North Post Dedication - Saunders Fields
GENERAL J. H. BINFORD PEAY, III
Remarks at Dedication of Saunders Fields – Military Leadership and Field Training Grounds
9 May 2012
Mrs. Brown; Mr. & Mrs. Slater; Mr. & Mrs. Rainey; special friends and guests of Mrs. Brown; Mr. Danny Walker of Clark-Nexsen; Mr. Richard Webb and Mr. Jerry DeVault of Branch and Associates; General Schneiter; General & Mrs. Green; the VMI Construction Team; VMI Coaches; VMI Foundation Leadership and the Institute Planning Committee; ladies and gentlemen. A very warm welcome to all of you. We are gathered here to honor the memory of a prominent alumnus of the Class of 1906, Edmund Archer Saunders, III, and to dedicate “Saunders Fields,” ----made possible largely through the generosity of his daughter, Ann Lee Saunders Brown, and her late sister, Jane Quinn Saunders.
If Mr. Saunders were here today, I believe he would be smiling. Not only because these facilities support athletic activities that he enjoyed as a cadet and for years thereafter, but because it is the location of an incident chronicled in his write-up in the 1906 BOMB. It was here, along the old C&O railroad tracks that once ran through this area, that he was caught by a local lady with a purloined chicken hidden under his blouse! Perhaps that event led the BOMB editors to predict that Cadet Saunders would greatly succeed in business…and he did.
Mr. Saunders eventually moved from his farm in Charles City County to Richmond, VA, where he entered the insurance business, becoming the Treasurer, Vice-President, and then President of the Atlantic Life Insurance Company, and later a member of its Board of Directors. He served as a Director of the First National Bank, the Old Dominion Trust Company, Director and Vice President of the Broad Street Bank, and was Director of the First and Merchants’ National Bank when he died in 1944 at the young age of 57.
As a cadet, he played baseball, tennis, served as advertising editor of the BOMB, was on the Cotillion Club committee, and was one of the marshals of the Final German Figure. A private in Company “B,” Cadet Saunders graduated in a class of 68 members with a degree in electrical engineering and, at finals, was selected as the Valedictorian of his class.
In 1913, Mr. Saunders married Miss Janie L. Quinn, of Lynchburg. Their daughter, Ann Lee Saunders Brown, graduated from the Collegiate School and was inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame in 2006. She recalls many trips with her Father to VMI to watch the “Corps on Parade”, attend football games, and witness graduation ceremonies. In 1959, she married Mr. Charles Lee Brown, who rose through leadership and management positions at AT&T to the presidency of that corporation in 1977, succeeding VMI alumnus John D. Debutts, and became Chairman of the Board in 1979. Mr. Brown died in 2003.
In 2004, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation presented the Churchill Bell, its highest honor, to Charles and Ann Brown, for institutional leadership, commitment to education, and generosity in the cause of freedom. Mrs. Brown was the honorary co-chair of the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences campaign. And, in support of VMI, Mrs. Brown has endowed the “E. A. Saunders III 1906 Military and Leadership Field Training Grounds,” the “Edmund A. Saunders Scholarship,” and the “John D. Debutts 1936 Fund.”
This most recent gift by Mrs. Brown allowed for the final completion of the Phase I North Post facilities, including artificial turf and sports lighting on Drill Field No. 2; bermuda grass fields on Drill Fields 1 and 3; four tennis courts; a new entry gate; numerous “state of the art” difficult confidence course obstacles; a pedestrian bridge over Woods Creek; a new road --- Saunders Drive; and many other improvements that comprise this transformational project.
The North Post Military and Leadership Field Training Grounds provides the Corps of Cadets very different facilities for military training that support: the important Rat Challenge activities every Tuesday and Thursday in the fall; cadre and Rat physical instruction; club sports; NCAA practice, and drill competition and practice. There is also a fully baffled rifle range building, supporting an enhanced Corps marksmanship program, a high water-entry platform on the Maury River Cliffs, a 48 car parking lot, restrooms, and a very sophisticated storm water management system.
The contractor for this impressive complex was Branch & Associates, of Roanoke. The project was designed by Clark-Nexsen, with assistance from Draper Aden Associates. Final construction costs for Phases I and II will be $21 million. Phase II will see the addition of a large maintenance facility to support North Post and these fields and a leadership reaction course. The construction has seen: the addition of a .9 miles of trails supporting obstacle courses with 4 different “levels of difficulty”; .63 miles of relocation of Woods Creek Trail heavily used by the community; and, 153 steps…almost vertical to the Maury River leap area. The firing range has 80 foot clear span widths on each side, 736 steel baffles, and a bullet trap that captures 80,000 rounds before cleaning is required. The three drill fields comprise 49,640 square feet of walls that reach 34 feet at its tallest point; and, 55,850 individual blocks were set by hand with each weighing 90 pounds. The 3 drill fields comprise 6 acres of grass and synthetic turf. Several of us who live on the hill to our rear witnessed massive construction vehicles moving 100,000 cubic yards of earth and rock made possible by the blasting of 28,000 cubic yards to remove the rock portions. Despite the two years of considerable disruption of traffic and inconvenience…dirt, dust, and noise…, it clearly has been so worthwhile. This project will truly serve the Corps of Cadets and the entire VMI community, as well as Lexington townspeople who run along the Woods Creek Trail, for many years to come. I think you will agree, that this wonderful gift has also “significantly” improved the appearance of the area known affectionately by cadets as “The Nile.”
I now ask Mrs. Brown and Mr. Slater, former President of the VMI Board of Visitors to come forward to cut the ribbon “Opening Jordan’s Point Gate”…followed by the Plaque Unveiling.
Mrs. Brown, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s dedicatory ceremony. I want to invite our guests now to tour the North Post and Saunders Fields to see for yourself these outstanding facilities and to appreciate how much they will add to the training and enjoyment of present and future members of the Corps of Cadets.
Thank you for coming today to honor and thank Mrs. Brown…and to witness this dedication.