Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

Feel Like a Million
Montpelier Fall 99

Bijan Saadatmand

Taking the podium to begin the inaugural banquet and ball on Thursday, Sept. 16, President Linwood H. Rose set a tone of celebration and community for the 176 guests, decked in formal black ties and sparkling evening gowns. "This night is not about me," said Rose. "It is about all of us - a turning point for the university. This a very important occasion for JMU and I am glad to see all of you here."

Guests included all eight college deans; six vice presidents; board of visitors members, and selected alumni, faculty, students, family and friends of JMU. Rose recognized board members, who privately funded the ball, and JMU friends who have donated more than $100,000 to the university over their lifetimes.

He also recognized JMU Chancellor Ronald E. Carrier. "It has been an honor to be a student of his," said Rose, as Carrier sat just in front of the podium with his wife Edith. Rose then led a toast to the Carriers to recognize their accomplishments on behalf of the university.

Rose's speech lasted only 15 minutes, giving guests ample time to interact and enjoy a four-entrée meal prepared by JMU Executive Chef Steve Mangan. Guests danced to big band classics by the Dennis Reaser Band, which included JMU music professor Joe Estock.

The highlight of President Linwood H. Rose's speech at the inaugural banquet was his announcement of a $1 million gift from alumni Stephen R. and Mary C. "Dee Dee" Leeolou. The gift from the 1978 graduates is the largest-ever from alumni in the university's history.

"Steve and Dee Dee Leeolou graduated from JMU and became immensely successful in a highly competitive field," said President Rose. "We hope their experiences at JMU contributed to that success. We are extremely grateful for their generosity and their support for the university."

Leeolou, who got his start as an anchorman for Harrisonburg's HSV-TV, was president and a co-founder of Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc., one of the nation's largest cellular systems before it merged into AT&T last spring.

"I'm pleased and happy that we can do this for the university," Dee Dee Leeolou said.

"I would like to challenge other alums here to donate," her husband told the banquet guests, and then quoted jazz great and be-bop innovator Charlie Parker: "Romance without finance ain't worth a damn."

The JMU Board of Visitors voted to name the university's future alumni center in honor of the Leeolous. The new Leeolou Alumni Center will be built adjacent to the JMU College Center, which is near the University Boulevard entrance to campus. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday, Oct. 19, during homecoming week. Plans are to construct the center by the summer of 2001.

The Leeolous will make their gift to JMU over a five-year period, says Mitchell L. Moore, vice president for development and alumni relations. Of the total, $700,000 will go toward the alumni center, $200,000 for the basketball program and $100,000 for the football program.

Husband and wife met and dated at JMU. While Steve was anchoring for WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, Dee Dee was a management auditor for the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C., and later, while Steve pursued investors for Vanguard, she had a career with an international development firm that took her around the world. After leaving TV-3 in Harrisonburg, Leeolou anchored for TV stations in Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. In 1983, Leeolou left the TV business and founded Vanguard Cellular with Haynes Griffin and Rich Preyer. The company grew rapidly and had around 2,000 employees with annual sales of $375 million when it merged into AT&T.

Last year, the JMU Alumni Association honored Leeolou by presenting him with the 1998 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award at the university's Founders Day program. Leeolou credited JMU for giving him the overall skills he needed to be successful.

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