Tuesday, April 18, 2017
R-MA kicked off its 125th Anniversary with a gala, Celebrating Knowledge, Leadership and Character, held at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Virginia, on Saturday, April 8th. There were 180 guests in attendance and the night was a smashing success. Many of these guests were alumni and friends of the Academy who came out to show their support and to celebrate R-MA’s history.
“Through the generosity of many donors to the Gala effort, R-MA has created a 125th Anniversary Scholarship which will be awarded to a deserving R-MA cadet each year,” noted R-MA President, Brigadier General David C. Wesley, USAF, Retired. “More importantly, this endowed 125th Anniversary Scholarship is a legacy we leave for deserving cadets for the next 125 years and beyond.”
The evening began with a cocktail hour where guests caught up with old friends while making new ones. Some reminisced of the past, others talked about the present, but they all looked forward to the future. Once cocktail hour concluded, guests were brought to the main ballroom. They entered through the sabre arch, presented by R-MA cadets, which set the tone for the grand evening.
Wesley initiated the event by honoring the top-five donors in R-MA’s 125-year history. These champions of the Yellow Jacket community include George Mathias ’54, Stanley Fulton ’49, Harlan Crow ’68, the late Arthur Fulton ’49, and the final donor wished to remain anonymous. General Wesley paid homage to each one of these Yellow Jackets for giving back to their beloved academy without a thought of reciprocation.
After honoring the donors, the guests were treated to an amazing story of grit and perseverance. Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne addressed the crowd as he stood on two prosthetic legs and gestured with one prosthetic arm. Mills lost all four of his limbs to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while serving a tour overseas. He is one of five people from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive such an injury.
Mills explained that coping with the accident at first was extremely difficult, but he still had to be the best man he possibly could for his family. If he were to quit on himself, then he would be quitting on his family, and he quickly decided that was not an option.
Despite the severity of his injury and misfortune, he was able to lighten the mood for the crowd by making them laugh. His wit and humor about his situation is incomparable. He admitted to how worried he was that his daughter would be terrified of him due to his injuries. Then, with that incomparable humor, he explained that Chloe still loved him and wanted to play with him. He figured he probably looked like every teddy bear Chloe ever had, with his short limbs and big body. The crowd roared with laughter, but more importantly, with admiration and gratitude for Travis’ spirit and wonderful attitude toward life.
Colonel Frank Link, USAF, Retired and Commandant of cadets at R-MA said, "It was an honor to have Travis Mills as our guest speaker for the gala. His determination to move forward despite the adversity he has faced is the kind of attitude we strive to instill in our cadets at the Academy. He helped remind us that it's not the situation that defines our character, it's how we respond."
Once Travis concluded his speech, the band took the stage. Everybody took advantage of the dance floor and brought their boogie shoes with them. As people moved to the music, Travis met with anyone who sought the pleasure of his company. They shook hands, took pictures, and engaged in light-hearted conversation with a truly inspirational man. Others raced to the snack bar in pursuit of The Apple House’s famous Apple Butter Cinnamon Donuts.
The evening could not have been accomplished without the help and guidance of many amazing people. One in particular was Donna Bogart P ’03, ‘07, who served as chair of the gala. “Once I stepped foot on ‘The Hill’ 17 years ago as a parent, I knew R-MA was a special place,” Bogart said. “I have seen first-hand the successful leaders that R-MA produces. That is why I chaired this once-in-a-lifetime anniversary gala. The Academy has a rich history and we were committed to commemorating and recognizing that history. I believe this event did just that.”
Wesley praised Mrs. Bogart for her efforts and said, “Though it was a dream for us, this Gala is a success because Donna Bogart is not a dreamer…she’s a doer!”
Former R-MA President Major General Henry M. Hobgood, USAF, Retired, commented, “The 125th Gala was a wonderful tribute to the proud heritage of Randolph-Macon Academy, its dedicated faculty, staff and students.”