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Virginia Western’s open registration for Spring Semester 2019 is now available. The first day of Spring classes is January 14, 2019 and students may enroll until classes begin. To find out more and register today, visit: http://virginiawestern.edu/classes/index.php.

Historical renovation of Culinary Arts facility honored

Virginia Western Community College and the Roanoke Higher Education Center were recently honored by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation for the historical interpretive elements incorporated into the $6 million expansion of the Claude Moore Educational Complex. The facility, which houses the Al Pollard Culinary Arts program at Virginia Western, was cited as a Heritage Education site for architectural elements to commemorate the rich history of the Gainsboro Community and Henry Street.

When the Roanoke Higher Education Center partnered with Virginia Western to expand the Culinary Arts School on Henry Street in 2016, they reached out to the community and asked them to help develop interpretive pieces for Henry Street and the historic Strand Theatre. The Gainsboro History Walk Committee, which  recently completed the Gainsboro History Panels on Wells Avenue in 2014, spearheaded the effort to tell the story of Henry Street, which was the vibrant cultural and business center for African Americans at the turn of the 20th century until its devastation by urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Focusing on the history of the Gainsboro community was an important piece of the renovation and expansion project. Exterior panels consisting of pictures and audio were placed on the Claude Moore building facing Henry Street that tell the story of those who lived and worked in the area during the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s,” said Dr. Kay Dunkley, Executive Director of the Roanoke Higher Education Center. “We are thrilled with how it turned out and look forward to it being a cornerstone in the community.”

The History Walk Committee – comprised of representatives from the Gainsborough Southwest Community Organization, the Historic Gainsboro Preservation District and other local stakeholders – worked for two years to identify the themes for the panels, locate historic photographs, and collect oral histories. Working closely with the Gainsboro Branch and the Virginia Room of the Roanoke City Library, the committee used historic images and recorded recollections of residents to bring this vibrant history back to life.

With funding provided by the Higher Education Center, Hill Studio provided professional design services and Gropen Inc. of Charlottesville fabricated and installed the interpretive panels. The completed project now features both interior and exterior exhibits with accompanying oral histories about Henry Street and the businesses that once operated there. These interpretive pieces are outstanding examples of a collaborative, community effort to tell the important history of Henry Street during the Jim Crow era and to educate residents and visitors of its evolution as the commercial and social center of the Gainsboro community. With the new investment on Henry Street and now, the visible story of its significant history, there is renewed hope of establishing new businesses and continued community outreach that will foster understanding and healing.

The partners hosted a grand opening for the expanded facility in September. The expansion created more than 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art kitchen and academic space for the college’s Culinary Arts Program.

“This new facility, in addition to providing the top-of-the-line educational and training space for our students, is a living history lesson,” said Yvonne Campbell, interim dean of the School of Business Technology and Trades. “It gives us a chance to celebrate the past while providing a strong future for the area and individuals in it.”

Currently, more than 330 students take classes in Virginia Western’s culinary arts program, which offers a two-year associate’s degree as well as industry certifications. Since 2013, the Virginia Western Educational Foundation has awarded more than 150 full culinary scholarships, thanks to the support of the Al Pollard Memorial Foundation. Al Pollard was a Roanoke restaurateur behind Corned Beef & Co., Frankie Rowland’s and 419 West who died suddenly in 2006.

“This is a true and valuable partnership between Virginia Western, the Roanoke Higher Education Center, Roanoke and the Gainsboro Community,” said State Senator John Edwards. “This new expansion allows us to grow and celebrate this vibrant area’s history.”



Celebrating 25 years of the Community Arboretum at Virginia Western

It’s hard today to picture Colonial Avenue without the colorful flowerbeds at the Community Arboretum at Virginia Western lining the road. There was a time, though, when those two-acres were nothing but a grassy knoll.

May 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of the arboretum, which was designed to serve both horticulture students and the wider Roanoke community as a place to understand “botanical relationships, ecological processes and sustainable horticulture practices,” according to its mission statement.

Lee Hipp, who served as director of the horticulture department from 1978 to 2010, gives much of the credit for the arboretum’s existence to his students. In the early 1980s, Hipp regularly led the members of Virginia Western’s newly formed horticulture club on field trips to first-rate gardens around the Mid-Atlantic, like the Duke Gardens and The United States National Arboretum.

“The students, after seeing these gardens, just naturally asked the question, ‘Why don’t we have a public educational garden in the Roanoke area?’ ” Hipp recalls. “I thought that was a good question and one that needed addressing.”

Hipp had also followed the progress of the public garden at North Carolina State University, his alma matter, which was created by famed horticulturist J.C. Raulston in the mid 1970s. “He transformed that 10 acres into an incredible garden which now is internationally acclaimed,” Hipp says. “It was a motivation to me to make sure it could happen for Roanoke.”

Hipp shepherded an exploratory committee of students and later one with horticulturists and other influencers from the Roanoke Valley to look at creating an arboretum on the campus. Hipp also approached Virginia Western’s president for permission.

“There wouldn’t be a garden out there if it wasn’t for Charles Downs, who had the foresight to approve this idea,” Hipp says. “He could have easily said, ‘No, we can’t afford that’ or ‘The maintenance will be too high.’ ”

After Downs gave a thumb’s up, Hipp had to get the green light from the Virginia Western Community College Local Advisory Board. “They approved the idea to let us use that two acres provided we raise the money to build it, plant it and take care of it,” he says.

In 1984, Selena Pedersen, one of Hipp’s students, donated $10,000 to have the arboretum shade garden named in honor of her mother, Emille Knight Stone. She was the project’s first donor.

That money allowed Hipp to hire Robert McDuffie, landscape architect and associate professor emeritus of horticulture at Virginia Tech, to create a conceptual master plan, which Hipp used to show prospective donors what he envisioned.

“I had my little dog-and-pony show I took around to dozens of organizations to tell them about what we hoped to do,” Hipp says. “Most of them ended up getting on board and making financial contributions.”

Students and members of the community worked for nearly a decade to cobble together $150,000 to build the arboretum. “It all came together,” Hipp says. “There was higher power watching over it. I promise you.”

Getting to know the arboretum

The Community Arboretum at Virginia Western is free and open to the public daily, from sunrise to sunset. More than 700 plant species divided into 11 unique collections can be found here.

Clark BeCraft, who took over as coordinator of Virginia Western’s horticulture department and the arboretum in 2014, didn’t hesitate when asked to name his favorite section of the collections. BeCraft pointed to the Children’s Garden, which offers a plan “zoo” that’s home to 70 different plants with animal names. When giving tours of the garden to children, volunteers will frequently organize a scavenger hunt where kids identify plants like the elephant ear, the ostrich fern and zebra grass. Two hundred yews make up a children’s maze, which can keep preschoolers entertained for a solid hour. BeCraft’s own two small children enjoy visiting the goldfish in this garden’s pond. “They love coming to dad’s work,” he says.

Tonya Harper, a Master Gardener who volunteers at the arboretum for several hours each week, is drawn to the center of garden.

“What I really love the most are the trees. Especially the River Birch,” she says, gesturing to the white trees which ring a grassy ellipse. “I think they’re a focal point.”

The Sensory Garden is a point of pride for Anne Piedmont, who sits on the advisory council for the arboretum. This garden is named in honor of Nora Downing Wright, who enjoyed the arboretum in her 90s, even after macular degeneration caused her to lose her vision on top of the hearing impairment she had coped with for most of her life. Accessible to those in wheelchairs, the garden is designed to stimulate all of the senses. Visitors can touch the soft leaves of the lamb’s ear plants, listen to the sounds of water bubbling in the fountain and smell strategically placed herbs.

The arboretum’s newest addition is the City Garden, which was dedicated in 2013 and designed to showcase solutions to common problems urban homeowners face, such as sloping lawns and limited space. “People can take ideas from it to use,” says Piedmont.

The arboretum’s 11 collections stay in tip-top shape because of the efforts of about 25 volunteers, many of them Master Gardeners like Harper. In 2017, volunteers logged about 1,000 hours of work, according to BeCraft.

“What they do for us is very valuable,” he says. “There’s no way we could pay someone to come in and do all they do and stay afloat financially.”

While the arboretum was designed for the community, Virginia Western horticulture students certainly benefit from having it on campus. They can often be found in the gardens, which are used as living laboratories. Students who want to earn a Horticulture Technology Career Studies Certificate must complete a 75-hour internship that’s spent working in the gardens or the greenhouse.

“It’s definitely used as a learning tool,” BeCraft says.

The next 25 years

When BeCraft meets new people and they hear about his job, they’ll often share an arboretum story. Maybe they attended a lovely, intimate wedding in the gazebo or took their prom pictures in the Conifer Garden. Other times, they’ll mention enjoying the flowerbeds while driving down Colonial Avenue.

In those cases, BeCraft asks whether they’ve seen the rest of the two-acre garden? “They’ll say, ‘What? There’s more than those flowers?’ ” he says, gently shaking his head.

To make sure everyone is aware of all the arboretum has to offer, BeCraft now sets up booths at garden events around town, like the Greater Roanoke Home and Garden Show and the Buchanan Garden Festival. “We want to let people know that we’re a whole two acres of plant collections and that we offer wonderful educational opportunities,” he says.

Recently, members of the Arboretum’s advisory council have had discussions about how both the majority of the Arboretum supporters and the volunteer staff are retired. Many of these folks became passionate about the arboretum when it was first being built.

A new generation of arboretum supporters need to be recruited.

“One of my goals for the future is to involve more young professionals and families in the arboretum,” BeCraft says. “The way to do that is to have more educational opportunities for them and more activities for children.”

How to help the Arboretum

The Community Arboretum’s day-to-day operational expenses are supported in part by its popular plant sales. Horticulture students and members of the volunteer staff grow many of the plants sold.

  • Perennial Sale: early April
  • Vegetable and annual sale: late April
  • Fall accents, perennial and pansy sale: late September
  • Poinsettia sale: early December

Support also comes from the Community Arboretum Fund at the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation. Donors receive early-bird access to plant sales, discounts on seminars, workshops and the annual garden tour, and a newsletter.


To learn more about how you can support the Community Arboretum Fund, go to virginiawestern.edu/arboretum or call (540) 857-6388.