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HomeNewsArchivesHigh-Tech UVI Center Opens in Building Renamed for Beloved Grocer

High-Tech UVI Center Opens in Building Renamed for Beloved Grocer

Aug. 16, 2007 — UVI’s Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning Center (UVICELL) and Our Town Frederiksted (OTF) celebrated the grand opening of the Joseph E. Simpson building in Frederiksted Thursday.
The ceremony took place in a pristine new wired and ready teleconferencing room on the second floor, overlooking Hospital Street. The Simpson Center will host college-level courses in its classrooms this September, along with a variety of community activities for adults and adolescents. OTF and UVICELL will have offices there, too.
UVICELL, established in 2002, provides training and educational opportunities for adults in the territory and the surrounding Caribbean. It offers more than 300 online courses and customized training for the business community.
The newly renovated and partially rebuilt two-story building is at 23A Hospital Street, nestled next to the historic St. Paul’s Anglican Church. It is named after Simpson in recognition of his generosity and kindness to the Frederiksted community as its first black grocer. The ceremony celebrated the completed reconstruction of a two-story structure in historic Frederiksted and is the result of combined efforts of OTF and UVICELL to support revitalization efforts in the town of Frederiksted.
During the ceremonies, UVICELL Director Ilene Garner spoke a little about what the Simpson Center will do.
“This room here will be a videoconferencing room,” she said. “The equipment is here but needs to be installed. It will be connected not just to the main St. Croix campus but also to St. Thomas. The goal is to make it so if there are not enough students for a class in Frederiksted, students could still participate from Frederiksted this way.”
UVICELL’s hospitality program will have classes there, too, Garner said. The program is already showing benefits both to the hospitality industry and to the community, she said.
“Until now, we have had no person in the territory certified to work on Bunn machines,” Garner said. “It may seem small, but in the industry, Bunn coffee and cold drink machines are very big. I am happy and proud to say two have been certified: one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix. One individual was jobless before, now has been certified by Bunn as a service representative, and they have flown him to the mainland several times now for training and conferences. It is a small step for hospitality, but a very important one.”
Simpson’s grandson, OTF President Orrin Arnold, spoke about his grandfather. During most of the first half of the 20th century, Simpson ran his grocery shop in the building. Simpson had a reputation for generosity, and would order pears, apples and grapes once a year and give them as Christmas gifts to his patrons, Arnold said. Simpson sold a lot of groceries on credit without being too concerned about getting paid quickly.
“He would extend credit for groceries to anyone who could not pay,” Arnold said. “He never turned anyone away, and would often say ‘the Lord will provide’ when we would question him about the credit.” Joseph Emmanuel Simpson was born on St. Croix in 1882, where he lived until his death in 1966. For more than 40 years, Simpson — or “Brother Jo” — ran the grocery store. After the death of the store’s original owner, a Mr. Jacobs, Simpson acquired the store, which continued to be called Jacob’s Shop for many more years. Simpson was a religious man very active in the Pilgrim Holiness Church of Frederiksted, where he was a lay reader and frequently conducted services. He had six children, and many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live on St. Croix today.
The creation of the UVICELL educational center and the renovation of the historic Frederiksted building came together through the cooperative efforts of a number of public and private partners and patrons, both in the territory and on the mainland. As part of the historically black colleges and universities program, UVI was awarded a three-year $541,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand its community-development efforts. UVICELL partnered with OTF in part because of the latter’s expertise in renovating historic buildings. Eileen Lopez donated the land for the project. The building belongs to OTF.
The creation of the center came about via money from the Public Finance Authority, the 26th Legislature and federal community development block grant funds controlled by the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, along with donations from Hovensa, First Bank and other area businesses, which brought forward another $400,000 to OTF.
“This project is an example of how government agencies, community organizations and private citizens can pool resources to accomplish important developments in our community,” said Al Franklin, past president of OTF, during Thursday’s ceremony.
“Look around in Frederiksted today,” Franklin said. “Look at the American Legion post going up, the new housing being built and the rebuilding of the Old Danish School. All of that is part of the dream, motivated by the mission of OTF. … I was born in this town, I grew up in this town and I’m proud of this town. There is a renaissance happing in Frederiksted.”
OTF and UVICELL will hold an open house at the Simpson Building later this month, and UVICELL will offer courses there starting in September. For more information, contact Apryl Gilliss at 692-4230 or email her, or call OTF Executive Director Chris Swainson at 772-3550.
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