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Town Talk: A conversation with Michelle Smeltzer, Thermal Shelter



Town Talk is a series on Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to

In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Michelle Smeltzer from Thermal Shelter of Front Royal.

If you are not familiar with our Front Royal Thermal Shelter, here is some information provided to us by Michelle Smeltzer

“The Front Royal Thermal Shelter gives the homeless of Warren County a place to stay warm during the winter months. (Now extended to June 13th) The guests are provided supper at about 7:30 each evening, and the volunteers join them. After supper, the volunteers join them and they play a variety of games, watch TV, or simply lie down on their cots after a tiring day. The following morning several of the churches provide breakfast, and some provide a bagged lunch when they leave for the day. There are separate sleeping areas for men and women, and the program does not allow guests or volunteers with the program until they are at least 18 years of age because they are a no-barrier shelter. This year the shelter has also made arrangements, with the help of the Warren County Humane Society, to provide shelter for homeless pets of the guests.”

The doors open at 7:00 pm and their guests depart each morning between 5:00 am – 8:00 am.

Services provided include:

A hot dinner provided by volunteers.
Social Services
Spiritual guidance if requested
Basic first aid
Bag Lunch

Are you passionate about what they are doing? Let them know! They are always looking for volunteers to help make their vision a reality. They’ll help you find a way to volunteer that best suits you.

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Chamber to host candidates forums



The Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce will host Candidates Forums on Wednesday, September 30, 2020, at the Warren County Government Center at 7 pm.

The forum will include candidates for the Town of Front Royal Mayor and Town Council.

These forums offer community members an opportunity to listen to candidates answer issue-based questions and give voters insight into the candidate’s goals should they be elected. The public is encouraged to attend but space is limited. All candidates have been invited to attend. Attendees are required to abide by social distancing and mask guidelines.

Candidates will answer questions posed by a moderator, as well as questions submitted by the public in advance.

Royal Examiner will be there with our camera to provide coverage of the events to our readers.

You can watch in-depth interviews of the candidates on the Royal Examiner. Meet the Candidates is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will sit down with each candidate in our local election and discuss issues that are important to all of us. The Royal Examiner asked Michael Graham, a former Town Manager of Front Royal to host these conversations. As a former Town Manager, Michael has an insight into the issues facing the Town and hopefully be able to bring out from each candidate their vision and plan if they are to be elected in the November 3rd election.

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Major health insurance carrier may quit Valley Health; health care costs may rise for many in 2021



Valley Health issued a warning this month that, once again, insurer Anthem is proving difficult to deal with in contract negotiations that could lead to a discontinuance of relationships with the insurance giant that covers up to 70 percent of its Valley Health patients.

In a letter to policy holders, Valley Health’s new President and Chief Executive Officer, Mark Nantz, said, “We want you to prepare for the possibility that Valley Health will no longer be ‘in-network’ with Anthem beginning January 1, 2021.”

According to local physicians, Anthem is the biggest insurer in the area and, one said, is “trying to drive down reimbursements and not for the first time.”

Warren Memorial Hospital and the rest of the Valley Health network have been warned of the potential loss of insurance coverage by the Anthem network as negotiations flounder around system costs. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

Of the situation Nantz added, “Unfortunately, Anthem has been unwilling to work with Valley Health caregivers… Valley Health will continue working in good faith to reach a solution before the end of the year. If Anthem is unwilling to work with our team and considers Valley Health “out of network”, your health care costs will likely increase.”

He said further that Valley Health, after several months of negotiations, has offered Anthem a solution to the situation (that) would “protect (patients) access to care while also making sure our team can continue confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and other health challenges.”

Many who receive anthem coverage in the Valley are retired federal employees. Valley Health, on its website, urges them to consider transferring to another carrier during the government’s open season November 9 – December 7. For these, and other details visit

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North Warren Fire Department negotiates on a $500,000 fire truck, seeks funding to finalize a deal by December



North Warren Volunteer Fire & Rescue (NWVFR) Company 10 isn’t the only local organization experiencing a funding shortage, but COVID-19 could not have hit the northside fire department at a worse time.

At the beginning of this year, North Warren’s creaky but still functional fire engine was beginning to suck up thousands of dollars in maintenance costs – $10,000 in repairs in just the last few months. In January, out went the call for donations to put a down payment of $100,000 on a new half-million-dollar emergency vehicle and all went well until March. As the virus took off, there was $46,000 in the truck fund.

However, since March through the end of July, just four donations had arrived in North Warren’s coffers ($325); and according to an SOS letter from Company 10 President Ray Warriner and Fire Chief Reggie Fritts, things are looking pretty desperate.

While this is neither of them, N. Warren Company 10 is seeking funding for a new firetruck to replace its aging unit that has become a money pit on expensive repair maintenance. Royal Examiner file photo.

Acknowledging that “we are all in a period of unprecedented hard times” but citing the increasing cost of truck repairs, Warriner wrote: “We have been holding off seeking donations but feel we must ask those who can, to consider donating now… (to) purchase or lease a dependable emergency vehicle that can respond to your calls for help.”

He and Fritts said their truck committee had hoped to have a contract by the end of June but extended the target to the fall while developing specifications on a truck that will meet the needs of the community. Without giving any dollar amounts, the letter to community residents said a combination of generous donations from citizens, business and industry, are closing the funding gap, but more dollars are needed from the communities served – Warren, Frederick (Lake Frederick), Clarke (White Post area), and Shenandoah Counties so that “we (can) order the new truck soon.”

In a telephone conversation, Warriner said Frederick County had only recently been added to the fire department’s responsibility but was generous in its financial contribution to NWVFR. He indicated about $60,000 was in hand toward a $100,000 target and that a 15-year lease arrangement was being sought. He said talks on a contract would continue this Saturday, October 3rd, and that hopefully there would be sufficient money available to complete a contract by the end of the year.

Fingers crossed!

Tax deductible donations may be made online at or call (540) 635-6759.

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New ‘Dining’, ‘Shop’, ‘Walking Mall’ banners portend more public art on the horizon



Melissa Ichiuji is a local artist and Front Royal resident who is a founding member of the Warren County Project for the Arts (WCPA), dating to its February 2020 inception. The placement of new downtown Arts Project banners advertising dining and other business opportunities in Front Royal’s downtown, including as part of the late spring implemented weekend walking mall phenomena, gave Royal Examiner the opportunity to meet her and others involved in a growing downtown arts movement.

“We are a group of local artists, residents and some town administrators who have gotten together as a committee; we are a branch of the Architectural Review group (Board of Architectural Review, BAR) – sort of an informal committee, this is all volunteer. Our mission is to curate and facilitate public art in Front Royal, Virginia.”

Will the banner artists present please step forward and take a bow – from left, walking mall entranceway banner artist Kate Fristoe hedges at the front and center offer, as Melissa Ichiuji, interested admirer of the arts Anita, and Chris Stephens urge her forward. Below, a closer look at the absent artist Dagmara Weinberg’s work. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Ichiuji said the group has also been working with the Façade Grant Program that is part of the State-administered Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) downtown revitalization project the Town has received to make physical improvements geared toward downtown economic revitalization of localities in the Commonwealth. As part of their work in this regard, the Arts Project group has been involved, not only in the building wall-side mural project underway, but also development of some advertising banners to coincide with the Town’s weekend closing of portions of East Main Street to vehicular traffic to facilitate a walking mall aspect to Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.

That impetus began in late May to help revitalize downtown businesses, initially particularly restaurants, hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic State-mandated business closings and social distancing restrictions that while unpopular with some, have helped Virginia stay on the moderately impacted side of the national equation that has seen over 200,000 reported deaths over an eight-month period.

“So, we believe that art is a universal language that can elevate the spirit of the community and especially in this time it’s a little bit divided, it’s the one way we can elevate the town and have it come together,” Ichiuji continued, pointing to the banner we were standing under in front of Element, one of downtown Front Royal’s featured eateries. “And this is one of the ways we’re doing that as kind of a quick pick me up of Main Street since the walking mall is going to be open until November 30th just as kind of a quick, colorful addition to liven up the street.”

At left, Joe Petty biked up to join the Warren County Project for the Arts discussion. On the Manor Line Market wall behind, an early mural effort of butterfly wings that has become a popular photo op for downtown visitors.

She noted the financial assistance of one local citizen, the semi-anonymous “Frank” acknowledged at a recent Front Royal Town Council meeting for his financial assistance in facilitating the sign and banner project.

“This was kind of pulled off pretty quickly, and Frank was kind enough to support this effort. So, without his help it would not have been expedited and maybe wouldn’t have happened. So, we’re very thankful to Frank,” Ichiuji said with a nod to the nearby and camera-shy patron of the banner project.

“Our original mandate, self-proclaimed mandate, was to upgrade the quality of the public art offerings in town,” Arts Project artist Chris Stephens added as this reporter recruited an Art Project group photo op. “We weren’t in the mural business; we were just in the review of signs and murals. And now we are about to create some murals, have funding for them, and now the signs were added as we were asked to do something for the closing of Main Street every weekend.”

Above, WC Project for the Arts walking mall signage at the East Main St./Commerce Ave. intersection. Below, at the Chester St. intersection – ‘Dine, Shop, Discover’ sounds like a worthy weekend project in Historic Downtown Front Royal.

Kate Fristoe was acknowledged as one of the involved artists in the banner project present for our start of the September 25-27 weekend look at the new banners. We asked Fristoe about her involvement.

“I got involved because my dad is one of the founders of the group. And I’m also a local artist with a little bit of experience with murals, mostly indoor murals. And I mainly do logos and graphic design. So, it just kind of happened that I became the resident committee designer for this project. And we aimed to give something really fresh and colorful and indicate there was a walking mall because it seemed not everybody knew about that. So, we wanted to make some noise and get people excited,” Fristoe said as I gathered those present for a shot under one of the “Dine Front Royal” banners at Element.

An artist noted for her work on those walking mall pole banners, not present for our Friday look at them, was Dagmara Weinberg. So, here’s a shout out to Dagmara for her stellar street pole banner work. Fristoe was cited for her work on the large “Walking Mall” banners at either end of East Main Street, as well as the sandwich boards on side street intersections as at the Chester Street barrier. Also acknowledged though not present, was committee member Mary Ellen Lynn, also a town electric department employee.

Above, a closer look at one of the border walking mall signs; below, what’s not to LOVE about the Warren County Project for the Arts efforts downtown?!?

And as that photo gathering was proceeding, Joe Petty rode up on his bike and joined the group, which acknowledged the County Zoning Administrator as a part of the Arts Project team. So, we asked Joe about his involvement with the Warren County Project for the Arts.

“I am a citizen of Warren County and Front Royal, grew up here and am passionate about fine arts. And as Chris said, we came together to bring quality art to Warren County, whether that is through murals, exhibitions; it could be music, performing arts. We just really wanted to create this mechanism for artists to come together in our community that we thought was lacking.”

Petty asserted the presence of an artists’ community in the town and county that has perhaps been more to the forefront of local culture in the past, than it has been in recent years. That led this reporter to invoke the name of late indoor and outside wall mural and Village Commons sundial sculptor Patricia Windrow, who was a forerunner in the creation of public art in Front Royal in the years before her death.

“There are great artists here, there’s been examples of it in the past,” Petty acknowledged with a nod to Windrow, “And we wanted to bring that spirit back, especially down to Main Street. We think that art provides an experience, it creates place-making and it creates community. We wanted to bring that here … and when people leave Front Royal, we want them to leave with that positive experience,” Petty observed of the Warren County Project for the Arts impetus and direction.

“We kind of got together before the COVID hit, and yea, the walking mall created an opportunity to do some things; and so did the Community Development Block Grant. And we’re trying to take advantage of that opportunity. And hopefully that will spur more excitement and murals, public art, sculptures – there’s bands out here now,” Petty noted gesturing to walking mall sites where businesses have brought live music to their doorsteps.

“It’s exciting to see new things happening that we just haven’t seen before and hopefully art can be a part of that,” Petty concluded of the Warren County Project for the Arts involvement in helping present a best face forward for this community, beginning with Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District and the Town’s exploration of a weekend walking mall concept.

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Front royal man charged with Grand Larceny and Forcible Sodomy of a 36-year-old victim



On Saturday, September 26, 2020, Troy W. Stotts, 51, of Front Royal, was charged with § 18.2-95, Grand Larceny and § 18.2-67.1, Forcible Sodomy of a 36-year-old victim. These felony charges are in connection with an investigation that was conducted at 1122 North Royal Avenue at the Budget Inn. The victim in this case made allegations against the accused stating that he took advantage of her while sleeping and stole her cash. The victim was transported by detectives to Winchester Medical Center for further treatment in this case.

Troy W. Stotts. Photo courtesy of RSW Regional Jail.

Mr. Stotts was arrested on September 27, 2020, without incident and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where he went before the magistrate and was ordered to be held without bond.  A court date for these offenses is set for October 20, 2020, at 10:00am, in Warren County General District Court. Further details regarding this matter cannot be released at this time due to the pending nature of the investigation.

This investigation is ongoing and anyone with any further information is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for September 28 – October 2, 2020



The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.

*NEW* Mile marker 16 to 13, westbound – Overnight alternating lane closures for pavement patching, 8 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday.

*NEW* Mile marker 300 to 299, southbound – Right shoulder closures for ditch cleaning, Tuesday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

No lane closures reported.

Various roads – Flagger traffic control for utility tree trimming, Monday to Friday during daylight hours.

The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.

Vegetation management may take place district wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at Agents are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

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King Cartoons

Front Royal
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Humidity: 83%
Pressure: 29.87"Hg
UV index: 0
min 52°F