Two longtime community advocates were honored during the presentation of the Loudoun History Awards on Sunday at Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library.
The 23rd annual event put the spotlight on the contributions of Donna Bohanon and Al Van Huyck.
Bohanon, who heads the Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library, was nominated for the award by longtime historian and activist Elaine Thompson.
“It is with pride that I nominate Donna Bohanon,” Thompson said, saying it had been a privilege to work with her on the committee and to watch her enthusiasm and skill in expanding the reach and diversity of the committee.
She first served as its events chairman and then took leadership of the committee. Her numerous contributions to the committee went “beyond the call of duty,” Thompson said, adding Bohanon firmly believes “the African-American past should be defined and told by us.”
Bohanon’s activities include leadership of Emancipation Day events and creating the award-winning memorial wall at Frederick Douglass Elementary School, conducting book talks, promoting black culture, and speaking at statewide conferences.
Her particular focus now is to raise funds for a memorial on the courthouse grounds to highlight the roles of black residents in Loudoun and to research gravesites at the cemetery near St. James Church and to restore the Belmont Slave Cemetery.
A Washington, DC, native, who works at the U.S. State Department, Bohanon and her family fell in love with Loudoun when they moved to the Ashburn area. As a history lover, finding similar spirits on the committee was gratifying—“a special breed of folks,” she said.
While being honored for her work, Bohanon cited the contributions of others in helping to tell the story of Loudoun’s black residents, including the Carver School alumni in Purcellville, Louetta Watkins, the Rev. Michelle Thomas, Mary Randolph and the late Sherry Sanabria, who featured the Settle Dean Cabin and the Arcola Slave Quarters in her paintings.
It was Taylorstown resident Phil Ehrenkranz, along with Lori Kimball and Mitch Diamond, who nominated longtime preservationist and environmentalist Al Van Huyck for the award.
Ehrankranz said his nomination is unusual in that he had known Van Huyck for less than three months. However, both men have lived in western Loudoun since the 1960s and both had developed active interest in matters of heritage and environmental protection. Surprisingly their paths only recently crossed, meeting during at a Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition meeting in August. Van Huyck, a retired international planner and former Loudoun County Planning Commission chairman, chairs the organization.
Ehrenkranz said he was impressed by Van Huyck’s “great depth of knowledge and grasp of many complex issues,” as well as the intelligent and dedicated members of the group.
Serving as a planning commissioner from 1996 to 2003, Van Huyck championed smart growth policies and played a key role in amending the county’s Comprehensive Plan to promote rural conservation, providing a foundation for future preservation initiatives, Ehrenkranz said.
In 2007, he and Kimball co-founded the coalition, a group of 30 local and regional organizations that advocate county and state policies to protect the county’s historic resources, scenic landscape and shared heritage. In 2013, Van Huyck was named the Preservation Society of Loudoun County’s Preservationist of the Year.
Still active in local issue, Van Huyck briefs the county’s elected and staff on preservation issues, and is “a respected, consulted voice representing the preservation community,” Ehrenkranz said.
Accepting the award, Van Huyck recalled that his interest in preservation began in 1969 when he and his wife, then living in Arlington, bought an 19th century stone house along the Blue Ridge. The house was derelict and had not been lived in for 30 years. Throughout the next 46 years, they gradually made it their full-time home.
Van Huyck said he learned an important lesson from Loudoun historian John Lewis, who he told the couple they were responsible for handing the property on to the next generation.
“That struck me as being what history is all about,” Van Huyck said.
While serving on the Planning Commission, Van Huyck said he realized “we have the opportunity to bring our heritage and environmental work into the public policy arena—all history translates into public policy.” That’s a lesson he has been emphasizing for many years.
However, he added a note of caution when encouraging business uses, such as breweries. “It’s important to have a viable rural economy, but it’s very important that its context is maintained,” Van Huyck said. “We are the land stewards of the 200,000 rural acres.”
He said the coalition would keep a close eye on the planned update of the county’s General Plan and urged those in the public interest sector to oppose the pressure to allow more housing in the Transition Area.
“We need a strong, united voice, so get involved next year,” he said.
Contact Margaret Morton at email@example.com.