Renaissance man

231641 Eddie Bumbaugh Portraits-1006In 1965, Harrisonburg, Va., for a small city, was a shopper’s paradise. The downtown featured large department stores, druggists, gift shops, jewelry stores, music shops, stationery stores, shoe stores, men’s clothing stores and dress shops, furniture stores, bookstores and three “five-and-dimes.” There were counters for lunching and movie theaters for entertainment — two of them, in fact. And much of the business done throughout the entire county was conducted in downtown Harrisonburg. It was a one-stop shopping venue.

All that changed in the 1970s when businesses began moving away from downtown. Many relocated to the newly-built Valley Mall, east of the city. It was part of a nationwide trend that hit Harrisonburg hard.

Leggett’s department store left. JC Penney left. The “five and dimes” and department stores closed or were repurposed. What had been a vital downtown began to see vacant store fronts and — of greatest concern — fewer people. The mall area was draining the life out of downtown.

Eddie Bumbaugh (’73) who had grown up in the area watched the decline. “My father owned a Buick dealership and I worked summers washing and reconditioning cars,” he says. He later earned his masters in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, but home was always here in the valley.

In 2003, realizing not only the potential but the possibility of a revitalized downtown, Eddie and a group of citizens formed the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. He became the executive director.

“When the city decided that Eddie Bumbaugh was the person to lead the revitalization of downtown, it was the wisest decision that could have been made. Eddie is the guiding light,” Glenda Rooney, city resident and former assistant to the provost of academic affairs at JMU, says. “Eddie’s unceasing energy and strong passion for revitalizing Harrisonburg is contagious….It could not have been done without his leadership.”

In well planned and strategic moves, Eddie and HDR worked step-by-step to resuscitate Harrisonburg’s downtown. In the decade that followed, they turned a dying downtown into a vibrant urban center.

One of the biggest differences between the Harrisonburg of the 1970s and today’s Harrisonburg is people — who live there, shop there and meet there once again. According to the Jan/Feb 2013 MainStreetNow magazine, the Journal of the National Trust Main Street Center, the city had 150 houses units in 2003; today that number exceeds 500.

“By having more people living downtown, we could create a strong base for retail,” Eddie told MainStreet Now, which featured Harrisonburg’s renewal as a case study for developing a vital urban downtown. (To read the entire article, including the case study, click on the embedded link above; the case study begins on page 8.)

Eddie’s leadership was critical. Lisa Ha (’04,’10M), assistant director of marketing at JMU and former program manager for HDR, says: “People know him for his genuine commitment to our community and for the unassuming way he has been been bringing people together for the common good of Harrisonburg for more than 30 years. Everybody knows Eddie.”

A decade after it began, HDR’s success is apparent. Today’s city has a thriving and attractive downtown where success has followed success. The Explore More Discovery Museum (another grassroots effort), the public library, the Quilt Museum, art and music venues, restaurants, microbreweries, and a successful community theater all drive the new life of downtown Harrisonburg, as do events like Taste of Downtown, cycling events, film series, MACRoCk, Valley Fourth and First Fridays.

Significant credit goes to Eddie Bumbaugh’s leadership, which is why we’ll soon add him to our Be the Change website. Eddie defines what it means to be an enlightened and engaged citizen. He has been an agent of change in Harrisonburg — which is no longer the city of the 1960s and 70s.

It is  so much better.

To learn more about the turnaround in Harrisonburg’s fortunes, read about Barry Kelley and Andrew Forward and their work to bring people back into the city.


When the dust briefly settles

Kevin Melton (’04) and General Stanley McChrystal

Few spots on earth do not have an active or brewing conflict. In some areas like Afghanistan where conflict flames up often and devastates communities. Restoring those communities is not easy, but when the dust briefly settles, there are special individuals who ply their talents to help communities rebuild.

One of those is Kevin Melton (’04).

Shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan, the armored vehicle he was riding in hit a roadside bomb and exploded. He survived though two others did not.

“An event like that changes your life,” he says.

Still, Melton stayed in the country for more than two years to work as a civilian, knowing full well the consequences of conflict. During his time there, he helped strengthen communities and governments in order to rebuild a country living with war.

The international affairs major and Rotary Peace Fellow also studied peace and conflict resolution at Australia’s University of Queensland. He understands that the old models for rebuilding and conflict resolution aren’t necessarily the most effective today. “We’ve been using the same tools for decades — post World Wars, post Cold War,” Melton says. Today, he takes a social science view, combining social science and conflict resolution.

For his work to restore areas of the world torn by war and conflict, we will soon add Kevin Melton to our growing list of individuals who are Being the Change throughout the world.

To learn more about Kevin, read Kelley Freund’s (’07) story at

Two who are building change

Building for a downtown Renaissance

by Tyler McAvoy (’12)

Prior to the construction of the Valley Mall in 1977, downtown Harrisonburg was the place to be. Shops and large department stores lined Main Street and Court Square. Restaurants and businesses thrived, and a theater, complete with a huge lighted marque, was always showing the latest and greatest blockbuster hits.  Yet when the mall was built, things began to change rapidly, and businesses began to migrate out of downtown. When the businesses left, the people began to leave too, and throughout the 80’s and 90’s downtown Harrisonburg was only a memory of what it once was.

Barry Kelley ('83) and Andrew Forward ('86) (photo by Mike Miriello)

Yet, things have started to change.

A slew of new restaurants have opened up in recent years, each offering a different style of food.  Coffee shops and bars now stay open late and some provide  floor space where customers can cut a rug. Three different types of museums have opened their doors, featuring the world of local artists and craftsmen. A new theater regularly shows indie and art-house films to challenge your normal film-going conventions. Yearly holiday events attract thousands to Court Square, and there’s a bigger demand for housing in Downtown than there has been in years.

This change isn’t accidental, or some matter of luck. Much comes from the hard work of an organization of local businessmen and professionals who have banded together to restore downtown to its former glory. Focusing on attracting businesses to downtown, the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance brainstormed the idea of getting parts of downtown designated “historical districts” meaning that whoever builds or develops a property in these places can get a federal tax credit, as a means to attract developers to the area. And it has worked. Tax breaks piqued the interest of more then one developer, including Barry Kelley (’83) and Andrew Forward (’86). Both members of HDR, Kelley and Forward have utilized this to their advantage. And the result has been to downtown Harrisonburg’s advantage.

Urban Exchange, part of Harrisonburg's future

Kelley and Forward have partnered together on several high profile projects, such as City Exchange and Urban Exchange, which have fundamentally changed the culture of Harrisonburg.  City Exchange, located in an old abandoned seed mill, is now a modern complex featuring a restaurant and fashionable flats, while still retaining the history of the building. For Urban Exchange, Kelley and Forward took an empty parking lot and turned it into a huge multi-level apartment building, complete with underground parking and outlets for electric cars, adding a sense of definition to Harrisonburg’s generally vague architectural design.

Future projects are in the pipeline too, including turning an old ice factory into a multi-use building with a focus on creating space for artists and designers. Kelley and Forward have been instrumental in Harrisonburg’s revitalization and, as ideas emerge, will continue to develop Harrisonburg into a cultural and societal center.

For the contributions these two JMU alumni have made to the rebirth of downtown Harrisonburg, the late John Noftsinger nominated them last year for Be the Change. He was right; It’s a good fit. So soon we’ll be adding Barry Kelley and Andrew Forward to our Be the Change website.

We will also keep track of what’s next for these two builders of change.

To read more about Urban Exchange, visit their website at

A Freund with batwings

We have a new colleague in JMU communications whom we’d like to introduce. Kelley Freund (pronounced “friend”) earned a degree from the School of Media Arts and Design, along with a minor in creative writing. Today, she’s guest blogging about changes she sees on campus and what it’s like coming “home” to JMU.

Back home

Kelley Freund, with batwings

by Kelley Freund (’07)

Less than two weeks ago, I shoved all my stuff in a U-Haul and made the five-hour move from New Jersey to Virginia to become assistant editor of JMU’s Madison magazine. Before I left my brother asked me, “Are you scared?”

Maybe I should’ve been. I was moving into a house with a creepy basement and an ugly pink-tiled bathroom. I would be hours from my family. I only had one friend in the Harrisonburg area.

But it wasn’t like I was moving to some strange place. JMU was my home from 2002-2007.  (Yes, much to my parents’ dismay, I was on the five-year plan.) It was on this campus that I met the most amazing people, learned the most invaluable things, had the most wonderful opportunities presented to me. It was on this campus that I grew into the person I wanted to be.

What could be scary about a place like that?

My first day back in the ‘Burg, I took a break from my unpacking to walk around campus and found myself noticing some of the same things I did as a student. Wow, the Quad is beautiful … that building is where I had my favorite class … where the heck are all the men?

And the more I walked, the more I noticed something about the average JMU undergrad: They look like they are 12.

Ok, they really don’t. What had happened was I had gotten older. I was no longer a student. My brother’s words echoed in my head. Are you scared? (Thanks, bro.) Life as a JMU student was amazing. But what did my future hold as a JMU-staffer?

Of course there were important questions I had, like can I still workout at UREC and eat in D-Hall? And seriously, where the heck are all the men?

And then there were the really, really important questions. Would I be good at this? Can I handle it? What would my colleagues be like? Would they appreciate the massive bat headband I planned to wear on Halloween? Or would they think it inappropriate for an office?

My apprehension rose within my first couple days as I realized JMU was not how I left it. Why are there no trays in D-Hall and how do they expect me to carry my four plates of food? What do you mean I can’t drive through campus?

My school had changed and I wasn’t sure I liked it.

Then I went to the men’s soccer game. As I walked into the stadium, I felt like a high school freshman on her first day, scanning the cafeteria for a familiar face. I looked up into the bleachers. Should I sit with the students? Are they going to ask each other, “Who’s this old lady sitting next to us?”

But by the second half I had struck up a conversation with a JMU parent and some JMU senior was sharing her fries with me. And that’s when I discovered it doesn’t matter whether you’re a faculty or staff member, a student or a parent. We’re all Dukes.

So this blog is supposed to be about change, right? Little things are different, but I’m happy to say that the best things about JMU have NOT changed. I can go somewhere, like a soccer game, not knowing anyone, and leave having made a friend. Everyone still holds the door open for the people behind them. I still get a cool JAC card that gets me into UREC. Just like I was surrounded by awesome people as a student, I’m surrounded by awesome people in my new office, and yes, they loved my bat headband.

It’s these “JMU fundamentals” that fosters an environment that inspires people to go out, conquer the world and take from life what they want. Of course I can do this job and whatever it entails—JMU prepared me for it.

Little things may have changed since I was a student, but that’s ok; it’s a new chapter to my JMU story. The Quad, those bluestone buildings will soon hold new memories for me. They’ve eradicated the D-Hall tray, but no matter what JMU will always be what JMU has always been—the greatest place in the world.

It’s good to be back home.

Changing Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg was named for Thomas Harrison (17...

Image via Wikipedia

New nominees breathing life into downtown

Recently,  John Noftsinger (’85), vice provost of research and public service at JMU, nominated two alumni, Barry Kelley (’83) and Andrew Forward (’86). These two have been making huge changes in the culture of downtown Harrisonburg, and are vitally important to the city’s renaissance. Here’s what Noftsinger has to say about Barry Kelley and Andrew Forward.

Recognizing the need for unique living spaces in downtown Harrisonburg, Barry Kelley and Andrew Forward seized the opportunity to renovate an existing structure, the Wetsel Seed Co. building into City Exchange, a mixed use property with loft apartments and a restaurant. Projects like this maintain the historic character of the Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District and contribute to environmental stewardship by re-using materials and not contributing to landfills when demolition takes place.

Barry and Andrew then targeted an abandoned used car lot in the heart of downtown Harrisonburg for a much larger housing vision called Urban Exchange.  Urban Exchange provides extensive living options for those seeking a downtown lifestyle, and is a model of green building, evidenced by two underground parking levels to minimize parking sprawl, energy efficient windows, appliances and a/c, recycling chutes and plug ins for electric vehicles.

These two have embodied Be the Change right here in Harrisonburg, and in doing so have changed the face of the community for the better, along with the skyline.

In addition to these nominations, Lisa Ha (’04, ’10M), marketing program coordinator for JMU, nominated Eddie Bumbaugh (’73), executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

Here’s what Lisa has to say : A JMU grad and lifelong area resident, Eddie has been making a difference in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for more than three decades. Since 2004, he has served as Executive Director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, a non-profit organization working to revitalize downtown Harrisonburg into a vital, prosperous city center.

Many agree with Lisa’s assessment, including Glenda Rooney, now retired as assistant to the provost for academic affairs, who says, “When the City of Harrisonburg decided that Eddie Bumbaugh was the person to lead the revitalization of downtown, it was the wisest decision that could have been made.  Eddie is the guiding light for taking Harrisonburg back to the energetic city that it once was.”

If you’re an alum of JMU and haven’t been back to Harrisonburg for a while, you’re in for a treat. Thanks to these nominees and others including Be the Changer Lisa Shull, executive director of Harrisonburg Children’s Museum, Downtown Harrisonburg is a thriving and exciting place to live — and a great destination.

— Tyler McAvoy (’12), intern, JMU’s Be the Change office.

For more about the new downtown Harrisonburg, check out this link:

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