Class of 1976: Nancy Young Fillip ✯ A Norwich First

As a young athlete—and one not particularly enamored with the academic grind—Nancy Young had long assumed she would attend Springfield College to pursue her ambition of becoming a phys-ed teacher. When Springfield turned her down, she recalls, “I was so disappointed I was ready to pack my bags and escape.”

Little did she know she would go on to make history as one of the first women to enroll at Norwich University and join the Corps of Cadets.

(Courtesy of Nancy Young Fillip ’76)

(Courtesy of Nancy Young Fillip ’76)

Nancy was licking her wounds over the Springfield disappointment when her father came home from his high school reunion “with an interesting proposition.” One of Mr. Young’s high school classmates, a Norwich alumnus, mentioned that his alma mater had recently merged with Vermont College and would soon open its doors to female students. “Dad said, ‘How would you like to go to college where they have their own ski slope?’ And I said, ‘Sign me up!’”

Noting that her priorities at the time were sports, music, and academics—in that order—Nancy entered her first year on the Hill with modest goals: to play field hockey and to earn her degree. She immediately succeeded in the former; as for her latter goal—an unprecedented cultural shift was in the works that would alter the course of Nancy’s life. At the start of her sophomore year, President Loring Hart opened up the Corps of Cadets to women. “I immediately opted in,” Nancy recalls. Right away, she was attached to an Air Force ROTC battalion. Three other women also joined the Corps at that time: Mary (Chambers) Merhi ’77 (Army), Roberta (Watson) Moskos (Army), and Diane (Gionet) Halliday ’75, who attended Norwich on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. Nancy and Diane were roommates. She says the women received an enthusiastic welcome from university leadership, military command, and their male counterparts.

People have assumed that I opted into the Corps because I was competitive, that I wanted to show the guys I could be like them. But that wasn’t it: I’d just always been a risk-taker and the idea excited me.” – Nancy Young Fillip ’76

People have assumed that I opted into the Corps because I was competitive, that I wanted to show the guys I could be like them. But that wasn’t it: I’d just always been a risk-taker and the idea excited me.” – Nancy Young Fillip ’76

In September of her junior year, after attending officer training camp at McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kansas, Nancy was sworn into the Air Force and became a sergeant first class in the Corps. Diane became a captain, and the two of them assumed command of L (Lima) Company, which included Lin (Peterson) Westberg ’78, Irene (Nadeau) Mills ’78, Vicki (Hippard) Mudrinich ’78, and Caroline Flynn. In that command, Nancy honed the leadership skills she credits today for her many successes in life.

And while she did not attend Norwich intent on acquiring a “Mrs.” degree, Alan Fillip ’76 captured her heart, becoming one more facet of her Norwich experience that guided the trajectory of her life.

While Diane Halliday commissioned after graduation—the first Norwich woman to do so—Nancy chose to pursue what would become a 35-year career teaching high school math and science, and coaching gymnastics and field hockey. She owes this decision, in part, to anatomy and physiology professor Joseph McDaniels and math professor Hall Buzzell. Both helped her believe she was capable of something more.

A retired public-school teacher, Nancy teaches continuing education at Fitchburg State University and lives in Pepperell, Mass., with Alan. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. The author of seven books, she has persevered through life’s challenges—including a paralysis that left her immobilized for more than a year—with a get-back-up spirit she credits to Norwich. “Norwich puts you in situations where you either sink or swim,” she explains. “In all of those situations, I chose to swim. I’ve carried that lesson with me since the day I first enrolled.” – Jane Dunbar

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