Every now and then, Stan Kingma is approached in the grocery store.

“You’re the guy with the New Virginians,” a stranger pushing a shopping cart will say. “I loved them! I used to see them at the civic center every year with my entire family.”

The New Virginians were a Virginia Tech music ensemble featuring students from across the university’s campus. Performing as singers and dancers and serving as technical and support staff, the students helped create a traveling musical revue that delighted audiences with colorful costumes, flashy sets, choreographed dance steps, and feel-good song selections. In an era of “Donny & Marie” and “The Partridge Family,” the New Virginians became a sensation, bringing a slice of polyester-wrapped 1970s pop culture to eager audiences.

The group regularly performed throughout Virginia and neighboring states and once traveled the country for a coast-to-coast tour that concluded with a national television appearance. Members spent hundreds of hours together during rehearsals and soundchecks and long bus rides through the night.

The small moments mattered most — the ones that weren’t illuminated by stage lights, such as building sets in a workshop under the stage of Burruss Hall Auditorium or helping each other with homework on a late-night return from a performance. These moments created connections that would last for decades and provided life skills that would be applicable for years to come.

While Virginia Tech celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the New Virginians. And even though it’s been over 40 years since Kingma has been involved with the ensemble, he and the group obviously made quite the impression.

New Virginians founding

Stan Kingma came to Virginia Tech in 1964 to lead the university’s choral music programs. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Kingma fell in love with choral music at Purdue, performing in the school’s glee club, starting a quartet, and even directing various community choirs. An engineer with a passion for music made a solid match for Virginia Tech’s extracurricular singing program.

Kingma started Virginia Tech’s glee club, which evolved into the New Virginians in 1972. He joined forces with Paul Breske and Christopher “Kit” Bond, and the trio laid the foundation for a group that would help shape the landscape of collegiate music ensembles. A Virginia Tech associate professor emeritus of music, Breske was the heart and soul of the New Virginians, creating the group’s musical arrangements and directing the accompanying stage band. Bond brought the performances to life as technical director, overseeing all aspects of production, including the student crew.

“If it wasn’t for Kit Bond and Paul Breske, there wouldn’t have been a New Virginians,” said Kingma. “We were a team and we trusted each other.”

Their collaboration resulted in the creation of a wildly popular touring musical troupe, complete with 24 singers, a 12-piece band, choreographers, and full technical and public relations staffs.

In its beginnings, however, the group didn’t have a dedicated technical staff, so everyone pitched in to build sets, move equipment, operate lighting and sound systems, and take on marketing and public relations duties. Regina DePalma, who earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1975, joined the New Virginians as a costume designer but soon found herself as part of the technical crew learning from Bond. While her primary job was sewing costumes, she would routinely unload and set up equipment and operate a show spotlight.

“He (Bond) took a rag-tag group of us and turned us into his technical crew, teaching us how to do stage lighting and run the sound systems,” DePalma said. Each member contributed to the New Virginians’ journey.

“We created this musical show concept that was quite unusual at the time,” Kingma said, noting that most university music groups then were either glee clubs or formal choral ensembles. The New Virginians introduced movement into their performance, solidifying their place as a show group. Students helped with choreography, particularly when the group was first beginning, and Kingma eventually recruited Pam Turner, who was choreographer with the Miss Virginia Pageant at the time, to add dance to New Virginians’ performances.

“The word got out that it was a pretty entertaining show,” Kingma said.

The New Virginians’ popularity grew quickly. Soon, over 100 Virginia Tech students were auditioning for just six available performing spots and more shows were being added to the schedule. The group not only performed shows on campus, but also traveled around the state performing fundraising events for various civic organizations, such as Lions and Kiwanis clubs. Soon, the New Virginians was headlining high-profile events such as the national governor’s conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the 4-H national conference in Chicago, and members traveled as far as Florida to perform for the Florida Bankers Association and area chambers of commerce. The group filled local venues with multiple sold-out appearances each year at the Roanoke Civic Center (now the Berglund Center) and Burruss Hall Auditorium, where the ensemble performed two annual events—the “Homeshow” each spring and a holiday benefit concert.

“We were an event,” said Catherine Breske, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1975 and was one of the very first members of the ensemble. “When the New Virginians performed in Burruss Hall, we were always sold out for several nights.”

Breske performed with the New Virginians throughout her academic career at Virginia Tech. Like many of the group’s alumni who pursued professional music and theatrical opportunities, Breske traveled the East Coast performing with a band after graduating from Virginia Tech. She eventually returned to Blacksburg, marrying New Virginias co-founder Paul Breske, and began working again with the group in various capacities.

Catherine Breske, Kingma said, was one of the standouts of the group. “Catherine was a dead ringer for Liza Minelli. She stopped the show.”

“The best part of it, of course, was the performing,” Breske said. “You're traveling the country and you're performing for thousands of people. It's energizing.”

For DePalma, her New Virginians experience ignited her passion for travel.

"I learned more about the state of Virginia traveling with the New Virginians than I could have ever learned on my own. As a result, I've learned to love traveling,” she said.

Members of the New Virginians would stay with host families when they traveled, which often resulted in dinner table conversations about Virginia Tech. Members became ambassadors for the university, sharing their Virginia Tech experience with scores of families. 

Cross-country tour and beyond

Virginia Tech President-emeritus T. Marshall Hahn Jr. was a champion of the New Virginians during his time at the university. Hahn joined Georgia-Pacific Corporation as an executive after leaving Virginia Tech in 1974 and asked Kingma if the group would help the company commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary with a special performance. Kingma and his staff worked with the group to create a musical timeline of Georgia-Pacific’s history. In the fall of 1977, the New Virginians embarked on a coast-to-coast, six-week tour, performing the anniversary show in Georgia-Pacific offices across the United States.

With the final leg of the tour on the West Coast, the group’s student public relations director arranged an appearance for the New Virginians on “Dinah!,” a nationally syndicated daytime variety talk show hosted by singer and actress Dinah Shore. The appearance introduced the Virginia Tech ensemble to the entire nation.

"We were the epitome of the Virginia Tech experience at the time,” said DePalma. Being part of the New Virginians involved much more than performing and operating a sound system.

"It looked like a music revue, but underneath it all, what we were really doing was talking about personal growth, about helping people, about growing up. We wanted to help students realize that their attitude is going to shape their future,” Kingma said. “In order to stand up in front of 3,000 people and perform … that's a huge confidence builder for young people! You can apply that to any field you want.”

Former New Virginian David Bunch, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1982, couldn’t agree more. While Bunch joined the group for the opportunity to perform onstage, he also acquired leadership skills while participating in the group’s student leadership program. Now a retired credit union president and chief executive officer, those skills served him well throughout his career.

"A lot of the confidence that I gained being in settings — a meeting, or a conference where I'm doing a presentation, in front of a board — I have to look back to those days at Virginia Tech in the New Virginians as being the real epicenter of how I came into who I am,” Bunch said. “You can't learn that in a classroom. That is by experience."

Bunch joined the New Virginians in the spring of 1979. The group had reconvened after a year’s hiatus following Kingma’s departure as director. John Howell, associate professor of music at Virginia Tech, took over as director and would lead the group for the next 14 years. According to Bunch, Howell wrote amazing scores and was an extremely talented musician who really focused on the musicality of the group, working closely with Paul Breske. While some things had changed under Howell’s leadership, its ability to inspire special connections among its members certainly had not.

"I think back to my days in the New Virginians and it was every day, five days a week for two hours a day. That was my world: 321 Patton Hall. I'll never forget that,” Bunch said. “We spent so much time together, so many weekends together. We really were a family.”

New Virginians members have developed friendships that have lasted over 40 years.

“I can still pick up with any of those people as it was the day we left off. I know their kids' names, I know what they're doing, I know where they live,” DePalma said. “From the beginning, the New Virginians have been a close-knit community. After graduation we may not have seen one another as often as we liked, but we have always kept in touch. We still celebrate one another’s successes and mourn our losses, just as a family does.” 

"We all supported each other and on stage, we clicked. It was just like magic,” Bunch said. "That's a bond that I don't think will ever go away.

A huge group of people stand onstage, all with their hands above their heads, arms straight up, reaching for the sky, just after they have perfromed.
New Virginians alumni perform on the stage of the Moss Arts Center's Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre as part of the group's 50th anniversary celebration during Virginia Tech’s Reunion Weekend. Photo courtesy of Gary Horne.

New Virginians members continue to connect through special events hosted by the Moss Arts Center, celebrating the history of the group and engaging in the future of the arts at Virginia Tech. New Virginians alumni returned to Blacksburg in 2019 for a performance, reception, and tailgate and participated in a virtual performance together in 2021. This summer, members came together for a special 50th anniversary celebration during Virginia Tech’s Reunion Weekend.

“The New Virginians’ spirit is infectious,” said Ruth Waalkes, associate provost for the arts at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Moss Arts Center. “Our staff has been planning with a group of the alumni leaders for four years now. Each time we hear from a new contact, or receive another treasure trove of old photographs, we get pretty excited. The 50th anniversary celebration was first and foremost about bringing this amazing community of alumni back together. We also wanted to celebrate their legacy at Virginia Tech, and provide them a spot to call home on campus, here at the Moss Arts Center.”

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