Hahn changed face of Virginia land grant school, agriculture
By JANE W. GRAHAM
BLACKSBURG, Va. (June 28, 2016) — Dr. T. Marshall Hahn Jr. who became president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1962 is credited by Virginia farmers and many in the state agricultural industry as a visionary who started the wheels rolling toward the university that has become Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University or Virginia Tech as it’s commonly known.
Dr. Hahn died at his Blacksburg home May 29 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The funeral was June 11 in Burruss Hall on the Virginia Tech campus.
“Marshall brought Virginia Tech from being a small college to a place of prominence,” Barbara Bennett of Knoll Crest Farm at Red House, Va., said. Bennett and her husband, James Bennett, were personal friends of Dr. Hahn and his late wife Margaret Louise “Peggy” Lee Hahn.
James Bennett, one of the largest producers of beef cattle brood stock in the state, and Hahn shared ownership of several bulls over the years and a continuing interest in the cattle industry
“He did a heck of a good job,” said Jerry Swisher, a leader in the state’s dairy industry and former Extension specialist with the university. Swisher, now a consultant in the dairy industry, said Hahn was interested in helping people in the decisions he made.
In reporting Hahn’s death The New York Times described him as the man “who as president of Virginia Tech transformed it from a regional military college with a mostly white, mostly male student body into a diverse, internationally renowned research university.”
Dr. A. I. “Ike” Eller, who was employed by the university in 1960, has a broad prospective of the Hahn years. He said he was there all 12 years of Hahn’s presidency.
Eller remained for many more years in the animal Science Department as an Extension Specialist and then as Development Officer for the Department of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Eller reminisced about both Hahn’s professional activities and his beef cattle during a recent telephone interview.
He recalled that some of the agriculture faculty felt like Hahn was turning things upside down with the changes he made.
Chief among them was taking away their responsibility of going to Richmond to lobby the Virginia General Assembly for funds.
Eller said Hahn told department heads to stay in Blacksburg and teach and he would go to Richmond.
One of the results of Hahn’s tenure was upgrading the academic credentials of the faculty, especially in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Eller said he was one of the faculty members who benefited from the funds Hahn found for those on the staff to earn graduate degrees.
Eller said Hahn did not claim to be an agriculturist but he understood the workings of agriculture.
He bought two farms in Montgomery County’s Elliott Valley just outside Blacksburg and asked Eller for advice.
He engaged Eller to buy a herd of polled Herefords to begin his cattle farm.
As exotic breeds became a trend in the industry, Hahn switched to Gelbviehs, a German breed.
He started with red Gelbviehs and later switched to black ones.
Eller sees this as one indication of his willingness to work for change.
The New York Times reported the school had an enrollment of not much more than 6,000 when Hahn arrived.
When he left it had an enrollment of 17,400. Now, the enrollment has nearly 17,000 men and 13,000 women.
When Hahn arrived, a nearby school in Radford, Va., then known as Radford College was the Women’s Division of Virginia Tech.
Women enrolled there could take courses not offered at their school at Tech. During the Hahn years, the schools separated.
The Times also reported that Hahn created 30 new undergraduate majors, 20 graduated programs and established the colleges of arts and sciences, architecture and education.
In addition he oversaw construction of more than two dozen campus buildings.
“The impact that Dr. Hahn made at the university during his tenure as president and in the years that followed cannot be understated,” Alan Grant, CALS dean, said. “He not only helped the university grow into the stellar institution that it is today, but he continued making significant contributions to the land grant missions over many years.
“Anyone who has attended an event or program at the Peggy Lee Hahn Garden Pavilion and Horticulture Garden has Dr. Hahn and his wife, Peggy, to thank for their generous support of the garden that beautifies our campus and engages the university and local communities. Recognizing the value of educating our youth, he was also a tremendous supporter of 4-H programs, which led to the T. Marshall Hahn Jr. Welcome Center at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake.
“We are indebted to Dr. Hahn for his years of leadership and vision.”
James Bennett said the characteristics he admired about Hahn included his quick thinking and ability to make a decision quickly after thinking through an issue.
After leaving the president’s post at Virginia Tech, Hahn joined Georgia Pacific Corporation as president and CEO.
The Times said he parlayed “a degree in physics to selling toilet paper to the world. However, Hickory Hill Farm here remained home for the Hahns who moved back to it when he retired in 1993.
They remained active in the community and at Virginia Tech after his retirement as attested to by the facilities bearing the Hahn name on campus.