"I was meant to be a Hokie," wrote Sidney B. Harvey, a proud Virginia Tech alumnus and one of the university’s most ardent supporters.
When Harvey graduated from Elk Creek High School in Grayson County in 1948, his dream was to attend Virginia Tech, or as it was known then, Virginia Polytechnic Institute. But that dream had to be put on hold for more than five years because he simply wasn’t able to afford it.
Instead, he joined the United States Air Force and served his country, all the while still intent on making his dream become a reality.
Harvey enrolled at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1953 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1956. He went on to earn a master’s degree and his doctorate from his beloved university.
Now retired, Harvey continues to support Virginia Tech. He’s a member of our Pylon Society of regular donors, and he’s always ready to display his extensive collection of Virginia Tech memorabilia.
Below is Sidney Harvey’s first person account of his time at Virginia Tech and what his alma mater means to him:
I was meant to be a Hokie.
I was accepted as a Virginia Polytechnic Institute student and was all set to enroll in the fall of 1948, right out of tiny Elk Creek High School in Grayson County, Va. Everyone knew I intended to go; but financial limitations intervened, and my dream had to be put on indefinite hold.
Instead, the day after my high school graduation, I enlisted in the United States Air Force. I was trained as a military radio operator and, in time, I taught in the Civil Service Radio Operating School at Biloxi, Miss.
Teaching was my calling. It came so naturally to me. In fact, I never considered doing anything else. In Biloxi, I thought a lot about eventually attending VPI, and I found myself dreaming of my future as an educator.
As early as fourth grade at Elk Creek School, I had loved a special teacher, Minnie Slusher Huff. Minnie was married to Captain Marvin Huff, a Tech alumnus, who also taught and coached at Elk Creek. The Huffs were called to active duty in World War II, but both returned to Elk Creek after the war as a memorable teaching team. I saw in the Huffs the epitome of the teacher I might become.
Captain Huff sometimes took Elk Creek students to visit the Blacksburg campus. In 1947, Huff included me in a Thanksgiving Day trip to Roanoke for the VPI-VMI football game. VPI lost that day, 28 to 14, and I left the stadium broken hearted, but the die was cast, forever. I realized once and for all time what an honor, and joy, it is to be a Hokie fan. My loyalty and enthusiasm continue forceful and undiminished.
In 1953, I invested my life savings, about $300, in a car and drove home to Elk Creek for a summer vacation. One day, I drove to Blacksburg to see P.H. Farrier, the VPI director of admissions. Sadly, I learned the college had stopped receiving applications after April of that year. There was no way I could enroll in the fall.
Yet there appeared a glimmer of hope.
"Run upstairs and take the entrance examination anyway," Mr. Farrier said. I took it, and just before the offices closed for the day, I was back at admissions to say to Farrier, "I’ll see you in the fall."
I remember this drew only a quiet chuckle from the longtime director; but when I returned to Biloxi, a letter from Virginia Tech was waiting. The first sentence remains etched in tender memory. It read, “We’re proud to offer you admission to VPI starting in the fall semester.”
I walked on the beach in Biloxi that afternoon thinking about the beginnings of my dream to attend VPI, and I told myself how lucky I was to be among those chosen as students.
I still treasure a 1933 graduate’s belt buckle, given me along the way, and I keep it on exhibit in my personal memorabilia collection. It signifies for me another early moment in my dream to be a Hokie.
Acceptance letter in hand, I turned in my treasured automobile, lost all the savings I’d given in down payment, and came happily home to Elk Creek. In early September, 1953, with one nickel in my pocket, I thumbed a ride to Wytheville then caught a ride to Blacksburg with my cousin. I was off at last to enroll at Virginia Tech.
There was an early and memorable meeting of the freshman class. The VPI president, Dr. Newman, addressed the group and told us to look to the person on both left and right. He said only one of each three would remain to become VPI graduates. I recalls saying to myself, “Then, it will be I; for I shall surely be here.”
The next day we registered for classes. Inside the old War Memorial gym, I waited and watched as students received class tickets and waited in line to pay tuition. As the gym cleared out, I was told I needed $206 up front for tuition, room and board. I replied I had no money at the moment. “I want you to charge my tuition for a few days and let me register,” I said. The assistant registrar held a quick private conference with other VPI officials. I waited and watched as my request was discussed. Then I was asked pointedly, “Do you have a job?”
I replied, “No sir, but I will get one.” And I was told I could charge my tuition. “VPI is surely the most helpful place on Earth,” I said. I had been admitted in a time of closed registration, and now they had permitted me to charge my first college bills.
I decided I’d try to get a job in the college bookstore. It was a busy, inviting place. So, I took my bundle of papers and registration tickets and headed straight over there. My memory of the moment is vivid. I asked the person at the desk to see the bookstore manager, a Mr. Fuqua, who had his feet propped on his desk, reading the newspaper. Fuqua took only slight notice of me.
I said, “Pardon me, sir; I would like to apply for a job in the bookstore.” He said, “Young man, what class are you in?” I said, “I’m a freshman.” He said, “We have not hired a freshman since I’ve been here. I’m sorry.”
Harvey remembers turning to leave when the manager asked him a strange additional question. “Are you a Yankee fan?” Fuqua suddenly inquired. “Only Yankee fans are hired here.”
I replied instantly and on impulse, “I hate the damn Yankees; I’m a Dodger fan from the word go!”
Fuqua didn’t hesitate a second. He sad “Well, go tell Clemons I said to give you the job. Want to know why? I ask the same question of everyone who comes in here for a job. Almost always, they say they’re true Yankee fans. You’re truthful and honest about your baseball team, so that’s why you get the job.”
I worked in the college bookstore until graduation, making 50 to 75 cents an hour; but it helped greatly. VPI had once again assisted me in my time of greatest need. The dream of becoming a teacher now seemed really possible.
By Christmas of 1955, I’d completed all requirements for Virginia teacher certification except for student teaching. I never missed a home sporting event (no admission charge then!) or other school-related activity of organizations to which I belonged. I was the founding president of Tech’s New River Club. I cut only one class in all the years.
I was in love with an Elk Creek girl who had been waiting supportively and patiently. Shirley Stone was coming to Blacksburg for a special date and Homecoming game. I was giddy with delight and couldn’t make it to class. The professor excused me. We were united in marriage Dec. 27, 1955.
Student teaching assignments were already announced when I learned a teacher in a nearby school had suddenly resigned. The Tech education officials permitted me to take that teaching job in lieu of doing student teaching. One condition: I could receive no actual pay until my training quarter ended. I realized on my very first teaching day all my dreams were coming true. Teaching would be my lifelong vocation. I graduated in Tech’s class of 1956.
Eight years into my career, and loving every moment of it, I earned a master of education degree at Virginia Tech. As always, Shirley offered her support and encouragement, even if it meant tightening the family budget for a time. A few years later, after some personal reluctance, I submitted credentials for acceptance in Tech’s doctoral program for school administrators.
Dr. David Parks offered academic counsel and personal guidance throughout these studies. It remains a memorable moment for me to have walked across the VPI stage and been awarded the doctor of education/school administration degree in 1974.
Images of the many people at Elk Creek, Virginia Tech, or elsewhere, who helped me achieve my dreams and professional goals flashed before me. It was simply overwhelming. I owe my professional journey to this great university. Standing in the Tech stadium and hearing echoes from the notes of “Tech Triumph” always brings tears to my eyes. Being a Hokie means so much to me. It’s just more than I can tell.”