Former Adj. Gen. Vavala receives state chamber’s Marvel Cup
WILMINGTON – Retired Maj. Gen. Francis D. Vavala, who served for nearly two decades as the leader of the Delaware National Guard, received the prestigious Josiah Marvel Cup award from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce at its 184th annual dinner.
Vavala was recognized for his service to the state through military service as well as a second act in assisting veterans amid his retirement. The state chamber’s highest honor is named in memory of the late Josiah Marvel, who reorganized the state chamber and served as its first president in 1913. It has been awarded annually since 1951.
In receiving the award, an overwhelmed Vavala was clearly surprised and honored.
“This is an honor of the highest magnitude. I never in my life thought that I would be the recipient of this award,” he said. “I’ve been to the dinners over the years and it’s so magnificent.”
In a unique year when the chamber held its annual gala virtually rather than in-person when more than 1,000 would typically attend, Vavala was surprised with the honor before the event. Chamber leaders coordinated with the Delaware National Guard (DNG) to bring Vavala to the Joint Force Headquarters, where current DNG Adjutant General Michael R. Berry and DSCC President Michael J. Quaranta informed him of the honor.
“Gen. Vavala embodies what it means to serve the state and nation. For more than 50 years, both in uniform and out, he has made a tremendous impact on our National Guard and the state of Delaware,” said Berry, the current adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, in a statement. “He normally is the one giving out the recognition and awards, so it’s only right he gets some recognition.”
As an additional surprise, President-elect Joe Biden and incoming First Lady Jill Biden sent their congratulations to the general as well.
“We know how meaningful this award is,” said the president-elect in a statement, having won the award with his wife in 2018. “It comes from the community. It is about service to the people. There is no one more deserving than General Vavala. He’s not only been an incredible leader to the Delaware National Guard, but he’s been a genuine friend to so many.”
A born and raised Delawarean, Vavala attended Salesianum School and Wilmington University, and even worked for DuPont at one time. His military service began in 1967, when he enlisted in the Delaware Army National Guard as a private. He was commissioned as a signal officer after completing the Delaware Military Academy Officer Candidate School in 1970.
Vavala was appointed on Feb. 1, 1999 by then-Gov. Tom Carper as Delaware’s adjutant general, the highest-ranking DNG officer responsible for the mission readiness of all guardsmen units for both federal and state missions. Over his 18-year tenure serving three different governors, Vavala became the longest-tenured adjutant general in the country and earned the state’s first four-star rank.
After 50 years of DNG service, Vavala retired and took on a new role as a veteran’s advocacy specialist at Delaware Technical Community College. There he assists in the day-to-day operations of the Veterans Resource Center at Delaware Tech’s Stanton Campus.
“People who look for the stereotypical leader in his area might expect someone who is gruff, analytic or curt. But most people who know him describe him as kind, compassionate and respectful,” said Mark T. Brainard, president of Delaware Tech, in a statement.
The state-of-the-art headquarters, the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center in New Castle, was a 15-year-long dream of Vavala’s, who led the efforts to construct the building in 2014. The facility is now home to approximately 400 soldiers, airmen and sailors.
Vavala also initiated a program entitled the “War on Hunger” in December 2008, which placed food donation sites in all Delaware Army and Air National Guard facilities as well as National Guard supported events. Food collected through this program is delivered to the Food Bank of Delaware to help feed families at risk in Delaware.
“General Valvala is what one would call a servant leader – someone who by his own words and actions has, time and again, led by example. He is the very definition of public service,” said Chamber President Quaranta in a statement.