Bluefield University in the News

GENTRY REUNIONS: THE END OF AN ERA

by | Sep 8, 2016

On Saturday, July 9, 2016 a longtime beloved tradition at Bluefield College came to an end. For 30 years, former BC students have been gathering for a time of reunion in Charlottesville, Virginia, and for most of those years at the home of alumni Bobby (’58) and Joyce Mullikin (’58) Gentry. This summer, the Gentrys hosted their last reunion, but not before strengthening the bonds of hundreds of BC alumni across several generations.
ALUMNUS BOBBY GENTRY (’58), WORKING ON HIS FAMOUS HOMEMADE PEACH ICE CREAM FOR THE SUMMER 2016 GREATER CHARLOTTESVILLE ALUMNI REUNION AT THE GENTRY FARM.
BLUEFIELD COLLEGE ALUMNI AND FRIENDS FROM THE 2016 ALUMNI REUNION AT THE GENTRY FARM, THE LAST GATHERING TO BE HOSTED BY ALUMNI BOBBY (’58) AND JOYCE MULLIKIN (’58) GENTRY (FRONT CENTER).
ALUMNA PEGGY EMERT BICKFORD (’71) (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND HER HUSBAND, STEVE, AN HONORARY BC ALUMNUS (SECOND FROM RIGHT), PRESENT AN EXPRESSION OF APPRECIATION TO ALUMNI BOBBY (’58) (FAR RIGHT) AND JOYCE MULLIKIN (’58) (FAR LEFT) GENTRY FOR THE MANY YEARS THEY HOSTED THE GREATER CHARLOTTESVILLE ALUMNI REUNION. THE BICKFORDS WILL BEGIN TO HOST THE REUNION IN THE SUMMER OF 2017.
FAITHFUL ALUMNI BOBBY (’58) (RIGHT) AND JOYCE MULLIKIN (’58) GENTRY.

“The BC reunion at the Gentry farm has been a highlight in my life for over 20 years,” said alumnus Rod Hale (’60) of Midlothian, Virginia. “It was a grand tradition important enough for folks to travel as far as 300 miles. Alas, the time has come for the Gentrys to retire, but what a wonderful ride it has been.”

 

The Gentry reunion started as a gathering of Bluefield College classmates from 1958, but as the years passed Bobby and Joyce graciously invited other classes to become a part of the tradition.

 

“Never one to miss a chance at being with fellow alum and a picnic, I invited myself to it,” said alumna Shirley Chapman Meador (‘73), who served as Alumni Council president in 2000, about her first Gentry reunion. “How exciting to hear all the reminiscing. There is no better way to brighten your day than to hear of the adventures then. It is wonderful to know the couples who met at BC, like the Gentrys, are still married.”

 

The reunion grew into an event as traditional as Bluefield College’s Sadie Hawkins Day, sledding down Rish Hall hill and Mud Pig Day, featuring reminiscing, storytelling, a picnic lunch in the Gentry barn, homemade peach ice cream for dessert, and hayrides around the farm.

 

“Bobby (Tex) and Joyce were wonderful hosts,” said Rev. Hale. “The farm setting was ideal for informal visiting, sharing precious memories about our BC days, enjoying delicious food, and especially Tex’s homemade ice cream. His great delight was to provide the hayrides. He loves to drive his tractor.”

 

As much as Bobby did enjoy providing rides around the farm on his tractor, he and Joyce said they equally enjoyed getting to see former classmates and other BC friends every summer.

 

“So often we lose touch and never hear from friends,” said Joyce, “but this gathering helped us stay connected. It was always good to see people again and catch up with everyone, where they were and what they were doing. It was fun. We enjoyed it a lot.”

 

Bobby studied engineering at BC from 1956 to 1958 before beginning a long career in agriculture. He worked from 1966 to 1982 as manager of agricultural operations for Meadow Farm in Caroline County, Virginia, where Triple Crown winner Secretariat, one of the greatest racehorses of all time, was born and raised. In fact, in 2010 Bobby contributed and was featured in the book Secretariat’s Meadow: The Land, the Family, the Legend, which presents the little known story of Meadow Farm, the place where the Virginia-born thoroughbred stallion grew into a legend.

 

Joyce studied religion at BC, also from 1956 to 1958. She spent her career working in churches and public school systems. She also served her alma mater as an officer on the Alumni Council. Both she and Bobby are charter members of the BC Golden Graduates Society and are retired.

 

“I appreciate Joyce and Tex for opening their home and the hospitality given to our alumni all these years,” said alumna Sharon Knick (‘72), who originally met Joyce serving on the BC Alumni Council. “I loved attending the reunions, because it was so interesting to hear stories of their days at Bluefield. They also enjoyed our sharing, as well. I have so many fond memories.”

 

Alumnus and new BC alumni director Josh Grubb (‘07), who attended his first Gentry reunion this summer with his family, said his kids enjoyed the tractor rides and the farm tour. Most of all, he said he admires the dedication of the Gentrys and those who were faithful to attend the event over the past 30 years.

 

“I really enjoyed the rich tradition that this group of alumni created over the past few decades,” said Grubb. “It takes hard work to get together with friends for that many years, and they certainly put in the work. I have a group of classmates and friends who share a bond through BC, and I just hope that we will carry on a tradition like the Gentrys. We appreciate Bobby and Joyce and the hard work they put in to this event each year. Many fond memories have been formed at the Gentry farm.”

 

Now 87 (Bobby) and 79 (Joyce) years of age, the Gentrys will no longer host the Charlottesville gathering, but instead pass the torch to alumna Peggy Emert Bickford (’71) and her husband, Steve, an honorary BC alumnus, who will host the reunion at their home in New Canton, Virginia.

 

“We were so impressed with the Gentrys’ hospitality. They always made everyone feel so welcomed,” said Peggy. “We decided to begin hosting this gathering out of respect for the tradition and wanting to see the event continue and because of the love we have for Bluefield College and our fellow alumni.”

 

The Bickfords home in New Canton is centrally located in Virginia, which they say they hope draws additional alumni to “come out to the country and enjoy time together.” The event at the Bickfords will include a meal, fellowship, a short tour of a 1926 Rosenwald Schoolhouse on their property, and an update on BC.

 

“Most importantly, we want everyone to enjoy themselves in a very casual atmosphere,” said Peggy. “We are looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, sharing memories of days spent at BC, and continuing the tradition established by Mr. and Mrs. Gentry 30 years ago.”

 

Grubb said he’s thankful the Bickfords have agreed to carry on the Charlottesville reunion tradition. He, like many others, is looking forward to more years of reminiscing with the group.

 

“As this meeting place comes to an end, a new tradition begins at Peggy and Steve’s house,” said Meador. “I have missed very few of the picnics, and I intend to keep sharing in this rich tradition. See you in July friends.”

 

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