Virginia Snyder

Miss Virginia

by Joshua Heston

Some folks just talk about preserving their heritage. Others actually do it. Virginia Snyder falls into the latter category.

As Gordon McCann, past president of the Missouri Folklore Society notes, "With little help and no grants or outside money, [Snyder] developed the family farm into what you might call a cultural preservation center for Ozark traditions."

Virginia's achievements required passion and determination. Both seem to run in the family.

She tells of a great grandfather, Ed Adamson, coming to Turnback Creek, so named because it was believed to be uncrossable.

He crossed it, then built the first permanent log home in the county — and ultimately owned 800 acres of land there.

Virginia's efforts have led to the preservation of her educational roots and the musical traditions of the region.

“I have so many beautiful memories of the one-room school because I attended one for eight years and taught in one for 11. I was 17 when I first started to teach,” she notes, “and I specifically remember how scared I was the first day. But the students didn’t know it. At the end of the day, I had three notes — which I have saved — and each one of them said, I like you.

“There have been so many changes in education, but a lot of the values have been lost. The one room school was the foundation of education in America. I think young people should know the heritage of where all our education came from.

“[Back then] people seemed to value friendship more. Neighbors helped each other a lot more than they do now. Even though you didn't have much, you made do with what you had and were happy. I had a wonderful childhood even though we were poor.”

“I grew up in a musical family. I was born in my grandmother's house and she was a role model in my life. She was a great musician. On weekends, her brothers came from the old home place and we would play music on the porch.

“I was about eight years old when one brother, Thomas Likens — who was a great fiddle player — would call out chord changes [as he played] and that's how I learned to play the guitar.

Story continued above right...

plate 1. the Little Moore School, prior to renovation, now donated to Snyder Music Park, Lawrence County, Missouri.

Virginia Snyder

plate 2. Virginia and her Silvertone guitar, with grandmother, Rosa Lee, and brother, Glen Jr.

Virginia Snyder, continued

“My dad played several instruments,” she continues, “and was a wonderful singer. He sang in gospel quartets and he and I did a lot of duets together. His brother, W. Carl Snyder, played with Tommy Dorsey and the Joe Haymes Orchestras.”

Virginia’s father dreamed of a career in music, but “[When] my grandmother became blind, Dad needed to stay home and take care of her. He thought he would just build his own music barn. In 1974, he had a massive heart attack and didn’t get to realize that dream.”

Virginia, then teaching in Springfield, Missouri, never forgot her father’s intent. Retiring in 1986, and returning to the home place to care for her mother, she chose to make that dream real. By first selling some of the farm’s timber, and then including her own retirement funds, she had enough money to build Snyder Music Park in 1990.

It has since become home to fiddle contests, fiddlers’ jams, bluegrass festivals, gospel sings and — perhaps most importantly — the restored 1901-era school from which her own mother graduated.

“It almost seems like its listening to the music,” says Virginia Snyder. “And I kind of feel that my dad is listening too.”

December 7, 2007

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People of the Hills

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