HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Marshall University community is remembering Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, who passed away Monday at the age of 97.
Yeager, the daring Air Force pilot and World War II veteran, was the first person to break the sound barrier. He was also a key supporter of the Marshall University’s Society of Yeager Scholars, which was named in his honor. The society is the premier academic scholarship that has been in place at Marshall since 1987. More than 300 students have received the generous full-ride scholarship that bears his name.
Marshall President Dr. Jerome Gilbert met with Yeager during his last visit to Huntington in October 2019.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Gen. Chuck Yeager,” Gilbert said. “Chuck Yeager will forever be known as one of the aviation giants of the 20th century. He is a constant source of inspiration for the state of West Virginia and for the students at Marshall University, especially in the Society of Yeager Scholars program. We’re forever grateful for the ability to put his name to a program that has produced some of the greatest leaders in our region. I had the pleasure of meeting Gen. Yeager during his visit to Marshall in 2019. His bravery and willingness to serve, especially in the face of the unknown, is a testament to the spirit of all West Virginians. His contributions in the fields of research and aviation led the way for the world we know today. I mourn his loss, and my thoughts are with his family during this time.”
With Yeager’s blessing, the scholarship program was named in 1985, with the first class starting on the Huntington campus in 1987. Yeager was heavily involved in the early years of the program and made it a point to return to Huntington to meet the students who represented him. Martha Woodward was the executive director of the John R. Hall Center for Academic Excellence and the Yeager program. She worked closely with Yeager during his annual visits with the Yeager Scholars.
“I have so many memories of his chats with the Scholars both informally and in organized settings,” Woodard said. “He eagerly shared his experiences with them, always inviting their participation. One of the proud moments of my life came as we strolled across the campus from some event or other. He said, ‘You know, Martha; I have received all kinds of recognition, but I think these scholars will be my legacy more than anything I ever did. They will carry my name into the future with their accomplishments.’ He believed in the program which proudly bears his name.”
Martha Hill is the current president of the Society of Yeager Scholars board of directors. Hill said what Yeager accomplished in his career has always served as great inspiration for the students in the program.
“Gen. Yeager was one of the truly extraordinary leaders of our time,” Hill said. “In his passing, he has left behind a legacy that will continue to inspire the best in all of us. I am grateful for his immeasurable contributions to the Marshall University Society of Yeager Scholars, which promotes the next generation of exceptional leaders.”
Dr. Nicki LoCascio, the dean of Marshall’s Honors College, has worked with Yeager during his visits to meet current scholars.
“Since the inception of the Yeager Scholars at Marshall, Gen. Yeager always showed great interest in the character of the students,” LoCascio said. “His yearly visits and talks were a highlight of our program.”
Marshall University is home to the General Chuck Yeager Collection. The collection was received as a gift from the general in March of 1987 and consists of a wide variety of artifacts, photographs, published materials, books and films related to aviation, as well as personal memorabilia from Yeager’s career in the United States Air Force.
Many of the artifacts, photographs and memorabilia are on display in the Gen. Chuck Yeager Room on the second floor of the Morrow Library in the Archives and Special Collections Department.
Yeager’s relationship with Marshall was one of proximity first, as it is the nearest university to his hometown of Hamlin, but the connection became deeper as his life went on and the Yeager scholarship program was formed.
In a 1987 promotional film titled “Only the Best,” Yeager said his relationship with the university had become very important.
“I haven’t joined with Marshall because I’m a graduate of the school,” Yeager said. “I’m not a graduate of any university. In fact, the only education I ever got, other than in high school, was in what an old friend of mine calls the College of Life and Death. I went there during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. No, I joined with Marshall because some very intelligent, very creative people there have designed a thoroughly unconventional academic program that I think will greatly increase the odds of young people achieving excellence in whatever they decide to do with their lives.”
Marshall also presented Yeager with an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1969 for his exceptional contributions to the air and space industries. For more about Yeager and his relationship with Marshall University visit www.marshall.edu/yeager/remembering-chuck-yeager/.
Information provided by Marshall University.