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Virl’s Vines leave a harvest of kindness and generosity for next generation to learn, share

Virl Lowery was a man who loved his family and the life he built with his wife Debbie, out in the country on an old dirt road in Robeson County.

“If he was at home, he was always outside doing something,” stated Jennifer Thomas, a biology and science instructor at RCC as she spoke about her brother-in-law. “He loved growing his own fruit and vegetables and working on his grapevines and in his garden.”

November 28th will mark eight years since Virl passed away in Columbus County.

“Virl died suddenly and tragically,” Jennifer recalls. “He died while fishing, after falling from his boat.”

Although Virl’s life was taken too soon, his family wanted to continue his legacy in a positive way.

“Virl had grapevines that my sister could no longer maintain, so she took some down and donated the materials to the RCC Science Club to start grapevines here on campus,” Thomas stated. “Some of the grapevines and materials, poles and wire, to start the grapes in the Green Zone were donated by my sister.”

As Debbie walked to the grapevines on campus, she stated that she and Virl would have been married 44 years if he had not died.

“This month is our anniversary. I still count it, just like he was still here,” Debbie said.

The grapes donated were planted by the Science Club in 2017 and continue to thrive and grow each year. They are maintained by Gene Thorman and the maintenance department, a special project they have undertaken.

This year the grapevines yielded a bountiful harvest, something Jennifer and Debbie both say Virl would be proud of.

“He would know that his life meant something and that the things that he did mattered,” Jennifer said. “He always shared, he was a very giving person and he is still a giving person even after his death.”

This past October was the first year the Science Club was able to sell the grapes. It’s a project spearheaded by Courtney Kilgore, the advisor of the Science Club, and it’s a project she hopes to make an annual tradition.

“We have often referred to them as Virl’s Vines, and the Science Club is reaping the rewards, or the fruits of their labor, through the fundraiser,” Thomas said. “It is also a good learning resource for the students.”

The fundraiser helps fund field trips, such as to the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, which Jennifer says “helps to get students off campus and gives them a learning experience they otherwise would not get to do.”

“Virl would love knowing that his grapevines were still alive and helping students at Robeson Community College in this way,” Thomas said. “That’s how he lived his life… helping others.”

Today, his legacy continues through the muscadine grapevines he started many years ago, which Jennifer says is “fitting in memory of my brother-in-law Virl Lowery.”


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