Junior Dads Dances Into the Stonewall Jackson Hotel

November 14, 2005

For many years, Mary Baldwin’s formal Junior Dads celebration has been sandwiched between weekend farm exhibitions, huge closeout sales, and craft shows at the all-purpose arena Augusta Expoland in Fishersville. This year, the location of Junior Dads will be more suited to the gowns and tuxedos worn by attendees, and it will highlight the city’s latest historical renovation —the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center.

“We have been considering moving Junior Dads for a long time, and the reopening of the Stonewall Jackson came at the right time for this year’s event,” said Velma Bryant ’01, Mary Baldwin director of student engagement. Bryant and junior class officers began talking with the hotel’s operators last spring, and a class vote was taken to gauge interest in moving the ceremony.

In addition to providing an upscale location, hotel staff will decorate, set up, and clean the venue — tasks that were previously done by the committee planning the event. “We can literally just walk in and enjoy ourselves,” said Junior Class President Rachel Yim.

A Hotel for the Ages

The Stonewall Jackson Hotel’s extensive renovation has been the focus of Staunton’s downtown development for the better part of three years, continuing a wave of construction near Johnson and Market streets that included the Blackfriars Playhouse and New Street Parking Garage in recent years. The hotel’s historic significance made it a cornerstone of the city’s dramatic rebirth and revitalization of historic districts, which also include certain buildings on the Mary Baldwin University campus.

The Stonewall Jackson HotelAn elegant showplace that beckoned visitors with its towering rooftop sign, the hotel became one of the “places to be seen” in Staunton shortly after it opened in 1924. The Georgian-style, red brick structure was designed by renowned architect H.L. Stevens, cost $440,000 to build, and boasted every major technical innovation of the day. Economic downturns forced the hotel to stop operation decades ago, but the building was used as a community center and apartments for the mentally challenged, elderly, and those who would otherwise be homeless. In 2002, a public-private partnership between Staunton Industrial Development Authority, developer Armada/Hoffler, and hotel owners Allen and Katherine Persinger provided the impetus to fund and begin renovation on the building.

After months of the sounds of construction vehicles and with a tab of $22 million, the Stonewall Jackson re-opened — complete with its huge, illuminated sign — in October 2005.

The hotel offers 124 guest rooms and reception capacity for about 470 people. Some families of Mary Baldwin students, who plan to attend Junior Dads, had already made reservations at the Stonewall Jackson by early October, taking advantage of the convenience of staying in the same building as the event. The hotel’s fitness center includes an indoor pool and whirlpool, and its dining room and lounge bar are open daily. Fourteen meeting rooms — which encompass 11,000 square feet — and two ballrooms provide usable business and event space. Find out more about the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and its renovation at www.historichotels.org.

Mary Baldwin Connection

By the time Junior Dads was inaugurated as an event at Mary Baldwin, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel had already started its decline in appearance and amenities. Although the hotel was still open in 1967, the first Junior Dads celebration and several thereafter were held in King gymnasium on campus. The Class of 2007 will make history at their celebration later this month — it will be the first time Junior Dads is held at the Stonewall Jackson, according to college records.

Former Mary Baldwin Board of Trustees Chair Claire “Yum” Lewis Arnold ’69 was junior class president in 1967 and she steered her classmates through the decision-making that led to the original Junior Dads.

“Every other class, it seemed, had a special weekend, except juniors,” said Arnold, an executive with the technology service and support company Leapfrog Services. “A ring ceremony was the logical choice because the highlight of junior year was receiving your Mary Baldwin ring. At that time, though, you just went to an office and picked up the box with your ring in it. We thought it deserved more attention and celebration.”

Students look at the new rings at a Junior Dads celebrationArnold noted the success of Junior Dads during her last two years as a student at Mary Baldwin, but she did not expect the event to be regarded as a full-fledged tradition when she resumed a close relationship with the college as a trustee in 1985. “You just don’t think about those things,” she said. “We organized it because we thought it would be fun for us, and I am so happy that it has provided that same excitement for students for so many years.”

Even years before Junior Dads was initiated, Beverley Bates ’64 remembered that the Stonewall was not the best place in town to stay or attend parties and dances. After attending the re-opening gala, though, Bates’ impression was redeemed: “It’s certainly a place where I would stay now.”

A few Mary Baldwin University groups are working to plan events and reserve space at the remodeled Stonewall Jackson to establish the college’s connection with the hotel. Carol Simon, the hotel’s general manager, said there is space for group sizes up to 500 people, and the holiday season is already booking up.

The journeys of a Staunton landmark building and the city’s historic college will converge November 19 for the Junior Dads reception and dance. Be there to be part of history.

Junior Dads 2005

November 18

 

4pm, VWIL Parade Honoring Juniors, Lower Athletic Field
7pm, Reception, Hunt Dining Hall

 

November 19

 

10am, Father/Daughter Dance Lesson, PAC Dance Studio
8:30pm, Formal Ball and Ring Presentation, Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center

 

November 20

 

11:30am, Moms Brunch, Hunt Dining Hall