An honor for Elizabeth’s grandfather

When Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver decided to endow a scholarship in her grandfather’s memory, it was to honor a man Elizabeth loved and admired. It was also a way to keep alive the memory of a man whose impact on Madison began on the opening day of classes in 1909 and continues today. Earlier this fall, I sat down with the Seavers to learn more about the man described by many as “the historian of the Shenandoah Valley.”

A grandfather’s legacy

L-R: Katrina Seaver ('17), Charles Seaver, President Alger, Elizabeth Seaver ('56), Jacqueline Herrick ('17). In addition to hosting the game, President Alger inducted Elizabeth into the Bluestone Society during the game.

L-R: Katrina Seaver (’17), Charles Seaver, President Alger, Elizabeth Seaver (’56), Jacqueline Herrick (’17). In addition to hosting the game, President Alger inducted Elizabeth into the Bluestone Society during the game.

It’s a beautiful, crisp, blue-sky Sunday morning in September. Campus is quiet and sleepy — just waking after Saturday’s football victory. Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver, guests of President and Mrs. Alger, had watched the game with their granddaughters, Jacqueline Herrick (’17) and Katrina Seaver (’17).

For Elizabeth, visiting with her granddaughters must have felt a bit like déjà vu. While she was a student, studying toward a degree in mathematics, Elizabeth often walked the few blocks off campus to Weaver Avenue to visit with her own grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John W. Wayland.

Dr. Wayland had been a member of the first faculty of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg and a significant player among the intrepid scholars who created the blueprint for what became Elizabeth’s Madison College — and eventually become James Madison University.

Although Dr. Wayland had retired by the time Elizabeth enrolled at Madison College, he was an inspiring and welcoming figure to her.

“I would go visit. Sometimes I’d take a friend,” Elizabeth remembers. “He had a little book of unbound poetry….He would give one to my friends. I’d ask him to autograph it.”

Elizabeth remembers her grandfather as a modest man, who was highly disciplined and dedicated to his work. He was humble and “very down to earth,” she says. “I enjoyed being around him. You’d never have known he had done all that he had done.”

By the time Elizabeth visited him on Weaver Ave., Dr. Wayland was renowned throughout the valley. In fact, he was widely regarded as the historian of the Shenandoah Valley. Today, up and down the valley, his name and the impact of his scholarship are still visible. A highway, an elementary school, a building on JMU’s campus all bear his name.

An accomplished man

Dr. John W. Wayland, circa 1909

Dr. John W. Wayland, circa 1909

Elizabeth’s grandfather — and Katrina and Jacqueline’s great, great grandfather — was born near Mt. Jackson in 1872. He was the son of an accomplished cabinetmaker and a teacher, who educated their youngest son at home until he was 8 years old. It must have been a rich season of learning. John and his parents embarked on cross-country trip that — before the advent of the automobile — took them a full year. Many years later, as an adult, Dr. Wayland would travel widely throughout Europe.

Once he enrolled in school, John Wayland’s life of scholarship and teaching began. At age 18, he taught in a small log school on the western slope of the Massanutten Mountain, beginning a period of 17 years during which he interspersed teaching with his own education. He earned a bachelor of arts from Bridgewater College, taught at a boys’ school in Charlottesville and Bridgewater College, and he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, teaching there briefly as well.

As a doctoral student, he embraced life with enthusiasm — the same kind of enthusiasm he later brought to Harrisonburg. He was a charter member of the University of Virginia’s Raven Society, editor of the Raven Book, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Washington Debating Society. It has been said, one biographer wrote, that he received nearly every academic honor given at the university.

In 1909, he joined the faculty of the brand new school in Harrisonburg — a place with unparalleled opportunities to shape the future.

A new school to build

One need only read Dr. Raymond Dingledine’s history of Madison College* to catch a glimpse of the excitement with which the first faculty embraced the mission of building a school from the ground up. Not surprisingly, it was a season of firsts, and John Wayland was right in the mix.

As a member of that first faculty, he was the first history professor, the first secretary of the faculty, the first to offer a prayer at the first assembly, the first to lead hikes up the Massanutten Mountain, father of the first faculty children — and the first faculty member to own an automobile (a Ford touring car). He drove the first editorial staff of the first Breeze to Mt. Jackson to collect the first copies of the first student-run newspaper.

Dr. Wayland was also instrumental in shaping policies and precedents, working closely with President Julian Burruss. The two 30-somethings and a close-knit faculty carefully considered each step they took — always with an eye on the future and the great responsibility their opportunity presented.

According to Dr. Dingledine (who knew Dr. Wayland and sought him out when he wrote his book), he was “a brilliant young historian,” who was also much loved by his students and his colleagues. It was John Wayland who supported students when they asked for some degree of self-governance, a cornerstone of Madison that remains strong today.

Wayland Hall, built in the 1950s and named for Dr. Wayland, underwent a major renovation in 2010. Today Wayland Hall houses a community of students pursuing the arts.

Wayland Hall, built in the 1950s and named for Dr. Wayland, underwent a major renovation in 2010. Today Wayland Hall houses a community of students pursuing the arts.

Despite his towering intellect and the gravitas of the first faculty’s task to build the new school, Dr. Wayland was not above being — in the vernacular of the day — a “sport.” He was a ready vocalist, often twanging a tuning fork to grab the correct pitch before singing a lesson. He won a Halloween show one year by singing his own biscuit recipe to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” He wrote the first Madison alma mater, “Blue Stone Hill.” He also wrote a song for the Commonwealth that was submitted for the last competition for a state song. And when the whole world celebrated Shakespeare in 1916, Dr. Wayland donned a period costume and joined a parade through the streets of Harrisonburg.

A renaissance man

All this squares with Elizabeth Seaver’s memories of her grandfather. “He didn’t seem interested in materials things,” she says. “His whole life was dedicated to his work, but as intensely as he worked, he always had time for me when I wanted to visit.”

“He was a tall, rawboned man,” remembers Charles, then a Virginia Tech student, who met Dr. Wayland when he began dating Elizabeth. “He impressed me.”

Even when Dr. Wayland retired from teaching in 1939, he continued to study and write.

He was “a renaissance man,” Charles says, marveling at the extent of his knowledge. “…. He was involved in everything — to do that before the age of computers!”

His interests and writings covered a remarkable breadth: art, music, geneology, biography, history, songwriting, poetry, pedagogy, religion, ethics and citizenship, world history, travel, military campaigns, gardening, and American presidents.

Katrina Seaver ('17) grabbed a selfie with President Alger

Katrina Seaver (’17) grabbed a selfie with President Alger

He had two interesting hobbies. He made canes out of wood he collected from historic places, and he collected nicknames. He had a list of thousands.

In a lifetime of work that spanned half of the 20th Century, John Wayland authored 40 books, compiled 21 volumes of personal diaries that he called “every-day books” and helped found the Rockingham Historical Society. He was among those instrumental in founding a memorial at Germanna to honor the first people to settle there during Virginia’s colonial period.

All that — plus inspiring hundreds of students.

To everyone who knew Dr. Wayland, he was a consummate gentleman, a definition he not only lived but wrote. When the Baltimore Sun conducted a contest in 1899 to define a “true gentlemen,” Dr. Wayland’s entry was so strong there was virtually no competition at all. He won. His definition has been published widely and even today, more than a century later, his words still hold sway.

Amazing as his career and impact was, though, to Elizabeth Seaver, Dr. John W. Wayland was a kind grandfather who once gave her a small box of chocolate covered cherries and loaned her a card table that served as her desk for a semester. He also gave his granddaughter a legacy of life and learning and that she now passes on to her own granddaughters.

And through the gift of the Seavers’ generous Wayland Scholarship, Elizabeth’s grandfather’s legacy of scholarship will impact Madison students for generations to come.


*Madison College, The First Fifty Years, 1908-1958, Dr. Raymond C. Dingledine, Jr.

Change that reverberates

George ('79) and Sam ('15) Harrison in front of Keezell Hall. (Photo by Katie Landes, JMU photography services)

George (’79) and Sam (’15) Harrison in front of Keezell Hall on JMU’s campus. (Photo by Katie Landes, JMU photography services)

When Sam Harrison graduates from JMU next year with a degree in computer science and a minor in math, he’ll have his parents to thank, his professors, probably his friends, and one man he’s never met — but if it weren’t for that man there might not be a James Madison University.

And there might not be a Sam Harrison.

The man Sam never met, Sen. George B. Keezell, is legendary in the annals of the university. Determined to have the Commonwealth of Virginia plant a new school in Harrisonburg early in the 20th century, the politically adept senator from Rockingham County plied some legislative maneuvers to persuade the Virginia’s General Assembly to bring a new Normal School to the city. As a result of the senator’s determination, Virginia’s newest Normal School, the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg — now JMU — came to be in 1908.

A grandfatherly figure who towered above most of his contemporaries at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Senator Keezell was “a sincere advocate of education for women,” wrote JMU historian Raymond Dingledine in his book, Madison College: The First Fifty Years. It didn’t hurt that Keezell was also the ranking member of the Committee on Public Institutions and Education and chairman of the Finance Committee. As chairman of yet another special committee, the senator also helped negotiate for the land on which the campus would be built.

In 1958, 17 years after the senator’s death, Madison College celebrated its golden anniversary. At the time, the college presented a tribute to Sen. Keezell, deeming him to be the “father of the institution.”

Sen. George B. Keezell

Sen. George B. Keezell

Born in 1854, George B. Keezell came from a family that valued education, so it’s not hard to understand why bringing a new school to the valley was a top priority for him. According to biographer Lyon Gardiner Tyler in Vol. III of the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography: “He utilized every spare moment to read history and biography, and standard literature of all kinds, and this supplemented the educational training he acquired at a collegiate institute in Baltimore, Maryland.”

Many of the senator’s children and grandchildren would seek higher education as well, including his son Rembrandt who was valedictorian of the class of 1914 at  Virginia Military Institute, and his granddaughters, Rennie Keezell Harrison, a 1945 graduate of the College of William and Mary, and her sister Narice. Narice Keezell Bowman, who lives in Midlothian, Va., is a 1947 education graduate of Madison College. She was, perhaps, the first person close to the senator to benefit directly from her grandfather’s efforts.

The legacy didn’t end there. Senator Keezell’s great-grandsons also graduated from JMU — George Harrison, a 1979 political science graduate, and Bill Harrison, a 1978 history graduate. Bill later earned an M.A. in history from the University of Virginia.  Today, George is a banker in Richmond, Va. Sadly, Bill, a successful real estate professional, died in 2009.

The Keezell Building in downtown Harrisonburg

The Keezell Building in downtown Harrisonburg

The Keezell legacy is significant, especially in Virginia education, and it is built on a penchant for community involvement. George Harrison remembers growing up in Harrisonburg and learning a strong work ethic from his grandmother,  Meta Keezell who owned and managed the Keezell Building in downtown Harrisonburg after her husband Rembrandt returned from service as a Captain in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. Meta Keezell was also active in the American Legion Auxiliary and the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record,* which Senator Keezell owned until 1923 when he sold it to fellow senator Harry F. Byrd Sr, operated out of the Keezell Building from 1907 to 1941. The building still stands on the corner of Newman and Main Steet in the heart of Harrisonburg. It was added to the National Register of Historic Property in 2007.

Interestingly, the newspaper’s link to the early days of the university, is even closer. Not only did the newspaper play an important role in promoting Harrisonburg as the new school’s ideal location, according to Dingledine, the first office of the first president, Julian A. Burruss, was located in the Keezell Building in the offices of the News-Register. In fact, he shared the editor’s office when he first came to town.

And then there is Sam Harrison. The good senator was Sam’s great, great grandfather. So when Sam Harrison graduates next spring as a member of JMU’s Class of 2015, it will mark the fifth generation of Senator Keezell’s family to benefit from the institution he promoted more than a century ago.

For the extended Keezell family, this reverberating change is personal, but for more than 100,000 graduates of JMU — and the next 100,000, yet to enroll — it is an opportunity second to none.

Thanks to George and Sam Harrison and to Daily News-Record editor Peter Yates for their help in gathering information for this story.

*Originally the Rockingham County Record, through mergers and name changes, the paper became the Daily News-Record.
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