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Only memories keep these grads together

Ashley McKnight-Taylor

Late nights with friends in the dorm rooms, attending high-energy basketball games, participating in the Greek experience, challenging classes n it all swirls together to make college much more than just a higher-learning opportunity.

For many, college years are golden ones and they revel in return visits as the years go by. Maybe they take their children to show them which dorm they stayed in, where their favorite classes were held, their sorority house.

Perhaps they hint, not-so-subtly, how great it would be to have another generation of Smiths or Joneses attend their old school.

It’s a common feeling n that pride in one’s alma mater.

Many students who attended Frederick College have it, too. But they have only memories and each other to visit. The school is gone, buildings overtaken. Some alumni are ashamed of the non-existent state of their alma mater.

Others, though, have struggled for years to preserve precious memories and the legacy of what, to them, was the best of colleges.

“It was great. I loved being there,” said Judy Bloodgood Bander, who attended from 1962-66.

Her feelings for the college were n and are n so strong that in a recollection she shared with former students at a reunion, she dubbed it a “mystical Brigadoon” for those times.

Students gathered at Pig Point from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia and various other places around the country and the world to live what Bander described as “the Frederick Experience.”

“Just by being there, we formed the friendships and memories that make us who we are today. It was a rare and exciting time for all of us. Rare to be part of a new four-year, liberal-arts college, and exciting because we were the ‘Pioneers in A New Frontier’,” she wrote.

Frederick College, a four-year liberal-arts institution, was founded by the Beazley Foundation Inc., an organization started in 1948 from an endowment by the late Fred. W. Beazley, his wife Marie C. and son, Fred W. Beazley Jr.

Education was, from the beginning, one of the key goals of the Foundation. Frederick College opened its doors on the shores of the James River in 1961 on what used to be the Nansemond Ordnance Depot. The military used the site to store, reclaim and dispose of ordnance from World War I. That continued through World War II and until the 1950s. During its history, the land was occupied by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

A student body of young men and women, many from Suffolk and then Nansemond County, lived in the concrete block military buildings at the school. Some of the employees and their families lived in about 30 renovated former bunkers.

Beazley’s generosity and financial assistance programs enabled many people to attend college who otherwise would not have been able to, said Bill Maddrey, a former student.

The small, rural school was insulated from the turmoil of the ‘60s. While students at colleges around the country grew their hair and marijuana, and held protests, those at Frederick

dressed professionally and stood when the college president or one of the deans entered a room. The campus had a gate that was locked every night.

“We were embarrassed because ours was not the average college campus with beautiful buildings and ivy-covered walls. It was years later we began to appreciate Mr. Beazley and the gift he had given us,” Bander recalled. “Where else in the world of higher education did the owner of a college supplement the cost for each student? He gave a financial gift that made it possible for many of us to attend college and to continue our education even after Frederick closed.”

The Beazley Foundation gifted the college to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1968 to become a part of the Community College system. Tidewater Community College now occupies the land, along with the Virginia Electric Power Company, GE, and the city of Suffolk.

The Brigadoon was gone, and some accounts of the land’s history fail to include that it ever existed, Bander said.

With no campus or alumni office, it has been difficult to keep the former students, faculty and staff in touch with each other; but a dedicated few are trying their best.

Some former students in the Washington, D.C., area mustered a reunion in 1986. They held two more, in 1995 and 2001. Now the Reunion Committee is planning another gathering July 21-23 for anyone ever associated with Frederick in any way, Maddrey said.

“All of us who went there had some sort of connection to each other,” he said.

Maddrey has spent hours creating a database with about 1,110 names of former students. They sent out mailings, only to find that some addresses from the 2001 reunion are undeliverable now, he said. With a group of students and staff that is aging, and, in some cases, moving farther away, it is difficult to keep track of everyone. He has pages of names of people they can’t even find.

The reunions, though, are “fantastic,” Maddrey declared, giving people a chance to reconnect and even meet new people.

“I have become friends with people I would not have been friends with otherwise,” he said.

They realize, though, that there are no other alumni coming up behind them. Eventually, Frederick College students will disappear like the institution itself.

So Bander has been working to have an historical marker placed at the sight, so that people will forever know it was there. They have to wait until the school is 50 years old, though, she said.

But they all agree with Maddrey that there must be “a legacy after we’re gone.”

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com