Virginia Tech Magazine
In Retrospect -|- Summer 2007

Harvey Price: Rebel turned role model
by Clara B. Cox M.A. '84

Harvey Price

If Harvey Lee Price hadn't bucked his parents on their choices of a career and a college for him, Virginia Tech's Price Hall, the building constructed 100 years ago to house the work developing in agriculture, might still be called "Aggie" Hall.

Price, the rebel

"Harve" Price's decision to defy his parents forced him to dig coal on his father's farm until he had earned enough money to enroll in Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (or VPI), where he obtained two degrees and remained for another 45 years, 37 as dean of agriculture.

Price grew up in nearby Prices Fork, where his "easy-going and fun-loving" father let his wife rear their only child. "Strong" and "forceful," she applied strict standards to young Harve, who inferred in later life that she would chastise him for minor infractions of the household rules.

Not all of Price's infractions were minor, although some of his antics were humorous. During one church service, he used his pocketknife to make a small cut in a woman's unusually large bustle, which was stuffed with sawdust. After the sermon, the woman strutted down the aisle, trailing sawdust from her ever-shrinking posterior.

Price Hall

Price, the role model

Price was educated in a one-room school near his home, which prepared him well for college studies. He enrolled in VPI in 1894 and worked to pay his own way, graduating with a bachelor of science in agriculture with honors in 1898 and a master of science in horticulture, entomology, and mycology in 1900. He became a horticulture instructor and was named head of the horticulture department three years later.

Price served five different presidents during his time at VPI, most of them after he was named dean of agriculture in 1908. He became a college giant--and a campus character. Easy-going, pleasant, and amiable, he was somewhat rotund and bald, although he wore a wig until he became annoyed at losing it repeatedly during a grouse hunt and tossed it aside.

Called the "Gregor Mendel of Virginia," he published a number of papers on the genetics of tomato plants. But he excelled in more than research. Citing his "scholarly attainments and sound judgment," one colleague called him "a great teacher, a great administrator, and a great investigator."

Price also zealously protected VPI's apple orchard, oversaw campus landscaping, and served on the Athletic Council. On the side, he spent hundreds of hours tracing the ancestry of numerous Montgomery County families.

Rick Griffiths
Following a reorganization in 1920 that added significantly to Price's workload, President Julian Burruss convinced him to remain in office, but during the Hutcheson administration, Price expressed a willingness to turn over the reins to a younger man. By then into his 70s, he retired but maintained a keen interest in the school.

Price, who served as agriculture dean longer than anyone else, lived to see Aggie Hall named in his honor in 1949, VPI's recognition of his "magnificent contributions." He died in 1951.

Virginia Tech