Town and Gown – An incredible feeling

Published 3:59 pm Thursday, May 14, 2020

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The day I learned I was moving to Farmville was the day I literally wished out loud for it to happen. Interview season was over and I was weighing offers. I was also waiting to hear from the job I wanted most—Longwood, my last and favorite interview.

But we were moving regardless, so Erik and I were packing. It was a typical sticky St. Louis summer. Flopped on the couch, exhausted from packing and the looming deadline for choosing our future, I said what we both were thinking, “I just wish Longwood would call.”

Sarah Varela

In the shower later, I hoped that maybe my answer would fall from the showerhead. I was washing my hair when Erik started knocking on the door with uncharacteristic insistence. “Your phone’s ringing! It’s Virginia!” I was sure it couldn’t be that call, but I nearly broke my neck scrambling to answer it anyway. With a soapy head I received the offer I’d been hoping for so much. I tried to play it cool, but Wade Edwards can probably confirm I didn’t succeed.

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Farmville was a dream. Our arrival was greeted by a vaseful of Baxter Carter famous zinnias, friendly neighbors, fun colleagues, and a beautiful campus. I thought I must be in “The Firm.” “It can’t be this good, can it?” I asked Erik, half-joking. “I mean, I even get a name tag!”

That was just a sprinkle on the perfect sundae that was my new job and town.

Coming from big cities, we were stunned by how kind and caring everyone was. Colleagues unloaded our truck on what ended up being the hottest day that summer but refused to take anything in return. Others showed us around town, with visits to Cub Creek, antique shops and sporting events. We continue to meet new friends. When we bought our house, we came home to pies and wine. But maybe a story will show best what it means to be a part of Farmville.

One rainy summer, my husband, Erik knocked his only pair of glasses over the railing of the deck at Charley’s while swatting a gnat. I climbed (dress and all) through the muddy foliage to retrieve them. A laughing Jes Simmons took pictures while helping direct me to them from above. After climbing back up through the not-yet-opened Virginia Tasting Cellar, Charley’s staff helped me wash up. When I shared this adventure on Facebook, wondering about the poison ivy Joe Kocevar assured me was on the banks of the Appomattox, my neighbor Leigh Lunsford left some Technu on her porch before going to bed so I could ward it off that night. (It worked!)

That’s the community of Farmville. Here we’ve met some of the best friends of our lives, on campus and off. Here Erik found his own career in the Center for Global Engagement. He rediscovered his love and talent for acting through the supportive folks at Waterworks. We fell in love with the Heart of Virginia Festival and town parades. We treasure our annual trip to Carter Mountain to pick apples with friends and fireworks and music at the airport. Audrey Sullivan at Red Door 104 showed us we love to paint together with members of our community. New haunts and hangouts are never short of talent and culture.

Longwood has given me more than an awesome job and awesome students. It’s brought me home. Watching Farmville grow and shine with new businesses and community groups is an incredible feeling. I’ve lived in many places, but few have felt like “home.” Farmville has become the one I hope I never leave.

DR. SARAH HILLENBRAND VARELA (Dr. V.) is Assistant Professor of German in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Longwood University. Her email address is