Bittle’s Bash: Celebrating the Birthday of Roanoke College’s Founder

Bittle Bash began around a campfire in the center of campus on Tuesday night. The night was cold so students huddled close together around the fire while waiting for the horse- drawn carriage to lead them to the founder’s grave. As they waited, the acapella group Looking for an Echo serenaded everyone with a few songs while lanterns and flags were distributed among the students. After the songs and before the departure, everyone also joined together to sing Happy Birthday to David Bittle. Finally, the little red lanterns were lit, and everyone braced themselves for the cold as they walked away from the fire and followed the white carriage pulled by two beige horses with braided manes that carried President and Mrs. Maxey up the street.

Lit up police cars lined Clay Street, blocking traffic to make way for the little parade. All the students were talking and laughing as they followed the carriage down the road, toward the graveyard’s gate, and up the hill towards Bittle’s tower of a gravestone at the top of the hill. Our founder’s monument reached up towards the cloudy sky in a point, standing out in comparison to all those surrounding it. A student laid a wreath by its base then Professor Miller of the history department spoke, beginning with a comment on the spookiness of the night, the clear view of the city of Salem and the fullness of the moon on this Founder’s day. He proceeded to inform the audience about this portion of the graveyard which has been mostly dedicated to those important to Roanoke College. Besides Bittle and his family, this area was also home to many of the other presidents, like President Dreher, who is remembered for greatly diversifying our college nearly a century ago.

Twenty-two years ago, these Founder’s Day events were just an idea. But now the idea has become a tradition that takes place every year on or around David Bittle’s November 19th birthday. Before everyone left the graveyard, Looking for an Echo sang the Alma Mater. School pride and sense of belonging was at an all- time high as everyone stood around the grave of Roanoke’s first president with its current one and sang the Roanoke Alma Mater. Slowly, the whole parade made their way back to campus where the night continued with karaoke in Colket.

Dr. Miller informed us that the karaoke was, like always, going to be “fast and loud the way Bittle liked it,” a most likely untrue saying that nonetheless became tradition after it was said by a student years before. It was an accurate description of what took place on the stage that was set up under blue lights outside of Commons. Students and teachers took turns getting up on stage and singing songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” to the applause of the audience. The light and comical atmosphere was the perfect conclusion to the school’s night of celebration of its founder, David Bittle.