Radford University honors all veterans with ceremony, award

Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill

Radford University honored all who serve with a moving ceremony on Veterans Day. At the end of the ceremony, it was announced that the Sparks and Coan Veterans Award was established to assist student veterans.

The award bears its name to honor Lewis Sparks and Ken Coan, who served the United States in World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively.

The award goes beyond academics to recognize the sacrifice and service that veterans have given the U.S. citizens.

“Every veteran is out there every day serving us,” said Assistant Professor Jim Newman, who served in the military during the Cold War. “We need to help to get them through their college education. Starting the award is the least I can do for the people who make it possible for us to have freedom. It’s our turn to help.”    

In just a few days, over $11,000 has been raised for the award, which goes to aid student veterans who attend Radford University. By being classified as an award, it allows student veterans to receive help beyond tuition. 

U.S. Army veteran Ed Zimmerman ‘85

“And we’re not stopping there,” Newman said.

Associate Professor Amy VanKirk, who has attended the Veterans Day ceremony for years, was moved by the announced of the award.

“It is so exciting to hear that they can do that so quickly because of the network of support,” she said.

Maj. Stephen Ray, who leads the Radford ROTC detachment, was also moved by the award.

“It’s outstanding,” Ray said. “Any support that the community can give to the veteran students on campus is exceptional.”

The ceremony was part of Radford’s celebration of the people who choose to serve their country. The entire Radford family and community was invited to attend the ceremony that took place in the Bonnie Auditorium.

“From the bottom of our heart, Radford University is honored to serve the men and women who serve this nation,” said Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill. “In countless ways, they protect and defend our liberty and our way of life. Today, I join the Radford family by thanking you, the men and women, for your service and sacrifice to our great country.”    

Delegate Joseph Yost ’06, ‘08

Radford University hosted two alumni as speakers, U.S. Army veteran Ed Zimmerman ‘85 and delegate Joseph Yost ’06, ‘08.

Among Zimmerman’s many accomplishments are 20 years of service as an officer in the Army and leadership experience in both the U.S. Delta Force and the White House Communication Agency. Zimmerman is also the author of the book “Your Leadership Map: Navigating Your Way to greater Organizational Efficiency, Effectiveness and Success.”

Zimmerman addressed the qualities and service a veteran provides to his or her country, even after their official days of service are over.

“A veteran is all-in,” Zimmerman said. “It starts at the beginning when they take an oath to serve and to defend the constitution of the United States. Whenever you need to work, you work. You’re all in. You do that so people can enjoy constitutional freedoms. Some have sacrificed so much to their country.

“You don’t get our freedoms in every country,” Zimmerman continued. “Anyone who has served or been around the world and has seen how it is. They understand and appreciate the freedoms that citizens of this country have.”

Yost opened his speech thanking the countless men and women who have served.    

ROTC cadets standing next to the wreath, which was presented in honor of those who served and sacrificed.

“Each day on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause as a Commonwealth and a nation to pay tribute to our veterans,” Yost said. “I want to thank every service member who has ever worn our nation’s uniform. This day belongs to them and their loved ones. It is in their sacrifice that we see our freedoms. They have protected our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. No ceremony, parade or handshake is enough to thank them for their service.”

As part of his speech, Yost read a poem titled “A Soldier Died Today.”

Radford University senior Lexi Ward’s younger brother, Brody McNutt, currently serves in the U.S. Army.

“Veterans Day is a day to honor and appreciate those who have served and those who are serving,” Ward said. “I think it's a day that we should take a step back and realize what these men and women do and have done to make sure that we, as a nation, are safe and that we continue to live in freedom. It's truly a selfless act to put your life on the line for your country.”

When Ward’s brother left to join the U.S. Army, her family dynamic was altered.

“There was a feeling of emptiness at first – and there still is – but we are so proud of him,” Ward said. “We are only a year apart in age, so growing up he was my buddy. He was always by my side. We used to fight over the bathroom before school and tell inside jokes. You never realize how valuable tiny moments are until you look back. When he left, it was like Batman not having Robin around anymore, but he's off being an actual superhero now.”

VanKirk, who has friends and family that have been deployed, uses the day as a reminder to be thankful for their service.

“We don’t just thank a veteran one day a year,” VanKirk said. “We thank them every day. To me, every year Veterans Day is a reminder of what the veterans are doing year-round and that we need to support them.”

The sentiment of thanks was echoed by Ward.

“I am forever grateful for our veterans,” Ward said. “My prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones. They need to know that we are thankful for the sacrifices made to protect our nation. I am forever grateful.”

The Veterans Day ceremony and speakers were sponsored by the Military Resource Center and the wreath was presented by the Radford Panhellenic Council.

To donate to the Lewis and Coan Veterans Award, visit their website

Nov 14, 2016
Max Esterhuizen
(540) 831-7749