New Chesapeake Alumni Chapter expands opportunities for Bobcat family

Lees-McRae alumni outside of North Carolina can now more easily stay connected to their alma mater through the dedicated work of the Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations, as well as childhood best friends Shelby Schestag ’06 and Jennifer Kanjorski ’06 with the latest alumni chapter, the Chesapeake Chapter.

Schestag and Kanjorski grew up together and continued their friendship as Lees-McRae students. Their journey with the alumni chapter began when they were approached by Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Relations Katie Talbert, and President of the Alumni Board Talia Freeman ’07.

“Me, Talia, and Jenn all attended college together, so she and Katie reached out to us and asked if we would be interested in starting a chapter here to progress the alumni family. Jenn and I both jumped at that opportunity,” Schestag said. “We called it the Chesapeake Chapter in hopes of being able to include people from Delaware, Virginia, D.C., Maryland, and that area around the Chesapeake Bay. Jenn and I are located just north of Baltimore.”

During their time at Lees-McRae, Schestag and Kanjorski fell in love with the area. They were the first two athletes to sign to and start the women's lacrosse team at the college, and they hold the four years they spent in Banner Elk close to their hearts.

Along with a group of their peers, the women make annual trips back to Banner Elk to revisit the time they spent at Lees-McRae and maintain the strong connections they built. Getting involved with an alumni group seemed like the natural next step for the duo.

“Anybody who has been to Lees-McRae or Banner Elk in general knows that place is special,” Schestag said. “Life gets crazy, and we don’t want to lose touch. Those are relationships that have lasted 20 years, so it’s huge. It’s not just a community, it’s a family-based environment where those relationships last forever.”

While those annual pilgrimages back to what Schestag refers to as their “safe space” will remain special, the goal of the Chesapeake Chapter is to bring a piece of Banner Elk back home with them, and provide that strong, family-like community for other alumni and current students in the area as well.

“At this point it’s not an RSVP type of event, we would just love to have everyone involved,” Schestag said. “We also want to include families with students who are currently at Lees-McRae, so they know they have a support system when they come home.”

While they are still in the early organizational stages, Schestag and Kanjorski were able to kick off the Chesapeake Chapter with their first event over Memorial Day weekend. The celebration was held at Bobcat-owned Spring Meadow Farms in Maryland and offered fun treats and activities for the whole family.

“We wanted it to be a family event and have family activities and things for kids. They have a petting zoo, they have a snowball stand, they have an ice cream stand, and they had live music that night,” Schestag said. “We just really wanted to kick the chapter off and make a comfortable environment for people to come and enjoy themselves, relax for a little bit, and relive the glory days, so to speak.”

As the chapter continues to grow and develop Schestag and Kanjorski plan to host events like this quarterly, organizing alumni gatherings every three months or so. The Chesapeake Alumni Chapter seeks to provide a sense of community and support to Bobcats throughout the region, and Schestag encourages other alumni to do the same.

“What’s the risk in trying to do it? You’re bringing people together, and that’s what we need in this world. We need more unity, we need friendships, we need relationships, we need support systems. If you have the opportunity to build that in whatever capacity it looks like, you should take advantage of it,” Schestag said. “It’s heartwarming, because people pick up where they left off.”

Visit the Lees-McRae College Chesapeake Alumni Chapter Facebook page

Learn about other alumni chapters and how to start one in your area

By Maya JarrellJuly 27, 2022