Virginia Tech Magazine
Virginia Tech

Life Cycles
All paths lead to Tech


The university community abounds with stories of generous donors from all walks of life. Though their paths and gifts differ, these donors share one thing in common: an affection for Virginia Tech that has grown stronger over time. Here are but a few of the tales from a milestone fundraising campaign.


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Winter 2011-12
  Alex Aning
Alex Aning's "life cycle"
Alex Aning
Born as the fourth of an elementary school teacher's eight children, Alex Aning may not have had many material possessions while growing up in a two-room house in Accra, Ghana, but he did have access to good schools and a family who made education a priority.

"It was tough, so education became the key for us," Aning said of himself and his siblings. "Fortunately, the schools in Ghana are very good, so I got a good background."

Aning drew on those skills while earning his bachelor's in physics from Morgan State University, but the need to work full time was still challenging.

"It was hard," Aning said. "I was a parking lot attendant. I'd go to work at midnight, take all my books and stuff with me to study during the night, and bring a face towel and toothbrush in my backpack so that, after getting off at 8 o'clock, I could freshen up a little in the bathroom at Morgan, then go sit in the classroom."

The long nights and hard work paid off. Not only did Aning graduate, he went on to earn a doctorate from what is now Missouri University of Science and Technology.

As an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Virginia Tech, he has heard stories from many students whose experiences parallel his own. Aning said they inspired his regular gifts to the Ronald S. Gordon Materials Sciences and Engineering Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.

"I see some of these students really trying hard, and I think, for those kinds of students, if there's any help that can be given, they should get it," said Aning.
  Ruth and David Henderson
Ruth and David Henderson
Ruth and David Henderson's "life cycle"
Like many recent graduates heading off for a first job, David Henderson (geophysics '73) was a bit nervous on his drive to New Orleans to work for Amoco after having earmed his degree from Virginia Tech.

"My concern was whether they were going to expect me to know everything there was to know about geophysics," said Henderson. "But when I got there, they were so happy with what I knew. They were hiring people with math degrees and physics degrees and strong science backgrounds, but my training was very specific—and very relevant."

Henderson took advantage of the head start his education provided him to embark on a notable career in energy exploration that has taken him to 43 countries and six continents. After serving as a vice president at several energy corporations, including EEX, where he also was chief operating officer, he co-founded a new company, WBH Energy Partners LLC.

Henderson credits three Tech professors—John Costain, Gil Bollinger, and Ed Robinson—with preparing him to excel. Along with those mentors, he also found the love of his life in Blacksburg. Henderson met an English major named Ruth Drinkard (English '73) during their freshman year, and they married shortly before their senior year.

Residents of Spicewood, Texas, the Hendersons had supported Virginia Tech generously for many years when they agreed to serve as co-chairs of the Houston regional committee within The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future. Ruth Henderson said joining the team of hundreds of campaign volunteers was an easy decision to make.

"We are big fans of all the aspects of Virginia Tech and want the university to have the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff," she said. "We also love a good excuse to return to Blacksburg."

"We have an obligation to honor those who have contributed to our success," David Henderson said. "We have a debt to pay forward to help a new generation succeed. That is why we contribute with our presence, gifts, and service."
  Mary Leach
Mary Leach's  "life cycle"
Mary Leach
Before it held its first class, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine had a generous scholarship to offer one of its students—thanks to Mary Leach.

Unlike many donors, Leach never attended the school that became a focus of her philanthropy. A lifelong resident of Arlington, Va., she decided to make a gift in memory of her parents. Looking for a cause to support, she learned from the American Veterinary Medical Association that a veterinary school would be opening on the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech.

"My mother and father were fond of pets and always had them," Leach said. "I had racked my brain to think of what I could do that would be appropriate to honor them."

Originally, she had planned to make a generous donation through her will. A desire to witness the effects of her generosity firsthand, however, led her to give several thousand dollars in 1979 to create a scholarship in time for it to be issued to a student in the veterinary college's first class, which arrived on campus in fall 1980.

In subsequent years, she added thousands more dollars to the Clarence and Gertrude Leach Memorial Scholarship, an endowed fund providing a four-year scholarship to a member of each entering class. Two of her students, Andy Meadows (animal science '90, D.V.M. '96) and Aaron Lucas (biological sciences '04, D.V.M. '10) have won the college's Outstanding Graduating Student Award.

"Blacksburg at one time seemed far away," said Leach, who for decades would visit at least once a year to meet the recipient of her scholarship at the college's awards celebration. "I never realized I would be going back and forth so often, but since I created a scholarship, I wanted to see what went on down there. I think it's a very good school—a wonderful school—and I've gotten so much enjoyment out of visiting and seeing the students."
  Kristen Rice
Kristen Rice's "life cycle"
Kirsten Rice
Kristen Rice (political science '06) didn't step onto Virginia Tech's campus until she was in the eighth grade.

"But really, I was a Hokie from birth," said the resident of Salem, Va. As the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries, Rice spent nearly her entire childhood in Eastern Africa, but some of her early memories include watching VHS tapes of Hokie basketball games that her father, James (secondary education '69, business '69), received by mail.

Rice did get to see her father's alma mater in person several years before she applied for admission, when her family moved to nearby Christiansburg, Va., for a year on furlough.

"We had a field trip to one of the robotics labs," said Rice, who spent her high school years in Nairobi, Kenya. "I thought it was fantastic that the university would let a class from the local middle school come and see all their high-tech equipment."

In light of how she grew up and in a nod to her alma mater's motto of **Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), it's hardly surprising that Rice sought a career helping others.

As a program coordinator with the Council of Community Services—a nonprofit based in Roanoke, Va.—she teaches public health courses on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

While much of her work is done in prisons and drug treatment centers, she often returns to Tech to provide health testing at Schiffert Health Center.

Using her expertise to help students is just one way that Rice gives back. She also has made gifts to the university's Annual Fund in support of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Rice said that while she had hoped to attend Tech since she was a child, "One of the big reasons why I decided to go was a scholarship that I was offered—a scholarship funded from alumni donations. Once I graduated and was working and pulling in a paycheck, it just seemed appropriate that I should donate back so that future students could have the same opportunities that I did."
  Jane Huddle
 Jane Huddle
 Jane Huddle's "life cycle"
Jane Huddle is a Tar Heel. The North Carolina native applied to only one school—the University of North Carolina. She graduated in 1978 with a degree in math and went on to work for Duke Energy, where she is still employed. She met her husband, Jim, at the company, and he is a Tar Heel, too.

You might be asking yourself what two Tar Heels have to do with Virginia Tech. The answer is simple: The couple has two children—John and Johanna—and both are Hokies.

When the Huddles' older child, John, was getting ready to graduate from high school in 2003, he knew he wanted to study engineering; and while he visited a number of schools, Virginia Tech was the place for him. "As he was doing the campus tour," Jane said, "I could tell by the look on his face that this was where this child was going."

John graduated in 2007 and now works for a general contractor in Richmond, Va. In 2008, Johanna followed her brother to Virginia Tech, where she is currently a double major in architecture and Spanish.

For the Huddles, it makes sense to support the institution where their children receive their educations, so they have been generous supporters of Virginia Tech. They've given to the Hokie Parents Fund, the Center for the Arts, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy (WLP) Endowed Lecture Fund, and more.

In 2008, Jane attended Tech's WLP Conference. That fall, she was invited to be a member of the WLP Council, which provides advice to university administrators about ways to engage women with university initiatives.

For anyone considering getting involved at Virginia Tech, either through philanthropy or service, Jane has this to say: "You do not have to be a Virginia Tech graduate. Your association can come through any number of ways—a spouse, your children, or just a desire to support a school doing great things. Find what interests you, and get involved."
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Albert Raboteau is the director of development communications. Amy Ostroth (M.A. English '97) is the former publications editor for University Development.