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Virginia Marsh Bell, Nikky Finney to receive honorary doctorates from UK

By: - December 13, 2022 2:26 pm
Virginia Marsh Bell, left, and Nikky Finney

Virginia Marsh Bell, left, and Nikky Finney will be awarded honorary degrees from the University Kentucky during commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 16. (Photo of Bell by Tim Webb; photo of Finney by Forrest Clonts.)

Two women will soon be recognized by the University of Kentucky for their influence on the institution and contributions in their fields.

The UK Board of Trustees approved the honorary degrees for Virginia Marsh Bell, known for her approach to dementia care, and celebrated poet and professor Nikky Finney, a university press release said. They will be presented with their degrees during December commencement ceremonies on Friday at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in Lexington.

Bell will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She was born in Harrison County in 1922, and raised on a subsistence farm. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in math and biology from Transylvania University in Lexington She gained first hand experience in caring for older adults as she helped her parents navigate the challenges of aging.

“These experiences, plus earlier life exposures to how persons with dementia were being shuttered in psychiatric units, ignited her commitment to do something more for aging adults, particularly those with dementia and their families,” the press release said.

Bell earned a master’s degree in social work from UK at the age of 60 and joined UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. There, she created the Best Friends Approach to dementia care. The method has been adopted globally by care facilities, nursing homes and day treatment centers. Bell and the approach have received honors, grants and awards. The Best Friends Approach “emphasizes and respects the humanity of people with dementia and focuses on relationship-centered care,” the press release said.

Since retiring in 1993, Bell has continued to be a mentor to the Best Friends program.

Finney’s work has illuminated the Southern cultural and political heritage of Black Americans. She will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities. After growing up in South Carolina, Finney later earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Talladega College in Alabama and studied African American studies at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta).

Finney is the author of poems, essays and six books, including most recently “Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry,” which “explore and confront the experiences that have shaped life in the South for herself and countless other Black Americans,” the press release said.

She has served as a visiting writer at UK and a professor in the departments of English, Creative Writing and African American Studies. She co-founded the Affrilachian Poets in UK’s Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center in 1991.

Throughout her career, Finney has received awards such as the EN American Open Book Award in 1999 and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry in 2004. She has also been honored by the Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Now, Finney is the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. She also holds a Carolina Distinguished Professorship at the university. Finney is a chancellor of the American Academy of Poets and is an inductee to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Bell’s degree will be presented during the 10 a.m. ceremony. Finney’s will be presented during the 3 p.m. ceremony.

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