Two town council and two mayoral candidates introduced themselves to a Warren County Republican Committee crowd gathered at the second floor of the Main Street Mill Thursday evening, February 24, at 6 p.m. an hour prior to a called meeting of the committee. The big surprise, perhaps, was that committee member and incumbent mayor Chris Holloway, who was in attendance, was not one of those four. Rather, current councilmen Gary Gillespie and Joe McFadden, in order introduced by Acting Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz, announced runs for mayor. Political newcomer Zach Jackson and current Front Royal Planning Commission member Josh Ingram announced runs for council.
All four are seeking Warren County Republican Committee endorsements – and if form holds true from recent elections, almost assured election – in what ostensibly remains a non-partisan election as mandated by the Town Charter despite the trend through recent election cycles of political party endorsements of town candidates.
Asked about his decision not to run for re-election or even a return to a council seat, Mayor Holloway cited an increasing workload in his construction business for his decision to give up public office after eight years as a councilman or mayor. “I really am too busy. I’ve got six houses going right now, I’m getting ready to do five more homes and it’s just too time-consuming with those. And I think after eight years I’ve done my public service,” Holloway, who has found himself enmeshed in several recent professional and personal controversies, told Royal Examiner.
In addition to the mayor’s seat which comes up every two years, four-year council terms are expiring for Letasha Thompson and Republican Committee members Gillespie and Amber Morris. Contacted following the announcement event, Morris, who was present Thursday evening, said, “I am evaluating my options to continue my public service to our community. I will be making a definitive decision in the coming months.”
Morris won a special election last year versus Bruce Rappaport to fill the unexpired term of Jacob Meza following his July 2021 resignation. Despite his decision not to run for reelection in 2020, Meza had been appointed by council on Jan. 4, 2021, to fill Holloway’s vacant council seat following his assumption of the mayor’s chair following his 2020 mayoral election victory.
Controversy, including a legal challenge, ensued over a Town Charter section some interpreted as prohibiting former council member appointments for a year after leaving office.
An attempt to contact Thompson for comment on her plans for the coming 2022 town election cycle was unsuccessful prior to publication.
Royal Examiner will invite all candidates to our “Meet the Candidates” series during this election year.
Meet the Candidates is a series on Royal Examiner where we will sit down with each candidate in our local election and discuss issues that are important to all of us.
E. Wilson Morrison students rally for ‘Heavenly Hats’ for young cancer victims nationwide
At 1:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, October 7, E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School students staged a “Heavenly Hats Parade” as part of a nationwide fundraising initiative to raise money for young cancer victims around the country. Royal Examiner asked EWM Student Support Coach and Early Act Faculty Advisor Michael Williams about the school’s entry into the Heavenly Hats Foundation effort and that effort’s origins. Williams explained receiving an email from the foundation alerting him to the program and asking if the school would be interested in joining the effort. “And I said ‘of course’ – and our kids have raised about $230, which is a really good effort for them,” Williams said as he and other school staff and administrators awaited the coming of the student body’s Heavenly Hat parade under sunny fall skies and temperatures climbing toward the mid-70s.
And talk about great things growing from humble beginnings!!! – Pointed in the right direction by Williams, a little online research indicated that Heavenly Hats began with one sympathetic and caring 10-year-old just over two decades ago. A visit to the Heavenly Hats Foundation website noted that in 2001 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, then-10-year-old Anthony Leanna had an idea to help young cancer patients. Twenty-one years later, it has evolved into a 501-C3 organization that has distributed new hats to individual youthful cancer patients and the hospitals that treat them around the nation.
“It started with a young man who just had a passion when he saw some children suffering from cancer. And he started saving his money and buying hats, started reaching out to other groups to try and raise money to do the same,” Williams explained to Royal Examiner, as he does in the linked Royal Examiner video. “And from that, he got a website going, and it became a nationwide thing called Heavenly Hats,” Williams added that as his effort grew, the young man didn’t initially ask for money to help buy the hats but to pay for postage to mail them around the country to children and medical centers treating children for cancer.
“And that turned into not only people sending for that, but then people raising large sums of money for him to be able to buy more hats. And it’s turned into this really cool organization where he’s been able to supply thousands and thousands of hats,” Williams said, somewhat underestimating the numbers. According to the Heavenly Hats Foundation website, the number of new hats distributed to youthful cancer patients suffering hair loss over has grown to over 4.5-million new hats.
“It’s our hope and prayer that one day a cure for cancer and the many other illnesses that affect our family and friends will be found, and eventually, no one will be in need of a Heavenly Hat™, but until then, we’ll keep sending these special hats (and smiles) to our Hat Heroes. Thank you to all of our donors without you, we would not be able to continue on with our mission,” the Heavenly Hats Foundation website states.
Watch the E. Wilson Morrison’s student body rally for their peers with cancer in this exclusive Royal Examiner video (by Mark Williams) and below stills – and QUITE the enthusiastic and creative, Heavenly Hats Parade it was, with EWM Principal Lisa Rudacille, staff, and even some media joining in the hat-wearing spirit of the event.
Salvation Army host Angel Tree sign-ups by appointment
The Salvation Army Front Royal Corps will host Angel Tree sign-ups for residents of the Front Royal Corps service area, which includes the counties of Warren, Page, and Rappahannock, and the city of Strasburg. The annual Angel Tree program provides Christmas gifts for children ages 12 and under as of Christmas Day. In 2021, the Front Royal Corps helped 411 children through the Angel Tree program.
In Warren County, sign-ups will take place by appointment only at the Salvation Army Corps Office, October 10th-28th, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, from 9 am to 12 noon and from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm.
In Page County, applications will be taken on October 7th at the Shenandoah Community Center from 1:00 to 4:00 pm; on October 8th at Luray Fire Hall from 12 noon to 3:00 pm; and on October 9th at Stanley Fire Hall from 12 noon to 3:00 pm. Appointments are not required in Page County.
Applicants will need to bring:
- A valid ID
- All forms of income
- Birth certificates/custody papers
- Any benefit letter you may receive (such as SNAP or TANF)
- Proof of residency
Please do not bring children to the registration. Ensure you know your child’s shirt, pant, shoe, and coat sizes, and have an idea of what they would like for Christmas. If someone else is registering your family, they must bring a signed letter from you giving them permission to do so, and bring all of the applicable paperwork.
The Salvation Army Front Royal Corps Office is located at 357 Cloud Street, Front Royal, VA 22630. For more information or to schedule an application appointment, call 540-635-4020.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Black Vulture
Curious how we fix a broken bird leg?
This first year Black Vulture was brought into care last week by a humane law enforcement officer with Loudoun County Animal Services after being found down along the road.
During examination, it was found that this bird’s right tibiotarsus (one of the leg bones) was fractured, likely from a vehicle interaction.
An external fixator was placed to stabilize the break, and it will be removed in a staged process over the next 4 weeks. With these pins in place, the patient is able to bear weight on the leg while the fracture heals!
Currently, this vulture is resting comfortably on pain medication and antibiotics and has a good prognosis. Despite a significant injury, this young vulture has remained alert and sassy throughout care!
Did you know…
Each year, vultures save BILLIONS of dollars in human health costs!
They help protect human health by cleaning up carcasses left in the environment. Their powerful stomach acid destroys zoonotic pathogens like rabies, botulism, and anthrax.
Vultures are public health heroes!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Civil War Re-enactor indicted for planting pipe bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield – Gerald Drake also charged with stalking and mailing threatening letters
HARRISONBURG, Va. – A federal grand jury in Charlottesville has indicted Gerald Leonard Drake, 63, from Winchester, Va., for mailing threatening letters, stalking, and planting a pipe bomb at the Cedar Creek Battlefield in Middletown, Virginia during a Civil War reenactment event in 2017. In the mailings sent to victims and two newspapers, Drake purported to be a member of Antifa and threatened harm, including referencing the Unite the Right riots in Charlottesville.
The indictment, which was unsealed following Drake’s arrest today, charges him with fifteen criminal offenses including: mailing threatening communications, malicious use of explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device, unlawful manufacture of a destructive device, use of explosives to commit a federal felony, and stalking.
“This indictment and arrest mark the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation into the perpetrator of the attempted bombing,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today.
“Over that time, career federal prosecutors and federal agents steadfastly investigated and uncovered the identity of the individual who sought to terrorize innocent civilians in the Western District of Virginia. In the aftermath of the riots in Charlottesville, and at a time when people sought to heal, this defendant instead sought to sow political discontent and mayhem. From the local police who secured the scene, to the state police that diffused the bomb, and through to the federal agents who investigated the true identity of the perpetrator, this was truly a quintessential example of law enforcement partnership.”
“The FBI is grateful no one was injured by this explosive device, and no physical harm came to the individuals being threatened. In our mission to protect the American people, law enforcement will continue to take threats to individuals and public places seriously and will hold those responsible accountable for their actions. If you suspect a similar crime is about to occur or have information about one that has, please contact the FBI immediately at 804-261-1044 or via tips.FBI.gov,” said Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division.
As detailed in the indictment, Drake belonged to a reenactment unit that participated in the annual reenactment at Cedar Creek Battlefield until he was removed from his unit in 2014. In later years, Drake volunteered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation (CCBF), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of history related to the Cedar Creek Battlefield and which hosts an annual reenactment attended by merchants, re-enactors, and visitors.
On September 23, 2017, a letter was received at the CCBF visitor center addressed to “Cedar Creek Battlefield people.” The envelope and its letter both bore a printed Antifa symbol depicting a black flag overlayed atop a red flag inside of a circle. The letter claimed the reenactment event “clearly celebrates the war to keep African-Americans in chains,” and warned the reenactment organizers that if the event was not cancelled, the trouble they would inflict on Cedar Creek Battlefield would make the riots that took place in Charlottesville in August look like “a Sunday picnic.”
In response to the letter, the CCBF posted a warning on its website that security had been increased and apologized for the inconvenience.
On October 14, 2017, the CCBF hosted the planned 153rd anniversary and reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During the afternoon hours, as the battle was coming to an end, an unexploded pipe bomb was discovered in one of the merchant tents. The pipe bomb contained metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires, powder, and other items.
Deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to investigate and seize the explosive device, which was later rendered safe by Virginia State Police. Due to its discovery, however, all remaining reenactment activities were cancelled, and individuals were evacuated from the area.
Following this incident, Drake continued writing letters purporting to be sent by Antifa, including letters to the CCBF, its board members, an individual associated with Civil War reenactments, and news publications. During this same time frame, Drake continued to volunteer with the CCBF.
On November 6, 2017, a letter was received by The Gettysburg Times at its offices in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Once again, the letter and envelope both bore Antifa motifs and warned that if the Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade allowed confederate flags or confederate men and women to be in the parade, “we will disrupt the whole weekend.” The letter also stated that “we have a new person to make our bombs for us since the Cedar Creek one was a dud,” and “[w]e will also run over people with a couple of trucks and might have a shooter on the rooftop [or elsewhere] along the parade route.” However, the Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade of 2017 occurred without incident despite these threats.
In 2018, one year after Drake planted the pipe bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield, he sent another letter to the then-President of the CCBF as well as The Winchester Star, a local newspaper in Winchester, Virginia. In this letter, Drake warned organizers to “cancel this event or you will regret it!” and discussed the various ways in which a “suspicious package” could be smuggled into the event.
On July 3, 2018, the annual Cedar Creek Battlefield reenactment was canceled due to security concerns. In addition, the president of the CCBF resigned due to tensions caused by Drake’s threats.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia State Police, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and the Middletown Police Department participated in the investigation.
United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katie Burroughs Medearis, Melanie Smith, and Cagle Juhan are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
(From a release from the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Virginia)
Norma Jean Shaw and Roger Bianchini contributed to this story.
Update: School Board stays with VSBA; approves renovation contract; faces chronic absenteeism
This story has been updated to correct the board vote, which was 5-0 to approve all VSBA-related action items.
The Warren County School Board will remain a member of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and unanimously approved a contract totaling more than $12.6 million for the renovation of Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School. The board also learned that the school division is facing a chronic absenteeism problem.
During the School Board’s Wednesday, October 5 meeting, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins combined all three VSBA-related action items on their agenda for one vote and then unanimously approved all three items: renewal of its VSBA membership for 2022-2023; switching its policy services agreement from the VSBA to a private attorney; and designating Salins and Rinaldi as board delegate and alternate delegate, respectively, to the VSBA Delegate Assembly.
The action ends months of prolonged discussion about the board’s membership renewal for the state organization largely led by Salins, who up until Wednesday night had denounced the board’s membership renewal. She changed her mind on Wednesday, though — even after a few of her regular supporters spoke during the community participation segment of the meeting against the VSBA membership renewal.
Salins said that while her turnabout might be considered “shocking,” she would support the board’s membership renewal if she could be a VSBA delegate and “fight for what Warren County wants.”
Regarding the School Board’s VSBA policy services agreement, Lo and a few other board members questioned switching to a private attorney due to the high cost when its policy services agreement with the VSBA would have cost Warren County $3,000 for 2022-2023. The school division says it relies upon such services to help ensure that policies are up-to-date and aligned with current state and federal law.
“We can already consult with our attorney about policies if we want to,” Lo said prior to the board’s vote, noting the current tight budget year. Nevertheless, the board approved making a policy services agreement with the Sands Anderson firm for the period of October 5, 2022, to July 31, 2023, at a cost not to exceed $50,000 over a 14-to-20-month timeframe.
According to the contract, Sands Anderson will tailor legal requirements to the Warren County school division and will hold meetings with School Board members, divisional leadership, and school leadership over 14-20 months to evaluate and discuss respective sections, legal requirements, and practical policy considerations.
The firm will submit recommended policies to the board after a legal review for the required reading before adoption. For subsequent years after adoption of the entire re-written policy manual, Sands Anderson will charge its then-current hourly rate for updates — right now, the firm charges $330 an hour. “The cost will be dependent upon the actions of various legislative bodies and courts. Policy update costs are usually spread among the school division that receives this service,” according to the contract.
In other action, the School Board unanimously approved a $12,636,400 contract award for the Leslie Fox Keyser renovation project to Lantz Construction Co. of Winchester (LCW).
The firm will submit recommended policies to the board after a legal review for the required reading before adoption, and this service “will be offered at a, not to exceed, cost of $50,000.” For subsequent years after the adoption of the entire re-written policy manual, Sands Anderson will charge its then-current hourly rate for updates — right now, the firm charges $330 an hour. “The cost will be dependent upon the actions of various legislative bodies and courts. Policy update costs are usually spread among the school division that receives this service,” according to the contract.
In another action, the School Board unanimously approved a $12,636,400 contract award for the Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) renovation project to Lantz Construction Co. of Winchester (LCW).
LCW’s original cost for the base bid was $12,329,700 plus the six additional alternative items at $675,900 for a total of $13,005,600, according to Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith.
“We have worked with LCW to value engineer the cost to $ 12,636,400. This will include the six alternate bid items,” Smith explained. “The recommendation is to award the contract to Lantz Construction Company of Winchester in the amount of $12,636,400. The contract has been reviewed and approved by our school board attorney.”
The six alternatives include:
1) Gymnasium modifications (operable partition for stage and flooring replacement);
2) Solar daylight devices in each pod;
3) Exterior windows and doors;
4) Kitchen upgrades (walk-in cooler/freezer replacement, dishwasher, and counter modifications;
5) Cafeteria modification (stage into a storage room and teacher’s work area); and 6) Library modifications (all casework, reception desk, and new windows and flooring).
Board members thanked Smith for working to reduce the contract price.
The School Board also unanimously approved two action items presented by WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger (above): one to add three instructional assistants (IAs) at Ressie Jefferies Elementary School and the other to add a dean of students position at Skyline High School.
At Ressie Jefferies, Ballenger said the number of students enrolled there warrants an additional teacher in the third, fourth, and fifth grades, but due to the teacher shortages — and because students have already been established within their current classroom — he recommended that three IAs be hired to help support these grade levels for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year.
“The administration feels that we would be able to fill instructional assistant positions as opposed to hiring elementary teachers to help support the grade levels in this current climate,” Ballenger said, noting that the positions will be funded by savings in current vacancies, lag pay, and staff turnover.
At Skyline High School, Ballenger said the school needs additional administrative support due to a change in student needs and behaviors. “After meeting with administrative staff, this was one area that was identified as a high priority,” he said.
The new dean of students will support the current high school administrative staff with attendance, discipline, and instruction. The position will be funded by a vacant Skyline High School math position for the 2022-2023 school year, said Ballenger.
During his superintendent’s report, Ballenger also provided the School Board with a WCPS accreditation update based on data issued by the Virginia Department of Education.
A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School, Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, Warren County Middle School, Skyline High School, and Warren County High School are all accredited. Accredited with conditions is E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School and Skyline Middle School.
Ballenger said the school division knew it had some gaps to fill last year and this year and that the hard work and dedication of the staff has “really made the world go round in Warren County.”
The school division will focus on improving several areas this school year, including science at all grade levels; writing at both middle schools; history on the number of students scoring proficient on all SOLs, and attendance.
Ballenger pointed to chronic absenteeism as a big problem county-wide, with “most schools” having double-digit absenteeism rates that exceed 15 percent.
“If we do not improve absenteeism, then we could see more schools become accredited with conditions next year,” said Ballenger. “But we’re getting off to a good start this year, and we’re having monthly meetings on the topic. We’re working hard and moving in a positive direction.”
Springtime Garden Center owner Ann Orndorff calls upcoming retirement ‘bittersweet’
Her customers say they will be lost without her. She says she will dearly miss her customers and vendors, but it’s time to go.
Ann Orndorff, the owner/operator of the Springtime Garden Center on Warren Avenue in Front Royal, says that after 26 years of daily work—sometimes through the night to tend to new plants under threat of frost—she is ready to slow down, travel, enjoy time with her family and perhaps sign up to foster kittens in need of care before being adopted. Laughing, she said, “I told my son, Colby, that I might become a ‘crazy cat lady’!”
Ann announced on her Facebook page Monday that it was “bittersweet and that she was filled with “a mix of sadness and excitement for retirement.” After running the nursery with her husband, Lamont, since 1996, Ann says it has been more difficult since he died three years ago. Lamont retired from the Pepsi Cola Company, then began working with Ann to build the nursery that they bought from Lamont’s brother and sister-in-law, Ernie and Marguerite Orndorff. She says they always planned to travel after they retired, and she’s sad that he isn’t here to share this next chapter of her life.
For many customers, Springtime Garden Center has been the place to go for all their gardening and seasonal decorating needs, as well as fun times with the family. Linda Cook, a loyal customer for 16 years, said in an email, “They have planted over 50 trees and bushes in my yard and trimmed all my bushes and mulched. This year I had them bring me pies and cakes and vegetables and fruit. I will be lost without them.”
Ann is equally fond of her customers and vendors, whom she says she will miss. She said in a Tuesday interview, “The customers were a blessing! They supported us from day one, and we couldn’t have made a go of it without them. I got to know and care for so many over the years.”
Some of her fondest memories are of the Amish families she met while attending produce auctions in the region. She continued, “I’ve watched their kids grow up over the years—I will definitely miss them!”
It was on one of those Pennsylvania trips that Ann found Miley, one of the nursery’s two resident cats. About five weeks old, the kitten jumped on the produce cart and insisted on staying with Ann. “All of the cats we’ve had over the years have found us” she relayed. “She’s our greeter, and the customers are very fond of her.”
For years, Ann has worked with the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA), donating produce for the Meals on Wheels program and when there was a surplus, fresh vegetables for the meal-delivery clients.
Ann also created a “senior tree” at Christmastime, working with the SAAA to identify seniors in need. She said her customers looked forward to participating in the annual project, and once the tree was on display, all the seniors were adopted. A tree for veterans was also set up each year, and all collected presents were taken to the American Legion for distribution.
Ann hopes to see a local business take over the project once she retires. Anyone interested in sponsoring the annual trees should contact her at the nursery at 815 Warren Avenue.
Though the nursery and adjacent house have been placed on the market, the business has not sold. “It’s a great business, Ann said, but it is hard work. You have to work until the work is done—you can’t work eight hours and be done.”
After Lamont died, her family helped her run the business. Son Colby did landscape work for clients and the staff “went above and beyond” to help. “I was blessed. Without the hard work of our staff, I would not have been able to keep the business going or increase the variety of stock we offered. I was truly blessed.”
As the sale of nursery items continues until closing day, November 30, there are discounts: 25% off (cash and carry) on trees, shrubs, perennials, Amish Poly Furniture, and Massarelli Statuary until the inventory is sold. After October 17, equipment, seasonal decorations and fixtures will be sold.
For the first time ever, Ann will not have Christmas trees, wreaths, roping, and poinsettia this Holiday season, though families can still come by and enjoy the Halloween decorations and annual scavenger hunt.
Reflecting on the last 26 years, Ann says there are so many things about running the nursery she’ll remember with fondness, including the customers, the vendors whom she came to know over the years and her dedicated staff. What she won’t miss is the crazy period every April after the annual plants get delivered. She recalled having to get up every hour or two if the temperature was near freezing, to keep the greenhouse warm enough to protect the plants.
Son Colby and daughter-in-law Michella, as well as daughter Amanda and husband Michael, live in the area, as do her two grandsons, Bryce and Christian. Ann says she’ll settle down in the area and enjoy time with her family, as well as make plans for travel.
Springtime Garden Center is located at 815 Warren Avenue, across from Wendy’s Restaurant. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and closed on Sunday.