The Foundation is working to learn all it can about the school and its place within the educational history of African Americans in former Norfolk County, Virginia.
We want to encourage today’s students to strive toward overcoming educational obstacles in their own lives.
The Foundation’s members include members of Chesapeake’s Historic Preservation Committee, retired and active school employees, the property owners where the school is located and other interested citizens.
In 2009, Wanza and Randolph Snead were approached by a local historian, Dr. Curtis Alexander, about a one-room schoolhouse on Snead family property. This school, built in 1902, educated “colored” students in Norfolk County, Virginia, for 49 years; it was the oldest pre-Rosenwald school left in original shape in the City. The school had been covered in vines and brush for over 50 years and was deteriorating. Dr. Alexander convinced the Sneads to consult the City’s historic preservation for help in restoring this building. Chesapeake’s Historic Preservation Commission asked an intern, Olivia Taukus, to prepare a history of Cornland School. In addition, in 2010, the school was listed on Preservation Virginia’s List of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites. The school seemed to be an appropriate candidate for restoration.
In 2011, Cyndia Merrell, an intern with the City, began working with Mrs. Snead and others to establish a 501(c)3 foundation with the purpose “to restore and preserve Cornland School to protect and continue dialogue about the educational history of African Americans post-Civil War and to remind people of the heritage of these people. In addition, the Foundation fosters relationships between generations by using Cornland’s empowering story to encourage students in the current generation to overcome academic obstacles in their own lives.”
The Cornland School Foundation, Inc. was incorporated in the state of Virginia in November of 2011. Dr. Ella Ward was the chairman. Other board members were Dr. William Ward, Dr. W. Randolph Nichols, Undersheriff Jim O’Sullivan, Jenny Sutton (CPA), Mrs. Wanza Snead, Randolph Snead, Barbara Russel, Dr. Sam Leary, and Joyce Howe.
Admittedly, the Foundation was naively optimistic; it set a two-year window for restoring the school and opening it as a museum. It collected estimates and hoped to finance the project with grants and tax credits. It did not, however, anticipate that it would take nine years to acquire ownership of the building. The Foundation did receive money from donations and knew that the building needed repairs but was hesitant to spend money because it did not have a title. Over time, volunteers came and left, some because they probably hoped that they would be painting and hammering! Our original Executive Director, Cyndia Merrell, moved and was replaced by Katie Yester who eventually left as well. Several original board members passed away. The structure of a Board of Directors and a committee was changed. The largely honorary board was combined with the active committee.
Originally, the Foundation had discussed moving the building, but this option was initially unpopular with Cornland School’s alumni. In the end, though, because the location made donating land with the building impractical, the owner sold Cornland School to the foundation for one dollar, anticipating that it would be moved. This nine-year period was not totally a discouragement. In terms of the building itself, the Foundation realized it needed to repair rot and insect damage. Contractors pulled up floors and installed a subfloor so when the building is moved, the original floors will be re-laid. Paneling and ceiling tiles (from when the building was briefly used as a residence) were removed as was general refuse. Windows were covered with plywood. The Sheriff’s Department replaced some siding and painted the building. Cornland School no longer looks “derelict.”
Although the building could not be restored during this period, the Foundation was busy working on its other goals of continuing the dialogue about the educational history and creating intergenerational relationships. Members researched the history of Cornland and its neighborhood. Dr. Ella Ward, Wanza Snead, and Barbara Russel presented programs about Cornland at schools and service clubs. Wanza Snead, Sam Leary, and students from Chesapeake’s Center for Science and Technology interviewed alumni. The Foundation hosted a reunion for alumni at The New Foreman Temple AME Church, next to the school. At this reunion, students from Grassfield High School’s Human Geography Class, under the direction of Lee Mongold conducted more interviews of alumni for a graduate school project which connects the alumni’s Cornland School experience with Virginia’s Standards of Learning. In addition, Cornland School was added to the National Registry of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmark Registry in 2015.
After a period of relative inactivity, the Foundation has added to its board and acquired a new executive director, Dr. George Reed. Currently, the Foundation is discussing with Chesapeake’s Parks and Recreation Department the possibility of making the Cornland School Building part of a proposed historic village. This will entail moving the building approximately four miles to a site close to the Dismal Swamp Canal and will enable the school to become a functioning museum. The Foundation will at last be able to share Cornland’s story with many people. This is truly an exciting time! Cornland School Foundation experienced many disappointments over nine years. Because the foundation did not own the property, it could not act on bids it received or apply for grants. Deciding to spend money on the building was a risk. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is to be persistent and believe. Good things will come.
Meet Our Board of Directors
Ella Ward, Ph.D.
Currently serving her fourth consecutive 4-year term on the Chesapeake City Council (2006-2022), and currently serving a second 4-year term on the Christopher Newport University Board of Visitors. Retired public school teacher/administrator with 35 years of service in the Portsmouth Public School System; City Council appointee to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and is serving her 12th year (served two terms as Chair); serving in her eleventh year as the Council representative on the Hampton Roads Transportation Organization; serves on the Advisory Board to the Norfolk State University School of Social Work; ran for United States Congress, 4th District, in 2012 and 2016;
Kindergarten Paraprofessional with Chesapeake Public Schools, and former church treasurer, choir director and church historian.
Retired Evangelist and Deaconess, The New Beginning Christian Center; owns the land where Cornland School is currently located; Volunteer historical lecturer on Cornland School for students at Chesapeake Juvenile Center, Chesapeake Ruritan Club, and Grassfield High school students.
Captain, USN (retired); Board Member and Treasurer, American Maritime Modernization Association, Inc.; Treasurer, Virginia Association of Chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Treasurer, Ella Ward for Congress Campaign; Former Treasurer, Chesapeake Democratic Committee, Former Treasurer, Alpha Phi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Member, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Senior Corporate Planning Program manager, QED Systems, Inc.; Former President, Tidewater Chapter of the National Naval Officers Association; Member, American Society of Naval Engineers, and Member, surface Navy Association; Member American Motorcyclist Association.
Retired National Football League football player; Executive Producer, Unspoken Documentary; Founder, The Don Carey REECH Foundation, Inc.; Board Member, Food Bank of Southeast Virginia and Eastern Shore; President, The New Chesapeake Men for Progress, Inc.; Member, The New Chesapeake Men for Progress Education Foundation, Inc.; 2019 Hall of Fame Inductee, Norfolk State University Sports Hall of Fame; Board Member, Norfolk State University Graduate of the Last Decade; Board Member, Toyota Charity Bowl; Member, Chesapeake Rotary Club; Member, Southeast Virginia Community Foundation.
Herman L. Ward
Retired from Measurement Specialist Operation Center, General Electric Company, and the U. S. Army. Herman Ward is an active member of the following organizations: The New Chesapeake Men for Progress Education Foundation, Inc., The New Chesapeake Men for Progress, Inc.(Publicity Director); Prince Hall Masons (Officer); Norfolk State University Alumni Association, and East Suffolk High School Alumni Association. He is also a Door Keeper at his church, The Mount.
Former student and land owner,(owns the land where Cornland School is currently located); Deacon at The New Beginning Christian Center; Participant, Grand Reunion of Cornland 22 Surviving Students; Volunteer fundraiser, Dismal Swamp Art Show to raise funds for Cornland School.
Retired public school educator, Virginia Beach Public Schools; Music Specialist, Horizons Summer Program; Guest Music Resident, Hampton Roads Academy; Owner, Drumming for Fun, LLC.
Patricia R. McCambridge
Retired public and private school educator; Chair, Chesapeake Historic Preservation Commission; Board Member, The Chesapeake Forum; Founding Member, The Backyard Gardener, and Chesapeake Historic and Architectural Review Board; volunteer, The Chesapeake Education Foundation, and Hampton Roads Salvation Army; Founder, Virginia State Employees Health Coalition; member, National Alliance of Preservation Commission; member, Preservation Virginia; Healthcare Lobbyist; Owner, Design Innovation Graphic Design; Tutor, A-Team Specialist; Wish Grant Specialist, Make A-Wish Foundation of Eastern Virginia; Volunteer and Coach, Special Olympics; Volunteer, and Landscape team leader, Paint Your Heart Out.
William C. Bennett
Undersheriff, city of Chesapeake; President, Board of Directors, Project Lifesaver International; Vice-president, Board of Directors, Children Today Leaders Tomorrow, Inc. and Charities Inc.; Board Member, The New Chesapeake Men for Progress Education Foundation, Inc.; Coach for recreational football teams in Great Bridge and South Norfolk; member, Virginia Sheriff’s Association, Inc., Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9, and the South Norfolk Ruritan Club.
Retired teacher, Chesapeake Public Schools; Secretary, Chesapeake Community Messiah Committee; Parishioner and Lector, St. Stephen, Martyr Roman Catholic Church; Volunteer, WHRO, The Voice; Volunteer, Chesapeake Education Foundation, Inc.
George F. Reed, Ph.D.
George is President of G. and L. Associates Consulting where he continues to work with nonprofits organizations to establish nonprofits and provides nonprofit board training. He retired in 2002 from Norfolk Public Schools as an Alternative School Principal. Throughout his career he has worked as an Employment Counselor, Classroom Teacher, and Management and Procedures Technician. He has served four years in the United States Air Force, and was honorably discharged May 20, 1969. He currently works with various nonprofits as a board chairman, Executive Director, board member and consultant. George is a life member of The Virginia Congress of Parent and Teachers (PTA) and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. George currently serves on a number of community organizations, boards and foundations. He is a current member of The New Chesapeake Men for Progress, Inc.; secretary, The New Chesapeake Men for Progress Education Foundation, Inc.; former president and current member, NAC-Save Our Youth Foundation, Inc.; board member, Boys and Girl Club; and Board Chairman Emeritus, STOP, Inc.