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The Hutcheson Years (1945-1947)

A 1907 VPI alumnus, the popular John Redd Hutcheson, known as “Dr. Jack,” was outgoing, liked people, and had a ready smile. He had begun working for the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service in 1914 as a livestock specialist and became its director in 1919, developing a national reputation as an agricultural leader.

When Hutcheson assumed duties on Jan. 14, 1945, as the executive assistant to the president, he actually began his presidential administration in everything but name only. The board of visitors approved his immediate request for help, and he appointed Stuart K. Cassell, a 1932 alumnus, as financial and business manager, effective March 1, 1945. Cassell, for whom Cassell Coliseum was later named, was to have a great influence on the college.

Hutcheson officially assumed the presidency on July 1, 1945, and faced the aftermath of World War II. Although the end of the war solved many problems, it created enormous ones for the nation’s colleges, which faced a tidal wave of applications for admissions from thousands of veterans returning to civilian life and ready to study under the G.I. Bill. The new president worked to prepare the campus for the influx.

The veterans, who nearly doubled enrollment, generally had no interest in joining the corps of cadets and were given the option not to do so. For the first time, during winter quarter 1946, civilians outnumbered cadets on campus. With the explosion in civilian students—3,100 living on campus and another 900 day-students—came a need for housing. To help resolve the most pressing problem—that of housing about 200 married veterans—the college installed a trailer court, which students called “Vetsville,” surrounding Solitude. The historic house was converted into a community center to serve the trailer-court residents. Two additional trailer courts—students called one “Cassell Heights” after financial and business manager Stuart K. Cassell and the other “Hurricane Hill”—followed in the area east of present-day Cassell Coliseum.

The deluge of applications continued, with registration reaching 4,540 (3,071 were veterans) in the fall of 1946. The college rented dormitory space at the Radford Ordinance Works to house 500 students and also converted several buildings there into classrooms. Thirteen faculty members taught classes at the facility, which was soon dubbed “Rad-Tech.” Fifteen buses carried Rad-Tech students to the Blacksburg campus for activities.

The Army Specialized Training Program ended in December 1945, but 17 of the students remained on campus until they graduated in June. An Air Force ROTC unit was established in the fall of 1946.

In December 1945, Tech’s alumni announced plans to construct a “spiritual memorial” on campus, and solicitations of funds began. The result was the memorial and chapel at the high end of the Drillfield . It was completed and dedicated 15 years later on May 28, 1960.

At its Feb. 12, 1946, meeting, the board of visitors created the position of vice president of the college, which it filled with Walter Stephenson Newman, state superintendent of public instruction, to handle curriculum development. Newman became Virginia Tech’s first vice president on March 23. In June 1946 Hutcheson himself created an office of admissions to assist C. P. “Sally” Miles, dean of the college, with the thousands of applications for admission that poured into the school. The year 1946 also saw the creation of yet another new position: director of student affairs.

The 1946 General Assembly appropriated $225,000 to Virginia Tech to operate a branch college in Danville under the supervision of the School of Engineering. The branch began operations in September 1946 with 50 students, 90 percent of whom were veterans.

Under Hutcheson, VPI added a master of science in applied mechanics, permitted day students to drive their own automobiles to and from designated campus parking lots, and resumed activities—including football—and organizations that had been dropped during World War II. The board of visitors approved the final plans for an alumni war memorial and the proposed mall (now known as Alumni Mall) leading to the memorial. The school received the first invitation ever issued to a Virginia college team to play in a bowl game—the Sun Bowl—on New Year’s Day in 1947.

In December 1946 Hutcheson was hospitalized, and Newman, working with Cassell, took over his duties. Hutcheson was granted sick leave in December 1946 and entered a Richmond hospital. In May 1947 the board of visitors extended Hutcheson’s sick leave to September and named Newman as acting president.

Concerned about Hutcheson’s health, the board voted on Aug. 12, 1947, to relieve him of his presidential duties but elected him to the new position of chancellor “in which position he will act as the agent of the board in such matters are delegated to him by the board.” It named Newman as VPI’s 10th president. Both appointments were effective Sept. 1, 1947. At this same meeting, Newman presented a plan for reorganizing the college and for dividing the responsibilities of the various administrative departments to lighten the president’s workload.

Hutcheson recovered and returned to the campus in late May 1947. On June 9 he received the honorary Doctor of Science degree from North Carolina State College. In 1948 he became president of the newly established VPI Educational Foundation. He retired as chancellor in 1956 to devote full attention to the foundation, which he served until his death on Jan. 23, 1962.