Plenty of light has shined on Day

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Virginia Day believes Altoona has a positive future to which young black families will contribute.

Black History Month may be drawing to a close, but Virginia Day believes educating the community on the African-American people who made a difference here should never end.

“It means to me that we need to know where we came from,” she said. “We need to continue to teach our children what it’s all about.”

For Day, that started at home.

“My mother and my father worked in the community and took care of people,” Day said. “I learned that as a young child, that you must have something to do and be giving of your time to make things a lot better.”

One of seven children, Day’s early life revolved around the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

“That was my mother’s church,” Day said. “My mother (Amy) was the daughter of a minister. My dad (Roy) was Catholic, but he would still come to programs at the Baptist church.”

Her mother was a nurse and her father worked as a chef at the Penn Alto Hotel — when it was one of the premier restaurant and banquet facilities in the region — and passed along the importance of community service and pride.

“My mother and father taught me and all of us that this was a great place to live and that we needed to become involved with some of the activities,” Day said. “That’s when we started doing things — United Way and those things.”

As she grew to be an adult, Day supported the annual Sunday School Picnic, a black community summer highlight held at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park that has lured countless locals and others who grew up here.

“A committee of church members, including ministers, have always planned the yearly picnic,” she said. “This is a time for local persons, and persons who at one point lived here and return to having a joyous time with their family and friends. This picnic has occurred more than 50 years, and each year hundreds attend.”

Day also became a fixture in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary.

“Virginia has made my job a lot easier,” Don Witherspoon, president of the local chapter since 1991, said. “She’s been an inspiration to us and a stalwart of the community. She’s educated. She’s involved in her church. She’s done a tremendous job for us.”

Part of the NAACP’s mission is to fight racism and strive for social justice.

“I’ve been very positive about what we do,” Day said. “We deal with housing. We deal with legal issues. We’re always available for those looking for employment or people who have problems with employment.”

Professionally, Day spent most of her career in housing administration, including 27 for Improved Dwellings of Altoona when she managed Evergreen Manor.

“I loved the families that I worked with,” she said. “I had to bring in our tenants when we had vacancies. I enjoyed that because we not only dealt with adults but children. We had a lot of activities for families. Just because they were tenants didn’t mean we couldn’t have a block party or an Easter egg hunt or a Christmas party.”

Day combined compassion and toughness.

“Virginia was managing the (Evergreen) property when I retired in 1999, and I felt really fortunate in being able to hire her,” Bernice Levinson, former IDA executive director, said. “She’s a no-nonsense kind of person, and yet she has a kind heart, and that’s how she managed. She cared about the tenants, and she made sure there were social services available to the families.”

Levinson said Day oversaw the construction of the community room for socialization.

“Prior to that, 159 families had no place to gather,” Levinson said. “But with all the compassion Virginia showed, she didn’t put up with any nonsense. Tenants had to pay their rent on time. They had to keep their units maintained and their youngsters under control. It was a well-run project, and Virginia was undaunted by the challenges, and there were many. But she was up to the task.”

In 2003, Day was recognized by the Wise Women of Blair County, joining the likes of fellow black community pillars Gwen Pattillo and Alice Lawrence.

“It meant a lot to me,” Day said.

Both of Day’s children, Ashley and David, have remained local. Ashley is a detective with the Altoona Police Department — following in the footsteps of Virginia’s uncle, Milford Pittman — and David is a manager at New Pig.

Day wants to think Altoona has a positive future to which young black families will contribute.

“I think it’s a work in progress,” she said. “When I think of some of the young people I know who have graduated from college and have not returned to Altoona, that’s a concern. I understand we’re not a big city, but still, there are opportunities here, and if you don’t come and apply for specific employment, then you don’t know.

“At one point, we used to talk about when our sisters or brothers graduate from high school or college, they didn’t come back to Altoona to start looking for a job. I would hope that would change some, and I think that it has.”

Day “most definitely felt” the community support in 1974 when a horrific fire on Washington Avenue claimed the lives of her sister, Cora Cordova, and two of Cordova’s daughters, Charlene and Ivy.

“They really cared about what happened — and not just the black community but the white community,” she said. “They were very faithful to us and to those (seven) children that had lost their mother and their two sisters.”

It reinforced her feeling about her hometown.

“My family has been a great family, and I have learned being here in Altoona, you need to be somebody who becomes involved in things that are going on,” Day said. “That’s what our life has been about.”

The Day file

Name: Virginia Day

Age: 73

Family: Sons Ashley and David and four grandchildren. Sister Connie Perry resides in Atlanta. Siblings Roy Hansard, Henry Hansard, Bob Hansard, Cora Cordova and Sarah Taylor are deceased.

Education: Graduated from Altoona High School in 1962. Graduated from Altoona School of Commerce and also took courses at Penn State.

Professional: Day worked for the Altoona Housing Authority for six years and then as a manager at Improved Dwellings for Altoona for 27 years.

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