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Anne (left) enjoys returning to JMU to spend time with Sydney at football games.

When four generations of women attend the same university throughout its long history, a family can establish a distinctive understanding of it. This is true of the Bronaugh family, who’s created a bond of common experiences since JMU began as The State Normal and Industrial School for Women in 1908. The family has seen JMU change significantly since then.

Sydney Bronaugh, a senior theatre major, followed the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother when she committed to JMU in 2016. 

“I remember one day, I was at my grandparents’ house wearing a JMU shirt, and I walked into the kitchen where my grandmother was cleaning,” Bronaugh said. “My grandfather said something like, ‘JMU, huh?’ and my grandmother said, very certainly, without looking up from her task, ‘That’s where she’s going to go.’” 

Bronaugh said she already had school spirit going into college. She remembers that during the CHOICES open house, she toured Duke Hall and loved it. However, her reason for going to JMU was based on existent memories, not one epiphany. 

Although Bronaugh’s been set on going to JMU since she was young because the university’s been so prominent in her life, she faced a period of time when her aspirations were different. At one point, she wanted to attend Lynchburg University. 

“I was put on the spot with a scholarship and decision time at Lynchburg, and all of a sudden, I had to accept the scholarship by the end of the week, or I wouldn’t get it,” Bronaugh said. “I can’t make a decision on the spot like that, so I [chose] JMU. I have family here, too — local family — and I had been here before, and it just felt safer.”

The family’s legacy reaches to extended family, too. Bronaugh’s cousin, Taylor Bronaugh, is also a senior at JMU. Elizabeth Bronaugh (’60), Sydney’s grandmother, believes her family’s representation at JMU frames a strong relationship.

“We can proudly wear our purple and gold, discuss our fond memories and be grateful for our special connection,” Elizabeth said in an email.

The Bronaughs said the opportunity to watch their family’s younger generations receive an education at JMU has reassured their enthusiastic mindset about the school. Elizabeth has watched Sydney enjoy a study abroad program in France and participate in hands-on learning with theater and art, Sydney’s passion. 

“I am growing in my conviction that it is an amazing place to be by seeing my daughter love it as much as I do,” Anne Bronaugh (’92), Sydney’s mother, said.

Sydney described her four years at JMU as positive. She said she loves spending time with her best friends in Harrisonburg’s downtown. It’s easy for Sydney to call JMU home with the comfort of nearby family and memorable events, like going to a football game with her grandmother in the renovated 25,000-seat stadium. Elizabeth had never attended a game when she was in school because there wasn’t a football team yet.

“It would have been great fun, attending sporting events in the wonderful facilities,” Elizabeth said in an email.

She said she thoroughly enjoys the surroundings of the Shenandoah Valley. In her eyes, it adds to JMU’s beautiful campus. The other women in her family share similar opinions and a fondness of the school. 

“I made friends that are still among my closest friends, grew exponentially as a person and enjoyed a lot of success later professionally from what I learned in the classroom and out of the classroom,” Anne said. “My years at JMU were significant and life-changing.”

Elizabeth and Sydney’s great-grandmother, Margaret Pratt, who graduated in the ’30s, came to JMU to become teachers. Elizabeth that the women in the family were also inspired to attend the university because of the campus’ atmosphere.  

“Across the board, I heard stories about the amazing community,” Anne said. “Of course, JMU’s reputation academically was good, but I heard more people talk about how people treated each other and the supportive and close communities formed there: the ‘hold the door’ attitude was a thing before holding the door was a thing.”

Sydney said she thinks the most visible change is that JMU has shifted from a small teacher’s college to a large university with many accessible degrees. It was also mostly a school for teachers when her grandmothers attended.

“It’s really cool and interesting because JMU is so different now and has changed so much since it was founded,” Sydney said. “Even though it’s the same school, the JMU my great-grandmother went to was so different than it is now.”

Anne believes the separate JMU experiences her family members share have enabled a feeling of knowing the school inside and out and understanding the depths of its past and present.

“Many of the buildings have changed, but JMU has the same feeling to me,” Anne said. “People are friendly and considerate and seem to look outside themselves more than on many campuses. Most Dukes seem really glad to be where they are. I also love the surroundings. Walking the Quad and taking in the views will never get old.”

Elizabeth said that the Bronaugh women have a “terrific bond” because of their time spent at JMU, one that not many college graduates hold. They each have an individual love for their school, but they all said that being a part of a quadruple legacy is an experience like no other.

“I am very proud of being a graduate of JMU, and it’s fun to hear so personally what it was like in the past, have my own memories and see what it’s like now,” Anne said. “It just makes me like my school more.” 

Contact Claudia Vigue at viguecl@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.