Foundation ‘tells Virginia’s story’

Published 11:20 am Saturday, March 31, 2012


FRANKLIN—As it pertains to the Commonwealth, Felice Hancock offers a definition of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

“The simplest explanation is that it tells Virginia’s story. Not just the past, but also the present and a look into the future,” said Hancock, adding that folklore and traditions are examples of something the organization helps research and document.

Regionally, the Western Tidewater Regional Council for the Humanities is concerned with this area’s “cultural, historical and natural background.

“It’s hard to separate us from the natural landscape,” she said.

An adjunct faculty member and library assistant at Paul D. Camp Community College, Hancock helped form the council more than two years ago.

“The foundation staff wanted to get to know the area,” she explained. “This is one of the reasons I established the council, to get experts. We network.”

“I’ve always been into history,” Hancock continued. “I’m an archaeologist by profession.”

In general, central North America has been of great interest to her, with a concentration on the Mississippi River Valley.

A most recent example of how the foundation and council benefit residents can now be found in historical societies, schools and libraries.

Courtesy of a donation and a grant from the foundation, the Blackwater and Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, led by Jeff Turner, recently produced a 60-page booklet titled “Water-powered Mills Along the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers and Watersheds.”

What was once a comparatively everyday service and social gathering up to two centuries ago, the usefulness of mills began to rapidly dwindle in the 20th century owing to advances in transportation and the use of steam and then electricity.

Hancock has noted that, curiously, the importance of regional mills (Harrison Pope, Johnson and Rochelle — all in Southampton County) seems to have been overlooked by area historical societies.

Hancock, who’s from Illinois, wrote the introduction, defined terminology, checked sources and conducted three interviews. Through the grant, an anthropologist conducted oral histories and offered a workshop on how to do them.

While the publication is not intended to be definitive, it’s a start for other people and organizations wishing to explore the topic more fully.

She also praised David Bearinger, the foundation’s director of grants and public programs, for his help.

“The foundation has given grants in the past,” said Hancock, adding that future ones are also a possibility, as well as other help when needed.

Her husband, William, drew the illustration. He’s “a native son of Virginia” who grew up on a Century Farm in the Southampton County.

The couple met while studying in Memphis. Later, William got a job with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and they came back to the area. He was involved with reconstruction for most of the former site.

Next, “I want to really work on area Century Farms,” said Felice Hancock, noting there are 78 in Southampton County.

For more information about the council, call her at 562-6078.

For more information on the booklet, contact