State chamber’s highest honor goes to Vavala
At its 184th annual dinner, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce awarded its prestigious Josiah Marvel Cup Award to Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Francis D. Vavala.
Established in 1951, the Marvel Cup honors a Delawarean who has made an outstanding contribution to the state, community or society. The state chamber’s highest honor is named in memory of the Hon. Josiah Marvel, who reorganized and served as the chamber’s first president in 1913. As a tradition, recipients of the Marvel Cup are kept secret until the night of the dinner.
Due to the pandemic, the chamber coordinated with the Delaware National Guard to bring Vavala to the Joint Force Headquarters prior to the virtual event. There, Maj. Gen. Michael R. Berry, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, and chamber President Michael J. Quaranta revealed that he was this year’s honoree.
The gathering was recorded and shared with more than 800 business leaders, elected officials and state dignitaries during the virtual event Jan. 11. Attendees watched the heartwarming surprise as Vavala shared the special moment with an intimate group of National Guard leadership and his family.
"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. “He normally is the one giving out the recognition and awards, so it's only right he gets some recognition."
Vavala is a born-and-raised Delawarean. He attended Salesianum School and Wilmington University. Before his appointment as adjutant general, he was a marketing services supervisor for DuPont. 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 by then-Gov. Tom Carper and assumed duties as Delaware’s adjutant general Feb. 1, 1999. He was the highest-ranking member of the Delaware National Guard, responsible for the mission readiness of all Delaware National Guard units for both federal and state missions.
Vavala is the first Delaware National Guard member to achieve four-star rank. He is also the longest-tenured adjutant general in the country, having served three Delaware governors over an 18-year period.
In addition to holding dozens of leadership positions in the Delaware National Guard, he also held prominent national positions as president of the Adjutant Generals Association of the United States and served as chairman of the board for the National Guard Association of the United States.
After 50 years of service in the Delaware National Guard, Vavala retired and took on a new role as a veterans’ advocacy specialist at Delaware Technical Community College. 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 Dr. Mark T. Brainard, president of Delaware Technical Community College.
The state-of-the-art headquarters, the Major Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center in New Castle was a 15-year dream of Vavala’s. He 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 called the War on Hunger in December 2008, which placed food donation sites in all Delaware Army and Air National Guard facilities as well as at National Guard-supported events. Food collected through this program is delivered to the Food Bank of Delaware to help feed at-risk families in the First State.
“Gen. Vavala 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 Quaranta.
As an additional surprise, President-elect Joe Biden and incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden sent their congratulations to the general. Both were honored with the Marvel Cup at the State Chamber’s 181st Annual Dinner in 2018.
“We know how meaningful this award is,” said President-elect Biden. “It comes from the community. It is about service to the people. There is no one more deserving than Gen. Vavala. He’s not only been an incredible leader to the Delaware National Guard, he’s been a genuine friend to so many.”