During the civil rights and the Cold War era, Hokies experienced a lot of change. This weekend, they will be able to admire the abundant change to their alma mater.
Today until Saturday, the class of 1962 returns to campus for their 50th graduation anniversary.
Samuel Lionberger Jr., the president of the class of 1962, has seen many changes as the university evolved from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute to Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.
The biggest change, he says, has simply been Tech’s “immense growth.”
“When I was there, there were approximately 5,000 students and only about 200 women living in Hillcrest.”
Compared to Tech’s currently student population of about 30,000, that’s certainly a significant change.
The change Lionberger has seen began as a student many years ago.
Under the presidency of Walter Stephenson Newman, the War Memorial and Chapel was completed in 1960 and construction of Cassel Coliseum, known then as the Student Activities and Physical Education Building, was started in 1961.
The first African American students were admitted to Tech, and the first woman at the college, Patricia Ann Miller, received an ROTC commission in 1959.
Yet despite numerous changes, there are many things about Tech in 1962 that would make current students feel at home.
For instance, the football team had a 4-5 record for the 1961 season — but they won against Florida State in an upset for the homecoming game and, most importantly, beat the University of Virginia 20-0.
But even something as familiar as a football game was drastically different: the Hokies played in the small-time Southern Conference and Tech’s Miles Stadium only held 17,000 fans.
Now the students who filled those 17,000 seats are coming back home to watch the Hokie football team take on a team with a better record, this time in front of a crowd of 65,632 fans going crazy for the Maroon Effect.
In addition to being the class president, Lionberger was involved in numerous other organizations and leadership positions. He was the general’s aide to the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, a judge on the Cadet Honor Court and a member of several honor societies for the military, academics and leadership.
Lionberger still holds many fond memories of being a Hokie, especially his involvement as class president and as a cadet.
“I remember particularly the Ring Dance and all the fun we had putting the Ring Dance together,” Lionberger says. “It was held in what you now call the War Memorial gym. That was a special thing for me, with all the people that worked together so well to put the Ring Dance.”
Lionberger reminisced similarly about his experience as a cadet.
“I remember going to Roanoke on Thanksgiving in my senior year to watch the football team play VMI,” he said. “We got up at 4 (a.m.) to catch the train, and we got about halfway to Christiansburg before the train stalled because the VMI cadets had greased the rails. We had to get out and actually help push the train.”
After graduating from Tech in 1962 with a degree in building construction, he served a tour in the Army Corps of Engineers before returning to Roanoke to join his father’s construction company, Lionberger Construction.
It’s been 50 years since Lionberger was a student at Tech, but he’s kept very close ties to his alma mater during that time.
His service has included terms on the Alumni Board, the advisory council for the College of Architecture and Urban Sciences and several other committees, as well a member of the President’s Circle in the Ut Prosim Society.
Lionberger’s commitment to advancing Tech has been honored several times, from the 1999 Alumni Distinguished Service Award to the William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech’s highest honor, which he received in May of this year.