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Coming to terms with a future of unexpected turns and predictable needs – Richard Runyon discusses his SVGC 55-and-up residential/commercial rezoning proposal



As initial Warren County Planning Commission public hearings loom this Wednesday, March 8, Royal Examiner sat down with Shenandoah Valley Golf Club (SVGC) principal and General Manager Richard Runyon to discuss his rezoning submission that would allow the development of 286 age restricted (55 and up) residential homes on 104 acres of the Shenandoah Valley Club’s 195-acre property. As reported in Royal Examiner’s initial story on the rezoning proposal linked below, Runyon’s submission comes in the wake of the Shenandoah Valley club’s recent purchase of the adjacent Bowling Green Golf Club. That club is slated to remain two operational 18-hole courses, with a reduced golf operation or rural park area remaining on the SVGC property within the new residential development.

Shenandoah Valley Golf Club’s partial rezoning request to age-restricted housing headed to March 8 Planning Department Public Hearing

Runyon noted that he first came to work as SVGC in 1992. “My current director of golf hired me when I was a kid and he was an assistant pro. So, I’ve been here my whole life – I mean you’ve seen me grow up,” Runyon reminded this reporter who first met him, circa 1990s, as a sportswriter covering the Warren County High School golf team of which Runyon was then a member.

Richard Runyon ‘at home’ at SVGC next to the clubhouse – Royal Examiner photos Roger Bianchini

“The last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt this community. People don’t like change, I don’t like change. But if it has to change, let’s do it the right way. This plan is not a detriment to the community. This is a good plan,” Runyon asserts. Pointing to his lifelong roots in this community, and with the golfing community within it, he added, “I just want to make sure when we do it, we do it the right way. Because one day somebody will do it.

“But I want to be in control of that and I want to make sure that my backyard is kept accordingly because I’m a very good steward to this community. We’ve helped raise millions of dollars for community projects and the schools. But if something happens to me and there’s nobody to step up, it’ll all be sold. And then the big boys will come in one day and they’ll wait it out – they will. We’re in their path. They’re going to leap frog Rappahannock County and Fauquier County, the Plains. We’re the next victim. So, let’s get ahead of them,” Runyon said of outflanking outside developers with no ties to the community seizing control with little to no concern about impacts on local citizens.

“They don’t care – I do care and I’m not going anywhere. I was born and raised in this community and we need to have a place for our senior citizens to be able to retire and stay in this community,” Runyon said. And why not in a golf-centered development designed to maintain much of that natural Rockland Agricultural charm in tact, the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club owner reasons.

Runyon pointed to an early meeting with county staff on his rezoning and development proposal. “I had a meeting with Taryn (Logan, assistant county administrator and former county planning director) early, early in the process (July-August 2022). Taryn’s very professional and she gave some guidelines to go with. I really appreciate all her help and guidance. The one thing I’ll always remember is she told me ‘make it pretty’ – she always told me ‘make it pretty’. And I don’t know a prettier spot in this whole county than right where we are right now.” And Runyon hopes the preservation of golf and/or other agricultural park uses amidst the proposed residential portions of the property will maintain that “pretty” aspect within and surrounding the over-55 residential development.

“So, basically the golf course will encompass the community,” Runyon explained referencing one of the rezoning plan graphics of the SVGC development plan. “So, this is the Blue 9, this is Rockland Road and where we are at the clubhouse,” he indicated of the orange-colored section, “and this is the Red 9 – the White 9 will encompass the entire subdivision other than maybe four or five houses out here on Rockland Road,” he indicated.

Runyon at his office desk for a chat with the media. Below, one of his rezoning proposal graphics submitted to the county’s planning department illustrating the development plan.

So, the green space shown would remain active golf, we asked. “Active golf, or open green space, trails, walking paths – it would never be developed,” Runyon assured us of the final build out proposal. “And this is a 10, 20-year plan – I’m not a developer, but they’re still not finished with Lake Frederick and that’s been over 20 years. And Blue Ridge Shadows, that’s been over 20 years and they’re still not done there,” he said of the pace of area residential community build outs.

“My dream is, let’s say this were to happen, like I said I’m not a rich man but this would enable me to enhance this, have a golf cart community; take this clubhouse, turn it into a Regions-like restaurant, which is beautiful and they do a great job; pursue an access under the road here at Bowling Green Road where it connects into the two courses and the two clubhouses over there (at Bowling Green North and South) to where we have one golf course community.

“And the reason why we’re going after rezoning for Commercial is to do a restaurant. What’s the problem of having a possible pharmacy, what if we had like a small-scale urgent care,” Runyon said of the sought Commercial re-zoning aspect at what is SVGC’s clubhouse and public facilities area off Rockland Road. “My grandmother, she doesn’t drive anymore,” he said of one close-to-home example of the targeted age demographic for the proposed development, adding, “Tell me where there’s going to be a hindrance on the roads from this plan – I don’t see it,” he said of the 55-and-over, age-restricted residential development population, particularly as it relates to current traffic to the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.

The SVGC clubhouse from Rockland Rd. That club business area is proposed for Commercial rezoning for multiple related community uses.

Infrastructure concerns

“So, let’s say someone were to come in and make me an offer (to develop) and say: ‘Stop operations on the Blue and Red 9 instantly.’ There’s an instant reduction in traffic right there. It would take 20 years to get it back to what it is right now,” Runyon said of the loss of two-thirds of the Shenandoah Valley club’s golf-based traffic. “During COVID we had over 60,000 rounds at this facility alone. We didn’t have the food and beverage revenue because everything was shut down – you couldn’t go out to eat. So, on an average here let’s just say I have 20,000 people that visit the clubhouse for weddings, banquets, fundraisers, so forth.”

Even reducing the golf trip number somewhat, he estimated annually: “You have somewhere between 70,000 and 85,000 people visiting this one facility. Do you honestly think that this road can’t handle 286 senior citizens?” he reasoned of the traffic trade-off on Rockland roads. Both subdivision exit/entrance roads are shown accessing Bowling Green Road. And Runyon suggested comparing the likely traffic patterns generated by the proposed 55-and-over community to what is currently normal rush-hour commuter traffic along Fairground Road, to which he sees his development adding minimally, if any, to.

Runyon also observed that with a likely long-term build out, by the time the proposed community reaches that build out, improvements may have been made to the major local connector roads, Fairground and Morgans Ford. “Hopefully somebody smarter than me will address the road situation and sometime soon, rather than later. Because I don’t think this would be a hindrance at all. I think this would be an absolute reduction (in traffic) if it were ever to happen,” he said revisiting the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club facilities traffic numbers cited above.

And those numbers are impressive as to commercial traffic-generating golf and other facility functions. “Take that 70,000 to 85,000 people, ebbs and flows throughout the year, and times it by three. Because we have three clubhouses and three golf courses now that total 63 holes. We’re the largest privately owned golf course in the state of Virginia, and we’re in the top 20 in America,” Runyon said of the now combined Shenandoah Valley (27 holes) and Bowling Green (36 holes) operations. Runyon said that moving forward Bowling Green North will be known as The Links Course at SVGC and Bowling Green South will be The Rockland Farm Course at SVGC, noting of the latter – “To pay tribute to where we live.”

A lifelong golfing aficionado, Runyon acknowledged the work of the Morrison family in establishing the first championship level 18-hole golf course (SVGC’s Red and White courses) in, not just the Rockland area, but all of Warren County. Work began in 1963, with the course opening in 1966, he said of the Morrison’s operation. But 57 years later he sees his proposal as a logical evolution aimed at serving the community’s population at, or approaching, retirement age, while maintaining a championship course level golfing base in and around the proposed 55-and-over residential development.

Runyon also addressed water and sewer concerns, noting that the SVGC property has existing access to four or five on-site wells. He pointed to what he said was the “largest steel water tank in Warren County” – 3-million gallons – on site used to store water for club facilities and grounds maintenance as necessary, as well (pun intended) as for other potential emergency community uses.

Shenandoah Valley Golf Club’s 3-million gallon steel water tank. Runyon estimated during the warm weather seasons when course maintenance is at a peak the club utilizes a million gallons of water weekly.

“The potable water I use for this facility, and I’ll have to check my facts, but I think it’s enough to do this entire subdivision if it were ever to be built out, plus a 40% reserve.” But were his facts to be wrong on that surplus, he noted: “I have numerous wells out here. So, let’s say this were to happen – do you know how much water I use on a golf course? – Millions of gallons.

“So, all these people, especially a couple people out here who say it’s going to be a hindrance on their well systems – I’m reducing water usage by millions of gallons a week,” Runyon told us. He elaborated to explain that during irrigation season the club will utilize as much as 300,000 gallons per day on the course and other club potable water uses.

And Runyon noted that a sewer plant would be built to address residential and commercial water disposal issues. “I’m using Inboden Environmental Services out of the Mount Jackson-Woodstock area,” he said of that aspect of the project.

“There will be zero to minimal impact on the schools. We talked about the roads. All I’m going to do is bring more tax revenue to Warren County through meals taxes, lodging taxes, personal property taxes and real estate taxes. We’re talking over a million dollars in tax revenues right there,” Runyon said of one bottom line.

Catalyst of rezoning, development plan

We asked if the residential rezoning at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club and the Bowling Green purchase were intertwined from the outset. “No, this started first,” Runyon said of the partial residential rezoning of SVGC. “We started thinking about it last summer, last season around July-August (of 2022). Our negotiations with Bowling Green probably started October, November when we really got serious.” He verified that the impacts on business operations at the club from the COVID-19 restrictions on public mobility and gatherings were a factor in the idea of diversifying the use of the SVGC property. But there were other factors even closer to home, he told us.

“I have a little daughter, she’s going on nine months. And I guess it just really made me take a hard look at where I am, where this community is. And after the loss of, basically my brother, you remember Jeff Forman – we lost him to cancer. And it just gave me a good kick in the butt and I reflected on where are we going in the future. And losing a major piece like that in my life – Jeff had been here since I was in college,” Runyon said of his long-time partner and head club pro, “It hit me pretty good and I was just trying to figure out ways that I could,” here Runyon paused emotionally, before adding, “He’d been with me since, like I said I’d been in college. We got it down so good that we could basically read each other’s mind on what needed to be done without even talking about it. It was a well-oiled machine, and you take a major part of that out of your life personally and professionally – and we miss him and love him every day – and you start thinking about things.”

And those “things” included diversification to safeguard his career investment against unexpected variables like consequences of a national and international pandemic on members access to golf and other public gatherings that utilize the SVGC facilities for public events. And as fortune would have it, the opportunity to add the neighboring Bowling Green golf operations to the equation presented itself, offering Runyon the ability to maintain a larger golfing and agriculturally-based aspect to his diversification plan.

Another view of the clubhouse from the golf course, a perspective that might be at about where a cul-d-sac would dead end a proposed neighborhood access road at the south-side of the clubhouse-based commercial area. Below, a little on-site history with a residential unit dating to the late 1800s, Runyon told us.

Potential opposition

At the time the plan was developed had he been aware of potential issues with surrounding zonings and future land use variables, we asked. “I knew there’s some very well-to-do individuals who reside in this community. And they have a lot of their property in Conservation Easements – and I think that conservation is a wonderful thing. But I also believe we’re an established business and sometimes businesses only have a limited life based on participation, and that’s even prior to COVID,” Runyon pointed out. “And that’s why I started the ‘Helltown River Adventures’ to kind of help offset that. And unfortunately we’re having a problem just like other businesses in this community and throughout the United States of having a supply of qualified individuals to work.”

He said, however, he hopes to resurrect the river adventures effort. “So, we kind of tabled that, we did a few trips, test runs and so forth. And we plan on exercising that in the near future. But it was a tough time to be in the golf business because we didn’t know where it was going to go. This was before the governor would let people go out and recreate and play golf. And you couldn’t do anything else. It cost us millions of dollars upstairs,” he said of the pandemic impact on the club’s public facilities operations, observing, “But we didn’t lay one person off this staff, not one.” We asked about that staff size. “When we’re at full capacity and we’re going golf and banqueting and maintenance, we’re over a hundred employees.”

Round 1

On Wednesday evening, March 8, at the Warren County Planning Commission’s public hearings on two prongs of Runyon’s rezoning proposal we will see round 1 of public and county staff reaction to that proposal. Runyon told us he was aware that some local opponents were circulating negative information about his proposal. However, he hopes area citizens keep an open mind and hear all aspects of the proposal before passing judgement on his redevelopment plan. That plan is scheduled to be the topic of the first two of eight scheduled public hearings at the 7 p.m. planning commission meeting at the Warren County Government Center this Wednesday.

The Warren County Government Center – this Wednesday evening’s scene of the first round of applicant and staff summaries, as well as public comments, on the SVGC rezoning and redevelopment proposal.

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Chamber News

Penny Lane Hair Co: A Fresh Cut on Front Royal’s Main Street



Front Royal Celebrates the Opening of Penny Lane Hair Co on Main Street.

In a vibrant ceremony, the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, led by Executive Director Nike Foster Cales, welcomed a business to its new location in the heart of the town. Penny Lane Hair Co, located at 413 E Main St, opened its doors amidst the cheers and support of the local community, including Mayor Lori Cockrell and Supervisor Walt Mabe.

The air was filled with excitement as Mallory Deinert, the owner of Penny Lane Hair Co, was greeted with warm applause and cheers from a crowd that included Chamber members, friends, and representatives from various local businesses. The event not only marked a new business opening but also symbolized the ongoing revitalization and diversification of Main Street’s business landscape.

Mayor Lori Cockrell expressed her enthusiasm, reflecting on the uniqueness of each ribbon-cutting event she has attended since joining the council and becoming mayor. “Each opening brings something new to our community, and we’re thrilled to support them all,” she remarked. Her words echoed the sentiment of inclusivity and diversity that the town prides itself on.

Supervisor Walt Mabe also shared his satisfaction with the expansion of downtown, noting the importance of adding varied businesses to the area. “It’s a sign of our town’s growth and vitality,” he said.

For Mallory Deinert, the opening of Penny Lane Hair Co. is the culmination of a lifelong dream. Overcome with emotion, Deinert shared her journey, “I’ve always wanted to be on Main Street, and now here we are, just a few doors down from my mom’s business. It’s a dream come true.” She dedicated this milestone to her family, mentioning her late father, her brother, and her mother, whose birthday coincided with the opening.

The community’s support was palpable as Deinert thanked everyone for their encouragement and shared her excitement for the future of Penny Lane Hair Co on Main Street. Her story is a testament to the power of local support and the importance of small businesses in building vibrant communities.

The opening of Penny Lane Hair Co. is more than just a new business on Main Street; it’s a symbol of the community’s resilience, growth, and commitment to supporting local entrepreneurs. As Front Royal continues to welcome diverse businesses, it strengthens its reputation as a supportive and dynamic place for commerce and community.

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EDA in Focus

McDonald Defense Counsel Renews Motions, Including for a New Trial, as Feb. 12 Sentencing Date Looms



Federal officials in Harrisonburg have verified that defense counsel for former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald has filed renewed motions seeking a new trial for their client, as well as the overturning of several of the 34 guilty verdicts a federal jury of six men and six women in Harrisonburg delivered on November 1. Verdicts being sought to be overturned include several counts of bank fraud and one of aggravated identity theft. The latter of those charges involves the use of ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran’s name in promoting one of the real estate transactions McDonald was convicted of using to misdirect money to her personal benefit or that of others under the guise of conducting FR-WC EDA related business. Attempts to reach defense counsel about their filing were unsuccessful as of publication.

The defense team outside the Harrisonburg federal courthouse, along with others evacuated during an apparent false alarm fire warning at the courthouse as the trial wore towards a conclusion in late October. Below, May 2019 mug shot of McDonald following one of her initial arrests on criminal charges originally brought at the local level. She has remained free on bond or home incarceration for the majority of time since those spring 2019 arrests, and remains free pending Feb. 12 sentencing or a ruling for a new trial.

The defense has submitted its motions, similar to ones denied by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon at trial, as the sentencing of McDonald, set for 10 a.m., Monday, February 12, 2024, looms over their client, who remains free on bond. The defense motions reiterate points made by federal Public Defenders Office attorneys Andrea Harris and Abigail Thibeault at trial and in closing arguments delivered October 31. The three defense witnesses called on that final day of the trial appeared to be presented in an attempt to discredit some of the 67 witnesses called by the prosecution in the trial that began on August 21 and ended on November 30, following several delays of a week to several weeks due to a need to suspend or reschedule the trial because of medically verified illnesses or issues of involved parties, on several occasions defendant McDonald.

The new motions, like those rejected at trial, focus on the defense’s central contention that McDonald and the FR-WC EDA had entered into a secret agreement behind closed doors to pay McDonald $5 million or more in exchange for her not filing a sexual harassment or assault lawsuit against local government officials over actions she alleges during her tenure as FR-EDA executive director. The lone signature on a defense exhibit submitted in support of this scenario belonged to former FR-WC EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, who was by then several years deceased. The prosecution asserted the signature was a forgery. Other EDA officials called by the prosecution, including board member Ron Llewellyn, also unhappily called as one of the defense witnesses on October 31, denied any knowledge of the existence of such a document. It was noted during trial testimony that such a document could not have been approved without a full vote of the EDA Board of Directors.

Jennifer McDonald, right, and then FR-WC EDA Board Chair Patty Wines on the job during earlier days.

The defense motion for a new trial centers on the asserted exclusion of evidence related to the alleged sexual harassment secret agreement. Arguments about the exclusion of a transcript of grand jury testimony given by someone with alleged knowledge of the secret agreement or the absence of that person being called as a witness at trial appear to be at the center of the mistrial/new trial motion. There is also an objection to a related jury instruction given by Judge Dillon, noting that the prosecution didn’t have to produce every piece of evidence or potential witness related to the case at trial.

According to the federal 10th Western District of Virginia website, thus far a hearing date on the new defense motions has not been set for the Harrisonburg federal courtroom.

It appears the Harrisonburg federal courthouse may have another hearing related to the Jennifer McDonald cases prior to the scheduled Feb. 12, 2024, sentencing hearing on her currently standing 34 white-color crime convictions.

McDonald was accused of diverting as much as $ 6.5 million of EDA assets to her direct personal benefit out of an estimated $26 million alleged to have been moved under false pretenses during a four-year period (2014-2018) of her executive leadership of the FR-WC EDA. Part of that larger total, a $10-million loan with additional developmental expenses estimated at as much as $2 million, was approved in support of Tran’s ITFederal company’s development plan earmarked for 30 acres of the 148-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property in Front Royal at the former Avtex federal Superfund site. EDA officials and civil cases attorneys assert that a $10-million loan and subsequent addition of developmental expenses were achieved under false pretenses as to Tran’s ability to achieve his submitted developmental plan. However, at the time some of these McDonald-involved real estate transactions were occurring, between 2016 and 2018, information was being circulated that Tran was planning to invest in other business opportunities at other locations in the county. Tran has said such investments were discussed but never finalized and never signed on to by him.

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Virginia’s Creative Harvest: Celebrating Farming with Hay Bale Art



Hay Bale Decorating Contest Showcases Agricultural Pride and Community Talent.

As autumn colors adorned Virginia, the state’s agribusinesses, community groups, and educational organizations displayed their creativity and agricultural pride in the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s (VFBF) annual Hay Bale Decorating Contest. Now in its ninth year, the contest has become a cherished tradition, drawing a record number of 59 entries, each telling a unique story of Virginia’s rich agricultural heritage.

The competition invited participants from across the state, including county Farm Bureaus, FFA chapters, 4-H clubs, and individuals, to create imaginative displays using hay bales. The themes were as diverse as Virginia’s agricultural landscape, depicting farm animals, idyllic farmscapes, horticulture, farm machinery, and a variety of Virginia-produced commodities.

Faye Hundley, VFBF Women’s Leadership Committee chair, expressed her excitement over the record participation. “The imagination and ingenuity everyone puts into the hay bale displays is always so impressive,” she said. More than just a fun activity, these hay bale artworks serve a dual purpose – they are not only visually appealing but also play a significant role in fostering discussions about farming and connecting communities with their agricultural roots.

Local businesses and organizations, including farmers’ markets and school agricultural groups, were encouraged to participate, highlighting the contest’s role in strengthening community bonds. The winners, spanning various categories, were awarded a $100 cash prize and a trophy, with their accomplishments celebrated on the VFBF Women’s Leadership Program Facebook page.

The winners of this year’s contest were:

Community Spirit: Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy

Junior category (age 8 and under): Lane Smith of Warren County

Most Creative: Grayson County Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee

Square Bale category: Tazewell County 4-H Dog Club

Stars of Agriculture category: Rockbridge County Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee

The VFBF, with nearly 135,000 members across 88 county Farm Bureaus, stands as Virginia’s largest farmer advocacy group. This non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization remains dedicated to supporting and promoting the state’s vital agriculture industry.

The Hay Bale Decorating Contest is more than a display of creativity; it’s a testament to Virginia’s agricultural spirit and community involvement. Through these artistic expressions, participants have showcased their talent and highlighted the importance of agriculture in their lives and those around them. It’s a colorful reminder of the state’s deep-rooted connection to the land and the people who cultivate it.

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Samuels Public Library Rewards Young People’s Talent with Holiday Writing Contest



On Thursday, December 7, at 6 p.m. at Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, the library held its annual Holiday Writing Contest, rewarding young people’s talent at every grade level with first, second, and third place for each level, assigned by teachers and other volunteers from the community who served as judges.

A packed room revealed how important this event is to the community. Each child seemed to have his or her own support group present, as in many cases, cheers erupted from a specific part of the room when the announcement was made for the winner of a particular slot. All the winners, individually, walked bravely to the front of the room, where they stood with children’s librarian Michal Ashby, who recognized them, and sometimes read their contributions aloud in the case that they did not want to read it themselves. At the end of each child’s reading, Ashby distributed a prize and encouraged the audience to give applause once again as the winner returned to his or her seat.

Children’s librarian Michal Ashby presents awards to every grade level for Samuel Public Library’s annual Holiday Writing Contest. Royal Examiner Photos, credit Brenden McHugh.

The contributions demonstrated insight and maturity, due in part, perhaps, to the books the young people have been reading. The attendance of family and friends implies that the young people are not reading in isolation. Certain reoccurring themes were present in the stories these children told: the importance of family and friendship; the importance of leadership, often exercised by a child; the importance of home as a warm center that offers shelter from the beautiful but sometimes overwhelming elements; and the power inherent to receiving a gift. The stories were not unacquainted with conflict and war; but in each case that this darkness was acknowledged, the main character rises above that evil to bring the magic of Christmas to his or her community. Each story or poem was a testimony to the partnership between the library and parents, dedicated to nurturing the imaginations of tomorrow’s leaders. Looking at the structure, which is Samuels, this reporter was reminded of the words of Audrey Hepburn in the classic film War and Peace: “You’re like this house. You show your wounds, but you’re still standing.” Indeed, Samuels is still standing.

The holiday writing contest is one of Ashby’s favorite parts of the year. She looks forward to it, even during what has been a difficult year. “I’ve been doing it for eighteen years,” Ashby explained, “And it’s, in my opinion, one of the most heartwarming events we have throughout the entire year because the kids get so invested in their work, and they’re so proud of what they’ve done. And then the parents and the grandparents and the siblings, they’re rooting them on. So, it’s a time that I see their self-esteem raised. A lot of them share the most beautiful, heartwarming messages and if you actually listen to their stories and their poems, they really know the essence of what Christmas and Hannukah and all the winter holidays are about.”

Going on to speak about that evening specifically, Ashby said, “I was so touched by some of the poems and the stories.” Ashby hears in these award-winning pieces the indomitable spirit that overcomes differences and brings people together. “What touched me so much this year were the messages of peace and unity, and I think that’s what we need in this society.” She added, “It’s a wonderful way to bring in the winter holidays in the most positive way because you’re getting together two hundred people from the town, and it’s this community, and they’re all proud and joyous for their children, or their siblings, or their grandchildren, and to feel that positive energy is just exquisite.”

The evening ended with refreshments and winners posing for pictures in front of Samuels’ Christmas tree.

One of many winners, Grace Bailey of St. Edith Stein School for Girls secured second place in the eighth grade for her story “The Ball Danced on Snow.”


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School Board Bids Rinaldi Farewell; Votes to Lengthen Contract for Truancy Prevention Officer




The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, December 6, unanimously voted to extend the contract length for a secondary truancy prevention officer from 10 months to 12 months and said goodbye to one of its own members, who is leaving at the end of the year.

School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present during the board’s final meeting of 2023.

Warren County School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi (above) says goodbye to his teammates.

The meeting was Rinaldi’s last as a School Board member as his term expires at the end of the year, and he decided against running for re-election.

“It’s been a great four years,” Pence told him. “I don’t think either of us could have known when we sat in our training in December of 2019 exactly what the four years were going to look like.”

Pence acknowledged Rinaldi’s passion for WCPS, the students, and the teachers. She also highlighted his work on the board’s Facilities Committee and his input on the renovation project at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.

“We’re all very appreciative of all of the work and dedication that you’ve done here,” said Pence, who presented him with a wall clock made by students at the Blue Ridge Technical Center and a brick of dedication from the LFK project.

Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger thanked Rinaldi for his efforts.

“I want to say thank you for your leadership,” the superintendent told Rinaldi. “I appreciate the wisdom you’ve been able to share and your dedication to students and to the schools of Warren County.”

Rinaldi told his colleagues he appreciated being part of a “good team.”

“It’s great to work with people who are on the same page,” he said. “And this board has been on the same page.”

While he admitted the board has faced some “rough spots,” Rinaldi said the School Board has achieved many goals and it’s been his pleasure to serve on it.

“Dr. Pence and I came on, and then COVID hit, and then we had to hire a superintendent,” he said. “I mean, we were really kind of slammed. So, I appreciate her leadership more than you know.”

Incoming replacement

Tom McFadden, Jr., elected to replace Rinaldi as the School Board member representing the Shenandoah District, spoke during the community participation portion of Wednesday’s meeting to introduce himself to the community and thank residents for their votes.

McFadden (above), the vice president of enrollment at Christendom College since 2014, has lived in Warren County for 23 years with his wife and 11 children. He noted that prior to his election in November, “there was a lot of chatter on social media about me — continues to this day — and what agenda I may hope to bring to the schools here in Warren County.”

McFadden said that while people didn’t ask him what his agenda was, they assumed certain things about him “due to my affiliation with the Catholic Church.”

“The fact that my children are homeschooled and I did not have any children enrolled in the school system, they wondered what agenda I might be trying to impose,” McFadden said. “I’m here to tell you that my only agenda is to provide a quality education opportunity for every student to achieve their highest academic learning potential, develop positive core values, reflective of our community, and enter higher education or the workforce, their choice, being well-prepared.”

The incoming board member said he also wants to help further the mission of WCPS by enhancing the community’s support of sports, increasing active parental involvement, and providing “clear, concise, and frequent communication.”

During the last few weeks, McFadden said he has met with WCPS principals and learned what they think the School Board can do to assist them with policies or what topics the board should be focused on.

“I’ve told each of them the same thing: my only agenda is to help them,” McFadden said. “I look forward to our working relationship over the next four years.”

The School Board also took several actions during its meeting, including unanimously approving the Secondary Truancy Prevention Officer position from a 10-months to a 12-month contract effective January 1, 2024, and scheduling its 2024 organizational meeting on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, at 5:30 p.m., in the Board Room of the Warren County Government Center.

To watch the December 6 School Board meeting in its entirety, go to:

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Local News

Wildlife Center’s ‘Patient of the Week’ highlights importance of protecting region’s wild animals



It’s been a few years since Royal Examiner representatives visited the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center (BRWC) in Boyce, and most of that time our online newspaper has been pleased, and honored, to publish each week the photo and story behind injured animals that are delivered, now by the thousand each year, for treatment and, unfortunately for some, the benefits of euthanasia.

Many of these animals, however, are treated by not one, but now two, on-site veterinarians and their helpers, some volunteers among them, as the center has developed from its original old, old house, to a modern hospital enabling staff to admit and provide urgent medical care for hundreds more animals, birds and reptiles annually. Staff has increased exponentially over the past decade also, including the doubling up of veterinary care, as earlier mentioned.

A new X-ray machine in a modern medical facility room at BRWC. Courtesy Photos BRWC

Many of these unfortunate wild animals, indigenous to our region, are struck by vehicles or by victimized by garden tending materials accidents, others are poisoned by the effect of hunters’ lead bullets left in abandoned portions of carcasses left in the wild. Readily available unleaded ammunition is recommended regularly by BRWC. The injured may be operated on for the most serious and painful of injuries, and hopefully recover enough to be released back into the wild.

Some that are left with tended injuries that nevertheless make them unable to return to their habitats, are carefully housed in outside viewing areas, in airy cages, are labelled “ambassadors” and are used as educational tools in schools, service and other organizations, taking to the road almost weekly to spread the word about what the center, which is not subsidized by government entities but operates only on donated funds, does and how it does it. The weekly publication of the “Patient of the Week” and its photograph, has steadily shown the public the how and the why protection of our local wildlife is so important to ours and neighboring counties, and perhaps why we should give consideration to donating to the cause.

We’ve noticed over the months how owls appear to be one of the more common intakes among all animals, birds and reptiles, including the handsome old boy featured in the following “Patient of the Week” report from the center. We take the opportunity to wish him well, and welcome his eventual release to his home environment. Important to his recovery was the center’s new X-ray machine that a spokesperson said “could never have been purchased without the amazing donations made at this past fall’s fundraising gala!”

This Barred Owl, this week’s Patient of the Week, was brought in with injured metacarpals (“fingers”) and is expected to recover and be released into its natural habitat.

This owl, with broken metacarpals (“fingers”), is expected to recover well enough not to join others of his kind as a permanent resident “ambassador”. As with all the wildlife that arrives at the center, the vets and the center staff rejoice upon their patient recoveries that allow them to be released back to their natural habitat to begin life anew. So, off he will fly in the New Year.

We hope you will read through and study the photographs of this wise old owl, and follow our weekly series with interest and feeling for our native animal friends.

To contact BRWC, at 106 Island Farm Lane, Boyce, VA 22620, call (540) 837-9000 or email

(Malcolm Barr Sr., contributing writer for the Royal Examiner, is a lifelong friend of all animals, wild, domestic, great and small!)

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7:30 pm American Legion Community Band C... @ Boggs Chapel at R-MA
American Legion Community Band C... @ Boggs Chapel at R-MA
Dec 12 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
American Legion Community Band Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel at R-MA
The American Legion Community Band, located in Front Royal, Virginia, was formed in 1986 and has been playing concerts in the area ever since. The conductors and band members are all volunteer musicians from the local[...]
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 13 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
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Pancake Breakfast @ Riverton United Methodist Church
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Pancake Breakfast @ Riverton United Methodist Church
Join us for pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits, sausage gravy, and juice/coffee! All are invited for this FREE event. Offering will be accepted.
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10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
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10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of a Civil War Encampment during the holidays. Interact with the 10th VA Infantry, also known as the Valley Guards,[...]
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The Nutcracker @ Skyline High School
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The Nutcracker @ Skyline High School
Italia Performing Arts is pleased to announce its own student production of The Nutcracker, a Christmas classic to be enjoyed by the whole family! When: Saturday, December 16th at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM Where:[...]
10:00 am 10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 17 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of a Civil War Encampment during the holidays. Interact with the 10th VA Infantry, also known as the Valley Guards,[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 20 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 27 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
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5:30 am First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
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First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area: While the American tradition of celebrating the New Year occurs at midnight on New Year’s Eve, other cultures celebrate by enjoying the sunrise on New Year’s Day. As part of the continuing American[...]