The 2019 Family of the Year award was presented to Kristy Morrill '91(left), assistant to the director in the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity at Virginia Tech, and her niece and nominator, Katie Atherton (right), currently a freshman
April 13, 2019 The 2019 Family of the Year award was presented to Kristy Morrill '91(left), assistant to the director in the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity at Virginia Tech, and her niece and nominator, Katie Atherton (right), currently a freshman. (Photo by Christina Franusich/Virginia Tech)

Just being there for one another.

This is what the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), means to the 2019 Virginia Tech Family of the Year. They live it each day.  

Kristy Morrill ’91, assistant to the director in the College of Engineering's Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), and her niece, first-year student Katie Atherton, accepted the award during Family Weekend before the Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 13.

“I’m just so happy,” Morrill said. “I tear up every time I read the nomination. But I want to stress that this award should go to our entire family, including our Hokie family.”

A cancer diagnosis and devastating loss brought the family closer.

“My sister, Katie’s mom, was diagnosed in 2012 and lost her life just five months later,” Morrill said. “I basically moved in. Their father was phenomenal, but I wanted to do more for my niece and nephews.”

She bought a waffle maker to continue her sister’s tradition of making chocolate chip waffles, went to their games, danced the Wobble with Atherton at her prom, and got to know her niece’s friends.

“They call me Crazy Aunt Kristy now, too,” she said with a laugh. “That has been my nickname since Katie and her brothers were born. I’m definitely the crazy aunt who will do anything for anyone. I cheer them on. And I don’t get easily embarrassed.”

Morrill continued to support her family even when she landed her dream job at her alma mater two years later.

“She made the drive between Blacksburg and Virginia Beach each week instead of immediately moving,” said Atherton. “She was somehow able to work in Blacksburg and still be there to take me out to lunch after my soccer games or help me with homework.”

Choosing Virginia Tech for college was a no-brainer for Atherton. She wanted to join Morrill and several siblings and cousins in Blacksburg. Her mother, Kendra Atherton, graduated in 1992 with a degree in finance.  

"We’re a family of Hokies,” Morrill said. “Virginia Tech has always been part of the glue that bonds all of us together. It’s home. Even when life is tough, we can gather together and cheer for our school.”

Morrill’s work with the university includes assisting with support programs for first-year engineering students, serving as the undergraduate recruiter for the College of Engineering, and handling communications for CEED.

“The best part is working with students who are the Engineering Ambassadors for the College of Engineering,” she said. “They’re like my kids. I do anything I can to help, even if it’s picking up medicine when they’re sick or ordering pizza.”

Atherton credits Morrill with helping her get involved on campus and showing her what it means to be a Hokie.

“She taught me that Hokies care about one another and that I was never too cool for the ‘Hokie Pokie,’” said Atherton, who plans to major in business and minor in Spanish. “She was the one who showed me that if you yell ‘Let’s Go!,’ a crowd of people will yell ‘Hokies!’ As a kid, I thought that if you were the one to yell ‘Let’s Go!’ you were famous. I was always too nervous, but Kristy would do it with me every time.”

Atherton is following in her family’s tradition of service by participating in Virginia Tech’s Big Event and working with her sorority to raise money to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The family also organizes k5k: A Run for Kendra in Virginia Beach each year to raise scholarship money for students in Virginia’s Tidewater region who have lost a parent to cancer.

They play “Enter Sandman” at the start of each race.

“We have awarded seven of the scholarships to Virginia Tech students,” said Morrill. “It’s a huge party to celebrate Kendra’s life. She defined Ut Prosim and what it means to be a Hokie. She would do anything for anyone and make friends with everyone. We’re just trying to live up to her example.”

Student Affairs presents the Family of the Year award annually to acknowledge the people who are so important to students—as mentors, collaborators, friends, advocates, and guides.

Written by Tammy Tripp. Photo by Christina Franusich.