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Retired Surgeon's Large Donation to ODU May Become a Future Gift to Residents of Flood-Affected Franklin Area

Dr. Arthur A. Kirk is a retired orthopedic surgeon from Portsmouth with a wide array of interests.

He collects, cuts and polishes his own gemstones. Though he's 93, he still drives and plays golf. Kirk has volunteered all over the area for many years, leading Virginia's General Assembly to issue a joint commendation of his lifework two years ago.

So when Kirk thought he might make a large donation to Old Dominion University, he wanted to make sure his gift would have a unique and lasting impact.

Kirk has donated $100,000 to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology for a very specific purpose.

The gift will fund educational and research opportunities for civil and environmental engineering faculty and students in a very specific area - looking at how to limit damaging floods from the Blackwater River in low-lying Franklin, Va.

"I spent a lot of time in Franklin when I was younger," Kirk said recently, during an interview in the Portsmouth home where he's lived for more than 50 years. "It's a great place. I have a lot of memories. My father ran a sawmill in the area."

Kirk's late son Bill was a graduate of ODU in civil and environmental engineering. His daughter-in-law Pamela Kirk, a 1988 graduate, sits on the university's Board of Visitors, and is a member of the Administration and Finance, and Student Advancement committees.

Just a few years ago, Kirk donated a large parcel of land adjacent to the Blackwater River to the Virginia Nature Conservancy. Ironically, it's among the pieces of land that could be protected from flooding by the research ODU will do.

Professor Gary Schafran, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, said Kirk's donation is much appreciated. "His contribution reflects his philanthropy and interest in scientific issues."

This is the first individual gift that will fund its own research project under ODU's civil and environmental engineering department.

"The grant will be used to support graduate students and faculty in the collection of watershed, meteorological and hydrological data for the Blackwater River and its watershed," Schafran said.

The project may start as early as this summer, with data collection to occur over the next six to nine months.

In 1999, in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, the Blackwater River reached a historical crest of 26.4 feet, submerging much of downtown Franklin under as much as 12 feet of water. More than 175 businesses and 150 homes were damaged.

The devastation was revisited in 2004, when a rainstorm caused the Blackwater River to crest close to 23 feet.

ODU researchers want to study hydrologic and hydraulic data to determine how studies can be designed and conducted to identify options for addressing flooding in the Franklin area, as well as the upstream and downstream areas that impact the hydraulic response of the system.

Follow-up studies will evaluate alternative flood-mitigation strategies for the city of Franklin. Schafran said the stakes couldn't be higher.

"Both floods were the result of remnants of hurricanes that passed over the Blackwater River watershed. With the anticipation that hurricane activity and severity may increase with global climate change, there is the potential that these extreme events may occur more frequently," he said.

Kirk says he's happy to help out any way he can.

"I've been up there at times when the water is very high. It's tough, there's no outlet for the floodwater," he said. "I wanted them to try to find a way to help."

This article was posted on: March 10, 2009

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