From the Fall 2016 edition | Back
Corps Museum Column
By Samantha Riggin, Corps museum curator
Walking across campus I pass buildings bearing names of former school leaders and professors — Burrus, Cowgill, Norris, and Hutcheson, to name a few. As a historian, I am a bit more curious than most about these men whose names grace the university buildings and their histories. If I were only able to relive some of those early days of Virginia Tech.
I found the next best thing: a former cadet who could tell me stories about President Burruss and others whose names grace our buildings. Cecil P. Balderson turned 104 on Oct. 2 and, from what I can find, is the oldest living alumnus of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He was a cadet in H Company from 1930 to 1931.
Balderson lives independently (with daily assistance) in Waynesboro, Virginia. During an interview in August, he spoke of his memories from VPI (he remembers it as VPI and not Virginia Tech) and his life after he had to leave the Corps to help on the family farm during the Great Depression.
One of his strongest memories was of his “rat” year and his initiation into the Corps by the “sophs,” who at times were not particularly benevolent to nervous freshmen. Balderson talked about cold showers, upperclassmen who had a bit more than their fair share of chow than the freshmen, and cold nights of guard duty.
He remembers sitting with fellow cadets on the wall at the entrance to the school, dances at the Cotillion Club, and his admiration for his professors.
When I showed him a photograph of cadets in costume for their Rat Parade (a tradition no longer in place), Balderson told me that his costume consisted of him wearing only his “nighttime underwear.” When asked the difference between nighttime and daytime underwear, he could only say that nighttime underwear was a bit warmer than the daytime garb.
Through it all, he and his fellow cadets not only persevered, many of them went on to hold great leadership roles. Balderson’s classmate, for example, was Gen. W. Thomas Rice, the namesake of the Corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development.
He met his wife of 71 years, Violet (who died in 2007), at the William Byrd Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, where he was a desk clerk. Their son, Cecil Balderson Jr. ’61, earned a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Even though he didn’t graduate from VPI, Balderson credits much of his success to his time in the Corps. After his tenure as desk clerk, Balderson worked as a sales rep for Texaco and later for the Balcrank Corporation. In 1963, he bought the Central Virginia Oil Company, where he retired from in 1977.
Balderson played golf until he was 90 and served as a state president for the Lions Club International. He still attends church on Sundays. He loves music and considers himself to be a “pretty darned good” harmonica player.
I was excited to welcome Balderson back to campus to be a guest of honor at the Corps’ pass in review for the Class of ‘66’s induction into the Old Guard, part of homecoming weekend.