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Book Recounts Van Camp Community

By Staff | May 23, 2012

Dr. Jack Furbee holds a copy of his book, “Growing Up Appalachian in the Van Camp community of Wetzel County, W.Va.”, by the Van Camp historical marker along state Route 180. Furbee worked to get the community official historical status, along with the marker.

Dr. Jack Furbee may not live in the local area now, but his upbringing in the Van Camp community in Wetzel County, near the county line on state Route 180, made such an impression on him that he wrote a book about it-“Growing Up Appalachian in the Van Camp community of Wetzel County, W.Va.”

Now living in Hillsboro, Ohio, Furbee will be presenting his book May 30, 2 p.m., at the Sistersville Public Library. Released at the end of January, high demand rendered it out of print in about a month. But Furbee is still happy to share his tome, recollections, and local history at the event.

(Editor’s note: The following is by Brandy Chandler, managing editor and editor of online content creation and development for The Highland County Press; printed by permission.)

While his goal was to create a record of fond memories of his family, and to capture the essence of life on an Appalachian farm during the Great Depression and World War II, Furbee said that it’s really a book of human experiences and emotions that he hopes everyone can identify with.

“The book is just a lot about growing up in West Virginia,” Furbee said.

Encouraged by high school classmates, with whom he kept in touch through his high school’s alumni website, Furbee put pen to paper. Over the course of more than 25 years, he composed the story of his life in West Virginia.

“There’s a lot in the book about the schools in the county at the time, and growing up on a very remote farm,” Furbee said. “I’ve been working on it from, I’d say, 1985 on. The inspiration really came from my high school website. For years I’d been feeding these stories to them, and I got a lot of feedback, and a lot of encouragement to put them into a book.”

Among the rocks and hills in West Virginia, Furbee said his parents had a “sustenance farm,” where they didn’t grow cash crops, but food to survive.

“We didn’t make anything off of it, but we made a living,” he said.

Foremost, Furbee said that the book came from wanting to pay tribute to his mother, Gertrude.

“I love my mother,” Furbee said. “I grew up in the community where (his family) was part of the legend and the lore, and I just wanted to get into the fabric of our family’s history. That got me into my mother’s side of the family, the Van Camp side. Van Camps were the earliest settlers.”

Described as being, “north of Parkersburg but south of Wheeling,” the Van Camps settled in the area “as part of the Northwest Ordinance,” Furbee said.

The original 1,000 acres the family settled stayed in the family for generations, until portions of it were sold off by relatives in recent decades. Furbee said that he wanted to make certain that the name and the history was preserved, so he applied for and received a state historical marker for the site.

Because there are not a lot of photos from the area at the time he describes, he created sketches of the farm and the landscape, that are included with the stories.

In the book, Furbee details the process of receiving official historical status for the community, along with anecdotes about family. Among the stories is one memorable night in which eight-year-old Furbee had to fetch a midwife and doctor for the impending birth of his sister. To commemorate another special birth, Furbee said he once spent Christmas Eve in a manger, which was the best way he thought to honor the night Jesus was born.

From those humble roots in the Appalachian Mountains, Furbee applied himself to his education. He became the first in his family to attend college, going on to receive a masters degree and a doctorate in education.

“I’m the first in my family to go beyond the eighth grade,” said Furbee, who attributed his dislike for farm work as his catalyst for study.

“Farm work, as my dad introduced me to it, was a turnoff,” Furbee said.

“Work wasn’t always pleasant. I loved my dad, but I didn’t like the work, and that’s what put me into books. I really got started in high school. I loved stories and dramatic arts and plays, and that led me to education. I can still remember sitting on the front porch waiting for the mail to get my papers that said I’d been accepted to college.”

After graduating from West Liberty State College, he pursued higher degrees at West Virginia University. He held positions at colleges and universities across the United States, eventually ending up at Olivet Nazarene University, south of Chicago. He taught there from 1970 to 1989, and achieved professor emeritus status.

Although he may have traveled the country, Furbee said his heart stayed in that little town in West Virginia.

“Homesickness results,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go back. I haven’t been able to manage (to live there permanently) but I’ve always traveled back.”

Furbee and his wife, Donna, initially moved to Ohio to the Milford area to be close to their daughter. But they wanted be in the country, and found that the rolling hills of Highland County bear a striking resemblance to his native West Virginia.

“Hillsboro probably satisfies us as much as any place,” Furbee said. “And now we find it hard to leave. It’s beautiful here.”

“The emotions in the book are international. You don’t have to be from West Virginia,” Furbee said. “It’s a human interest story, and emotions know no boundaries. . . The Depression was the Depression everywhere. World War II was World War II everywhere. All of those are in the story.”

For more information, Furbee can be reached at jckfrb@gmail.com.