Helen Pesci Wood, an opera singer who taught music at Lynchburg for more than two decades, is among the women honored in the Virginia Women’s Monument.
The monument is still under development in Virginia’s capitol, but the oval plaza already includes a glass panel bearing 230 names of Virginia women who made outstanding contributions to the Commonwealth. Wood is on the list.
Born in Chicago, Wood began teaching voice at Lynchburg College in the 1940s, around the same time she started began performing as a soloist.
In her 20 year career, she performed in Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal, and on the Chicago Theater of the Air. She was a soloist at the Colonial Williamsburg Governor’s Palace Candlelight Concerts for 14 years. She organized the Virginia Grass Roots Opera, a troupe that traveled thousands of miles and brought the art form to communities throughout Virginia, according to a local historical marker highlighting her.
On campus, she taught individual lessons and organized a variety of performance groups. For example, an essay in the book Lynchburg College Jubilee remembers her for starting the “Night of Opera,” an annual program that featured a one-act opera and selections from larger operatic shows.
She continued performing and teaching until 1964, when she died.
The recital hall in the University’s Hebb Music Center, on the lower floor of Snidow Chapel, was named in her honor.
A couple of other women with ties to University of Lynchburg history have their names listed in the glass. Queena Stovall was a folk artist whose works were honored by a book the University published in 2018. The Daura Gallery holds some Stovall paintings and launched an exhibition of her work last year.
Anne Spencer, a Harlem Renaissance poet, occasionally hosted groups from Lynchburg College in her home. Today, the University has a partnership with the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum, with students and professors getting involved in research and other work there.
The conceptual design of the Virginia Women’s Monument is the work of Lynchburg alumnus John Crank ’79 and 1717 Designs, a company operated by him and his wife, Laura Miller Crank ’79. Eventually, the site will include 12 bronze statues of famous Virginia women.