As an engineering student with a demanding course load, Claire Petrie, of Glen Allen, Virginia, may sometimes have been too preoccupied to start band rehearsal with a smile.

“But by the end,” she said, “I have a grin that stretches from ear to ear. Mark Twain once said, ‘The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.’ Time and time again, I’ve found that to be true.”

Sparking Petrie’s smile have been the triumphant sounds and sheer ebullience of The Marching Virginians, the 330-member-strong band known as “The Spirit of Tech.” And Petrie is not alone in learning the heartening power of uplifting others. Members of the Wenger family have found their reward in creating a scholarship fund to help ensure The Marching Virginians can continue to recruit the best.

The Wengers created the scholarship in honor of the significant impact The Marching Virginians has had on both their daughter’s experience as a Virginia Tech student and her life since graduation. They’ve found the spirited performances to be invigorating. But they’ve also been impressed by the strong commitment it takes to be a member of the band.

Petrie, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering who plays the trumpet, is one of two recipients of the inaugural Wenger Family Scholarship. The second recipient, William Owen, of King George, Virginia, is a tuba player and a junior majoring in chemical engineering.

“The Marching Virginians helped me realize that my limits were far beyond what I initially believed,” Owen said. “And I’ve learned that The Marching Virginians are a team, both on and off the field, and everyone is always willing to take time to help someone in need.”

Members of the Wenger family, pictured with band director David McKee (second from right), hope their scholarship will inspire others to support members of The Marching Virginians.

At first, the Wenger family was reluctant to publicize the donation. But then they realized the Wenger Family Scholarship might inspire others to fund scholarships to reward the efforts of The Marching Virginians. Indeed, the ripple effect has already begun: An alumna has followed their lead with an estate-planning gift aimed at creating an endowed scholarship for clarinetists.

“We’re so grateful for the generosity and inspiration of the Wenger family,” said David McKee, director of the band for the past 30 years and a senior instructor in the School of Performing Arts. “They understand well that the magic of The Marching Virginians happens not just on the playing field at halftime. It also happens with each member of the band, both during their time at Virginia Tech and long after the musical notes have faded, as they maintain the friendships that have sustained them so warmly.”

Written by Paula Byron