A home on the hillSept. 18, 2006

The Alumni Parade on Sabine Field.

photo by Jay EricsonThe Alumni Parade on Sabine Field.Play Sabine Field audio slideshow

Signs of fall were in the air and the lure of Homecoming Weekend at Norwich drew hundreds of visitors to Northfield this past weekend.

From down the road to the far side of the globe, alumni came back to The Hill to reconnect with classmates, reminisce with friends and family and take part in the three-day celebration that included five athletic events, the annual Alumni Parade and various other activities. Across the campus, major construction projects and evidence of an
evolving campus greeted the returning cadets
at every turn.

“It’s just amazing,” said Zeke Peach, Class of ’56. “I got a little disoriented because there's so much construction going on everywhere.”

Five years had passed since the last time Peach visited his alma mater. Walking to the University bookstore, he marveled at the remains of Harmon Hall, a major construction project completed during his time as a cadet.

Now, after a half-century hiatus from life on The Hill, Peach and his classmates returned as members of The Old Guard. Gazing out across the parade field, the 72-year-old alumnus recalled his time as a Rook looking out from formation at The Old Guard Class of 1902.

“I remember thinking they were old,” he said with a grin. “Some of those guys were too old to have served in World War I.”

According to 50th Reunion Class Agent, Bob Garside ’56, 127 cadets graduated alongside Peach and himself in 1956.

“Eighty-five of us are still alive,” Garside said. “And of those, fifty are here today.”

Visitors walking the Upper Parade Ground (UP) had the perfect vantage point to watch as construction crews worked to transform Harmon Hall into the Wise Campus Center, a soon-to-be three-story glass jewel nestled in the brick base of the old building. Nearby, earthmoving equipment had flattened the sloping ground around the perimeter of the site, creating an area that will be used for casual recreation in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter.

Not far from the construction site visitors streamed into the recently completed Sullivan Museum and History Center, which was open for tours during Homecoming. Norwich artifacts, once stored in the basements of various buildings on campus, are now being prepared for display in the $6 million, state-of-the-art facility. In a box stored in the climate-controlled basement of the Museum sits a piece of granite, part of the wreckage of the World Trade Center donated by an alumnus who was at Ground Zero.

Sitting in a folding chair along the UP to watch the parade, Burt Mullen ’62, looked up at towering tree branches overhead.

“There were no trees on the Upper Parade Ground when I was here,” he recalled. “These things look like they've been here forever.”

Mullen said that between brothers, sons, nieces and nephews, nine members of his family had attended Norwich.

As the Corps of Cadets marched onto the parade field, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59, President of the Norwich University Board of Trustees, addressed the crowd. He asked for a round of applause for the eighteen members of the Corps and one traditional student who recently returned from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later he told the crowd the news that one of their own, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Mark Winker ’03, had been seriously injured in Iraq earlier in the week. Winker, part of the 3/16 FA Field Artillery unit out of Fort Hood, Texas, is in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., being treated for his injuries.

“When you go to bed tonight,” Sullivan said, “keep Mark and the Winker family in your thoughts and prayers.”

And as the Corps marched off the field and alums gathered together to make plans for the upcoming festivities, there is no doubt many of them took Sullivan’s words to heart.