Mary Baldwin University celebrated a new chapter in its history with a ceremonial groundbreaking at the new health sciences site.

About 200 supporters gathered inside a large white tent raised on the future campus of the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences (MDCHS) while bulldozers and other heavy equipment continued grading the hilltop in Fishersville that overlooks many local health care facilities.

Before the first shovel full of soil was turned, student singers Bella Voce and Chaplain Katherine Low blessed the site. Local, state, and federal officials hailed the project as a public-private partnership that will provide stimulus to the economy and create hundreds of local jobs.

“We aim to elevate all aspects of Mary Baldwin University through this new vision, and we aim to be part of the ongoing transformation of this community — the thriving medical corridor in Augusta County,” said Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox.

Mary Baldwin Board of Trustees Chairwoman Lyn McDermid, 6th District Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, Augusta County Supervisor Jeffrey A. Moore, and Founding Vice President of the MDCHS Linda Seestedt-Stanford joined Fox on the dais.

In his remarks, Moore delivered the news that the Commonwealth Transportation Board gave the green light to expand the Interstate 64 interchange at Exit 91, leading to the county’s medical corridor, and to extend Route 636, connecting Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center with Augusta Health and the new MDCHS campus.

Seestedt-Stanford thanked Fox for her vision and for “creating teams of thinkers, dreamers, and doers” who will help make possible the new graduate school. Plans are underway to open in June 2014 with programs in occupational and physical therapy and in the following year, master of physician assistant studies.

“Mary Baldwin has truly embraced change to build on a tradition of excellence,” Seestedt-Stanford said. “It has birthed the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences and gifted it with a strong and proud history and an academic foundation that we will build on. And trust me … we will make you proud.”

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Bertie Murphy Deming Smith ’46, whose lead gift of $15 million is the catalyst for the new college, could not attend the event, but her daughter, Bertie Deming “Bebe” Heiner, and son-in-law Bill Atwood represented her in the official shovel line. With her most recent gift, and her contributions in recent years, Smith is the largest contributor to Ever Ahead: The Campaign for Mary Baldwin University, which officially entered the public fundraising phase Thursday.

More photos of the event are on the Mary Baldwin Flickr page.