Class Notes


New '40s sound

"Coming to you from the beautiful Marine Room of Isle of Palms Beach is the music of America's youngest dance sensation, Mel Felton and his orchestra!"

Entire broadcast — 00:53:22

When drummer Mel Feldenheimer (general business '44) returned to Virginia Tech after his decorated service in World War II, he reassembled the highly popular Southern Colonels dance band, ultimately touring the South in 1946-47 as Mel Felton and the Southern Colonels.*

Decades later, Feldenheimer's son, Roger, discovered the original acetate discs used to record the orchestra's performance that had been broadcast live by AM radio station WCSC in Charleston, South Carolina.

Although the recordings were converted to cassette tape in 1997, an intensive, two-year process has produced a superior digital experience.

1) The radio station had a live feed to microphones on stage. The feed, via telephone line, was broadcast over the air and concurrently recorded at the radio station.

2) The recording was made directly to 13-inch acetate discs, which were scribed from the inside to the outside, in contrast to mass-produced vinyl discs that were introduced in 1948.

3) The discs were professionally cleaned to remove the white, dusty scum—emitted by the acetate—that affects sound quality. Although these early discs were typically aluminum, coated with acetate, glass was used as the base because the war effort required aluminum.

4) An archivist affiliated with the Library of Congress located playback equipment with the correct stylus size for the discs' grooves.

5) Upon transferring the data to the Audio Interchange File Format, universally recognized as AIFF, an audio engineer equalized the data to remove extreme volume distortions and analog noise.

* Surviving orchestra members include vocalist Charlie Dobson (Class of 1949, did not graduate), who currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and saxophonist Ted Kirby (mechanical engineering '49), who lives in Richmond, Virginia.

6 ways to beautify your home with salvaged materials

Robert Kulp (building construction '85) co-owns Black Dog Salvage, an architectural salvage business and retail warehouse based in Roanoke. With a keen eye for the value of reclaimed building parts, Kulp co-hosts Salvage Dawgs, a documentary-style series that airs nationally on the DIY and Great American Country networks.

  • porch railing for swinging daybed
  • a timber frame, reimagined
  • tobacco barn flooring for new floor
  • four-panel door with rim locks and porcelain knobs
  • vintage bubbler for bathroom sink
  • hand-hewn beam for mantel
  • industrial factory cart as coffee table
  • ceiling tin for headboard

Photos courtesy of Robert Kulp

Image 1: Porch railing → swinging daybed

Image 2: A timber frame, reimagined

Image 3: Tobacco barn flooring → new floor

Image 4: Four-panel door with rim locks and porcelain knobs

Image 5: Vintage bubbler → bathroom sink

Image 6: Hand-hewn beam → mantel

Image 7: Industrial factory cart → coffee table

Image 8: Ceiling tin → headboard


Virginia Tech's first regimental band

122 years ago,

the first regimental band was formed. Cadet Wilson was appointed as the first commander, and James Patton Harvey was appointed as the first director.

Virginia Tech's Southern Colonels

84 years ago,

the Southern Colonels group was formed. In 1937 and 1940, the group traveled to Germany and France on the USS New York to perform in nightclubs.

Virginia Tech's cadet band at the Liberty Bowl

46 years ago,

the cadet band marched during the Liberty Bowl, a game VPI lost to Mississippi, 34-17.

Virginia Tech's hybrid electric car, 1995

20 years ago,

the College of Engineering first participated in the national Hybrid Electric Vehicle Challenge. Students and faculty members converted a Dodge Neon into a hybrid vehicle and placed fifth in the challenge.

By Kim Bassler, communications coordinator for University Libraries. Images are courtesy of the libraries' Special Collections; many more can be found at


Kiely Wilkerson '02

Sole control

In May 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was abuzz for an exhibition in front of an influential audience at the Pentagon. Demo Day, the largest event ever held in the space, would showcase more than 100 advances in cybersecurity, networked warfighter systems, language translation, and more.

Behind the scenes, Kiely Wilkerson (business information tech '02), president and chief operating officer of Strategic Engineering Solutions, ran the show—and for her work, she won the DARPA Contractor of the Year Award for 2014.

Demo Day represented a huge undertaking, but it wasn't the first time Wilkerson has taken on a daunting task. She previously worked with a large government contractor but left to co-found a small boutique operation. More recently, her partner took a leave of absence, leaving Wilkerson in charge.

"[Taking sole control] was trial by fire, quickly digging in and learning my way. It seemed so complicated, but once I dug in and started to chip away, it made sense. You have to be fearless and dive in."

Grade: A-

Jack Thompson '75

"As a professional tennis teacher, I don't mean to imply that I'm near perfection. Improving in this profession is a journey, not a destination. To the disturbingly high number of young professionals who profess to know it all, I offer the advice of great basketball coach John Wooden: 'All the important things you'll ever learn in life come after you know it all.'"

Jack Thompson (health and physical education '75), Salisbury, N.C., after playing and coaching for 44 years, was named the Professional Tennis Registry's (PTR) 2015 International Pro of the Year, which he called the profession's Academy Award. Winner of more than 65 tournaments, including the 2013 PTR International 60s singles title, he is a PTR International Master Professional, a level of certification that only 43 of 15,000 certified pros have attained.

Serve: A

Return of serve: A

Forehand drive: B

Backhand drive: A+

Slices: A+

Overhead smash: B

Volleys: A+

Foot speed/ability to scramble: A+

(a "B," though, when compared to 25-year-olds)

Court generalship : A

(using strategy in matches)

"Day from Hell"

by Tom Word
(business administration '59)
Tom Word '59 Tom Word '59

It was first-quarter exam time during my junior year at Virginia Tech, where I was an 18-year-old day student running my family's small sheep-and-beef-cow farm on the side.

On the day in question, my schedule included an exam in corporate finance, taught by tall, dour Professor Adams, who had worked for Ford Motor before retreating into academia. The year was 1957.

I woke before dawn and, as customary, went to the kitchen window to read the outside thermometer on the north side of the farmhouse. It read minus 12. Next, I grabbed the tea kettle to fill at the sink for a cup of instant coffee. Terror struck when a turn of the tap produced nothing. Somewhere, the water line was frozen.

I changed from pajamas to coveralls and brogans, pulled on a mackinaw and knit cap, and drove 200 yards to the well house, a cinder-blocked 6x6x6 hole with a flat tin roof, a concrete floor holding a pressure tank and, at the casing head, pipe and wiring leading to the submerged pump 300 hundred feet below. With maximum effort, I lifted and slid the flat roof, tightened the bare bulb to illuminate the hole, and climbed down the wooden ladder attached to the south wall.

The pipeline between the well head and pressure tank had frozen. I prayed I could thaw it before it burst. I retrieved a blowtorch from the granary located another 200 hundred yards east and returned to the well house, prayed the torch held enough fuel, squeezed the striker, heard the hump of ignition, and thanked God.

Two hours later, I had water flowing from the well house to the barn and farmhouse. I was going to be late for my 8 o'clock exam. I expected Professor Adams would be understanding and would let me take the exam despite an announced rule that tardy students would not be so allowed. Adams was from a prominent farming family at Newport and surely would forgive my tardiness due to force majeure.

I trooped into class at 10, still clad in coveralls and brogans crusted with dried sheep and cow manure, and started to explain my tardiness. In his dry, unsmiling way, Professor Adams interrupted, "Mr. Word, you know my rule."

I exploded. "Twelve below zero and the pipes froze in the well house. I had to thaw them! Surely you understand that!"

A sly grin slowly appeared on the tall professor's face. I got to take the exam. I got an A for the quarter and for the year.

That would be my last year of college. I would enter law school the next fall at the University of Richmond and receive a B.S. in business administration from Tech at the end of my first year of law school, in 1959, a so-called combination degree. I would apply for and be granted a scholarship at the law school. I asked Professor Adams for a letter of recommendation for the scholarship, and the dean of the law school told me after graduation that it had been influential. I finished law school in 1961. I have practiced law in Richmond ever since.

Over the years, I have often said, "My idea of hell is a frozen pipe in a farm well house." Then I have said silent thanks to Professor Adams.

Do you have a story about your time at Tech that you'd like to share? Email it to


"When my 'one minute to speak' came, it was already clear that small renewable-energy generators were a perfect product for international export and that trade agreements are certainly helpful. I only wish I had mentioned how we often have to tiptoe around partisan politics on the domestic front: The product appeals to those on both sides, but for very different reasons. Internationally, though, politics are less of an issue for our customers—they need electricity, plain and simple."

Jenny Jager French (aerospace and ocean engineering '85), president of SUNRNR of Virginia Inc., a manufacturer of alternative-energy generators, participated in the Small Business Exporter's Roundtable in March at the White House, where she discussed proposed trade partnerships with President Barack Obama and administration officials.

Class Notes