Terry Cowgill } Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington — Almost 15 years ago, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee considered, and ultimately rejected, a proposal to name its brand new regional elementary school after perhaps the region’s most celebrated academic and civil rights leader.
To some, it seemed like a no-brainer. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington; was the first African-American to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard; and was a world-renowned scholar, writer and leader for social and racial justice. Du Bois was seen by many as a trailblazer who paved the way for Martin Luther King Jr. and was “woke” to racial injustice before it became fashionable. Du Bois was also the subject of two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies by distinguished historian David Levering Lewis. Moreover, who better to name a school after than Berkshire County’s most legendary scholar?
Tony Dobrowolski | Berkshire Eagle
Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant didn't take a direct route to the Berkshires. She was born in Philadelphia. Her father was an engineer in the Navy, so they moved often. She has lived in Virginia Beach, Va., New Jersey, New York and Florida.
"I was really shy," VanSant said. "I was almost afraid to acclimate because then we'd have to go again."
Through it all, VanSant was a great student — she was a member of the National Honor Society and well-known for her spelling bee prowess. She was at a college fair in Virginia when she met the dean of admissions at Bard College at Simon's Rock.
"I don't know how he ended up in Virginia Beach," she mused.
Five years later, in 1992, VanSant graduated from the Great Barrington college, where she studied Spanish and art history.
VanSant stayed in Berkshire County to raise her family — she has four children ages 12 to 29.
"I was intrigued by having a home, because I had moved around so much," VanSant said. "I built a community, I was living in Housatonic. It felt safe."