Winter 1998

Bluestone Journal
The Dingledine Legacy

Agness Stribling (above), later known as "Mama Ding," married Raymond Sr. (below) to start the Dingledine dynasty.

Egalitarian institutions aren't supposed to develop dynasties, but sometimes they rise unbidden. So rose the Dingledine Dynasty from an unheralded beginning in 1913.

That is the year Agness Stribling of Petersburg - not yet a Dingledine - enrolled in Harrisonburg Normal School, and Raymond C. Dingledine, a University of Virginia student, started teaching Normal School summer sessions in mathematics.

Whether sparks flew that first year is unrecorded, but by the time the part-time instructor had become a professor in 1916, he certainly knew Agness' name. Young Miss Stribling shone not only academically, but also headed the Honor Council and then became president of the first Student Government Association.

By 1917, she was the youngest faculty member at the Harrisonburg Normal School. Forty years later the affectionately called "Mama Ding" remembered, "One of the other professors and I used to meet students coming in on the 10 o'clock train." The professor was Raymond C. Dingledine. "We were married in February of 1918."

The young couple's home quickly became one of the most popular gathering places around campus for both professors and students. She recounted, "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."

And the Dingledine sons and daughters grew up imbued with the Duke spirit, each in turn a mascot of one of the classes. Daughters Jane (Hueston) and Agness (Chamberlain) graduated from Madison, and Jane served as president of the student body. William, meanwhile, went to medical school and became a doctor.

Like his dad, Raymond Jr. attended U.Va. Then he returned to teach at Madison after World War II military service and a year teaching at Auburn University. Raymond Sr. had died in 1941. The widowed Agness had hosted at Massanetta Springs during the war years and taught weekday religious education. When her son joined the Madison faculty, she also returned to campus as alumnae secretary for the college and housemother-adviser for Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. Dingledine Hall is named in her honor.

Commissioned to write a history of the school, the junior Raymond published Madison College: The First Fifty Years, 1908-1958. In it, the description of his father as a history teacher might have served as his own: "His calm appraisal of events and ever-present sense of humor brought understanding and learning to the classroom. His own character and way of life were a constant lesson in good citizenship. On the campus he was a force for good whose common sense and personal integrity made him a valued friend and adviser."

And like his dad, Raymond junior filled civic responsibilities off campus. At his death in 1990, he had served 18 years on the Harrisonburg City Council, seven of them as vice mayor. (His father had been both council member and mayor too.) He was also an elder of the First Presbyterian Church and member of the Kiwanis club. His death, however, didn't end the Dingledine legacy to school and community. Wife Emily finished out Raymond's council term and was then elected to terms of her own. Now in 1997, she continues the tradition of ties to the school through participation in social events and committee assignments. Son Raymond III, now superintendent of Greene County (Va.) schools, earned his M.A. from JMU.

Raymond Jr. followed his father to become head of the history department.

The family heritage that began in early classrooms and influenced generations of students and faculty members also extends into the fiscal realm. In 1919, the newly wed first Dingledine couple established an annual award of $10 for the finest senior essay. Ten dollars was a large award at a time public school teachers drew about $40 a month and professors earned double that. The Agness S. Dingledine Memorial Scholarship continues to honor "Mama Ding."

At the time of her son's retirement in 1984, friends of the history department established the Raymond C. Dingledine Scholarship in his honor. Family members continue to contribute to the scholarship, which offers a yearly recognition plus financial assistance to the junior history major with the highest grade point average.

Michael Galgano, who succeeded Dingledine as history department head, said "Raymond's legacy is everywhere in this department. The department he built and nurtured over the years is his greatest monument. We continue his work and hope only to do so with as much intelligence, gentleness and grace as he did."

One of the finest tributes after Dingledine's death came from history professor Caroline Marshall, who had joined the faculty in 1965 but had taken classes from him earlier. She praised the wit and warmth of his teaching and then his leadership: "He treated us all [department members] with a sort of fatherly kindness that I don't think you find often. I took it for granted that if I had a difficulty, it was perfectly all right to rush in and tell him about it. And he never gave the appearance of being in a hurry.

"I became more self-sufficient through him. Not many people would take the time to help you grow up. He had an extraordinary ability to bring out the best in us - it's the humane, generous part of his personality that's a difficult attribute to describe." Similar to the Virginia gentlemen he taught about, she said, "He had humor, grace, dignity and a great sense of doing the honorable thing."

That legacy continues through the students he influenced who now head classrooms of their own and model themselves after "Professor Ding." And it continues with scholarship recipients who never knew him but carry through his dreams.

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