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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.


Vernon Burky

Vernon John Burky was born to a Swiss family in Helvetia, West Virginia in 1925. He grew up speaking Swiss on his family farm, where his parents raised animals and managed a sawmill, and his grandparents operated a cheese house. They made Helvetia cheese, a type of Swiss cheese, similar to Emental that was made throughout the Helvetia community and serves as a staple in the diet of residents. As a child, Mr. Burky raised chickens and tapped maple trees on his family farm. As an adult he was an active winemaker, a common pursuit in the Helvetia community. During his working years, Mr. Burky was as a truck driver for a saw mill and a coal company. He learned to play fiddle as a child and started playing in the Helvetia Star Band, the local dance band for generations and the namesake of one of the village’s two dance halls. The group performs regularly for Helvetia square dances and events. In his oral history, Mr. Burky is interviewed alongside his daughter Sandy Burky, and his niece Thrayron Morgan.

Watch a video of Mr. Burky playing “Ragtime Annie” on his fiddle.

Date of interview:

Emily Hilliard

Emily Hilliard

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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