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Panhandle residents chosen for Holocaust Commission

August 24, 1998

Holocaust Education CommissionBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer [enlarge]




SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Sheila M. Hamilton remembers feeling honored when a representative of West Virginia Gov. Cecil H. Underwood called her a few weeks ago and asked her to serve on his new Holocaust Education Commission.

Still, with an already full schedule, the Shepherdstown resident didn't say "yes" right away.

"The first thing I asked was how often would we meet," said Hamilton, 50, who juggles a job at General Motors, local and state union offices, and service on the West Virginia Board of Education. "I'm running myself ragged as it is."

Learning it probably would be only three or four meetings a year, she decided the importance of the task was worth the extra demand on her time, she said.

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"We need to understand where we came from in order to know where we're going. If we don't discuss what happened, God forbid, we'll go back to the way it was before," said Hamilton, one of two Eastern Panhandle residents named to the 21-member commission last week.

Lawyer Steven Greenbaum, 44, of Martinsburg, also was appointed.

Part of Underwood's initiative on race, the commission will serve as an educational resource for schools, churches and communities studying the Holocaust, according to a press release issued by the governor's office.

According to the release, the commission will develop instructional guidelines, provide teacher training programs and certification, and establish a free school lending library of Holocaust information. It will also offer a variety of Holocaust programs, events and displays to the public, provide access to Holocaust survivors and liberators and organize an annual Holocaust essay contest.

It may seem odd to focus so much attention on Holocaust education in a state with such a small percentage of Jewish people, Hamilton said. But it makes perfect sense, given the Holocaust's universal message in teaching the potential consequences of intolerance, she said.

"It's not just about a religion or a group, it's about humanity and about the wrongs being done to a people," said Hamilton, a strong proponent of diversity in education.

She said she doesn't remember being taught much, if anything, about the Holocaust in school.

But that's consistent with the narrow scope of history taught to American students, Hamilton said.

"When it comes to history, only European-Americans made contributions. We're never taught what the different groups have done for this country," she said.

Beyond being related to school teachers and administrators, Hamilton didn't have a background in education when she was named to the state school board. Former Gov. Gaston Caperton said he wanted her expertise in the workplace when he appointed her for a nine-year term ending in 2002, she said.

A parts distribution technician at GM's Martinsburg facility, Hamilton is trustee for United Auto Workers, Local 1590, chairwoman of the union's political leg, financial secretary for that program at the state level, and state vice president for the AFL-CIO.

Hamilton's husband, Roland Hamilton, and brother, Tony Roman, are teachers in Berkeley County, W.Va. Her sister, Charlene Johnson, teaches in North Carolina.

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