Saunders Fields Dedicated
Thomas Slater ’66, former president of the Board of Visitors, joins Mrs. Ann Lee Saunders Brown and Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, for the ribbon cutting. – VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.
LEXINGTON, Va., May 10, 2012 – Saunders Fields, a training facility located at Virginia Military Institute’s North Post area, was dedicated Wednesday in honor of Edmund Saunders III, Class of 1906, and in recognition of the generosity of his daughters, Mrs. Ann Lee Saunders Brown and the late Jane Quinn Saunders. Their gift made possible the full build-out of the North Post Military and Leadership Field Training Grounds.
“If Mr. Saunders were here today, I believe he would be smiling,” said VMI Superintendent Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 in remarks during the ceremony. That smile would no doubt communicate satisfaction at the project that has turned the “Nile Valley,” as the cadets affectionately called North Post in his time and now, into the Military and Leadership Field Training Grounds.
The $21 million project built three drill fields, a fully baffled rifle range, state-of-the-art obstacle courses, and a high water-entry platform on the Maury River. The gift honoring Saunders added artificial turf and sports lighting on drill field No. 2, four tennis courts, entry gates with landscaping, a restroom facility along the Woods Creek Trail, a pedestrian bridge over Woods Creek, and repairs to the Anderson Drive bridge. The gift will also fund maintenance of the area and further improvements.
“This wonderful gift has also significantly improved the appearance of the area,” said Peay, who noted that in its first year the Military and Leadership Field Training Grounds have seen use for Rat Challenge, physical training for cadre and 4th Class cadets, practice and games for NCAA and club sports, and the expansion of the Corps Marksmanship Program.
Peay noted, however, that the smile that would grace Saunders’ face if he were present would also be a smile of recollection, as the North Post area was since its purchase in the 19th century a place for cadets to explore, hunt, and pull pranks, among them one associated with Saunders.
Saunders, said Peay, was once during his cadetship caught by a local resident near the old C&O railroad tracks, now part of the Woods Creek Trail, with a purloined chicken hidden under his blouse. Whether related to the chicken incident or not, classmates predicted Saunders would succeed in business, said Peay, which he did.
– Sherri Tombarge and John Robertson IV
Spirit of VMI Across Generations Inspires Gift
|Sisters Ann Lee Saunders Brown (left) and Jane Quinn Saunders visit VMI as children. – Photo courtesy of Ann Lee Brown.
When our lines start to weaken, our backs fail to gain, . . .
Mrs. Ann Lee Saunders Brown recites from memory the lines that describe the low point of the athletic competition recounted in the “VMI Spirit,” the Institute’s fight song. Those lines are the setup for the display of grit, determination, and teamwork – the spirit – needed for the Keydets to rise to the challenge.
She saw that spirit in photos taken last semester. The spirit was etched on the faces of cadets wending their way through tortuous obstacles that are part of the new North Post training area.
For her, the spirit she sees in those photos and the spirit described in the “Spirit” expresses exactly the spirit VMI imbued in her father, Edmund A. Saunders III more than a century ago. “My father truly felt there is a gift in the spirit of VMI,” she said.
Mrs. Brown took part in the May 9 dedication of the North Post training area, a complex dedicated to the physical development of cadets that was made possible largely though her generosity and that of her late sister, Jane Quinn Saunders. The complex, Saunders Fields, is named in honor of her father, a graduate of the Class of 1906.
Edmund Saunders was only 57 years old when he died in 1944, but he had accomplished much: he was a successful and respected businessman in Richmond, he operated several family farms, and he passed on to his daughters an abiding love for VMI. During frequent family trips to Lexington, his daughters frolicked on the Parade Ground, explored the post, and observed the alien and yet familiar life of cadets at the Institute.
“We loved coming to VMI, my sister and I. My father loved coming to graduation every year and to the football games,” Mrs. Brown said from her home in Richmond. “He said the only flaw with VMI was that he couldn’t send his two daughters there. Of course, that was before women were allowed to attend VMI.”
He came to love VMI during his cadetship. The biographical account of this period in his life is impressive. He played baseball, he served as advertising editor of the Bomb, and he was assistant leader of the Final German Ball. By the time he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, he so impressed his classmates that they elected him valedictorian.
But it was the deeply personal attachment for VMI and his Brother Rats, developed during his cadetship, that so impressed his daughter.
“He was really bonded with his friends from his time as a cadet,” Mrs. Brown said. The experience of the challenge of his cadetship and the lifelong friendships developed then provided him with “something that had given him a great deal of self-confidence. The spirit gets into your being and stays with you always.”
And the spirit got into and stayed with Mrs. Brown and her sister, as well. So when the need for a complex of highly physical training facilities was identified, the sisters jumped at the opportunity to give back to the Institute.
“General Peay explained to me the value this would give cadets,” Mrs. Brown said. “This was the need. My father would have wanted to provide for the need, not necessarily for any particular project. I feel gratitude – more than a sense of pride – that my father left the resources that now I have the opportunity to help with this need. It is very special.”
Though Edmund Saunders would have approved of a gift supporting any project for VMI, the military and leadership field training grounds does resonate with Mrs. Brown.
“Part of learning is learning about your own self,” she said. Saunders Fields provides facilities that allow cadets to “learn a lot about their own being. That is a gift the VMI regimen puts in their hands. My father felt that was an important part of a young person’s development. That’s why he loved VMI – for its values, for its integrity, for its ruggedness.”
Saunders Fields is a facility that supports the spirit of the VMI philosophy of developing young people by having them confront intense challenges.
“VMI gives young people a challenge, a reason to stick with it,” Mrs. Brown said. “The spirit is imparted to cadets. Never mind the books, they have a lot to live up to every day.”
Those photos of cadets showing their intense spirit as they draw on unknown reserves to overcome literal obstacles is a metaphor for spirit that stays with them throughout life allowing them to overcome figurative obstacles – a spirit Mrs. Brown saw in her father.
The Keydets will fight ‘em and never say die/That’s the Spirit of VMI.
– Col. Stewart MacInnis