About 20 people, including 26th District Democratic State Senatorial candidate April Moore, gathered at Front Royal’s Town Gazebo at noon on Wednesday, March 13, to join Len Sherp in marking the start of the third year of the Vigil for Democracy he began on March 8, 2017.
“We mark our calendar by Wednesdays – we started on the second Wednesday of March 2017 and it’s the second Wednesday of March 2019,” Sherp said of any date discrepancies.
On that second Wednesday of 2017 Sherp explained the impetus for his Vigil for Democracy to Royal Examiner: “This administration in eight weeks has shown that it doesn’t understand the rule of law; does not respect the separation of powers; and has a Republican Congress that for some reason refuses to stand up and be adult. There are threats to our democracy when our president lies every day. And I think there are some underlying issues – I’m holding a sign today that says ‘Show us the Tax Returns’. Every president, I believe since Eisenhower if not even earlier, has released their tax returns, so that we can see that they are not indebted to or beholding to other foreign powers.”
And for Sherp on March 13, 2019, not much has changed.
“At the time I told you that I thought we faced a crisis in our country that basic constitutional principals seemed to be ignored; and we were heading toward a path that I felt the future of our democratic-republican form of government was in peril. Nothing over the last two years has convinced me otherwise,” Sherp said.
“We still have disrespect from the highest office in the nation, the presidency of the United States, for the rule of law; disrespect for the separation of powers; disrespect for the truth; we have disrespect for a free press; we have disrespect for the hardworking members of the federal government; we have disrespect for our allies; and we have instead an affection for dictators and a wish from our president that perhaps he could be president for life like his friend, Comrade Xi (Xi Jinping, president of China).
“And he talks about ‘love letters’ with (North Korean Dictator) Kim Jung Un – and we stopped our annual or semi-annual military exercises with the Republic of South Korea, our strongest ally in the Far East – what did we get for that? Oh, we got a picture with Kim Jung Un.
“And I didn’t even mention the violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution and the violations of the ban against nepotism – I could go on and on,” Sherp said deciding to end the litany of reasons the Vigil for Democracy continues, and will continue beyond his pending move to Oregon. Sherp and his wife are moving west in several weeks to be close to their daughter.
Sherp pointed us toward other vigil participants for comments, including those who will be instrumental in continuing to see the Vigil for Democracy remains a viable expression of political dissent guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Long-time vigil participants Bob Hill and Jorge Amselle will share Vigil for Democracy organizational rolls after Sherp’s departure.
We asked Amselle why he, like Hill and others in the vigil trenches, has been there on Wednesday afternoons with Sherp for the bulk of two years.
“This is the only thing that keeps me sane; this is the only thing that gives me hope for our country – to be out here with people who recognize the danger that we’re in, who are like-minded. I believe I told you before, I used to be a conservative Republican for 30 years; for years I voted Republican. When Trump was running I kept telling my fellow Republicans ‘You can’t vote for this guy – he’s insane and a racist.’
“And when he won the nomination I decided that’s it, I’m out, I’m done. And I left the Republican Party and volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign and did everything I could to make sure Trump didn’t win.”
Over two years later Amselle is maintaining his commitment to make Americans, including Republicans, see what he sees in the 45th president – a would-be demagogue who puts self interest above the national interest.
Amselle pointed out how many congressional Republicans, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz being prominent examples, were documented during the 2016 nominating campaign saying horrible things about Trump’s character; but now fall easily in line with the worst of the president’s policy initiatives or personal impulses.
“I think it’s just winning at all costs – nothing matters but winning, you know, no morals, no qualms about lying, cheating, stealing, pandering to white supremacists, empowering racism and other forms of bigotry; being inconsistent on all the things you ever preached. See, there used to be a competition between all different kinds of conservatives, your libertarians, your evangelicals, all different kinds of conservatives were there to argue and debate conservative ideologies.”
“Now that’s all gone, now it’s just Trump – the only ideology that matters is Trump,” Amselle observed of an apparent party-wide fear of not antagonizing Trump’s sizable base among Republican voters.
And when the cult of personality meets ideological intransience tempered with stereotypical vilification of minorities and outsiders you have a historically dangerous combination – a combination often found at the outset of the rise of state totalitarianism.
It is a trend another former Republican present at the March 13 vigil has noticed. April Moore is positioning herself for a Democratic challenge of 26th District State Senate Republican incumbent Mark Obenshain in the upcoming election. See her observations on the trend of Republicanism in the Trump era mentioned by Amselle in this linked story.
Of her presence in staunchly Republican Front Royal and Warren County for the March 13 Vigil for Democracy Moore said, “I’m impressed people here in Front Royal have been out here every week for the last two years protesting what the Republican Party has become and what it’s doing: this party that nominated, elected and now serves as accomplices to a president who lies to the public multiple times every day; and who is assaulting our rule of law; and even seems to be in some kind of strange cahoots with our most dangerous adversary.
“So part of why I’m running is the reason they’re out here,” Moore said of Vigil for Democracy participants.
Bob Hill, who with Jorge Amselle will continue the organizational impetus for the Vigil for Democracy in Sherp’s pending absence, sees a fundamental necessity for that continuation.
“I think the vigil has been an awakening for a lot of the people here in Front Royal that there is a two-party system and two parties make us stronger. Obviously if you have a one-party system you are heading away from democratic principals,” Hill observed of the role of political dissent in non-totalitarian nations.
Hill, who was a primary vigil player in establishing a dialogue with elements of the pro-Trump contingent across Chester Street, pointed to mutual concerns about local politics.
“My Trump friends over there,” he said gesturing toward Ralph and Michael Waller and their pro-Trump signs across Chester Street, “when I talk to them about what’s going on locally, about the EDA or about insurance policies (against abuses) they’ll say to me ‘Well, it’s the politicians’ and I’ll say ‘What politicians?’ and they’ll say ‘The ones we voted in’ – and I’ll ask ‘What party are they?’ And in staunchly-conservative Warren County and Front Royal the answer with few generally independent exceptions is Republican.
“Years ago my wife came home and said, ‘Look, I could be a Republican – I believe in smaller government except for one thing: smaller government would mean fewer people overseeing and making sure that I, as a Republican, don’t think of myself first and foremost.’
“Sure it’s smaller government, but it’s also corrupt government,” Hill said of an unmonitored economic system where the largest and wealthiest competitors are free to prey upon, not only smaller-positioned competitors, but the marketplace itself.
“Sometimes people just don’t see the forest for the trees,” Hill concluded with an age-old expression of the problem of seeing the bigger picture when you find yourself immersed in the middle of that picture.
And when one looks at the political picture being painted by the current occupant of the White House: from a general disregard for federal institutions from law enforcement to intelligence and the diplomatic wing of the State Department, coupled with the number of unfilled federal positions after two-plus years of the Trump presidency, as well as the conflicting professional interests of many who have been appointed to head oversight agencies like the EPA, Commerce and Interior, it would seem the core political issues that have brought Vigil for Democracy participants together for over two years are nowhere near a resolution.
So we imagine you will continue to see these anniversary reports, along with those coming across the Chester Street political divide, for at least another two years …
Six-year-old brings recognition to Front Royal
When Jacob and Brittany Tomb and children Rex and Charlotte moved to Front Royal adjacent to the Shenandoah Valley Golf Course, they had no idea how that would affect their entire family. Jacob originally planned to use the golf course to continue to perfect his golf game, but when 5-year-old Rex requested his own golf clubs, Jacob found a used set that was a little big. Despite the size, he immediately started practicing putting and driving left-handed.
When Richard Runyon, owner of Shenandoah Valley Golf Course, noticed the young boy with skill and encouraged him to continue to use the course. They soon developed a friendship. In fact, when Richard was recently married, Rex was his ring bearer.
Rex started asking for golf shoes and kept asking. Eventually, his father acquiesced and bought a used pair. As Rex continued to show promise and loved practicing, Jacob found golf clubs made for his height through U.S. Kids Golf. During the winter, the Tombs added a driving range in their garage and both father and son practiced. Jacob was amazed at his son’s natural swing. Although, a really good golfer himself, he didn’t try to make any corrections to his naturally beautiful swing, but occasionally helped tweak his putting.
As Rex progressed, it was natural to enter him into a 6-and-under golf tournament at Algonkian Golf Course in Sterling, Virginia. It was the first time they’d kept score and a joyous Rex finished the tournament, driving approximately 120 yards when needed, and shot an astounding birdie. Shooting 43 for 9 holes, Rex came in first. “
He liked it so much, we signed him up for more tournaments,” says Jacob.
Rex is next entered into the Virginia State Championship, June 22 and 27, at Ford’s Colony Country Club golf course in Williamsburg.
Throughout the first six tournaments, Rex averaged a second-place finish. His best score for 9 holes was 38. With Rex’s amazing placements, he’s been invited to the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in Pinehurst, North Carolina, July 28-31, 2021, where he will be representing Front Royal.
Approximately 1,500 kids from around the world aged 12 and under are invited to this prestigious tournament. Sixty different countries are represented, and there will be more than 50 participants in Rex’s 6-and-under category.
Jacob and Brittany are aware of the need to protect their young son from too much notoriety and want him to enjoy whatever sport he’s pursuing, which now also includes gymnastics and soccer. Last year, his favorite sport was riding a 50cc dirt bike.
Time will only tell Rex’s future, but those of us watching know that it will be amazing.
School Board approves WCPS Virtual Academy, new leadership
The Warren County School Board approved the appointment of a new assistant superintendent for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and a new principal for non-traditional education, as well as the WCPS Virtual Academy Handbook and Guidelines during its Wednesday, June 16 meeting and work session.
George “Buck” Smith, Jr., the current WCPS personnel director, has been appointed the new assistant superintendent for administration for the school division. Smith replaces Melody Sheppard, who is leaving WCPS to become the new superintendent for Shenandoah County Public Schools.
Smith, who earned a master’s degree from James Madison University, has more than 28 years of professional experience in public education and has served as a teacher, athletic director, director of activities, director of administrative support, and for the last 11 years has been personnel director for WCPS.
“Mr. Smith is a dedicated professional and has been a proud member of the Warren County Public Schools community for the last 20 years,” WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the School Board members. “He believes in the motto: Service to Others.”
The board voted unanimously to accept Smith’s recommended promotion with all members present, including Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Kristen Pence, Ralph Rinaldi, and James Wells.
“Twenty-some years ago when I came here with all these different ideas about what I wanted to see happen out on the fields and in the classrooms… I really didn’t envision this part of the journey,” Smith said after the board’s approval. “But somewhere along the way, I really fell in love with this community and school division, and it’s been a privilege to serve here over the last 20 years.”
Smith added that he hopes to continue to have an impact on the community, “but I think perhaps the impact has been the greatest upon myself,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to serve.”
Randa Vernazza, who is currently an assistant principal at Warren County High School, has been appointed the new principal of non-traditional education for WCPS.
Ballenger said Vernazza has a wealth of experience and has served as a teacher, dean of students, and assistant principal during her 17 years in education. Vernazza has served in her current role for the last six years.
“Her extensive preparation throughout her career makes her the best choice for this position,” Ballenger told School Board members, who voted unanimously to accept the appointment.
Vernazza intends to provide a rigorous, engaging academic program structured to respond to the social, emotional, and academic needs of every student added Ballenger.
“I look forward to working with the staff, students, and their families to provide opportunities and the supports that this special population of students needs to be successful,” said Vernzza after the board’s vote. “I would also like to thank my mentor, Dr. Ernestine Jordan. For the past nine years, I’ve had the privilege of learning from her and gaining the skills necessary to help me be successful in my new position.”
Both Smith and Vernazza start their new positions on July 1.
In other action, the Warren County School Board unanimously approved the WCPS Virtual Academy Handbook and Guidelines, which establishes how the WCPS new online academy will be operated.
Specifically, the WCPS 2021-2022 Virtual Academy will focus on students in grades 3 through 12. Students must meet residency requirements, as well as eligibility requirements, and must go through an application process, said Ballenger. Classes will be limited to 20 students per grade at the elementary level, and classes at the secondary level will be based on student need and student enrollment. Career and Technical Education (CTE) and dual enrollment classes will also be available. Virtual students will be eligible for a high school diploma from one of the WCPS high schools.
Ballenger addressed some questions from the community during the board meeting, reiterating that there is an application process to participate in the Virtual Academy and there are a limited number of available slots. “This is not just open to everyone,” Ballenger said. “We will have a team to evaluate applications and make recommendations for placement in the Virtual Academy.”
Ballenger also said that students selected to attend the Virtual Academy will not be allowed, for instance, to take two online classes and two virtual classes during a semester. “We need to be able to manage this,” he said. “You are either virtual or you are in person.”
However, the superintendent noted that CTE students would be one of the exceptions and those classes will be offered in-person for virtual students. The same is true for students who would need to come in for a biology lab, as well as students who are band or chorus members. The newly approved handbook lists the classes designated as ‘in-person only,’ he added.
Now that the board has unanimously approved the handbook and guidelines, Ballenger said WCPS will move forward on the application process and begin making them available to students. To view the handbook and guidelines, go online to: https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/warren/Board.nsf/files/C3VSEU701E51/$file/Handbook%20Draft.pdf.
The Warren County School Board also unanimously approved the addition of a $5,000 stipend for the Elementary Virtual Academy coordinator and a $5,000 stipend for the Secondary Virtual Academy coordinator to the Grade 27 Salary Scale effective July 1. Each coordinator “will be necessary in order to organize and facilitate the delivery of this program,” said Ballenger. “This coordination will be in addition to the duties of the assigned individuals.”
Additionally, the School Board approved a WCPS plan to dedicate full-time elementary teachers to the Virtual Academy program. WCPS now will add one third-, one fourth-, and one fifth-grade teacher to provide full-time instruction as part of the elementary Virtual Academy.
The School Board also approved the purchase of new textbooks. Contingent upon the availability of funds, WCPS was approved to purchase Level 1,2,3,4 Spanish textbooks for a total of just more than $53,693; Latin textbooks totaling roughly $8,000; and science textbooks for middle school, earth science, astronomy, and AP environmental science that total almost $266,488.
Among items discussed during the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, Dr. Ballenger discussed, as part of a WCPS central office restructuring plan, that he will be absorbing two central office staff positions — one administrator and one instructional resource teacher — as the school division moves into the 2021-2022 school year.
“The responsibilities of the instructional resource teacher position will be disbursed throughout the current staff,” he said. “As part of the restructuring plan, I request that the board approve a stipend of $2,500 to be given to those positions that will be included as part of that restructuring plan.”
Stipends are being recommended instead of moving individuals from the teacher pay scale to the Administrator I pay scale, said Ballenger, who noted that if it is determined that the instructional resource position needs to be replaced, then the stipends will be pulled along with the responsibilities and returned to the current position. No board action was required at this time on the item.
Browntown Historic District included in nine new sites added to Virginia Landmarks Register
A June 17 press release from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) announced the approval of the addition of nine sites around the commonwealth to the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR). Among those sites added to Virginia’s list of “places of historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural significance” is the nearly 75-acre Browntown Historic District in southern Warren County.
And since we are in Warren County, we will lead with the Browntown Historic District summary also found in the final section of the below press release:
The nearly 75-acre Browntown Historic District encompasses most of a village located in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Warren County. Browntown coalesced around the Brown–Updike Mill during the early-to-mid 1800s. The picturesque settlement took its present crossroads form after the 1874 opening of Cover Tannery, propelling its growth, which followed in the early 1900s with the establishment of stave and tool-handle factories that sustained the village economy. The historic district encompasses 80 contributing buildings, mostly houses, as well as churches, stores, barns, a schoolhouse, railroad depot, and archaeological sites.
Front Royal Moose Riders perform miracle for one Warren County High School graduate
On Wednesday, June 9th, Lisa Curtis put a post on Facebook that her son Micah was graduating from Warren County High School in Front Royal, VA. She sent this post to local motorcycle clubs and on Facebook. This post, (which can be found on the Front Royal Moose Riders page on Facebook, along with pictures and video from the event) asked the community to help her do something special for her son, Micah Jeans, who has Asperger’s (a form of Autism).
Micah was never a popular kid, he struggled with school from day one. He never went to a dance, a prom, or even had a girlfriend. When COVID hit, the family lost the on-site support that was made available to Micah, making an already difficult situation even tougher. Somehow, by the grace of God, her son graduated from high school. She wanted him to have something to remember. She asked the motorcycle community if they would be willing to give Micah an escort to school. What happened after that was nothing short of a miracle and confirmation that there are some amazing people in this world.
The post was shared all over Facebook, and they had 60 motorcycles and 2 vehicles come to escort Micah to school that morning. It was an amazing sight to see. The story had spread through not only the biker community but through the community of Front Royal as well and beyond, people made signs and hung balloons along the road to the school. It was an extremely tearful moment as they realized the amount of effort, time, and unity that had occurred. All for a kid none of them knew. People came from near and far, some starting their journey at 2:30 AM to be there by 7.
That morning he didn’t even want to go to his graduation, they rode into the Moose Lodge in Front Royal that morning and saw an amazing sight. The parking lot was full, the bikes kept coming in. She says Micah leaned down and asked, “What is all this, mom?”. She said, “They are here for you buddy!” Micah gave her a big hug as they started getting emotional. In fact, many were emotional that morning. It was absolutely amazing and confirmation that people can come together, from different backgrounds, beliefs, and reasoning, to do something wonderful for someone they didn’t even know.
All 60 bikes rode to the school, they revved engines until the principal and his peers starting coming out of the school. They all stood there watching and clapping as this large procession of complete strangers rode by. They made his day, his year, and that will absolutely be the one thing he remembers of school. The kindness of complete strangers. The world needs a feel-good story, and Lisa wanted to share it with the Royal Examiner (she’s a daily reader). She said that people who attended this event also read the Royal Examiner, and they deserve to know their efforts were appreciated.
There are many kids like Micah, and they should know that people care about them and understand their struggles, especially with their last two years of schooling under COVID-19. This story isn’t just for Micah, it is for every kid who had to fight their way through school the last two years.
People Inc. welcomes director of community engagement
People Incorporated, a Virginia-based nonprofit, welcomes Samantha “Sam” Barber as the agency’s director of community engagement. This position works towards building positive, productive relationships with community partners across People Inc.’s service area.
“Sam has a strong track record of securing support for programs and services that serve the entire community, and we are excited to welcome her on board here at People Inc.,” said President & CEO Rob Goldsmith.
“Connecting with our community fuels my energy,” said Barber. “I have a passion for service and look forward to knocking on doors and building relationships in my new role.”
Barber will focus on building partnerships in nine counties and two cities in People Inc.’s northern and central Virginia service area, including Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.
Barber is the founder and former CEO of Reaching Out Now, a nonprofit that serves under-resourced families in the Warren County public school system. Prior to joining the staff at People Inc., she served on the agency’s board of directors as part of the advocacy committee.
Barber is based out of People Inc.’s office located in Woodstock at 135 South Main Street. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VDOT: Public hearing moved to June 21, 2021 for Route 658 (Rockland Road) bridge
The Virginia Department is moving the Route 658 (Rockland Road) design virtual public hearing to Monday, June 21, 2021, 4-6 p.m. Technology issues necessitated the date change. If people attending the meeting have technical issues, please call 540-332-9075 for assistance. The original hearing date was Thursday, June 17, 2021.
The design public hearing is for the construction of a bridge on Route 658 over the Norfolk Southern Railway in Warren County. The meeting will take place in a virtual format from 4 to 6 p.m., Monday, June 21, 2021. The public can join the meeting by going to the VDOT website project page for Warren County – Route 658 (Rockland Road) Bridge and following instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use this web address to get to the project page: https://www.virginiadot.org/RocklandRoad
Please note, the entire online public meeting will be recorded and placed on YouTube.
The project creates a grade-separated crossing over the Norfolk Southern Railway on Route 658 in Warren County, near Front Royal and the Virginia Inland Port. The Rockland Road bridge project will improve Route 658 traffic flow reliability while accommodating future rail needs.
Currently, motorists randomly experience frequent and extensive delays at this railroad crossing with trains accessing this track multiple times a day. Train traffic includes trains traveling through the corridor or performing unloading operations at the Virginia Inland Port.
The Route 658 grade separation consists of a bridge 220-feet long and 42-feet wide with a minimum vertical clearance of 23 feet over the railroad tracks. The bridge height will accommodate double-stacked freight containers. Trains will pass underneath the bridge while Route 658 traffic travels uninterrupted on the bridge.
The project also includes improvements to roadway approaches on Route 658. Additionally, the project improves the alignment of Route 705 (Fishnet Boulevard) with the entrance to Rockland Park.
Construction is anticipated for December 2023 and lasts 16 months. Route 658 will be closed for the duration and traffic detoured via Routes 340/522 (Winchester Road) to the west and Route 661 (Fairground Road) to the east and north. Rockland Park will remain open to the public during construction.
In 2019, Route 658 had an average daily traffic count of 2,200 vehicles per day, and by the design year of 2046, the estimated average daily traffic volume would be 5,990 vehicles per day.
The total estimated cost for this project is $27,371,830, including $1,940,393 for preliminary engineering, $3,491,616 for right-of-way and $21,939,821 for construction. It is funded in part by a BUILD grant awarded to the Virginia Port Authority by the United States Department of Transportation.
How to connect to the virtual public hearing using the WebEx platform
On the VDOT website go to: https://www.virginiadot.org/RocklandRoad
• Follow the instructions to join the live public hearing.
How to provide comments for the official public hearing transcript. Comments can be submitted within 10 days after the meeting date.
• By Web: Use the ArcGIS Survey123 which will be accessed through the web project page: https://www.virginiadot.org/RocklandRoad
• This survey will be live on-line from June 21, 2021 through July 1, 2021.
• By Phone: Call 540-332-7848 and leave a voice mail. The message will be transcribed and placed into the hearing transcript. The phone line voicemail will be available from June 21, 2021 through July 1, 2021.
• By Email: email@example.com
• By U.S. Mail: Write to Elizabeth Jordan, Ph.D. Project Manager. Virginia Department of Transportation, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton, VA 24401-9029.
Public hearing participants should be aware that questions or remarks made via telephone or typed in the WebEx chat feature during the meeting will not be entered into the official meeting transcript. To hear or view these interactions, the public can access a recording of the entire public meeting on VDOT’s YouTube channel.
The VDOT Staunton District serves Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany, and Bath counties.
(VDOT Press Release)