The Big Boy founded Ad Astra in 1925
Ad Astra Members (as of 2017): Ad Astra Roster
According to the lore, in 1919, Charles S. Roller, Jr., on a troopship bringing him home from World War I, conceived the notion of an honorary society at AMA which would select "the ten best cadets" each year for membership.
The school's motto: Ad Astra per Aspera (to the stars through hard work, literally) had just been chiseled into the concrete that spanned the Front Arch of the brand new Big Barracks. At first, Roller thought about calling the honorary group a fraternity but in his own hand he scratched through that word and wrote in "society" on the first page of what would become known as the Ad Astra Book.
For some reason, the society was not created for six more years. On a shelf near the Big Boy's desk, the Ad Astra ledger rested and in it, from 1925 until his death, the names of the cadets inducted into Ad Astra were entered in Roller's unmistakable handwriting.
On page 1 the Big Boy wrote: "We do not court popularity but we do place service above self and loyalty next to Godliness." On the second page is the name of the first Ad Astra - M. M. Sproul, '25, and after his name, again in the General Roller's hand, "Died January 1933 with double pneumonia."
Ad Astra awards wore given at the very end of the annual commencement exercises which gave little time for winners to share their award with fellow cadets. Ad Astra thus became a sort of private honor which the recipient, usually a senior, carried in his heart.
Over the years, several Ad Astra reunions were held on decennial years. Because of the interest shown at the 1990 reunion, a subsequent gathering was held in Charlottesville in 1993, the last Ad Astra reunion. It was during the 1970 Ad Astra get-together that the AMA Alumni Association was created.
On 16 March 1963, General Roller died. Two days later, he was laid to rest in the Stone Church Cemetery wearing his Ad Astra pin.
Ben Zinkhan, '60, is inducted into Ad Astra per Aspera
In the 31 years since Augusta Military Academy closed its doors, only one alumnus has been added to the roster of AMA's honor society - Ad Astera per Aspera.
On the 90th anniversary of the society's founding by General Roller in 1925, Benjamin Christian Zinkhan, III, '60, became the second person to be so honored when his sweet wife, Joyce, attached the pin of membership to Ben's jacket.
No one has given more of their time and themselves to AMA than Ben. Even after several heart attacks, there is no slowing him down. This past winter he dealt almost single-handedly with a broken sprinkler pipe during the coldest of weeks with the water running down inside the walls ruining the furnace and leaving the museum without heat for several weeks.
He has mowed the grass, raked the leaves, cleaned the bathrooms, swept the porches, put up the flags and worked without surcease to prepare for and clean up after every reunion - all while greeting the hundreds of people who visit the museum each year. Executive Director Crysta Stephenson says, "Without Ben and his can-do attitude, we would be in a world of hurt. He is always there, always available to help with any project and usually without asking since when he sees something that needs to be done, he just does it."
When Ben received his pin, all of the Ad Astras in the room lined up in front of the podium to greet him. The pin he was given belonged to Jerry Wildman, '57, who received it on his graduation day.
Ad Astra inducted up to ten cadets each year, usually but not always seniors. The presentation of the Ad Astra pins was normally the last thing done at Finals.
The only other alumnus to be inducted since the school closed was the late Gary Nicholson, '70.
The complete roster of Ad Astra Members (as of 2017) can be found here: AdAstraRoster