24 Karat Purple
Inez Roop tops her steadfast JMU life with a $500,000 gift
Perhaps more than anyone else, Inez Graybeal Roop ('35) has a heart of purple and gold. JMU simply surges through her veins.
Roop has been involved in almost every milestone in JMU's history since she graduated from Harrisonburg State Teachers College in the midst of the Great Depression. In addition, a $500,000 commitment to JMU is the latest in a lifetime of giving from Inez and her husband, Ralph. Earmarked for the university's endowment, their gift addresses two critical needs, faculty development and scholarships. Specifically, the gift creates the Inez G. Roop Professorship in English and bolsters several previously endowed Roop family scholarships.
What Inez Roop most enjoys talking about, however -- besides family -- is how her life and JMU's have interwoven themselves for more than 65 years.
Roop was the JMU Board of Visitors member who made the motion to change the name of Madison College to James Madison University in 1977. One of the choices for an eponym was Dolley Madison, but Roop felt that would not appropriately represent a coed institution. Later she traveled to the state capitol and stood beside Gov. Mills Godwin and JMU President Ronald Carrier when the governor signed the declaration changing the university's name. "I'm glad we made the choice to represent both men and women who attend JMU," says Roop. "The school has grown by leaps and bounds since I attended. I'm glad the board stood by my choice."
In 1997, when the commonwealth began searching for a state song to replace the antiquated and racially controversial Carry Me Back to Old Virginia, Roop lobbied for former Harrisonburg Normal School professor John Wayland's 1911 Old Virginia. Wayland's tune had finished second in the 1940 General Assembly vote that adopted Carry Me Back. Final selection of a new state song is still under way.
Roop served on the board of visitors for eight years (1974-78 and 1980-84). She also served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, as chair of the Alumni Fund Drive, as president of the Richmond Alumni Chapter and as an officer in the Bluestone Society. In 1977 she was awarded the JMU Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 1994 the College of Education and Psychology building was named Roop Hall.
All five JMU presidents, including the first, Julian Burruss, have counted her among their friends. "I met Dr. Burruss, then president of Virginia Tech, while I was a teen growing up in Christiansburg," she says. "My father and he became friends through membership in the Christiansburg-Blacksburg Rotary Club. Dr. Burruss was interested in hearing about his former school from a current student. I've been close friends with every president, from Dr. Duke, who was president when I attended, to Tyler Miller, to Dr. Ron Carrier while I served on the board, and now Dr. Lin Rose."
Roop majored in both English and history and minored in French and music education. She won a coveted spot in the Glee Club as a freshman, and during her junior and senior years, served as business manager for the club. "I got to meet with President Duke and discuss where the Glee Club would perform on road trips," Roop recalls. "We sang for many high schools and were a great recruiting tool for the school."
Roop is proud that her late classmates established JMU's first alumni chapter in Richmond. "Helen Mugler White ('25) and Thelma Lee Crenshaw ('47) were primarily responsible for founding the Richmond chapter," says a modest Inez.
The Richmond chapter grew through annual Christmas brunches hosted by the Roops. "Dr. Carrier was a frequent visitor to our home," Ralph Roop remembers. "We were glad to host him, as he wanted to get to know the many active Richmond-area alumnae."
Richmond chapter members established their first scholarship fund nearly 40 years ago with a fund raiser selling Christmas ribbon. The chapter is still a model to the other 19 alumni chapters across the country. The chapter awards five annual $1,000 awards to Richmond-area students who want to become teachers. "We've done pretty well for a bunch of teachers and homemakers who graduated during the Depression," Inez Roop beams. In 1990, at their 55th reunion, the Richmond alumni established the Class of 1935 Scholarship and in five years raised more than $39,000 for the fund.
During her career as a public school teacher, Inez first taught elementary school in Covington, Va., and then high school in Montgomery County. "I worked hard enough prior to my senior year and was planning to play during my second semester senior year," she says. "I only needed four credits to graduate. Then Dean Gifford asked me to interview with Stanley Godbey, who needed a grade school teacher in Covington. Dr. Gifford promised to help me get certified to teach elementary grades, and I ended up working harder during my second semester senior year than my whole time at school."
Ralph graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor's in agricultural economics. The Phi Beta Kappa scholar went on to earn a master's from Cornell University. From 1937 to 1966, he worked for the Southern State Cooperative, retiring as director of the petroleum division. In 1949, he founded Petroleum Marketers, his self-described foray into "moonlighting," which ended up one of the largest petroleum distributors in the South. He retired as chief executive and director in 1987 and currently serves as a consultant.
There are scholarships and buildings named for both Roops on the JMU and Virginia Tech campuses. Ralph serves on the board of directors at Virginia Wesleyan College, where Roop Hall and Graybeal Hall honor Ralph and Inez's parents.
At 87 and 85, Inez and Ralph still use their season tickets to both the JMU and Virginia Tech football games. "The one sure sign of slowing down is that we only made it to 12 games this season," they say. The duo is still active in leadership roles in community and church activities. Inez was the first woman to chair the administrative board of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond. The Roops have also extended their beneficence to Friendship Force, an International Exchange Program. They have hosted families from England, Scotland, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia. In exchange, they have traveled the world, staying with other hosts. "We've stayed in touch with all the families we've hosted and visited," says Ralph.
"Inez has traveled more than I," adds Ralph. "Both of our daughters married men whose jobs require living abroad, and you know grandmothers are crazy creatures. They have to keep up with the grandchildren."
"Inez Roop is one of the grand ladies of JMU," says President Linwood H. Rose. "Inez and Ralph's support to the university has been constant over the years, not just financially, but in sharing their time, talents and trust. JMU is better for it."
"Our parents felt it was a No. 1 priority for us to earn our education and to be generous," says Inez. "They put us through school during the Depression and they would be pleased if they knew that we have benefited so much from our education. They would also be pleased that we are giving back so that others might have the opportunity to study for a college education."
What else could you expect from someone with a heart of purple and gold?
Story by Michelle Hite ('88)
Photos by Diane Elliot ('00) and courtesy of Ralph and Inez Roop ('35)