Ellen Hilda West Capiz was born in Halifax County near Clover on Feb. 10, 1911 and died Sept. 22, 1997. She was the wife of Dr. Pascual Capiz and the daughter of William Sherman West, a mortician, and Alberta Green West, a school teacher.
Ellen Capiz attended elementary school locally until the age of 10. At that time, she and her sisters became boarding students at St. Paul’s School in Lawrenceville. There she was introduced to Latin, Greek, French and German. Languages became one of her passions. Years later she would learn Chinese and Tagalog.
She earned an A.B. in languages, namely Latin and Greek, at Howard University where she taught for several years. Later she received her M.A. in history from Howard University and pursued post-master work at the University of Chicago in Chinese culture and history and later at the Far East Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Capiz taught at the University of the Philippines and later retired as associate professor of history at West Virginia State College where she established the Chinese Studies Program.
Following retirement she returned to the county and became active in the community receiving numerous honors for her work including the “Hometown Hero” award in 1989 from WDBJ Channel 7, The Volunteer of the Year Award from Lake Country Commission on Aging in 1986, The VA Cooperative Extension State Award For Volunteer Service in 1987 and the Edward D. Jones Heart of Gold Award for volunteer work in 1986, among others.
She was a lay reader and past senior warden at Christ Episcopal Church in Halifax.
Capiz was instrumental in securing a grant for Halifax County that helped establish the South Boston Historical Museum at its original location on Main Street in South Boston.
The funding also provided for a series of seminars on the humanities. It was her drawing and concept that became the first logo for the museum.
She was appointed to the board of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy by former Governor Charles Robb. Her contacts at colleges and universities brought speakers to the area and proved invaluable during the South Boston Bicentennial Celebration in 1984.
Capiz and her family later established the Alberta Green West Education Room at the museum in honor of their mother.
She served on the district board of 4-H volunteer leaders and was actively involved with the Extension homemakers and the retired senior volunteers.
Working with young people, she encouraged them to try public speaking to gain self-confidence, and she helped prepare them for district speaking competitions. In addition to her many lectures in the local schools, she assisted numerous students in applying for scholarships and college admission.
She was an active member of the Family Life Action Committee, which sponsored educational programs for local citizens. She was secretary of the Halifax County Crime Prevention Council, past president of the Halifax/South Boston Retired Teachers Association and past president of the Charleston Branch of the American Association of University Women.
She was also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
The record of her choices and decisions could serve as a guide for those attempting to set their life goals.
She became a role model, and following retirement she spent 20 years of service to her community and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Though many awards and honors found their way to her, she was extremely modest — a perfectionist, a lifelong habit, she asked much of herself and those working with her.
It is impossible to count the many lives she touched in her lifetime. One can be sure that if any of her students followed her path, she would be pleased, smile and say, “I was just a volunteer.”
As a volunteer she personified the ultimate town hero.