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Abelina Suárez and the Asturias-West Virginia Connection

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MensaxePublicao: Dom Set 21, 2008 10:21 pm    Asuntu: Abelina Suárez and the Asturias-West Virginia Connection Responder citando

[Art: This announcement was received by email today. Forum members are welcome to attend: Friday, Sept. 26. in Fairmont, WV.]


In honor of the woman behind Fairmont State University’s first named professorship and as part of the Presidential Lecture Series and the Celebration of Ideas Lecture Series, Dr. Judy Prozzillo Byers will present a lecture titled “Saluting Abelina Suarez and the Asturias-West Virginia Connection” on Friday, Sept. 26.

The event will begin at 5 p.m. with a light buffet featuring ethnic foods and exhibits in Multi-media Room A of the Ruth Ann Musick Library on the FSU and Pierpont Community & Technical College main campus. The lecture will begin at 5:45 p.m. Sign language interpreting services will be provided.

The first Abelina Suarez Professorship was presented to Dr. Judy Prozzillo Byers, English Professor, senior level, and Director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, during the 2002 Fall Faculty Convention. Connie S. Moore, Associate Professor/Senior of Nursing, received the second professorship in 2007.

The professorship is presented through a bequest by the estate of Abelina Suarez who died on October 6, 2000, at the age of 90. Established as Fairmont State’s first named professorship, the award will be made every five years, but each honoree will carry the title in perpetuity. As exemplified in the life of Abelina Suarez, whose love of learning enriched the lives of her family and community, the named professorship requires that each recipient model a legacy of learning through such qualities as outstanding teaching, a strong positive relationship with students, an established record of scholarly/creative activity and significant contributions in service to the college community.

As part of the legacy of learning surrounding the named professorship, Byers has collected the oral history of Abelina Suarez with the help of family members, descendents of Asturias Spaniards in Harrison County and students in Folklore 4400 – Directed Studies. This research project was first conceived by Byers after she met with 23 Suarez family members, living both locally and across the United States, who also attended that 2002 Faculty Convocation. They greeted her warmly and eagerly shared rich anecdotes, impressions and memories of Abelina’s life and times. Quickly, Dr. Byers became enchanted with the life of this vibrant and progressive woman who came to America in 1910, from the province of Asturias, Spain, with her mother and father when she was only 9 months old, but traveled back to this hilly northern industrial part of Spain several times, the last being a year before her death at the age of 89.

On a conventional level, Abelina Suarez lived in Harrison County her entire life where she was a beloved educator for 43 years and such a leader in various civic and volunteer organizations that family members affectionately labeled her “the chairman of the board” for her active role in encouraging education and lifelong learning as one of the keys to a fulfilled life.

On another level, this vital woman faced and overcame ethnic and gender prejudices, as she and her family of 10 siblings struggled to become a part of the American fabric which included the protective Spanish community with its folkways and traditions. Their employment ranged from pastoral dairy farming amid the West Virginia hills to the inferno of the zinc industry in the valleys below. She endured the sacrifices of leaving home to attend an academic high school and, later, traveling even farther to receive a chemistry degree from Ohio University only to find that she could not work in the field because she was a woman.

Byers soon recognized that not only the personal story of Abelina Suarez, but also its socio-cultural context needed to be recorded. The Abelina Suarez story is indeed a backdrop to the early 20th century immigration connection that is just beginning to be fully recognized, analyzed and saluted in Appalachia, especially through Byers and the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.

A native of Fairmont, Byers received her undergraduate degree in English and social sciences education from Fairmont State and her master’s and doctorate degrees from West Virginia University, in addition to completing postgraduate studies at the International Folklore Institute at Indiana University, Bloomington. In her dissertation she developed an approach to the teaching of language arts through folklore and creative dramatics, incorporating her observations and analysis of educational drama throughout the British schools. Even though she has taught at Fairmont State since 1982, she has also been an educator for the Marion County School System, Salem College’s Folklife Academy, the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshop, plus WVU’s extension and graduate programs. Through these efforts, she has garnered regional and national recognition for Fairmont State with her work to preserve and perpetuate the culture of Appalachia.

Known as a folklorist, English educator and storyteller, Byers is the executrix for the folklore estate of the late Dr. Ruth Ann Musick, eminent regional folktale scholar, which includes the holdings of the former West Virginia Folklore Society, housed at FSU. She has served as Musick’s official biographer in such publications as the WV Women’s Commission’s Missing Chapters Part Two, Jim Comstock’s WV Heritage Encyclopedia and the WV Humanities Council’s new WV Encyclopedia, besides “The Show Me Mountaineer: A Comparative Study of Missouri Folklore and WV Folklore,” for Missouri Folklore Journal. From these endeavors, she has helped to develop the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center and its folklore/folklife studies programs.

At FSU, some of her favorite classes are Introduction to Folklore, Folk Literature, Appalachian Literature, Young Adult Literature, and English/Language Arts Methodology. She enjoys supervising student teachers and mentoring students in undergraduate research, especially The Appalachian Teaching Project, sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission of which the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center is an academic member. Among her honors, Byers has been named FSU Alumna of Achievement and WV Italian Woman of the Year. She has received a Toastmaster’s International Recognition for Public Speaking and Storytelling, and both WV Teacher of the Year and WV Professor of the Year, along with being named Outstanding Alumna of the West Virginia University’s College of Human Resources and Education and a member of its Hall of Fame.

Her chief research and publishing interest is West Virginia folklore. She has edited “A Literary Map of West Virginia: From a Place Called Solid -- West Virginia and Its Writers” and is the co-editor of “Traditions: A Journal of West Virginia Folk Culture and Educational Awareness” and “Hillchild: A Chapbook for and by West Virginia Children.” When Byers was just a child, Musick began to collect the folktales of her family. Later, Byers studied with Musick at FSU and with Dr. Patrick Gainer at West Virginia University. In 1973, she worked with these two folklorists to revive the West Virginia Folklore Society and became its treasurer and associate editor of West Virginia Folklore Journal. Among her publications are “Folklore and Literature,” in Mountain Heritage (ed. B.B. Maurer), along with introductions, forewords and motif indexing for “Green Hills of Magic: West Virginia Folktales from Europe” (ed. Ruth Ann Musick), “The Greenbrier Ghost and Other Strange Stories” (ed. Dennis Deitz) and “Witches, Ghosts, and Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians” (ed. Patrick Gainer). Byers was a member of an educational consulting and storytelling team called The Hill Lorists who not only authored “In the Mountain State: A West Virginia Folklore and Cultural Studies Curriculum” for the WV Humanities Council, but also produced seven audio recordings: “Lore of the Hills” and “Selected Stories from the Green Hills of Magic.” She also was a contributor to the PBS documentary, “The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier and Storytelling in Appalachia,” in its accompanying book by the same title (ed. Mari-Lynn Evans).

Currently, Byers is the Program Chair for the Assembly on the Literature and Culture of Appalachia of the National Council of Teachers of English that encourages regionalism as a major component of literacy. She is actively involved in the restoration of the former Kennedy Barn as the future home of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.

As an extension to academia, Byers is an avid traveler who has encouraged cultural understanding by organizing and directing many study-abroad programs for college and community members, recently to such areas as Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Eastern Europe and Italy. She is excited about the development of Italian studies in the Department of Language and Literature, its student exchange program with the University of Calabria at Consenza and the partnership between FSU and the Calabria-WV Italian Heritage Association.

For more information on the cultural heritage of Asturias, Spain, review the following web site: http://www.asturianus.org.
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