Staunton’s ‘Bird Lady’ Among Mary Baldwin Commencement Awardees

May 20, 2007

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONYuLee Larnerreceived the coveted Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Commencement May 20, recognizing her intimate connection to the college, community service, and strength of character. Larner has, literally and figuratively, left a trail for others to follow. The nature trail in Staunton’s Montgomery Hall Park bears her name in honor of her close study of the area. A native of Augusta County whose father was Staunton’s first city manager, Larner didn’t have the opportunity to earn a college degree, but she was undoubtedly a part of the Mary Baldwin University family.

Larner is known throughout the region as “The Bird Lady.” Her column on Augusta County’s birdlife has delighted readers of Staunton’s The News Leader since 1977. She has been immortalized in numerous books, including her own Random Ramblings and a 2006 biography by Mary Vermeulen, YuLee. She stepped into the birding world by taking a class with Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Biology John Mehner in 1968, starting a partnership and friendship that lasted until his death in 2006. She and Mehner edited the first edition of Birds of Augusta County, and she followed up with the second edition. She also edited Virginia’s Birdlife, and held leadership positions in both the Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO) and the Augusta Bird Club.

From playing the organ at churches around Staunton to accompanying Mary Baldwin voice students, and from working with Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Music Gordon Page at Covenant Presbyterian to writing a theme song for Baldwin Park, music is another dimension to Larner’s life.

Larner’s family played a part in not only the Staunton community, but also that of Mary Baldwin University. Her husband, Si, performed many a role for professor emeritus Fletcher Collins Jr., at Mary Baldwin and at Oak Grove Theater. Her sister, Betty Ruff Layman ’49, spoke about “The Spark That Moves Us Onward” at Mary Baldwin’s 1954 Honors Convocation. Through the years Larner’s home became a home away from home for students in Mary Baldwin’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

Special Award Winners

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONTiffany Jackson, of Washington, DC: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Student Award, recognizing “unselfish service, noble character, and spiritual qualities.” Jackson, an English major with minors in education and African-American studies, participated this year in the unique national Kellogg Collegiate Women of Color Leadership Institute, through which she created a weekend enrichment and mentorship program for young girls in Staunton called Black Pearls. She has been active in a local congregation, and on campus was president of Omicron Delta Kappa and Black Student Alliance. Jackson was involved with numerous other Mary Baldwin organizations, including Greater Things Dance Ministry, Mary Baldwin Dance Company, Kuumba Players, Umoja House, Ida B. Wells living learning community, and Alpha Lambda Delta.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONJessie Labadie, of Staunton, Virginia: Martha Stackhouse Grafton Award, recognizing the senior with the highest cumulative grade point average. A French and Spanish double major, Labadie employed the 2006–07 Margarett Kable Russell Award to travel to the Basque regions of France and Spain to conduct interviews with government officials, citizens, and members of cultural organizations. Labadie’s project explored the differing political aspirations of people in the Basque region of France to those of culturally similar Basque region of Spain.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONKathryn Wallace, of Fincastle, Virginia: Baldwin Online and Adult Programs Outstanding Student. Wallace is a top student at the Mary Baldwin regional center in Roanoke and was one of just a few Baldwin Online and Adult Programs students to present her senior thesis at Mary Baldwin’s Capstone Festival. Her project, which draws on knowledge from her business administration major and management minor, was titled “Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores: Consistent Growth Built on Old-Fashioned Values.” Wallace was a recipient of an Baldwin Online and Adult Programs Loyalty Fund Scholarship, based on, among other things, her leadership roles in a neighborhood organization and a retreat she organized for women in the Philippines. She eagerly served on a student panel for the SACS site visit to the Roanoke center in March 2007.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONNora Sams Fletcher, of Broadway, Virginia: Master of Arts in Teaching Student of the Year. As a full-time teacher, Fletcher is described by her MAT supervisor as poised, confident and skilled in focusing and motivating her students. She is bilingual and teaches a diverse population, including English as a Second Language students, students with learning disabilities and/or emotional disorders, and those identified as Gifted and Talented. Other teachers who have worked with Fletcher in the classroom agree that she is creative and flexible, has excellent classroom management skills, and is articulate in expressing her opinion. She was also recently named a Teacher of Promise for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONKatherine Mayberry, of Grand Haven, Michigan: MLitt/MFA Ariel Award. As a scholar, a member of the student organization University Wits, and a student assistant in the MLitt/MFA department, Mayberry infused the program with hard work and creativity. She was one of several MFA actors in the department’s recent unique staging of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Blackfriars Theatre. Mayberry is a founding member of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, based in Grand Haven, Michigan. Given in 2006 for the first time, the award is named for the magical spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the magician Prospero succeeds through the artistry and loyalty of his beloved servant, Ariel.

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONJillian Hartley, of Sheperdstown, West Virginia: Margarett Kable Russell Award for 2007–08. Hartley ’08 was selected for the award based on her prior academic achievement, the appropriateness of her project, and her project’s potential to enrich the college community. Hartley, a history major with minors in business administration and public history (new to Mary Baldwin), will work on a project titled “Mary Baldwin University as We Were: An Oral History Project.” She plans to interview Mary Baldwin alumnae/i from the 1940s through the 1990s to learn how traditions have evolved over the years. Hartley is uniquely prepared to carry out this project. She has assisted Mary Baldwin Archivist William Pollard, completed an archival internship at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, and worked with archival documents in her hometown.