The Bicentennial Stairs Project—Chairman’s Report

Almost 100 years ago, the Norwich University Centennial Celebration of 1919 paid tribute to the University’s founding in 1819. One of the elements of that celebration was the creation of the Centennial Stairway, forty granite steps, dedicated to forty individuals who personified Norwich founder Captain Alden Partridge’s ideals for the Nation’s first private military college and the birthplace of the citizen soldier, Norwich University. The 40 names exemplified Norwich’s story for its first 100 years.

Since then, the Centennial Stairway has served as a tribute and daily reminder of the alumni and friends who contributed to Norwich’s past — and paved the way for Norwich’s future. Situated near the Adams Carillon, the Centennial Staircase has stood as an enduring commemorative landmark with each step bearing the name of one individual considered important to Norwich, commencing with Captain Partridge himself.

Now, almost 100 years later, as part of Norwich’s Bicentennial Celebration, a new perpetual monument to the University’s 200th year, the Bicentennial Stairs, has come to fruition. This effort initially began in 2014, five years before the actual bicentennial itself.

The project was conceived by the Bicentennial Steering Committee — Norwich President Richard Schneider; Gordon Sullivan, General U.S. Army (ret.), Norwich ’58, Honorary Chair of the Bicentennial Commemoration; and Douglas McCracken ’70, Chair of the Bicentennial Commemoration. The Steering Committee asked Michael Popowski, Esq., Norwich’s counsel, to serve as Chair of the Bicentennial Stairs Committee, and to form a committee to animate and structure the Steering Committee’s concept.

In the spring of 2015, after applications from over 20 alumni and friends, the Bicentennial Stairs Committee itself took form. Today, the Committee consists of eight members including the chair.

The Committee’s first meeting, an all-day session on campus, was held that July whereupon it began to develop and implement a fair and transparent, but confidential selection process.

To that end, the Stairs Committee set about to do the following:

  • Solicit input on candidates for the Stairs from many sources including alumni, faculty, staff and friends.
  • Complete independent research into potential candidates from over the previous one hundred years.
  • Evaluate, discuss and develop consensus as to who would be recommended for the Stairs.
  • Prepare a final report that will be available to the Steering Committee and to the Norwich Community.

Most importantly, the Stairs Committee agreed that those whose names were recommended for inscription on a step would be individuals who had in, the words of Norwich’s Mission statement from the 1840’s, made “moral, patriotic, efficient, and useful service to Norwich, their community and their country.” (For purposes of its deliberations, the Committee replaced the word “effective” for the word “efficient”.)

Faculty and staff were not considered for a step, but rather will be honored by Norwich in other ways.

In order to develop as objective criteria as possible, the Committee worked hard to develop a matrix so that service to country, community and Norwich could be measured in accordance with the 1840’s mission statement. Moreover, the Committee knew it was important to compare and contrast individuals within certain eras of Norwich history — since the Centennial Stairs in 1919 — and to evaluate and prioritize nominees from different eras. Accordingly, each committee member took responsibility for a decade commencing with the 1920’s and running through the 1970’s. One committee member was charged with reviewing potential names prior to 1920. In the final analysis, each committee member responsible for a decade would be the advocate for those names which he/she put forward from that decade.

The Committee acted as a plenary unit in order to consider alumni and others from the 1980’s to date, utilizing the collective input of all eight committee members to review and rate individuals who are important to Norwich in that time frame. Throughout, the Committee members resorted to the matrix. When final deliberations began, they compared those candidates from their decade with those from other decades.

The Committee also thought it was important to consider “Firsts”, those individuals who were important to the fabric of Norwich as trailblazers or for one or more transcendent accomplishments. Examples in this group would be Medal of Honor recipients, Norwich’s first African-American student and the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), William Wilson.

In its research, Committee members relied on multiple sources including the Norwich University Record (Norwich’s alumni journal); listings of individuals who have served Norwich as Trustees, Fellows or other volunteers; Partridge Society members and donors; Valor award recipients; and others previously honored by the University. Consideration was given to distinguished alumni as well as others from the Norwich family who had dedicated themselves to the Norwich ideal.

The greater University community at large was asked to propose names of individuals whom they felt they might merit a step. Nominations from classmates, friends, relatives and others remained open for six months, and over 100 names were proposed. All recommendations from these sources were considered as well.

The Committee members coalesced under three tenets: first, their love for Norwich; second, their desire to choose men and women who represented the Norwich ethos and who fulfilled the enduring Norwich mission statement of 170 years ago; and third, their desire to achieve consensus. Despite divergent and different individual viewpoints of Committee members, final recommendations — across the board — represent consensus.

To achieve its goal of recommending its names to the Steering Committee by April 1, 2018, the committee’s efforts included the following:

  • Five all-day, on campus meetings — the first in July 2015, the last in November, 2017.
  • At least one telephone conference call per month, sometimes more, commencing in March, 2015.
  • Scores of hours reviewing particular nominees in the Kreitzberg Library or other libraries (including the Library of Congress) and through the University archives.
  • Review of listings of over 100 years of Norwich Trustees, honorary degree recipients, valor award recipients, notable volunteers, as well as reviewing multiple historical documents supplied by the University archives.
  • Reviews of online information regarding those in the Norwich family or otherwise important to the University.
    Review of the Ellis and Guinn histories of Norwich.
  • Evaluating and prioritizing candidates, within various decades including the period after 1980, and the recommendations from alumni and friends. All of this information was compiled for, and shared among, the Committee members.

The Bicentennial staircase itself consists of 78 steps located at the south end of the Norwich University Campus. The stairs link the upper parade ground with the Sullivan Museum and History Center and Kreitzberg Library. Like the Centennial Stairs, the Bicentennial Stairs will last in perpetuity, personifying the University’s deep history and tradition, and will be well traveled by generations of citizen soldiers as they prepare to make their mark in the world.

The Bicentennial Stairs Committee believe that each name which it recommended for inclusion on the stairs personify Norwich’s heroes, statesmen, dedicated leaders from public and private sectors, the professions, and from the military and industry. The final recommended 78 were culled from scores of worthy possibilities.

As it was when the Bicentennial Stairs Committee submitted its recommended 78 names to the Steering Committee, the Committee is pleased to serve as signatories to this Report to the Steering Committee and to the Norwich community.

Alan Cook ‘63
Amber Countis
Clarke Haywood ‘12
Col. Henry Lutz, USMC ‘93
Tony Maida ‘77
Lenore Schmidt ’93 & ‘95
Todd Smith ‘92
Michael Popowski, Chairman

Ex-offico
Lauren Frank, Director of Bicentennial Events
David J. Whaley, Vice President, Development & Alumni Relations ‘76