First graduate earns degree from Pocahontas Woods
Pocahontas Woods marked a milestone on December 8, when Jerill Vance, of Culloden, completed his last day of classes. Vance is the first to complete the degree program and will be awarded an Associate's Degree of Applied Science in Fine Woodworking from New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) in Lewisburg.
Vance earned 42 credits in four semesters at Pocahontas Woods, which is now an NRCTC branch campus. His classes in Marlinton included basic and advanced furniture construction, furniture design, lathe turning and basic finishing. He completed core classes at the Lewisburg campus.
In addition to other academic honors, Vance was named to the NRCTC President's List for the spring 2010 semester, which requires a 4.0 grade point average with a minimum of 12 credits.
Vance worked for 32 years in research and development with Dow Chemical Company in South Charleston, before being laid off. He first learned woodworking from his father and grandfather.
The graduate operates a woodshop in Culloden, where he lives with his wife, Belinda. He will show - and hopefully sell - several of his pieces at the Red Caboose Artisan Center in Huntington on March 18 and 19. He also hopes to have pieces accepted for sale at Tamarack in Beckley.
Vance said Pocahontas Woods is a good option for those interested in a woodworking career.
"For anybody that wants a career in the manufacturing wood industry, this is probably the better option, because I don't know of any other in the whole state," he said. "This is sort of like a hidden gem. It really needs to be utilized more by people throughout the state."
The woodworker said instructor John Wesley Williams stressed furniture design.
"I probably learned more on design than anything else," he said. "They really stress design here. If you design something yourself, then you own it. If you make something from a set of blueprints, you're just duplicating somebody else's work. John stresses design and I learned quite a bit. It was overwhelming, at first, but once I learned some of the concepts, it became easier."
The county commission allocated approximately $700,000 to Pocahontas Woods between 2001 and 2008, most of which was used to buy a building on Third Avenue and fill it with woodworking machines. The commission's intent was to train woodworkers and generate small woodworking businesses in the county.
Funding also has been provided by the U.S.D.A. Rural Development, the Veterans Administration and NRCTC. The Christopher Reeves Foundation provided a chair lift for physically challenged students.
The project took off under director Rich Horton, who came onboard as director in 2009. Horton, who started with Pocahontas Woods as a VISTA volunteer in 2008, aligned the facility with NRCTC and brought in master woodworker John Wesley Williams as director of instruction.
Pocahontas Woods currently has five paying students, enrolled in a six-month apprentice program, and is recruiting for more Associate's Degree students, with assistance from NRCTC. The non-profit facility also produces income by selling quality wood products.
Horton said Vance's graduation was a great day for Pocahontas Woods.
"It's great for Pocahontas Woods," he said. "It's the culmination of a dream of Gibbs Kinderman, who actually started this nine or ten years ago. It was a dream all along and here we go - we got our first graduate."
The director praised Vance's academic effort.
"He was a very serious student," he said. "He came here to learn and boy, did he."
Horton said a variety of programs are available at Pocahontas Woods: the two-year Associate of Applied Science degree program; a one-year collegiate certificate (with credits transferable to a degree program); individual classes for college credits; a six-month apprenticeship program; a skill set certificate program; and a journeyman program.
For more information, call Pocahontas Woods at 304-799-6985.