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JMU's "Royal" Family - the Dingledines

Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine Sr. - 1934 Photo

One family name resonates throughout the history of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, Madison College and James Madison University.

If you were called on to name the royal family of James Madison University, it would almost have to be the Dingledines.

Since the earliest years of the institution, the Dingledines have played a huge role in creating the traditions and character that form today's university.

In the past 85 years, 10 relatives of the Dingledine family have attended JMU. Three Dingledines – Raymond Sr., Agness “Mama Ding,” and Raymond Jr. – are widely known and revered by thousands of alumni and alumnae of the institution.

The Dingledines joined the JMU community in the early years of the institution, when it was known as the Harrisonburg State Normal and Industrial School for Women.

Agness "Mama Ding" Dingledine

It was remarkably fortuitous that Raymond Carlyle Dingledine, Sr. and Agness Stribling both came to the Normal and Industrial School in 1913 – Dingledine started teaching Summer Session mathematics classes and Miss Stribling enrolled in a two-year teaching program.

At the time, Dingledine was still an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Within the next couple of years, Miss Stribling was prominent in the Honor Council and became president of the first Student Government Association.

In 1916, Dingledine joined the Mathematics faculty and in 1917 Miss Stribling became the Normal School's youngest faculty member. Forty years later Agness Dingledine would recall: “One of the other professors and I used to meet students coming in on the 10 o'clock train.” That professor was her future husband. They were married in February of 1918.

The couple was continuously involved with campus life. In 1919, they began offering an annual $10 prize for the best senior essay. The prize may seem paltry today, but back then it was the average week's pay for a public school teacher.

Over the next two decades their home was a gathering place for professors and students alike. Mrs. Dingledine remembered: “We used to have backyard suppers and serve steak and strawberry shortcake. Once back in ‘36 we had a waffle supper in the kitchen. Scores of students were present, and they consumed hundreds of waffles.”

One of those students, Emily Lewis Lee (‘43) remembers firelight picnics in Professor Dingledine's backyard. (Mrs. Lee later served on the JMU Board of Visitors from 1980 to 1983.)

Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine and his wife, Emily, at Madison College's 50th anniversary celebration in 1958.

“Mama Ding,” as she came to be called affectionately, was dormitory hostess of the Sprinkle House in 1949, house mother of Tri Sigma sorority from 1949 to 1962, and alumni secretary from 1952 until her retirement in 1967.

One of the former sorority girls who has vivid memories of Mama Ding, Caroline Wake (‘52), recounted: “You'd think that us girls living in Tri-Sigma House and Alpha Sigma Alpha House would have been great rivals instead of great friends, but we were all Mama Ding's girls…The time we spent at Madison bonded us. And, our housemother, Mama Ding, enforced the same kind of rules and morals that our parents taught us. We all became very close.”

At her 2003 class reunion, Patsy Smith Wilson ('58) shared a story she'll never forget about Mama Ding's sense of humor. “Our house mother, Mama Ding had a special pair of XXXL underwear that she pulled out for panty raids. The W&L (Washington and Lee University ) boys came a callin' one night, and Mama Ding yelled down to them, ‘My girls can't spare any of their underwear, but you can have a pair of mine.' And she waved these huge undies out the window. The W&L boys just died.”

Professor Dingledine took a hiatus from teaching to serve in the military. When he returned to HTC, instead of rejoining the Mathematics faculty, he began teaching in the History and Social Sciences Department.

Agness Dingledine (left) with then Lt. Gov. and future Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. when Godwin spoke at Madison in the early 60s. JMU's Godwin Hall is named for him. Godwin's wife, Katherine Beale Godwin (center), was a 1937 graduate of JMU.

Throughout the years, he was active in local civic organizations and government. He served as mayor of Harrisonburg, on city council and as a Kiwanis trustee. At HTC, and later Madison College, he was faculty secretary from 1931 to 1941 and a Student Government advisor in the late 1930s.

Dingledine, Sr. and Mama Ding passed on the Madison spirit to their children. Their daughter Jane Dingledine Hueston followed in her mother's footsteps as Student Government president of Madison College. As an alumna, she was president of the Granddaughter's Club.

Agness Dingledine Chamberlain also graduated from Madison and William Dingledine became a doctor.

Raymond Dingledine, Jr. walked much of the same ground as his father in the Madison College History Department and in many roles of civic leadership.

Dr. Dingledine, Jr. earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Virginia. His doctoral studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the Signal Corps and then the Air Corps during World War II. He finished his military tour as a first lieutenant and returned to U.Va. to get his doctoral degree. After a year at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University ), Madison College gave him a contract as one of five faculty members in the History and Social Science Department in 1948.

Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine Jr. - 1973 Photo

From 1948 to the mid 1970s Dingledine Jr. was an adviser to the Honor Council and was instrumental in establishing the Madison College Honor System that is still used today. In his last decade at Madison, he served on the Honor Advisory Board.

In 1959 Dingledine Jr. published the authoritative history of the college, Madison College, The First Fifty Years: 1908-1958. He went on to become head of the History Department when it separated from the social sciences in 1965, serving until his retirement in 1984. That same year he was appointed head of the History Department, he published a book on Virginia 's history.

Dr. Dingledine was also active in local government and civic organizations. He served as Vice Mayor of Harrisonburg, on city council, as a Kiwanis Club trustee, and as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church.

When he retired in 1984, he was able to give more time to researching 19th century political leader William Cabell Rives. At the Founders Day ceremony of 1984, Dingledine Jr. was awarded the James Madison Distinguished Service Award for his leadership and 36 years of faculty service.

Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine Jr. at JMU's 75th anniversary celebration

His wife Emily has been active in JMU social events and committee assignments for many years and their son Raymond Dingledine III earned his master of arts from JMU and is now Superintendent of Greene County Public Schools.

The elder Dr. Dingledine had died in 1941. After hosting in Massannetta Springs during World War II, Mrs. Dingledine returned to Madison College to become house mother and alumnae secretary when her son joined the faculty.

The Dingledine House, site of many backyard soirees, was rented by Madison College throughout the 1940s, and was purchased in 1953 for $20,000. It was the sorority house for Madison College 's sixth sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. In 1958, the construction of the Anthony-Seeger Campus School necessitated the demolition of the house and Zeta Tau Alpha was eventually relocated to the Nicholas House.

To commemorate the legacy and achievements of the Dingledine family, several scholarships have been established. The Agness Stribling Dingledine Scholarship was established in 1974 in honor of Mama Ding, who died in 1973. The scholarship was enhanced in 1999 by the initiative of her grandson, Tom Dingledine.

Dingledine Hall was named in her honor in 1970. The Raymond C. Dingledine Scholarship honors Dingledine, Jr., who died in 1991.

– August Smith