Roanoke College

George Kegley '49 constantly helps the community

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  • George Kegley '49 constantly helps the community

  • 12/19/08
  • George Kegley '49 has been described by contemporaries as a "quiet, unassuming giant of a man … very dedicated … and a child of God." A journalist for The Roanoke Times for 44 years, Kegley has made a significant and lasting impact on his community during and after his retirement. While at the newspaper, he was first a general assignment reporter and then, for the latter half of his career, a business writer.

    Like then, Kegley still doesn't differentiate between the influential and those who need a hand up, says Pastor Chip Gunsten, who is assistant to the Rev. James F. Mauney, bishop of the Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church.

    "I had an opportunity to walk the capitol in Richmond with (Kegley)," recalls Gunsten of a church event at the General Assembly. "What struck me was that he is respected by the important people in our culture, but he also gives the same respect and honor to whom our culture might say are the least. They are all people of equal status for George."

    One of his many long community associations has been with the Red Cross. Kegley became a blood donor in 1950 after writing an article about the opening of the local Red Cross center. Since then, he has donated 57 gallons, one pint at a time. Although Kegley has been retired since 1993, he has yet to "sit on the porch and read," he says.

    "I haven't gotten there yet," he says, chuckling. "I tell people sometimes that volunteerism is like quicksand - the more you do, the more involved you get with the people you are working with, and the more interested you are. Halfway there, I realize I don't have to do it, but 98 percent of it I like."

    His volunteerism

    The English major worked on the Fort Knox post newspaper, Inside the Turret, from 1951-53 during the Korean War. Other than that, he's had for his entire life just one job - for pay. But his volunteerism is extensive. Over the years, he has served board memberships with the Rescue Mission, Pastoral Counseling Center, Western Virginia Land Trust, the Brandon Oaks Advisory Board and more. Currently, he edits the Journal of the Historical Society (he has worked for the Historical Society of Western Virginia for more than 30 years), as well as the monthly Virginia Lutheran (since 1960) and the quarterly insert for The Lutheran national magazine.

    He also rounds up inner city children each summer, outfits them with camping supplies such as flashlights, bug spray and sleeping bags, and takes them to a week-long camp near Luray, Va. Likewise, he has worked with refugees for a long time, first with Vietnamese, then Hungarians and Afghans, and now a Liberian family.

    "I've done all kinds of things. Once at 4 a.m. on a Monday morning, a Vietnamese man, frozen stiff, called me to say his furnace had gone out. I went over to his house and commiserated with him until the gas company opened. They come to this country with the clothes on their backs and nothing much else," he explains.

    Kathryn Buchanan, the College's assistant to the president for church relations, says Kegley is very committed to making the world a better place. For instance, the Southwest Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank is better off with Kegley in its midst. Buchanan says for many, many years he's been a "key player in the food pantry for St. Mark's Lutheran Church. George has quietly come, picked stuff up, and got things to the right place for the right people. He doesn't look for any recognition."

    Inspired by Roanoke College

    Kegley credits influence from his mother, whom he describes as "a farmer's wife from Wythe County and a very compassionate person. I may have picked up some from her - I like to help others." His grandfather, a minister, served on Roanoke College's first Board of Trustees when the College began in 1842. He, an uncle and Kegley all were presented honorary degrees from the College over the years. His father and "about half a dozen uncles" also attended the school. But even without those familial ties, Kegley feels very loyal to his alma mater, for which he is an Associate and has shown continual support. The College, he says, helped wake up an innocent farm lad who had never seen the campus before stepping onto it for his first days of class.

    There were about 315 students when he first started, he says. "We knew everybody; we were a close-knit family," he says. "My roommate was from Flushing, New York - talk about culture shock! We sometimes spoke the same language, but not often, and we both learned a bit from each other." Kegley, like the majority of students back then, didn't have a car, so he would hitchhike home in a coat and tie. "I grew up on a farm and went to a one-room country school, then rode a bus to high school, an hour each way. The campus was my first look at the real world. I didn't know what was beyond the first mountain," he says.

    But he loved those mountains and does to this day. He and his wife, Louise, have donated a 116-acre conservation easement to the City of Roanoke, which he says may be the first and only easement in the City. "We don't want to pave the whole world," he says, explaining that an easement, filed with the court, will ensure that those acres will still be around 1,000 years from today. He also does a lot for the Western Virginia Land Trust, helping with its newsletter and still serving on the board. In addition, he is chairman of the Endangered Sites committee for the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation.

    His love for local history is evident. While he majored in English, he sometimes wishes it had been history, which has an irresistible attraction to him. He leads tours for the Historical Society, finds speakers and has now designed overnight trips to Jamestown, Winchester and Fredericksburg. In his "retirement" he has traveled to a half a dozen countries, including Russia, China and some in Africa. When he got out of the Army in 1953, he went over to Germany to visit some friends, traveled around and stayed on the Continent for 10 weeks - for $1,500. "Has the world ever changed," he reminisces. "There are only a few traditions left."

    But one of those traditions he helps perpetuate - volunteerism. It is through that, he says, that one can realize how the other half lives. "I have found out a heck of a lot about them, and I feel their pain and poverty,'' says Kegley. Gunsten sees this in Kegley's work. "Caring for people is just part of his nature, not something he plans to do or thinks about. It's just who he is and what he does," says Gunsten.