AGAWAM — Thirty years ago, Katherine Lancour wrote a special poem for the dedication of the statue honoring Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, at the center of Feeding Hills, Sullivan’s home community. On Saturday, Lancour — a direct descendant of Sullivan — will accept an award honoring her famous relative at the site of that same sculpture.
Lancour will receive the annual Women in American History Award from the local chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). This year, the American History Committee of the Mercy Warren Chapter of the DAR chose to honor Sullivan.
Lancour is Sullivan’s first cousin, twice removed; Sullivan’s grandfather, James, is Lancour’s great-great-grandfather. Like his cousin, Lancour lives in Feeding Hills, about three miles from where Sullivan grew up. Sullivan lived from 1866 to 1936.
“I was very surprised to get the phone call telling me the price – I didn’t know they were going to do it,” said Lancour, 85, who has lived in Feeding Hills since 1956. His home on South West Street is just down the street from the farm where his mother, Anna Sullivan, was born.
Lancour and her older sister, Joan Schoolcraft, 86, who recently moved from Springfield to Agawam, didn’t learn they were related to Sullivan until they were 10 to 12 years old.
“I think our mother told us. We didn’t think much about it at the time — we didn’t know who she was,” said Lancour, known as Kay to family and friends.
“Anne was a family member that we didn’t know much about except that she had lived in Feeding Hills,” she added. “Everything we heard was pretty much hearsay from our family.”
Years later, when Lancour and her sister realized who Sullivan was and learned more about his work with Helen Keller, they were more “impressed” with what Sullivan had accomplished.
“It was a nice feeling to know that someone close to us was important. It gave me a special personal feeling – and it was something I could talk about with people,” Lancour said.
It also led Lancour to serve on the committee that planned to erect a statue of Sullivan in his hometown.
“I helped raise money for the statue – we sold candy bars, little button pins and had picnics. Once the statue was finished and we were preparing to dedicate it, I decided to write a poem about Anne which was included in the program,” Lancour explained.
The poem, “Through Annie’s Eyes”, is about Sullivan’s dedication to teaching blind and deaf children after overcoming childhood blindness caused by an eye infection. Lancour framed the poem and the photos of the statue which she proudly hangs in her living room.
Sullivan was inspired to work with visually impaired children after treatment in Boston restored her vision. She became known as “The Miracle Worker” for her work with Helen Keller.
“Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, how to communicate and how to read Braille. They became lifelong companions and advocates for deafblind people around the world,” said Samantha Seamans-Frizzell, DAR Chapter Regent.
“Anne Sullivan is the perfect recipient for this award. His courage and determination are an inspiration to us all. We hope to continue to identify more women from our communities for this award as there are many who deserve it,” she added.
Seaman-Fizzell said the DAR award is not a contest, but recognition for a woman, past or present, who has made a significant contribution to her community. She called the timing of Sullivan’s award “providential,” as the ceremony will take place nearly 30 years after the sculpture was unveiled near Sullivan’s birthplace in Feeding Hills.
The bronze sculpture, dedicated in June 1992 and called “Water”, is one of the most significant memorials dedicated to her in a small park now known as Anne Sullivan Park. It depicts Sullivan with Hellen Keller at the “miracle moment” when Sullivan spelled the word “water” to Keller, as she moved a water pump handle, so water flowed over Keller’s mug and her hand , to help him connect the two things.
Katy Krause, a member of the chapter’s American History Committee, is also a member of the Agawam Historical Association, which funded the design and installation of the sculpture. Since the DAR is a lineage society, she said she wanted to award the certificate and medal to a member of the Sullivan family. Krause, a resident of Agawam, helped identify Lancour as a Sullivan relative living in Feeding Hills.
“History and genealogy are my passions. The statue was dedicated before my time with the [Historical Association]but I knew there was mention of a parent,” she said.
Lancour said Sullivan deserved the award. She also hopes Sullivan can be an inspiration to the children of today and future generations, including her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
“Anne had a lot of difficulties, with her blindness and her difficult life as a child. She had a tough life on the farm, but she was a fighter — and a strong woman — who overcame many obstacles and worked hard for herself and others around her,” Lancour said.
The DAR presentation will take place at Anne Sullivan Park at 11 a.m. on April 30. The park is on the corner of South Westfield and Springfield Streets, across from Granger School.
The DAR is a women’s service organization whose members can trace their ancestry to a person who helped secure American independence during the Revolutionary War. Today, it has more than 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters in the United States and abroad.
The Mercy Warren Chapter of the DAR was established in 1892 and is named after Mercy Otis Warren of West Barnstable, Cape Cod. She was a poet, playwright and pamphleteer during the Revolutionary War.