You may be familiar with this popular and ever relevant quote about our amazing school:
But, do you know anything about the woman who said it?
Alpha Spitzer was born and raised in Broadway, Va., making her very close to Harrisonburg, Va. from the start of her life. Spitzer graduated from State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, now our beloved JMU, in 1937 with a Bachelor of Science degree in High School Teaching and Administration. Spitzer was an athlete, an active club member, a teacher, a volunteer, and a generous contributor to her community. Her extensive involvement in the Shenandoah Valley throughout her life proved that she was an admirable woman.
Joe Loving, senior History major from Roanoke, Virginia peaked an interest in Spitzer when he and fellow History students, Joellen Ceide and Nicholas Siedel, were assigned a project in their HIST 326 class, The Automobile in 20th Century America. The students discovered Spitzer’s travel diary that dated back to a 1939 cross country road trip. Alpha Spitzer and her sister Margaret traveled in a 1937 Ford all the way from Broadway, Virginia to Pueblo, Colorado and back in the summer of 1939 in just 18 days. This journey was incredibly captured in her own script in a small spiral notebook that Loving, Ceide and Siedel found themselves indulged in. Spitzer’s preliminary itinerary title, “Tripping thru the States” laid out the trip in detail. The rich history and data from the pages that followed made Spitzer’s diary the perfect project for the students’ class.
The incredibly preserved diary can be found in the special collections of JMU’s Carrier Library where fragile and historic artifacts are stored. Spitzer’s very specific travel diary includes detailed entries about the sisters’ daily activities, travel time, film log, and even budget calculations throughout the days of the road trip. Spitzer’s attention to capturing the trip in its raw detail even includes some original stickers collected from different spots the sisters stopped along the road. The pages and script of the diary are still perfectly maintained. Spitzer’s travel diary’s home at the JMU special collections library is open Monday through Friday for the public to read, listen, research or simply enjoy its pieces.
Now in the final weeks of fall 2017’s semester, the three history students have completed the entire typed transcription of Spitzer’s 40 page diary. They have searched archives, contacted her high school, visited Rockingham Historical Society, and dug deep into Spitzer’s life to find out as much information on her as they could. They are now making her travel writings into a detailed digital comic of the long cross-country journey to present to their class. Loving, Ceide and Siedel are proud of their research. Their interest in Spitzer has brought her diary back to life and given it a modern spin.
Spitzer’s lasting accomplishments in our community reach much further than her well-known quote describing the Madison experience. She has a made an impact on us that many are unaware of. Along with her lifelong generous contributions to our university, there is a scholarship awarded in her name – “Spitzer (Alpha) Family Scholarship for Mathematics & Science Education” – to a student from Rockingham or Fairfax counties that are pursuing a degree in the field of Mathematics and Science just as she once pursued herself. The Daily Duke thanks Alpha Spitzer for keeping a bright spirit in the Madison experience throughout her full 96 years of life.