War, W. Va., the southernmost city in the state, is set high in the Appalachians about 200 miles north of the Warren Wilson campus. A coal town rich in natural resources, War saw its population swell to 100,000 in the 1950’s. After a depression period in the 1980’s, the coal operations shut down and now only 1,000 people remain in War, the sixth poorest area in the United States. The median family income is half the national average, and 85 percent of the land is owned by absentee landowners.
Warren Wilson’s relationship with the community of War runs deep. Andy Summers, the College’s late minister to students, brought groups of students from his first-year seminar class titled Freedom and Dissent to the community for several years, incorporating service-learning through manual labor to help homeowners in War.
“War loved Andy,” junior Derek Clatterbuck remembers from his first-year seminar with Summers. “They all knew him and looked forward to Warren Wilson coming every year. The community really embraces us.”
This fall, Clatterbuck and junior Hannah Inglesby each had the idea to honor Summers by carrying on his work in War. With the support of the Service-Learning Office; Campus Support Supervisor Doug Bradley; and Bradley’s church, Grassy Branch Baptist Church, Clatterbuck and Inglesby led a group of students to War for a week during fall break in October.
In November, Bradley and his work crew led a Christmas toy drive on campus for the children of War. The campus toy drive was a success, and during the first week of December, Bradley took a group of Warren Wilson students back to the West Virginia community. “We participated in the McDowell County Christmas Parade, and passed out the toys donated by the Warren Wilson community,” says Bonner Scholar Nadir Karim.
The students also went to work installing insulation in two homes in War. “Students are able to directly affect people’s lives by fixing their homes,” Clatterbuck says.
Because of student initiative, proposals have already been made to send another group to War during spring break 2009. The compassion demonstrated by students’ persistence to return to the community of War is a beautiful extension and reflection of Andy Summers’ legacy.
Story by Laura Dison ’10
Photo by Christopher Lininger ’10