No one connected with Virginia Tech can forget the tragic events of April 17, 2007. But the tragedy also yielded stories of heroism, a strengthened sense of community, and a renewed dedication to service and the University’s motto, Ut Prosim.
In response to those events, the German Club Alumni Foundation Board of Directors in 2007 formed an ad hoc committee to determine if and how the Foundation could honor those who perished and to create a lasting memorial to them. Among the many ideas was a simple one: identify outstanding and otherwise unsung community service volunteers from the New River Valley and to honor them publicly. The thought was to create a way to shine a light on our “neighbors helping neighbors.”
Among the committee members was Dick Arnold ‘56, and through his efforts the first honors banquet was held at the Manor on April 2, 2009. Since then, under Dick’s vision and leadership, that simple beginning has grown to become a region-wide volunteer recognition organization and the area volunteer community’s premier annual event: the New River Leading Lights Annual Awards Gala.
In the summer of 2021, Dick stepped down as the first and only president of the New River Valley Leading Lights after 14 years of planning, recruiting, and guiding the recognition of volunteers at Virginia Tech and the surrounding community. Dick then served for an additional year as the New River Valley Leading Lights Past-President. On July 1, 2022, and after assisting with the Spring 2022 Annual Awards Gala, Dick Arnold officially finished his time as a member of the Leading Lights Board of Directors.
When he turned the leadership reigns over to retired Blacksburg pastor Bill King, Leading Lights in its 14 years had solicited and received around 665 award nominations, presented Leading Lights Distinguished Awards to 122 otherwise unsung high school, collegiate, and general public volunteers, and distributed more than $80,000 to nonprofit organizations represented by those honorees. In response to Covid-19 limitations, the organization persevered and demonstrated its fortitude and flexibility by continuing its work of recognizing the New River Valley’s volunteers in several other ways such as outdoor recognition ceremonies.
From its origins purely as a function of the German Club Alumni Foundation, Leading Lights itself has grown into community-wide volunteer organization supported by volunteers, financial sponsors, an increasing community endowment and the GCAF. And it has grown quickly: at the first banquet, Leading Lights recognized five volunteers. By 2013, Leading Lights had introduced cash awards to associated volunteer organizations and that year distributed $1,000 to them. By 2022 the award total had grown to 21 awards and $11,000 distributed to associated organizations.
Dick was also instrumental in establishing a collaborative relationship with the Community Foundation of the New River Valley and in setting up an endowment to preserve Leading Lights’ long-term financial security. It is with great pleasure and profound respect that we recognize Dick Arnold ’56 for his service to the New River Valley community for his efforts in establishing and shepherding New River Valley Leading Lights.