Founders Day presentation honors alumni achievements

This year marks 60 years of education by Virginia Wesleyan University. In the sixth annual Founder’s Day event on Sept. 9 held in the Joan and Macon Brock Theatre of the Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, the institution celebrated its alumni by highlighting their service since graduating. 

President Miller expressed his appreciation for the “return of seeing and feeling the emotions” in the recipients, something that was missed during the seasons of social distancing and online events.

President Miller then introduced the keynote speaker, whose “accomplishments are rooted in service for a greater good,” something he hopes all Marlins aspire to replicate. Gary D. Bonnewell, who graduated from Virginia Wesleyan University in 1979, has been a longtime member of the Board of Trustees for the school. So far, he has been the only alumnus to serve as the Board Chair.

In his professional life, Bonnewell holds the position of senior vice president and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley and has achieved the firm’s Family Wealth Director Designation.

Bonnewell’s speech was a reminder that the opportunity to experience knowledge is not open to every student. Here students can find a “true education,” something that is not guaranteed everywhere. He advises students to be SMART, an acronym that encourages students to serve others, gain a mentor, ask questions, roar and be confident and practice time management. These are the skills that Bonnewell was grateful for during his years at VWU and wants current and future students to have as well.

As the Alumni Council Chair, Alisa W. Crider, a graduate from 2010, was asked to present two of the three awards of the ceremony. The first Alumni Award presented was given to Tiffany Boyle, a graduate from 2014, who received the Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award.

Boyle is the Commissioner of the Revenue for the city of Newport News. She oversees a budget of $2.5 million. Boyle has an associate’s degree from Thomas Nelson Community College, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Virginia Wesleyan, and a master’s degree in management from the University of Maryland’s Global Campus. Aside from a background in the private and public sector, Boyle is involved in Access Virginia, Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, Virginia Commissioner of the Revenue Political Action Committee (Treasurer), Hampton Roads Commissioner of the Revenue Association (Chair) and the VWU President’s Leadership Council.

The Alumni Service Award was then presented to Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, who graduated from Virginia Wesleyan in 1983 with a degree in English. She now is a director of the Hampton University Museum and Archives, after holding previous positions as curator of the Penn Center in South Carolina and as museum assistant at the War Memorial Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Thaxton-Ward is a lecturer, author, educator, fundraiser and inspiration. Her speech also focused on her immense gratitude for the people who helped her along the way and presented her with the honor.

The final award featured at the event, the Distinguished Alumnus Award, was given to William S. Shelhorse. Since graduating in 1970, the inaugural year of Virginia Wesleyan, Shelhorse has served on the Board of Trustees for the school and now holds the position of Trustee Emeritus. His generous commitment to the school has brought the students the 400-meter track and field complex named in memory of William’s sister, Betty S. Rogers. Additionally, the road leading to the center is named Shelhorse Lane in his honor.

President Miller announced that the ponds and lawn of DeFord Manor will be dedicated to Shelhorse and that a new scoreboard for the track and field center will also be funded by Shelhorse.

By Rhian Tramontana