A defining moment: Roanoke inaugurates Maxey as president

More than 1600 people gathered in the Bast Center for Maxey's inauguration ceremony

After a season of special events honoring Roanoke College's new president, the actual inauguration of Michael Creed Maxey was just icing on the cake - a big cake.

More than 1,600 people - including 91 delegates from colleges and universities across the country - crowded into the C. Homer Bast Center on October 26 and watched as the presidential medallion was placed on Maxey's shoulders. That moment established the 11th president in the history of the 165-year-old College and created a new beginning for a leader who has been a part of the campus community for 22 years.

Maxey, who had been given the key to the city of Salem the night before, said he "humbly" accepted the presidency and that he is eager to help build on the College's accomplishments.

"I pledge to do all that I can do to polish the precious gem of our aspirations into a brighter, more faceted Roanoke of tomorrow," he said, asking everyone there to help in his quest.

Maxey's appointment pulled together more than just the Board of Trustees, which elected him unanimously in May for his new role. The native of Bassett, Virginia, had already served 17 years in the president's cabinet and worked in departments including admissions, financial aid, planned giving, capital resources and resource development. So well known and appreciated by the campus community, his selection was celebrated this fall with special events ranging from a "bow-tie hike" and Friday on the Quad to a President's Forum, Showcase of the Arts and two formal events - one a gala for Associates and another a President's Ball for faculty and staff.

Homer Hickam, author of The Rocket Boys, was the keynote speaker at the Associates celebration and said before agreeing to come he checked with two cousins, who are recent Roanoke College grads. The writer said Jessica Hickam '03 e-mailed him back right away with, "OMG, Mike Maxey is so cool!"

"I thought OMG might be her sorority, but the response seemed positive," he said with a laugh.

That kind of enthusiasm apparently has spread beyond campus. Salem Mayor Howard Packett, one of the presenters at the inauguration, had recognized Maxey the night before at the College's Illumination Celebration. The mayor called him "a true friend of Salem" when awarding him the city's key. The presidential medallion was bestowed during inauguration by past Presidents Dr. Norman D. Fintel and Dr. David M. Gring. The most previous president, Dr. Sabine U. O'Hara, was unable to attend. After almost three years leading Roanoke, she is now executive director of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars in Washington, D.C., and helps run the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Dr. Kenneth R. Garren '62, president of Lynchburg College and father of three Maroons, had worked as a vice president at Roanoke beside Maxey for years. During the ceremony, he praised Maxey's abilities.

"It is always exciting to see good things happen to good people, and Michael Creed Maxey is so much more than good," he said.

Three faculty members also honored Maxey with original compositions for the event. They included Dr. Joseph L. Blaha of the Roanoke College Wind Ensemble; Dr. Jeffrey R. Sandborg, directing Roanoke College Choir, and English Professor Dr. Melanie M. Almeder, who read a poem she had written. But first, she recited one her mother, a scientist, had drafted for her.

It went: "Roses are red, violets are blue. Michael Maxey is our new president. Yahoo. Yahoo. Yahoo."

Almeder drew even more chuckles with another tribute written by a friend. She read: "Recent research shows that happiness is a byproduct of service. Therefore, Michael Maxey must be a very happy man indeed."

Maxey's longstanding service to the campus community is well known and was recognized repeatedly at the many inaugural events. "Maroon Day," held just two days before inauguration, was devoted to campus service and had Maxey spending his entire day meeting with various student groups. While many campus staffers donated time planting trees and shrubs at the new Kerr Stadium, the president did everything from helping ice cookies for children at a nearby refugee center through Rotaract to discussing the College's "ecological footprint" with students in Earthbound. He even assisted in a student-run bow-tie competition > with those in Honors. (Known for his trademark bow ties, Maxey showed how to knot the ties and after the race was clocked at 24 seconds tying his own.)

The ties were a theme for another event, held October 10 at nearby Sawtooth Ridge. Called the "Bow-tie Hike," a couple dozen nature-loving students, faculty and staffers climbed a trail with the president - and all wore matching T-shirts with an illustration of a bow tie printed on the front.

The inaugural season kicked off in late September with the annual Founder's Day Bonfire, parade and Bittle Birthday Bash. Other events included a lecture on the religion of Jamestown, a Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce "Business After Hours" and an art exhibit with artist-in-residence Steve Keene. During the week of the inauguration, a Showcase of the Arts featured musical and theater tributes by student and faculty performers, including the Kandinsky Trio, Marianne Sandborg, Dr. Gordon Marsh, Dr. Bruce Partin, Dr. Lisa Warren and George Arthur as well as Dr. Joseph Blaha and the jazz ensemble and Dr. Jeffrey Sandborg and the college choir. A President's Forum on Origins and Beginnings also drew academics to presentations moderated by Dr. Paul Hinlicky and led by faculty members Dr. Frank Munley, Dr. Jane Long, Dr. Charles Early and Dr. Wendy Larson-Harris.

Despite the whirlwind of events, Maxey remained smiling and focused on his goals. His message, which produced four standing ovations during the inauguration, encouraged people to view the school philosophically three different ways - through a microscope, a telescope and through their imagination. Citing improvements ranging from significant growth in both faculty and staff to the College meeting the rigorous requirements for sheltering a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the president vowed to continue working with the campus community on advancements.

"Some of you have heard me describe Roanoke as the little engine that could," he said. "Roanoke is blessed with honesty and discipline in our approach to our future. Those qualities are among our most precious natural resource."

Building on those natural resources, he announced the creation of three new professorships, a new "Initiative for Student Success" and a renovation of Lucas Hall, home of the foreign languages department.

One of the new professorships is a gift from Dr. Paul Capp '52 and his wife, Constance Whitehead, of Tucson, Arizona. Capp, a member of the Board of Trustees, was a professor and is chief of radiology emeritus at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. The other two professorships are a gift from Charles and Helen Schumann, members of the First English Lutheran Church in Richmond, who have developed a relationship with Roanoke College through the Lutheran Church.

The Initiative for Student Success is a program for first-year students, and the gifts come from Roanoke College trustees Katheryn Snell Harkness '73, Nancy Baird Mulheren '72 and W. Morgan Churchman '65.

"In the coming years, we will strive to become the college known far and wide for outstanding education for learning, leadership and service," Maxey said. "The world needs us to do our part."

Maxey, it seems, is already doing his.