Six Questions for … Legacy March Leader Jessica Gnacke ’16

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Photos of 2016 NU Legacy march participants
Norwich University Office of Communnications

November 9, 2015

Last week, 55 Norwich students, faculty and friends took a three-day, 50-mile march from the site of NU’s original campus in Norwich, Vt., to its current home in Northfield. The marchers raised money for the Veteran’s Place, a transition home for veterans in Northfield, Vt., that provides veterans with housing, assistance, and job training with the goal of empowering them to live independent, successful lives after two years. Now in its sixth year, this year’s march is lead by chemistry major and NU Corps of Cadets platoon leader Jessica Gnacke.

They just completed the march on Saturday, Nov. 7. Jessica posted updates on Facebook throughout the march. This is her final post:

This weekend concluded my fourth and unfortunately my final Legacy March. I could not be more proud of the other 55 marchers that came on this journey with me. Not only did they learn about Norwich and whether they could actually March 50 miles, but they all learned something about themselves these past few days. It’s an amazing experience that I have had the privilege of being a part of for 4 years, and leading for 2. This March is one of the many things that makes me proud to be a part of Norwich and to make a difference.

Thank you everyone who has followed us on our journey, I wish I could have posted more! If you have question about the March I would be glad to answer!

Jessica Gnacke Class of 2016

Prior to the march, we caught up with Jessica to ask her about it all:

Tell us about Veterans Place, the nonprofit you’re raising money for.

The Veterans Place is a nonprofit in Northfield that houses veterans that need a little more assistance getting back on their feet. They help veterans if they need to get their license. If they need to find jobs or go back to school. Any of those things. They kind of help push veterans towards those goals. The Veterans Place normally tries to house them for around two years. And then after those two years, they hope that everything that has been done in the meantime, will help them so they can go and sustain themselves on their own. I think it’s a great thing for us to be a part of. Most of the students here are interested in the military and want to commission into the military. To help those who have served to get back on their feet is important. It’s not right that they’re not getting the help they should be getting.

This year marks the Year of Transformation 2015-16 in Norwich University’s 2019 Bicentennial countdown. Has being involved in this march transformed you at all?

I would say it has. Definitely, freshman year I didn’t know much about it. I just did it because I wanted to get off campus. And now I’m doing everything I can to raise as much money as possible for Veterans Place. Because I’ve gotten to know [Veterans Place founder] Karen Boyce and I’ve gotten to know Josh, one of the vets there who came on the march with us. You realize that you’re doing it for different reasons now. You’re not doing it to get off campus. More often than not now, I fall more behind [in my coursework] when I go for those three days than if I were to stay here. I’m not getting all my work done. But I do it because I know what the experience is. I’m helping other people get this experience as well as raising money for the Veterans Place, which has been my thought process every year since freshman year.

On the last day of the march, when you’re particularly sore and tired, you walk 20 miles to campus to deliver the game football on Sabine Field by noon. What’s morale like?

We wake up at 4:30 in the morning. We’re stepping off by 5 a.m. We march seven miles in the dark. You’re not in the best mood. Because it’s 5 in the morning and you’re marching seven miles and you haven’t eaten breakfast yet. But it’s amazing because that’s probably the most upbeat people are. Everybody is talking. They’re trying to stay awake. You’re trying to get your mind off things. You’re sore. It’s your last day. You’re almost done. It’s funny. That should probably be one of the most miserable times and people are laughing and joking around and listening to music. The morale, even if it starts to go down, it’ll be up in a matter of minutes, which I think is really cool.

How has the march evolved in the four years you have been involved in it?

We definitely try to bring as many people as possible. My freshman and sophomore years we had maybe 30 people on the march. And last year and this year we bumped it up to 55—5 people that kind of help organize it and then 50 marchers that donate and volunteer.

In past years, we raised about a thousand dollars for the Veterans Place. Last year, we raised about $4,500. It was such a huge increase in what we were able to donate to them, which is the main purpose of the march. We try to bring new people to come and give us the little history lessons along the way, so it’s not just a straight march.

How is the money raised?

Everybody who participates in the march donates $50. Last year, I thought a good way to raise money at Norwich would be to hold a dress down day. So every Corps student that wants to participate pays $5 as a donation and they get a little – this year they get little pins – and they wear that pin on whatever they wear for the dress down day and they get to wear civilians for the day. We raised from that fundraiser alone, $2,600 this year. All of our mile markers feature our sponsors: Depot Square, O’Maddi’s, Robert Sandborne, Sodexo, etc. We recognize all the different groups and people who have helped us.

Can you share a highlight or favorite experience from previous marches?

My sophomore year it poured for two straight days. It was miserable. The morale was down a lot that second day. We were hungry. It finally stopped raining. And we saw this farm. And we were like, “This looks like a nice place to stop.” So we went and knocked on the door. Nobody answered. So we ended up sitting on their driveway, all 30 of us, eating lunch. The owners eventually came back to find 30 some cadets sitting in their driveway, eating. After we talked to them and told them what was going on, they opened up their barn so we could sit inside. It ended up being great. Just little things like that that you don’t expect. I think the best part is seeing the reaction from the community when we walk through. People will wave and beep their horns as they drive by. Store owners will come out because they know that we’re coming and they’ll talk to us and cheer us on. I guess it’s not one specific thing, but all these different experiences and little funny things that happen.