Birds Of A Feather
CHUCKIE’S JOURNEY INCLUDED A few unexpected turns and a detour down a rough road before he safely landed as an honorary member of the Denison family.
The 5-foot-tall, mirror-covered Hokie-Bird spent his earliest days perched on the grounds of the Hotel Roanoke, fully reflecting every aspect of his surroundings. But, after a brutal kidnapping left him damaged, the broken bird was relegated to a storage area at the hotel, and his future was uncertain. That is until Chuck Denison, a hotel employee and the statue’s namesake, stepped in to orchestrate the adoption of the statue on behalf of his brother and sister-in-law, Dennie and Sherrie Denison.
“[Dennie’s] always been a Hokie fan as long as I can remember,” Chuck said. “So, I’m really happy with how it ended up.”
Today, Chuckie is enjoying a comfortable retirement nested in Dennie’s “man cave,” a Virginia Tech-themed space on the downstairs level of the Denison home.
“We were really excited to get him because we know the history of that bird,” Dennie ’72 said. “Hopefully, it will be passed down to our daughter and son-in-law and their kids.”
“And we have two grandchildren who think it’s quite the bomb to have a HokieBird in your downstairs,” Sherrie said.
Virginia Tech Athletics has been an important part of the Denisons’ lives since the couple’s early days together.
“When Dennie was a student at Virginia Tech, he never went to games because he always came home on the weekends to work,” Sherrie said. “So, we were actually engaged when we first started going to Hokie football games.”
Sherrie added that when the couple got married, they arranged the festivities to ensure that they would not miss a single home game. Virginia Tech played at Southern Mississippi on their wedding day, Sept. 17, 1988.
"Our downstairs is decorated in all things Hokie. And now, when you walk down the steps, he’s the first thing you see. Chuckie owns the room!”
During the decades that followed, in addition to attending home games, the Denisons traveled to many of the Hokies’ away and bowl games, making friends and many fond memories.
“By far, our favorite was anytime they [Hokies football] went to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans,” Sherrie said. “And we were in Morgantown the year Michael Vick turned the game around and we wonwon … the national championship [appearance] year.”
“I also got to go to Columbus and see us upset Ohio State and to Notre Dame to see us upset them,” Dennie said.
The pair has gone to great lengths to give back to Virginia Tech Athletics. Members of the Hokie Club for more than 25 years, Dennie has led in recruiting new members for many years, and currently, Sherrie serves as president of the Roanoke Valley Hokie Club.
“When you think, ‘What does Virginia Tech look like? What does a Hokie look like?’ They’re the two people you think of,” said Evan Massengill, assistant athletic director for fundraising strategy. “They’re all in, all the time.”
Among other contributions, the Denisons have helped organize a variety of fundraising events for the Roanoke Valley Hokie Club, including starting its annual Football Kickoff Event. So, Massengill said it was no surprise to hear the couple jumped at the chance to adopt the rare piece of Virginia Tech memorabilia.
“It’s awesome to have people who care so much about the university that they want to put a statue like that up in their house,” Massengill said. “It’s special to have those kinds of people around.”
Chuckie is one of about 125 HokieBird statues commissioned by the Blacksburg Partnership’s Gobble de Art project, which began in 2006, according to Ann Cassell, president of the group. Cassell said each HokieBird is created through a process that results in a one-of-a-kind piece of art, costing $5,500 or more. The statues can be found in both public settings and private residences.
Over time, a few of the HokieBirds have been stolen, including Chuckie, who was swiped by students from a neighboring university in September 2019.
“The three JMU [James Madison University] students that did it: They stole it, broke it off at the feet, and drove up to Charlottesville and dumped it out,” Dennie said.
Once retrieved, Chuckie, in his shattered state, was returned to the Hotel Roanoke where he remained in storage until Chuck Denison helped hatch the plan for his adoption.
“[Dennie] just loves it,” Chuck said of his brother. “And I just really wanted to pay him back for all he’s done for me. He’s a tremendous guy.”
It took about a year, including a three-month restoration, and cost about $2,000 to return Chuckie to peak condition and relocate the bird to the Denisons. But the couple knew he’d be right at home.
“Our downstairs is decorated in all things Hokie,” Sherrie said. “And now, when you walk down the steps, he’s the first thing you see. Chuckie owns the room!”
Dennie said their home also has a few hundred feet of decorative Hokie Stone and air conditioning units with custom Virginia Tech panels.
“I couldn’t sell this house to a Wahoo, it would have to be a Hokie,” he said.
The Denisons don’t appear to be in the market anytime soon though, which is good news for Chuckie, who not only has a new home, but a new wardrobe. He now sports a stylish hat Sherrie purchased in New Orleans, a lanyard with game ticket, a maroon and orange scarf, and a Frank Beamer autographed football sits between his feet.
Chuckie is a favorite of the family and their visitors, and he perches at the center of many group photos. But he holds a more significant place in the hearts of Dennie and Sherrie.
“It was very special for his brother to really go to bat and make this happen,” Sherrie said. “And I think it also has a special meaning to us just because of all our years of Virginia Tech fundraising, holding events at Hotel Roanoke, and being a part of Hokie Nation. We’ve made so many good friends over the years just from being Hokies. It’s been great.”