lives and the lives of their children as members of the Huntington community.

For McComas, the decision to give was an important one, both professionally and personally.

“For me, Marshall is a family affair,” McComas said. “My father graduated from Marshall in 1945. I came here in 1973 as a freshman, and since then, with the exception of two years, I have either been enrolled or employed by the university. My entire adult life has been wrapped up in this place, so I feel really deeply committed to it.”

Because of the generosity and commitment of Marshall’s benefactors, the university has been able to make significant strides in the 21st century.

Patsy Stephenson, document librarian, has been with the university for 41 years. In that time, she has witnessed the dramatic changes across campus, particularly for the university’s libraries.

“I think the most inspiration has been the online learning and everything you can do with computers,” Stephenson said. “When I started here, we had a few computers and people had to stand in line to use them.”

But for Stephenson, it’s not just the changes you can see up close. It’s the incremental changes that build over a period of years or decades.

“I had graduated from here. My husband went to school here. We had our son and we knew that he would go here. It was a part of giving back,” Stephenson said. “When you are here for so long, you see what even just $1 can do. So, through the years, you want to give back and want to see everything grow.”

Growing up, they all looked to the sky. When others dreamt of careers on the ground, they dreamt of soaring with the birds.

Many didn’t think they would do more than dream until they heard the announcement that changed their lives – Marshall University was opening a flight school.

“I was set to study biology,” said Kristen Sayre, a member of the inaugural class of the Bill Noe Flight School and St. Albans native. “I planned to obtain my undergraduate degree out of state. Throughout my senior year of high school, my sights were set on leaving my home state because I did not yet see the opportunities it had for me.”

Sayre isn’t the only one who changed her plans.

Ben Epperly graduated from George Washington High School in Charleston in 2020 and didn’t know what he was going to do. He knew he was interested in aviation, but it wasn’t until Marshall opened the flight school that he could pursue the dream.

Josh Lucas grew up wanting to be a pilot and a police officer. With no path toward the former, he followed the path of law enforcement, serving Marshall’s campus, the cities of Milton and Hurricane, and the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General. The support of his wife and family led him to pursue his other dream of flying.

“Flight instruction has been a dream of mine since I was little,” Lucas said. “But I didn’t want to leave West Virginia. I got married, I have my house and eventually I want to have a family here. It was a no brainer as soon as Marshall opened.”

The Bill Noe Flight School welcomed its first class in the fall of 2021. Housed at West Virginia International Yeager Airport in Charleston, the four-year program leads to a series of Federal Aviation Administration certifications and prepares graduates to become commercial pilots of single and multi-engine aircraft. Lucas and Epperly are among the first students to receive their private pilot licenses.

Amelia Earheart said, “The lure of flying is the lure of beauty,” and that is true for the students at the flight school.

“When you take off and go through the clouds and get above the cloud layer, the scene you see is breathtaking,” Lucas said. “Down on the ground it can be raining, dark and gloomy, but in just a few minutes you pop above the clouds to the sky.”

Scholarships have assisted in helping make these local students’ dreams come true. Sayre, Lucas and Epperly are all recipients of the Lemotto Smith Trust Scholarship, a general scholarship created by the estate of Mr. Lemotto Smith, a Huntington business owner who died in 1987 at the age of 103.

“Scholarships have given me the promise that my family and I will be able to make my attendance in this program work despite the fact that aviation is financially demanding and our socioeconomic status traditionally does not support such a lifestyle,” Sayre said.

Scholarships helped Lucas make the decision to leave his full-time job to go back to school.

“There are no words to describe what it means to me,” he said. “Especially coming from a full-time job to a situation where I can’t work full time, it makes it so much easier. Whether it’s $50 or $1,000, it’s one more piece of the puzzle that goes toward our education and making achieving our dreams possible. I’m not used to getting scholarships or having anyone give me anything. I can’t say thank you enough. Without it, it makes it difficult.”

The scholarships have also inspired the students to want to give back themselves.

“Since the beginning of my attendance, I have actively been working with Marshall to establish more scholarships and honors programs for the flight school so others have the opportunity to become professional pilots,” Sayre said.

Sayre also wants to become a flight instructor.

“I wanted to be a teacher since a young age, so with that I can be a teacher for one of the most amazing things in the world,” she said.

“I have not bought into the idea that what one does for work has to be a job,” Sayre continued. “Being a pilot for most is not a job, it’s a passion and you get to take part in things very few do. I love the idea of mobility and the freedom associated with it. I aim to inspire others to reach for the stars as well.”

Lucas would also like to be a flight instructor and dreams of combining his passion for civil service with his passion for flight through something like medical flights.

With access to commercial flights, corporate and general aviation facilities, an Air National Guard base, the West Virginia State Division of Aviation, a port of international entry and the flight school, graduates of this program will be well-equipped for whatever path they take.

And they will be highly sought after. It is estimated that over the next two decades, 87 new pilots will need to be trained and ready to fly a commercial airliner every day to meet the demand for air travel. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of airline and commercial pilots was projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028. Most job opportunities will arise from the need to replace pilots who leave the occupation permanently over the projection period. The median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers was $147,220 in May 2019. The median annual wage for commercial pilots was $86,080.