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The public is cordially invited to spend an evening with local writer Kenneth F. Conklin. The author of “Norvel: An American Hero,” Mr. Conklin will present an overview on the remarkable life of Botetourt County native, Norvel Lee. The program will be held in the Michael Armstrong Community Room of the Clifton Forge Public Library. It will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, February 13.
Tuskegee Airman, heavyweight boxer with the newly integrated D.C. Golden Gloves, member of the U.S. Olympic team, and Howard University student, Norvel Lee was arrested on a September morning in 1948 for taking a seat in the white section of a segregated train going from Covington, VA to Clifton Forge, VA. The resulting court case eventually made its way to the Virginia State Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark civil rights decision.
Meticulously researched, “Norvel: An American Hero” relates the inspiring story of this remarkable man who went on to become the gold medal winner in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games where he was also voted by the judges to be the outstanding boxer of the Olympics.
Earning several graduate degrees in education, his professional career included becoming a senior officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, educator, and businessman. He and his wife, Leslie Jackson Lee, were prominent mentors and sponsors of young people in the greater Washington, D.C. area where they advocated for educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.
On August 24, 2021, Botetourt County requested that Norvel Lee “be recognized by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) through the erection of a historical marker celebrating his life and contributions to Botetourt County and the United States of America to be located along the east side of U.S. Route 220, near the intersection with State Route 622, approximately two miles from Lee’s childhood home.”
In addition, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution brought forward by Delegate Terry Austin to designate the northern section of US 220 the Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee Memorial Highway, effective July 1, 2022.
On September 17, 2022, the historical marker was unveiled in Lee’s honor. It was erected jointly by Botetourt County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“Norvel” is Ken Conklin’s debut book. In 2022, the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation awarded Conklin the Kegley Preservation Award for this historical novel. For over 20 years, the Foundation “has recognized projects, persons, and community groups in the region.” The awards “recognize notable examples of historic preservation, rehabilitation, stewardship, education, advocacy, and restoration projects that have maintained or added to the Roanoke Valley and surrounding area’s historical, architectural, and/or cultural heritage. They serve not only to commend the winners’ hard work, but to also promote public awareness of the values of older structures, the importance of individual historical efforts, and the significance of education and environmental work” in the community.
Mr. Conklin is also the author of “The Zen of Ken,” a collection of original poems, most of which were previously unpublished. A few contained within the book have won awards in local poetry contests. Three of his poems will be included in the soon to be released Poet Society of Virginia Centennial Poetry Anthology. Additionally, his essays have been published in the “Roanoke Times” as well as other publications.
Mr. Conklin, a native of Los Angeles, lives in Botetourt County. Though he has always been a writer, Ken made his living in the technology industry as a business development and general management executive. In those roles, he traveled throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, gaining experiences that inform his writing.
Mr. Conklin’s program will conclude with a book signing. Copies of “Norvel” will be available for purchase.
Admission is free.
Light refreshments will be provided.
The Clifton Forge Public Library is located at 535 Church Street.
For information on any library program, call 863-2519.
(Photos courtesy of Kenneth F. Conklin)