Conner Sandefur might win the prize for uniqueness in a village that does not lack for unique individuals. First, he and his wife, Brittany, have two young children—no, not grandchildren! Betty is age 6, and Lucy is 1½. Second, Conner is a proud member of the Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized American Indian tribe in south-central Oklahoma.
Although Conner grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where his father was on the University of Wisconsin faculty, his Chickasaw roots still called to him. “I was always interested in American Indian health,” he says. First he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Then while Conner was working in a malaria research lab at the University of Washington, Seattle, a faculty member suggested that if American Indian health were a strong interest, he should get a PhD. Conner was accepted by the University of Michigan and received his doctorate there in bioinformatics. It was there that he met his future wife, Brittany, who was getting her master’s in social work. After completing a post-doc at UNC–Chapel Hill, Conner finally was able to realize his dream of working in an American Indian community.
“We moved to UNC-Pembroke, an American Indian–serving institution in southeast North Carolina,” Conner says. “It’s a wonderfully diverse school.” Conner became a faculty member, and Brittany, the assistant vice chancellor for development.
And then the pandemic hit. “It was a tumultuous time for us,” Conner says. “We had a new baby and were very concerned our two children might get the virus. We were cautious about working in person and, unfortunately, couldn’t work remotely. It was really sad. We enjoyed serving that community, and we had a lot of great friends.” Conner and Brittany made the decision to leave Pembroke and move to Fearrington Village. At first, they rented a home while keeping an eye out for a property to buy here. Happily they found one recently in the Historic District and will be moving in soon. Brittany was offered a job as a fundraiser for Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit, private genome research lab. Conner does consulting work as a mathematical modeler. “I use math and computers to make a representation of complex problems,” Conner explains.
What attracted this young couple to Fearrington Village? “Being able to walk outside, enjoy the trails, walk to the bookstore or the coffee shop,” Conner says. “And it’s safe.” Conner’s parents recently purchased a home here. So now, as Conner says, there are four Chickasaw in Chatham County—his father, his two girls, and Conner himself.
Brittany, Conner, his dad, and their older daughter, Betty, are learning the Chickasaw language via Zoom. “I feel that as a Chickasaw person, it’s my responsibility to learn it—to keep it alive.” As a Chickasaw, Conner also feels an obligation towards his community. “The Chickasaw are a very service-oriented people,” he says. That’s fortunate for Fearrington Cares, where he has taken on two roles, as a handyperson helping residents with electronics-related problems and as the Fearrington Cares website administrator, a time-consuming task. Conner was instrumental in developing the new Fearrington Cares website, which debuted September 2021.
“I really enjoy the people I’ve met through Fearrington Cares. I was a college prof, so now I’m working with a different demographic, but I still get to teach. Fearrington is a place where I believe I can be helpful.”
“I think this is a unique place,“ Conner notes. “I hope everybody feels the specialness of it because we feel it.”