Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 15, Number 4
Summer 1993


Another kind of spring break
by Su Clauson-Wicker

If Virginia Tech freshman Emily Christiansen held any Deliverance-generated stereotypes of close-mouthed, hostile mountaineers, they were shattered as she walked into the Ivanhoe Civic League for Virginia Tech's Alternative Spring Break program.

"They hugged me," she said. "These people who didn't know us hugged each one of us, and told us how glad they were we had come."

Christensen and five other Virginia Tech students had opted to spend their spring vacation cutting brush, cleaning dumps, and hauling firewood in the Southwest Virginia town of Ivanhoe. Instead of heading for the beaches, these six labored beside the residents of a former mining town determined to pull itself up by its bootstraps.

In seven years of hosting student volunteers (six years with Virginia Tech), Ivanhoe has transformed abandoned buildings into offices, an education center, and a performance area. Indigent residents have had their homes repaired, bathrooms installed, and brush lots cleared. But the most promising effect has been on the attitude of Ivanhoe's young people.

"Before the spring break program, Ivanhoe had a 75 percent school drop-out rate. In the past several years, no one has dropped out and some are going to college. They've learned about other options from the college students," says Sharon Stacy-Blackwell '90, who with her husband Mike Stacy-Blackwell '90, participated in the spring program three years ago and returned as a permanent volunteer. Now she assists other communities to set up college volunteer programs, and Mike coordinates Ivanhoe's community tutorial programs.

The Blackwells stayed, they say, because they are continuing their education-they are learning how to change the world. "I got a good education at Tech," Sharon says, "but I learned a whole lot here about what it is to help and to be helped and how interactive the process is. As far as I'm concerned, community organization is the only way that works because you're working with people, not doing to them."

If students arrived with do-gooder attitudes about helping the poor hillbillies, they soon realized which side of the lectern they were on. Every night the community put on programs to teach about their culture and its social problems and to talk about changing those problems.

"They were incredible," says Brian Hartt '93. "The people in Ivanhoe are just as interested in equal rights and social change as anyone on campus. It was great to see how they help each other; I'm from a small town, but I've never seen anything like the sense of community here. My experiences here have encouraged me to do service work wherever I go."

"I think these people could change the world," says junior Brian Frey. "They're making changes in individuals like us, and it seems those changes could travel upward into large-scale changes in the world."

Most folks credit Maxine Waller with lighting a fire under Ivanhoe. It all started, she told the students, when she complained to a teen-aged neighbor about a rock crowding her driveway. "You're just like everybody else in this town. You think you can't do nothing. I hate this place," he spat back.

The boy's bitterness stung her into action. That afternoon she and he grabbed hammers and began chipping away at the rock. The project lasted all summer, as droves of neighborhood children joined them. By September, they had a driveway full of gravel and a can-do attitude. Soon they joined forces with others to stop the county supervisors from selling Ivanhoe's vacant industrial park. They formed the Civic League, wrote a town history praised by Roots author Alex Haley, and invited in more than 500 student volunteers from around the nation, Russia, and Japan over the next seven years to spruce up the place and create a town center.

In the bargain, the students learned how to clog, make corn pudding, and understand the regional accent ("shayer" night means they divide up and go to houses with plumbing for their weekly showers).

"It was fun-almost like summer camp," Hartt says. "I've always gone to the beach before, but this year I met more college students and had just as much fun in a different way."

Bonnie McCormick, a Virginia Tech horticulture student who says she's 86 if you're impertinent enough to ask, but looks 30 years younger, came to learn about the region and was astounded by the warmth of her welcome. "It wouldn't be difficult to feel you really belonged here," she says.

Junior Sue Voelkl, the group leader, is torn between returning next year or spending her the time at a Cherokee reservation volunteer project she is organizing for the YMCA. The Virginia Tech YMCA also offers a spring break program working in Washington, D.C., with the homeless.

Suzie Hall '90, now a Tidewater mechanical engineer, got Virginia Tech involved in Ivanhoe's spring break program in 1988 when she met Waller through an urban planning course and heard that Marquette University volunteers were coming in from Wisconsin. In six weeks, she obtained a grant from the College of Architecture and Urban Planning for building supplies and recruited students.

"I'm fascinated by the town," she says. "I end up there whenever I get back to that end of the state."

Community member Don Blair says it's hard when the college students leave. "I cry. I say I'm not going down to see them when they come in ‘cause it's so hard on me to say good-bye, but I'm telling a story ‘cause I always do. I tell them to come back any time. Some do. They seem like grandchildren."

Mike Blackwell, who's been in Ivanhoe three years, sums it up: "Ivanhoe is a place to engage love, poverty, community, and family in a way that few people ever have an opportunity to experience. It's an experience that leaves no one untouched."

Dairy Club cows rivals by Kate Greene

Students may decide to attend Virginia Tech for its spacious campus, the excellence of its academics, or its diversity of people and curriculum. But a select group base their decision to come here upon the reputation of a cow club.

Virginia Tech's Dairy Club has been ranked first nationally for eight of the past 12 years on the basis of its activities, publications, and ability to make money. The club, which competes with similar organizations from other colleges and universities, also has claimed the regional championship for 14 consecutive years.

The Dairy Club is a student affiliate of the American Dairy Science Association, which sponsors national and regional competitions. The club is evaluated on many of its activities throughout the year and on two undergraduate papers on issues in the dairy industry. Members also present symposiums describing the club's activities, attend business meetings, discuss legislation, and submit their glossy annual, The Milky Way, for judging.

In recent years, the Dairy Club has sold, packaged, and shipped cheese purchased from a large dairy outlet. Sales last year surpassed $30,000. The club also sells milk shakes and ice cream at a dairy bar at the Virginia State Fair. Members milk some of the show cows at the fair as a service for the farmers. The $15,000 earned through all fund raising supports scholarships, travel expenses, the printing of The Milky Way, and an annual club trip to various dairy farms and processing centers.

Each spring the club hosts "The Little All-American Dairy Show" in which club members are judged on heifers they break, groom, feed, and train for show. An alumnus or other influential member of the dairy industry judges the animals on the basis of showmanship and appearance.

"I came to Virginia Tech to further my judging ability," says Stacey Guyton, a junior studying dairy science. The Dairy Judging Team, which is supported by the Dairy Club, consists of eight students who specialize in evaluating dairy cattle. The team competes successfully around the country, creating a reputation equal to that of the Dairy Club. Competing several times a year, the team received 15 first-place awards in the past 10 years. Much credit is given to the late professor William Etgen, for whom the new Dairy Judging Pavilion was named and who led the club to national wins on 12 occasions.

The majority of Dairy Club members are out-of-state students. The club's reputation plays as much of an influential role as that of Virginia Tech as a whole. Clint Shontz '93 says, "When you see the breeding magazines and read that Virginia Tech's Dairy Club has been rated as the No. 1 club in the nation, it really means something."

So what is the key to the Dairy Club's success? Student members insist the club's four advisors-Ray Nebel, Robert James, Ronald Pearson, and Michael Barnes-are the impetus, but the advisors point their fingers to the members' drive for achievement.

"My advisors push us to succeed because they don't want to see us let ourselves down. I don't see that push from the advisors at other schools," says Guyton.

Guyton developed leadership, citizenship, and oral presentation skills, and feels more prepared for the job world than if she had not been part of the club, she says.

"The club is almost like having another class for four years," Shontz adds. "I've learned a lot in addition to what I've studied in the classroom."

Kate Greene '94 was a spring intern for the Virginia Tech magazine.