When the Virginia Tech community gathers next Friday evening for the dedication and first pep rally at the Quillen Spirit Plaza, three HokieBird statues will be looking on and waiting for the photos to begin.

The 10-foot, 1-ton bronze HokieBird that stood in Cassell Coliseum since 2006 has taken its new place on the east side of the plaza. The 5-foot "Spirit of Tech" HokieBird, which was part of Squires Student Center for 16 years, will stand in a portico on the west side. A new 5-foot HokieBird statue called "This is Home" will take its position at the entrance to Dietrick Hall.  

  • “Collectively, they represent our family's love for this institution — its traditions, our milestones and memories, and a respect for those who've been here and those yet to come,” said Hunter Quillen Gresham, one of three siblings whose generosity made the Quillen Spirit Plaza a reality.
  • “They are a reminder of the school's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” said Matt Quillen ’06. “A constant reminder of what it means to be a Hokie.”
  • “The HokieBird is such a fun part of VT and people gravitate to the mascot,” said Chris Quillen ’98. 

Installation of the HokieBird statues are among the finishing touches to the Quillen Spirit Plaza, which will be dedicated on Friday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. Everyone is invited to the family-friendly event, which will feature the Virginia Tech cheerleaders, the HokieBird mascot, Hokie Tracks ice cream, and, of course, photo opportunities with the HokieBirds.

The early bird

Sherwood “Sherry” Payne Quillen ’71 was one of the first to commission a custom HokieBird from the Blacksburg Partnership’s Gobble de Art civic art project when it launched in 2006. She designated it as a salute to past, present, and future spirit squads and HokieBird mascots.

Called the "Spirit of Tech," Sherry’s Bird features images of cheerleaders, including one of Sherry from a 1960s-era Bugle yearbook. “That was the year the squad switched from traditional sweaters and pleated skirts to what we called our Star Trek uniforms,” said Sherry, referring to the mod-inspired attire. A photo of Matt Quillen, who was the HokieBird mascot for three years during his time as a student at Virginia Tech, is also featured on the "Spirit of Tech" statue.  

“I’ve seen the cheering program grow through 50 years. It was the highlight of my time as a student at Virginia Tech and I made lifelong friends,” said Sherry. “I’m a cheerleader for life.”

The "Spirit of Tech" HokieBird stood in a prominent position in Squires Student Center’s main entrance for many years. Frequently featured in student selfies and group shots, it became the must-have photo for newly admitted students and their families during orientation.

Now, spruced up and with a fresh coat of polyurethane to protect it from the elements, the statue will celebrate its 16th birthday at Friday's pep rally.

Joining the flock

The new HokieBird statue is named "This Is Home" and celebrates Hokie traditions. The concept and design were created by Mike, Chris, Hunter, and Matt Quillen. Artist Heather Gearhart brought the idea to life. "This is Home" will reside at the entrance to Dietrick Dining Center on the Spirit Plaza.

This HokieBird carries a lunch pail, which represents respect for blue-collar workers as well as the grit and determination it has come to be known for in association with the football team. It sports a class ring, a nod to Mike Quillen’s service on the Virginia Tech Ring Committee as a student. And there is a tattoo on its bicep that is a shout out to Southwest Virginia and Gate City, the Quillens’ hometown.

It conveys a sense of playfulness and energy.

The "This is Home" HokieBird also highlights the varied logos and taglines used by the university since its founding in 1872. And it contains clues to a variety of Virginia Tech traditions incorporated into the paving stones in the Circle of Traditions around the bronze HokieBird in the Quillen Spirit Plaza.

“It represents how important Virginia Tech is to all of us in Hokie Nation,” said Mike Quillen ’70.

Paving stone on Quillen Spirit Plaza engraved with Enter Sandman tradition text.

Paving stone on Quillen Spirit Plaza engraved with Enter Sandman tradition text.
Twenty-six paving stones are installed on the Quillen Spirit Plaza represent the 26 miles Addison Caldwell walked to be the first student to register at Virginia Tech. These pavers flow from the west to the east in a historical timeline from 1872 to the present. Several of the stones were intentionally left blank to be engraved by future Hokies. Photo by Darren Van Dyke for Virginia Tech.

Birds of a feather

The Spirit Plaza and its HokieBirds are a testament to the Quillen family’s long and varied history with Virginia Tech and a commitment to make it better place for students to learn, grow, and truly become part of Hokie Nation. Parents Mike and Sherry Quillen are not only alumni. Each is also known for their individual support and service to Virginia Tech.

This time, the gift is from their three children, Chris Quillen ’98, Hunter Quillen Gresham, and Matt Quillen ’06. Their $2 million gift is the largest in Student Affairs’ history.

  • “I think one of the things that makes VT so special is that the institution works tirelessly to help students find their place, find their people, and find their purpose,” said Hunter Quillen Gresham, who graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1998 and worked at Virginia Tech for 18 years. “Building community — whether through a love of wearing orange and maroon or making memories at pre-game pep rallies on the Spirit Plaza — matters to students.”
  • “VT is such a special place and it’s important for students to feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. We just wanted to help create a great new space for Hokies — past, present and future,” said Chris Quillen, who represented the university for four years on the track and field team.
  • “The Spirit Plaza is a reminder of what it means to be a Hokie,” said Matt Quillen, the former HokieBird. “It connects one part of the campus to the other with accessible paths. It's a morale thing. More community and shared spirit mean higher morale for students.”

The siblings’ parents are understandably proud.

“It is very rewarding that the kids have taken on the family’s philanthropic philosophy and have included VT in their mission,” said Mike Quillen.

“It touches my heart to see my kids take advantage of this philanthropic opportunity,” said Sherry Quillen. “It is satisfying to see them doing the right thing and being their authentic selves.”

The Quillen siblings recognize that their recent gift is a continuation of a long and distinguished family commitment to the university.

“If being of generous spirit is inherited through one's DNA, then we were born this way. Ut Prosim is in our blood,” said Hunter Quillen Gresham. “We've been raised to not only pay it forward but to leave a place better than we found it.”

“Virginia Tech has been a big part of all of our lives,” said Chris Quillen. “We’re all very fortunate and we just want to see VT continue to grow and help how we can.”

A feather in the cap

Ted Faulkner, Student Affairs assistant vice president for dining, housing, and student centers, is a lifelong Hokie who has been pivotal to the Quillen Spirit Plaza project from its inception.

“We have already seen the tremendous draw to come to this space and immerse oneself in the essence of Virginia Tech,” Faulkner said. “It is also a place to unwind and relieve the stressors and challenges of everyday student life. To reflect, to be inspired. To connect to what was and is, but also to dream and think about possibilities. It provides wonderful photographic opportunities to capture a moment in time on campus. It is our hope that it will generate fond and inspiring memories long after a visitor departs.”   

Spirit to spare: Final thoughts from the Quillen family on being part of Hokie Nation

  • Sherry Quillen: “Even though there are more buildings, more paths, more opportunities, Virginia Tech has the same feeling it has always had. Hokie Nation is family. It is camaraderie. It is looking out for one another. It is a sense of belonging.”
  • Chris Quillen: “It’s the community. You know it when you see it or hear it. Like when you’re randomly walking down an airport terminal on the other side of the country or the world and you get a ‘Go Hokies!’ because you’re wearing a VT hat or shirt.”
  • Hunter Quillen Gresham:Being part of Hokie Nation means yelling, ‘HOKIES!’ when someone says, ‘Let's Go!’ It means loving Blacksburg and sharing the Hokie Spirit, kindness, with folks wherever you go. It is taking care of each other. And it's knowing what the Hokey Pokey really is all about!”
  • Matt Quillen: “I'm a retired Hokie Bird. I will always feel like I am a part of Hokie Nation!”
  • Mike Quillen: “I always look for Hokies wherever we travel. There is always a ‘Go Hokies!’”

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