Duncan named 2016 Amelia Christmas Father
2016 Amelia County Christmas Father
“A smile is like a light in the window on a dark night,” long-time teacher Walter Duncan sums up his philosophy. He said his goal as 2016 Amelia Christmas Father is to bring smiles to the faces of those children who would not have a Christmas without the Christmas Mother’s/ Father's program.
Mr. Duncan said he has been teaching for many years and, “a good education is priceless.” After retiring from teaching in Amelia County Public Schools he is now employed at Amelia Academy where he teaches third grade and achievement.
The latest Christmas Father, (He considered calling himself “Father Christmas” until it was pointed out that name has already been taken by a -- let's say -- more widely known Christmas legend.) is also a collector of antiques and especially art. By art, he includes textiles and china as well as paintings and prints.
Mr. Duncan is very fond of animals and is enormously respectful of the, “wisdom of the elderly...Without the elder's wisdom we're doomed.”
He said we are fortunate to have people in their 90s who are still “clear-thinkers.” He also loves the innocence of children, “because they don't judge you; just how you react around them.”
About Christmas Mr. Duncan said, “I've always loved Christmas. It's my favorite time of the year.” He collects Christmas ornaments and decorations. “I always decorated for myself, my family and neighbors,” and has professionally decorated for Christmas.
“The only person who maybe loves Christmas more is (fellow teacher) Jackie Jackson,” Mr. Duncan said. The two often talk about Christmas and decorating for the holiday.
Mr. Duncan admits to keeping some of his Christmas décor up all year long. “The miracle of Christmas occurs daily – that's true,” he said. “It's a miracle of love, mercy and forgiveness and it happens everyday somewhere.”
“God Almighty is the source of all good,” Mr. Duncan said. “That's why he gave us Christmas. It's a gift of love and hope.” He added, “I know my Redeemer liveth.”
Asked about his best Christmas, Mr. Duncan had an surprising answer. It was a year he had medical surgery that included a five-hour operation. His doctor had never done that type of surgery and they called in Dr. Leroy Smith, from the Children's Hospital in Richmond, even though he did not have credentials for Mr. Duncan's hospital.
Mr. Duncan had been scheduled to design a gown for the hostess and create the decorations for an important Christmas open house. He was afraid he was not going to be able to complete those tasks in time for the event. Following the surgery, he awoke to find Dr. Smith sitting on his bed. Dr. Smith had a white beard. Still groggy, Mr. Duncan asked, “Are you Santa Claus?”
The doctors allowed Mr. Duncan to have an extra room at the hospital. He was able to bring in the seamstress to work on the gown and make the decorations while he recovered from the surgery and was able to get out in time to decorate for the event.
Asked about his worst Christmas, Mr. Duncan answered, “I have not had a worst Christmas because I keep Christmas in my heart all year...I try to look at things through the eyes of love, not judgment.”
“Whenever a child hugs me, I feel only love not color,” Mr. Duncan said, recalling he shared this with the late Lee Meredith, a very close friend who also shared the love of Christmas with him.
Mr. Duncan admitted he was at first reluctant to accept the honor of being named Christmas Father, citing so little time to devote to it. He also thought others deserved the honor more. However, he decided to accept, “because of my deep devotion to Ann Salster,” The Monitor publisher and long-time Christmas Mother’s/Father's committee chair. He also accepted because of his love for the community and the children of the community, he said.
“If not for the hard-working people behind the Christmas Father's program, many, many families in Amelia would not know the joy of Christmas,” Mr. Duncan said. “I know of many people who have needed help, especially around Christmas.”
Mr. Duncan said he feels blessed to be able to continue to teach and do the other things he does.
Ms. Salster says she also has many great memories of Mr. Duncan at Christmas and his concern that everyone have a warm, joyful Christmas, especially the children.
Because of time restraints and family commitments, Mr. Duncan had not had time to decorate his porch roof with lighted holiday boughs. The youngsters in the neighborhood were very disappointed and one told Mr. Duncan, by the next night, the house was sparkling for the holiday season, including the porch and glowing decorations in the windows.
Mr. Duncan also shared one Christmas memory.
For many years he spent time before Christmas with his two nieces. They cooked fudge and cookies; made paper chains and decorations for the tree and talked about Christmas memories. The nieces helped him make stockings or a bag for the children at St. Joseph's Little Sisters of the Poor.
One year they were preparing for Christmas on a cold, snowy night. They were in a house in the Jetersville area at that time. Mr. Duncan told his nieces that Christ warned people to be careful how they entertained strangers because sometimes they would be entertaining angels unaware.
Just then there was a rap on the door and Mr. Duncan opened it to find a man in his 60s, snow caked to his eyebrows and hair. The man told him his car had broken down and he had walked to the nearest light, apparently some distance. Mr. Duncan invited the stranger in; fed him and they all talked about Christmas until someone was able to come and get him.
For several years afterward, Mr. Duncan received Christmas gifts from the man. Mr. Duncan always thought about how he had perhaps “entertained an angel” that Christmas.
“I wish everyone in Amelia County a joyful and happy Christmas,” Mr. Duncan said. “I pray and hope you keep God in your heart, a light in the window, a light on your face all year long, not just at Christmas”
***** Donations of money or toys may be dropped off at The Monitor office or mailed to the Amelia Christmas Parents, P.O. Box 123, Amelia, VA. 23002. Toy collection boxes will be placed in various locations soon.
Dillards are county’s first Christmas Parents
2015 Amelia County Christmas Parents
Ruby Lee and J. Garfield Dillard
For the first time in the history of Amelia County's
Christmas Mother's/Father's program, the committee has named a man and wife -
Christmas Parents - to represent the annual program.
Last week the committee named Mannboro residents J. Garfield and Ruby Lee Dillard as the Christmas Parents for 2015.
Mr. Dillard is a life-long resident of Amelia but Mrs. Dillard was born in North Carolina. Her family moved to Amelia when she was just three years old however.
Although she first worked at Fort Pickett, Mrs. Dillard became well-known to generations of former Amelia public school students as she worked in the school division for 31 years. She began as an elementary school teacher. She was part of a team and she began teaching reading and other subjects. Later she taught seventh grade math, health, language and social studies. "Everything except science," she said. "That was probably a good thing."
She was named as the assistant elementary school principal and then became the principal.
Soon after retiring from the school division, she became a school board member.
Mrs. Dillard recalled being a member of the former Home Economics Club, sponsored by the Extension Service, and, with Mr. Dillard, is a member of the Terrapin Neck Grange. Mr. and Mrs. Dillard are also members of Mt. Hope Baptist Church in Mannboro where she has taught Sunday School for 45 years, sings in the choir and is a member of the Women's Missionary Society.
Mrs. Dillard recalled her early Christmases. The children each received one gift that was "not needed," she said. They all looked forward to the fruit, such as apples and oranges, and candy that were Christmas treats. She recalled when she was getting to that age, "My father told me anybody who didn't believe in Santa Claus didn't get any presents. So I decided I would believe in Santa Claus a little while longer."
Mrs. Dillard was the youngest of seven children and many of her siblings moved away from home. Mrs. Dillard said she always looked for-ward to having them all come home for Christmas, and the dinner was served first to the men, then to the children and the women got theirs last. It is still that way at her own family dinners, she said. "I'm always the last to sit down."
One family Christmas tradition she recalled was that the family could not eat dinner until her brother-in-law Joyce Llewellyn, arrived to carve the turkey. "He was the only one who could do it,” and he was never in a hurry to get here, Mrs. Dillard said.
Of all those Christmases, one fairly recent one stands out, Mrs. Dillard said. Earlier in the year about two or three years ago, Mrs. Dillard had asked a grandson-in-law about a new computer. He asked what she needed to do on it and upon receiving the answer said she needed an iPad instead of a new computer. On Christmas Day she received a present from all the grandchildren. They had gone together to buy her an iPad and had it inscribed with, "To the best grandmother ever." That gift and the recovery of her son, Dale, made "the whole Christmas good," she said.
Mr. Dillard said out of high school he worked at a building supply company in Blackstone for 20 years, mostly in a supervisory capacity. He worked in the cabinet shop and building materials sales.
While there he joined the National Guard and attended night classes at Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) which became VCU in 1968. He took engineering and technology courses, joking back then the highest technology was a slide rule. Although he had enough hours for a full degree, the school did not have a four-year program and when the professor died unexpectedly, the program was transformed into a architectural program. Mr. Dillard did not want to be an architect and so took an associates degree and went into business for himself.
With a Class A contractor's certificate since 1972, maybe the first in Amelia County, Mr. Dillard began his general construction business which evolved into a design/build business. Dillard Construction and Associates LLC now mainly builds churches and other institutional facilities. The company does not take bids but works with the customer toward the agency's budget, he said.
Mr. Dillard's best-known community service is as a member of the county's board of supervisors. He recalled there were a lot of night meetings during those 20 years as he was on countless committees and boards. One of those regional boards was the Piedmont Regional Jail Board of which he was the first chairman.
But Mr. Dillard was also on the founding board of directors of the Bank of Amelia, which later became First Virginia Bank before becoming BB&T. Mr. Dillard resigned from the board at that time.
The Mannboro resident became a member of Terrapin Neck Grange in 1947 and said just a few years ago the grange was "rejuvenated."
Mr. Dillard was instrumental in the founding and building of the Mannboro Medical Center and Mannboro's Co. 2 fire station. With a little prompting, Mr. Dillard recalled going to Maryland with fire house co-founder Jim Sydnor to bring back Mannboro's first fire truck, an open cab affair.
Mr. Dillard said, like his wife, he was always an avid supporter of public education in the county.
Mr. Dillard's memories of childhood Christmases was that he and his five siblings, "mostly got clothing" as presents. Like his wife, Mr. Dillard recalled Christmas dinners were "always special" with the family together.
His grandfather's family came from Southwest Virginia, near North Carolina, in covered wagons to settle in the area of Amelia that became known as Little Patrick, Mr. Dillard said. When people asked him how he came to be able to do something, Mr. Dillard said he answered it was in his "mountain blood."
The Dillards were members of a square-dancing club here for 15 years. The club is no longer but the Dillards still travel to Floyd County four or five times a year to go square dancing.
Both were members of the Amelia County Business Association.
With three adult children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, the Dillards spend a lot of time traveling to birthday parties and other family events. Still, they are looking forward to working with the Christmas Mother's organization this year.
Thinking about providing toys, clothing and other gifts for disadvantaged children in the Christmas Mothers' Shop reminded Mrs. Dillard of her days in the school system. She recalled sending the school nurse to the Amelia Dress Co. plant. The company gave them dresses for the needy children to receive at Christmas, she said. The teachers made up a list of the needy children and made sure every one went home with a wrapped present.
The Christmas Parents program is a community service project of The Monitor operated by a committee of volunteers, including all former Christmas Mothers and Fathers in the county. Their annual Toy Shop is Friday, Dec. 11 where families are helped.
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