Buckingham Chamber Honors Stearrett, Dean

Published 4:12 pm Thursday, January 26, 2012

BUCKINGHAM – Two service-oriented Buckingham residents have joined a prestigious list of other dedicated citizens honored by the Buckingham Chamber of Commerce.

During its annual awards dinner, held on January 16, the Chamber presented the Volunteer of the Year Award to Mary Stearrett; and the Lifetime Achievement Award to Wilbert Dean.

Volunteer of the Year

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Stearrett, a teacher at Buckingham County High School, was nominated by Sue Miles, a guidance counselor at BCHS.

Sharing her nomination letter with the audience, Miles began, “If you attended Buckingham County High School anytime in the past 33 years then you, like thousands, I estimate over 16,000, have been impacted by the dedication of Mary Stearrett. Her longtime involvement as sponsor of the school's Student Council Association, SCA, and the activities put on by its student members have impacted generations of people all the while creating future leaders of our society.”

Miles offered, “Mary's sponsorship of this important school organization and her influence on the members has produced lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, soldiers and public service workers who now run our county, our state, and our country.”

She continued, “Mary's leadership has taught students to understand the value of giving to others.” In that spirit, Stearrett has been instrumental in canned food drives, stews, sports tournaments, motorcycle runs, and other fundraising projects for individuals and families in need.

“Her famous December penny roll project has resulted in over $25,000 being raised during her tenure; money that has brought much needed food, clothing, and toys for needy families in the county,” stated Miles. “Her insistence that her SCA members participate in community service has resulted in teenagers learning the value of giving to others. These teens have become adults who continue that practice of giving.”

Noting that Stearrett has taken her future leaders on 30 regional, 33 state and 10 national conferences, Miles said such commitment demonstrates not only her dedication and belief in young people but also her patience.

Moreover, her commitment to youth is recognized far beyond Buckingham, said Miles. Twice, Stearrett has been named Virginia SCA Advisor of the Year, and she also earned the title of Region Three National SCA Advisor of the Year.

From homecoming festivities to overseeing the concession stand at athletic events, Stearrett has been an instrumental force over the past 33 years in providing “thousands of people wonderful memories of a special time in school,” shared Miles.

Stressing that Stearrett's contributions to the county do not stop with school activities, Miles shared, “She has coached in the youth league, served as secretary of the Buckingham County Youth League for years, is a member of the Dillwyn (Volunteer Fire Department) Ladies Auxiliary. She is also a member of the First Baptist Church where she is a choir member while also serving as a member of their Helping Hands Committee.

“She serves as treasurer of Delta Kappa Gamma, serves on the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, has been math department chair for 30 years, serves on the school's scholarship committee, and has been on the Virginia SCA Advisory Committee for 31 years.” Miles added, “This lady does not know how to say no.”

Miles shared that in 2010, Mary's daughter Krissy, who also teaches at BCHS, was diagnosed with non-Hotchkins Burkitts lymphoma. Over a 12-month period, Krissy underwent many medical procedures including an intensive series of chemotherapy.

“Throughout this difficult time, Mary continued to teach and lead the SCA members in their service to the school, while she served in her best role-as a caring mother to a daughter who needed her very badly,” explained Miles.

“The story ended well as Krissy is cancer free and Mary continues to do what she does best-serve the children and citizens of Buckingham County,” stated Miles. “She is an amazing woman who just gives and gives and gives. She, indeed, represents the best that Buckingham has to offer. She is a true volunteer of the year and is one remarkable woman.”

Stearrett, who went to the dinner because she was told her daughter was receiving the award, said, “I am kind of at a loss for words.” She told the audience she couldn't do what she does without the continued support of the students, the faculty and staff, and members of the community.

“We all pull together,” said Stearrett. “Buckingham is just the best place in the world to live.” She added, “I made a choice to live here.”

Describing the award as one of the best honors she's had besides the gratitude from the children, Stearrett shared, “This is truly an honor.”

Expressing her appreciation for the recognition, Stearrett assured, “I will continue giving back to this community that I love.”

Achievement Award

Chamber member Hank Hagenau nominated Wilbert M. Dean for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hagenau told the audience, “When it came to the Achievement Award, I didn't have to think too hard or too long to write a letter.”

He shared, “I nominated Mr. Wilbert M. Dean for the Lifetime Achievement Award for bringing Buckingham Training School back from a vague distant memory to a new reality.”

Continuing, Hagenau read, “Ellis Acres Memorial Park is more than just a place for fun and recreation. It is also a valued asset to the community and it's a unique piece of history.”

He explained, “Ellis Acres Memorial Park was once the site of the Buckingham Training School, a place on the edge of town most people in Dillwyn or Buckingham County had no knowledge of until just recently.

“It was just a trash dump but this trash dump was once the site of the Buckingham Training School and later the Stephen J. Ellis Elementary School.”

Buckingham Training School was the county's first secondary school for African American students. Through the efforts and determination of the Reverend Stephen J. Ellis, a local African American minister and leader, the school was built in 1923, at a cost of $6,100.

According to the school's history, fundraising efforts in the African American community yielded $3,000; Buckingham County contributed $2,000; and, the Julius Rosenwald Fund provided $1,100.

When construction of the Carter G. Woodson High School was completed in 1954, BTS became the Stephen J. Ellis Elementary School and continued educating African American children for approximately another decade.

Hagenau continued, “Now it has been brought back to life again to serve future generations as it did before.” He added, “Mr. Dean did not do this by himself, though. It has taken many people from Dillwyn, Buckingham County and even from across Virginia.

“Young and old alike have worked hard to accomplish this dream. But, without Mr. Wilbert Dean's vision, drive, and energy, I believe that Ellis Acres Memorial Park would not have happened.”

Hagenau offered, “Whatever else Mr. Dean has accomplished in his lifetime, I believe this achievement, Ellis Acres Memorial Park, should stand at the top of that list of accomplishments.”

Concluding, he shared, “Julius Rosenwald, Stephen J. Ellis are names important to the history of the Buckingham Training School. Wilbert M. Dean's name should be added to that list. Therefore, I take great pride in nominating Mr. Wilbert M. Dean for the Buckingham Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Accepting the award, Dean thanked the Chamber for the honor. He told Hagenau, “You are right, this is at the top of anything I have achieved. I never thought I would achieve anything like this.”

Dean, who retired as a colonel from the United States Army, offered, “When you compare it, as Patton would say, everything else shrinks to insignificance.”

He shared that his vision to turn the nine-acre site in Dillwyn into a multi-use community park and a memorial honoring the school's founders, staff, and students began with a trip to the site with his family.

Dean offered, “What started this thing-we have two sons and they were complaining about the school system in Chesterfield for using trailers. So we were up here, I think it was at Baptist Union Baptist, and I took them by to see where I went to school. They saw the trash dumps and the places up there and they never complained about the schools in Chesterfield County again.”

He said he later shared with his wife that he had so many memories of the school and they began talking about the possibilities.

Subsequently, the vision grew and became the vision of others who shared similar memories. “It just wasn't one person doing it, it was many people,” shared Dean.

Attributing the park's opening on 11-11-11 to the efforts of many people and many foundations, he added that getting it done meant involving everyone.

Noting that he was wearing his Ellis Acres T-shirt because he thought he was invited to the dinner to give his sales pitch on EAMP, Dean invited everyone to visit and enjoy the facility.

“Our motto there is Out of Many, We Have One Park,” shared Dean. “Our goal for this year is to get half of the members of Buckingham to become Ellis Acres Boosters. There is no fee or anything, we just call you up when we need some work done,” he explained. “And you can get a shirt, too.”

Dean said he would take the slate clock, a token of the award, back to Ellis Acres and share it with everyone. He added that they needed a clock in the restored building that now serves as a community center for conferences, seminars, classes, meetings, and social functions.

“This is really great,” concluded Dean. “Thank you very much.”

About the Awards

In 2003, the Buckingham County Chamber of Commerce began honoring county residents who contribute their time and talents to the community.

Although the recognition began with the Volunteer of the Year Award, the Chamber soon added the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards are presented during the chamber's annual dinner held each January. Deadline for nominations is customarily near the end of December of the preceding year.

Nominations, in the form of a letter describing why the nominee is deserving of the respective award, may be sent to the Buckingham Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box 951, Dillwyn, VA 23936.