Hamilton, Velma Fern Bell
Velma Fern Bell Hamilton died on Thursday, July 9, 2009, after several years of failing health. She had been living for the past several months in Atlanta, Ga., having moved there from Hamden, Conn., her home for six years, but most of her life was spent in Madison. She was born in Pontotoc, Miss., on Feb. 28, 1910, to Walter and Malvina Grace (Allen) Bell, seven years after their first child, Ora, was born. Shortly thereafter her family moved to Beloit. Encouraged by her parents to excel in education, she was the valedictorian at Beloit High School and was quickly accepted into Beloit College. She majored in sociology and, in recognition of her high academic performance, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as she graduated in 1930 at the age of 20. Her first position was as an assistant professor at Bennett College in Gastonia, N.C. She continued her education during a leave of absence and earned a master's degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1933. She married Harry Lemuel Hamilton in 1934, after the two met three years previously at a Valentine's Day dance in North Carolina. The first of their three children was born in Charleston, S.C., in 1938, before they moved to Tougaloo, Miss. where Velma was hired as the Registrar at Tougoloo College and Harry was a chemistry professor. Their second child was born in nearby Jackson, Miss., three years later. Velma's love affair with Madison began in 1942, when the family moved there so that her husband could serve his country in wartime as a supervisor for the manufacture of gunpowder at Badger Ordnance Works in Baraboo. Their third child was born in Madison shortly thereafter and Velma became a stay-at-home mother while grading papers for correspondence courses in English and sociology for the University of Wisconsin Extension Division. In 1950, she was hired as an English teacher at Madison Vocational School, the predecessor to Madison Area Technical College (M.A.T.C.), becoming the first African American teacher hired in Madison. She worked with the Ford Foundation's Institute of International Education the summers of 1958 and 1959, both in Madison and Boulder, Colo. She served as Chair of the General Studies Department of M.A.T.C. for five years before retiring in 1975. For the next two years she traveled throughout the Midwest evaluating vocational and technical schools for the North Central Accrediting Association. In 1981, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Lakeland College. She was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities by Beloit College in 1991. A self-described communitarian, Velma served her fellow citizens in myriad ways throughout her life. She helped establish and served as the first president of the Madison NAACP in 1943. She become a member of First Congregational Church, teaching at Green Lake summer camps, being a member of Congregators, and serving on the hospitality committee and as Church Moderator. She was active for many years with the Wisconsin Committee on Aging and the Governor's Commission on Human Rights. As members of Friends of International Students, she and her husband welcomed to Madison hundreds of University of Wisconsin students from around the world. In recognition of her many years of dedication to education, in 1992, the Madison School District named a school in her honor, the Velma Hamilton Middle School, on Madison's West Side. She was Wisconsin Mother of the Year in 1974. A bas relief of Dr. Hamilton and her husband was placed in the lobby of City Station in further recognition of their many contributions to the civic life of Madison. She was an avid bridge player, a lover of children and music, and a supporter of scouting and PTAs. Dr. Hamilton's husband preceded her in death in 1996, after nearly 62 years of marriage. She is survived by a son, Dr. Harry L. Hamilton, Jr. of Sunriver, Ore.; daughters, Patricia G. Hamilton (Mrs. Maung Gyi) of Peachtree City, Ga. and Dr. Muriel E. Hamilton of San Jose, Calif.; grandchildren, David and Lisa Hamilton, Melinda Gyi White and Serena Gyi, and N'Tanya and Alicia Lee; and six great-grandchildren. There will be a visitation at the CRESS FUNERAL HOME, 3610 Speedway Road, Madison, Friday, July 24, 2009, from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. There will be a memorial service at FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH (Breeze Terrace at University Avenue) beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 25, 2009. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Velma Hamilton Memorial Fund, care of First Congregational Church.
Cress Funeral and Cremation Service 3610 Speedway Road (608) 238-3434