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 Montpelier Magazine

A Special Homecoming 2002

Phil Vassar ('85) croons his top country hits, while fellow alumni crow over the grand opening of their new Leeolou Alumni Center

By the time alumni made their fall migration to the Shenandoah Valley to partake of the wild life and revelry of Homecoming, students had been in celebratory mode for a week. They prepared the way with music, dance, a parade and talent show, banners, gatherings on the Quad and The Commons, spirit rallies, and student exhibitions.

Returning alumni added a whole new dimension to the annual ritual of renewing friendships and reliving Madison memories. "This year, for the first time, alumni came home to a house they built themselves," says Justin Thompson, executive director of the JMU Alumni Association.

Alumni celebrated the brand new Leeolou Alumni Center with a ceremonial grand opening and open house. The center is located on the east side of campus and overlooks the Blue Ridge to the east and the expanse of campus and the Alleghenies to the west. The focal point for alumni was the center's great room with its cathedral ceilings, traditional bluestone hearth and scenic views. Alumni toured exhibits of JMU memorabilia, an art gallery, electronic welcome kiosk, terrace, meeting rooms and gathering spots on the top floor and offices and a patio on the ground floor.

The center is the first building on campus built primarily through private funding, including a leadership gift of $1 million from Steve ('78) and Dee Dee Leeolou ('78), for whom the building is named. "It's a real heartwarming demonstration of JMU alumni coming together for their alma mater and also in support of each other," Thompson says. He's referring to the successful building campaign led by Hugh ('73) and Nancy Bowman Lantz ('71), who also made a significant gift, and the more than 2,500 alumni who helped build the center by purchasing pavers and bricks and naming meeting rooms and hospitality facilities.

The weekend merrymaking began at the alumni center with a black-tie reception, awards presentations and grand opening, complete with ribbon cutting. Guests joined hundreds of fellow alumni later that night for a concert in Wilson Hall. The open house took place on Saturday, when -- between tailgating and post-game gatherings -- alumni mingled with students at the Godwin Field Festival and football game and reveled in the sounds of the Marching Royal Dukes.

"Alumni truly pitched in to make the celebration a memorable occasion," Thompson says. "We didn't book some anonymous entertainment. Our own Phil Vassar ('85), one of country music's top stars, took his valuable time to come home and perform the Homecoming concert."

On hand as well was watercolor artist David Gill ('76), whose specially commissioned painting -- a fanciful view of campus looking through the windows -- is a permanent part of the alumni center. Media arts professor John Woody created the fund-raising video for the center, and Eric ('91) and Lara Major ('92) donated the wine for the open house.

"A lot of alumni participated," Thompson says. "They have made the Leeolou Alumni Center a place to celebrate and rally around and use as their own."


Photos by Diane Elliott ('00) and Casey Templeton ('06) and courtesy of The Bluestone: Ali Johnston ('04), Rachel O'Donnell ('03), and Morgan Riel ('04); and The Breeze: Matt Carasella ('03); Design by Melanie Rowan ('00)