It's A Wrap

Published 2:49 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

January is wrap-up time in the newsroom – it's time to sweep out the old and bring in the new.

Before I close my file cabinet drawer on the events of 2011, I like to take a few minutes to review the year just past. The stories I've collected never fail to inspire me, and last year was no exception.

January The year began with Longwood University turning a new leaf in a very literal way. A landmark tree on campus, estimated to be 150 to 200 years old, was dying and needed to be cut down for safety reasons. “Our old elm saw everything that ever happened here,” stated Dr. James Jordan, professor of anthropology, during a dedication ceremony. The university planted two new elm trees where their towering predecessor once stood. The first month of the year also included the story of two longtime friends who got together for a long distance visit. Eighty-four-year-old Bob Walsh drove 1,300 miles from his home in Kansas to see Vilma “Pete” Woodard whom he had kept in touch with since 1946. “It's been a wonderful holiday season,” Pete noted. (“Pete” Woodard died in 2011, and the photo her family chose for her obituary was the one from this front-page story.)

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February The dark days of February were made a bit lighter by the story of Gladys Carson and her “light rolls.” The 95-year-old continues to bake rolls twice a week for friends and for church events. Mrs. Carson has never sold a roll – she gives them away. “When you stay at home and can't drive you have to have something to do,” she said. “It's been a nice hobby.” Despite its reputation, February is not always about hearts and flowers. To help those struggling with depression, a group of local citizens organized a suicide prevention program for local teens called Lend An Ear. “We're going to try,” stated the program's organizer Willie Ragan. “If we don't try we can't help, and that's what God put us here for.”

March March set the stage for big entertainment news in Farmville when Angus Wall, who grew up in Farmville, and Kirk Baxter won an Academy Award for Film Editing in the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. “We went to the movies all the time,” Wall recalled of his early years in Farmville. “Back then there was only one movie theater in town, the State Theatre.” Wall has an editorial house called Rock Paper Scissors in West Hollywood. “I would never in a million years think that I would win an Academy Award,” he stated.

April As warmer weather beckoned, so did thoughts of spring. Radio station WVHL got into the spirit of the season by sponsoring an all-expenses-paid Dream Wedding Giveaway. Voting began the end of February, and three finalist couples were named: Tiffany Phelps/Joseph Nichols, Jennifer Spencer/Jonathan Garrett, and Jaime Stein/Andrew Parisi. By April the winning Spencer/Garrett couple was busy planning their September wedding at the Carol Baldwin Lake Pavilion. “Always have communication in your marriage – and enjoy life and each other,” advised the winning bride-to-be Jennifer Spencer.

May In May the grass was looking greener on both sides of the fence, especially after the heart-warming story of Karen Cooper's Safe Haven Horse Rescue. Cooper has devoted her life to helping neglected and abused horses. She brings them to her Meherrin farm until they can be adopted. A disabled veteran, Cooper spends a good portion of her monthly disability check on horse feed and medical care. “Since I've been here we've found homes for 46 horses,” she noted. Also in May local quilter Judy Phelan picked up the pieces after a devastating home fire and made a quilt for each of the four fire departments that responded to the fire that destroyed her home. “The outpouring of love from the entire Prince Edward community has just been unbelievable,” she said.

June Mid-point in the year focused on local health issues and a two-year study launched by local Registered Nurse Justine Young. Four health districts in the state were chosen for the study because they had the worst cancer statistics in the state. Piedmont Health District was one of them. “We're trying to find out why the statistics are so bad,” Young stated. The goal is to come up with grants to combat what I identify in this study.” Another health threat – this time by Mother Nature – also made the news when lightning stuck an oak tree behind a Prospect home, traveled along an electric fence, and continued to the home's basement where it ignited a fire. “The Prospect Fire Department arrived in record time,” stated Patty Gulick. “We truly feel blessed to have survived such a direct hit from Mother Nature with very minimal damage.”

July The dog days of summer included a story of dogged determination in preserving local history. Eunice Mottley, former home demonstration agent in Prince Edward County, collected almost a hundred years of historical documents from local homemakers' clubs. When told to “purge the records” over the years, Mottley did – she took them home. In July, Mottley, with the help of Jane Crute, contacted the Library of Virginia in Richmond and donated the collection. “I wanted to find a place for these records with an interest in history,” Mottley said. Also in July, a collaboration of community agencies resulted in a new home for an elderly couple that had been living in a dilapidated trailer with no electricity or running water. Looking around the newly completed and furnished home, 80-year-old Lorean Harvey marveled, “I never thought I would have a house – it's a miracle!”

August The final days of summer brought the conclusion of another season of the Downtown Film Series. Free outdoor movies are offered during summer months on the stage of the former State Theatre (which collapsed, except for the stage area, during an ice storm several decades ago). As many were winding up their summer vacations, a Longwood faculty member and two students joined a medical mission team from Farmville United Methodist Church and traveled to Honduras. “It was a moving experience,” stated Hadley Sporbert, RN and faculty member at Longwood. “It reshapes the way our (life) journey is supposed to go.”

September Rounding the corner to fall, a trio of events focused on community outreach. As the month began local florists were gearing up for Good Neighbor Day. The community was invited to come by for a dozen free with one stipulation – 11 must be given away to friends and acquaintances. The local Shrine Club was also making plans for their annual screening for local children with orthopedic conditions, burn injuries, or cleft lip or palate. The Shriners Hospital provides free medical care for qualifying children up to18 years old. Also on the calendar was a sweet start to the Five County Fair. Local cooks were invited to vie for a winning spot in the Chocolate Recipe Contest sponsored by the Virginia Egg Council. Winners advanced to the State Fair and the chance to win $375 and a year's supply of eggs.

October October began on a celebratory note with a note burning ceremony for a local couple who had managed to pay off their Habitat house one year ahead of schedule. A dinner for Cindy and Roy Davis was held at Farmville United Methodist Church, which was in charge of their Habitat build 14 years ago. “The mortgage burning ceremony was for what the church did,” Roy said. “If it wasn't for our church family during hard times, we wouldn't have had this house.”

November The month of giving thanks featured two organizations the community is thankful to have in their midst. A story on the Woman's Club of Farmville recalled the many contributions the club has made since it was organized as the Fortnightly Music Club in 1914. The club continues its service-oriented work by supporting the Salvation Army, Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Plantation, a Creative Writing Contest for local students, Habitat for Humanity, Prince Edward Rescue Squad, Southside Center for Violence Prevention, Camp Easter Seals, and many others. St. Theresa's Food Pantry, a mission of the local Catholic Church, currently provides food on a weekly basis for 35 to 40 families in need of assistance. “Anyone who is in need can come,” stated Horst Kaiser, manager of weekly distributions.

December The month of gift giving brought the story of a giving team of volunteers who would soon travel to Africa to assist Dr. Kwabena Donkor with his medical clinic in Ghana. “The Road to Africa” has been an ongoing mission for the Farmville physician who wants to provide medical care for a region of the world that has none. The 19-member local mission team planned to build a maternity wing for the almost-ready-to-open clinic during a two-week stay in Ghana. “I want to take a picture of the first patient we see and bring it back to Farmville,” Dr. Donkor said. Santa was part of the action as well when he appeared on the Herald's front page Dec. 16. Santa was inviting all to visit the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic that will soon be providing free medical care for local residents who cannot afford it.

At year-end, the Herald's slogan continues to shine forth from its pages – “Honor for the Past, Help for the Present, Hope for the Future.”

What better way to start the New Year!