Tag Archives: Staunton News Leader

Heightened concern regarding Muslim incident takes toll in Augusta County, closes schools

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Augusta County schools were unexpectedly locked down late Thursday after regular classes concluded, and all after-school activities were canceled including sports events and a holiday concert at Wilson Memorial High School. Parents received automated phone calls notifying that Friday classes, the last day before holiday break, were canceled.

The move came after the rural area located in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia unexpectedly found itself in the middle of a fire storm of controversy after a world geography class at Riverheads High School caused concern among some parents. Students were asked to participate in a calligraphy lesson writing the Muslim statement of faith, a lesson that has not settled well with some in the community. Conservative news outlets picked up on the controversy and news of it has spread across the country.

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News Leader editorial: ‘Grateful for Emmett Hanger’

Emmett Hanger

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

By Lynn R. Mitchell

At noon on a day in May earlier this year, I sat in a make-shift political office in Staunton waiting for Augusta County’s State Senator Emmett Hanger to meet and work on our schedule as we approached the upcoming June primary. By the time I saw him, he had already attended a breakfast with local business folks followed by another meeting, while returning phone calls in between.

A typical day was filled with conversations with fellow legislators, traveling his 24th senate district that extended from Staunton north in the Shenandoah Valley and over the mountain to Cupeper and Madison, and grassroots activities, and a hospital recognition and stopping to say hey to folks in a local eatery. While making his way to a table in a local restaurant, he would be greeted with, “Hey, Emmett,” and handshakes and smiles and recognition as the hometown boy who went to Richmond and did well.

That is the Emmett Hanger most voters in his district know and respect, someone who stands up for them in Richmond — Republicans and Democrats, he represents them all the same — and folks from all walks in life. He has family all over the place and no matter where he goes, there is someone to smile and call out the familiar “Hey Emmett,” greeting.

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Augusta County: Tuesday’s special election cost $30,000 for 346 voters

Augusta County mapBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Tuesday’s special election in Augusta County caught most voters unaware and so there was a tiny turnout for one unopposed candidate. Now we have the numbers of how much that cost.

Here’s what I wrote Tuesday toward the end of the day:

Raise your hand if you didn’t know there was a special election today in Augusta County. Better yet, raise your hand if you did know because that would be far less hands. According to reports, there was a pitiful turnout for the uncontested contest — as in six voters by 6pm in Churchville, according to a source in the area. Six voters since 6am.

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Augusta County Library branches offer free Internet service

Augusta County Library 2By Lynn R. Mitchell

Unable to access Internet in their rural homes, many Augusta County residents have resorted to the Augusta County Library where free WiFi connections are available at the five locations — Fishersville, Middlebrook, Churchville, Craigsville, and Deerfield.

A feature article in Sunday’s News Leader highlighted the difficulties faced by those who live in the scenic yet electronically remote areas of the county (see Dead zones: Cell, Internet service woes by Megan Williams):

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Dennis Burnett scholarship will make sure he is not forgotten

Dennis Burnett

Dennis Burnett (1964-2014)

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Dennis Burnett passed away in October leaving behind not only shocked family and friends but also a shocked community that could not believe the vivacious, fun-loving 49-year-old was gone (see my Remembering Dennis Burnett 1964-2014).

But his legacy lives on. A scholarship fund in his name at his alma mater Blue Ridge Community College has raised over $16,000 on its way to a goal of $100,000.  Read more from reporter Megan Williams at the News Leader (see BRCC has raised $16,5K for Dennis Burnett scholarship).

Dennis Burnett. He is gone but through this scholarship he will not be forgotten.

 

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Emmett Hanger’s district chairs go legal route to convention him

By Lynn R. Mitchell

A group of Republican leaders in the region plan to challenge the state law that gives state Sen. Emmett Hanger the authority to decide the nomination method if he chooses to run for reelection.

Hanger, R-Mount Solon, has not formally announced his intentions for next year’s General Assembly elections, but has indicated that he’s likely to run again.

Supervisor Marshall Pattie and businessman Dan Moxley have declared their candidacies to challenge Hanger for the Republican Party nomination to run for the 24th Senate District seat next year. Both are expected to challenge Hanger on his conservative credentials.

State Senator Emmett Hanger, who has indicated he will probably run for re-election but has not made a formal announcement, has two challengers (to date) and now is also being challenged on the nominating method.

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Panhandling banned in Augusta County

David KaraffaBy David Karaffa
Supervisor, Beverley Manor District, Augusta County

It is now unlawful for someone to stand on the side of the road, hold a sign, and accept money from motorists. At the October 22, 2014, public meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, a new Panhandling Ordinance was passed.

I supported this ordinance for Augusta County. I don’t believe it is a safe practice to have individuals standing on the side of the road disrupting traffic. Far too many times I have witnessed folks walk out in front of vehicles causing delays and sudden stops in traffic that created an opportunity for accidents.

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Augusta County’s Dennis Burnett passes away – updated with obit, memorial service

Dennis Burnett

Dennis Burnett (1964-2014)

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Dennis Burnett, the sunny, all-smiles, friendly and outgoing executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, a position he took over on September 1, 2013, and former Economic Director for Augusta County, Virginia, has passed away from a brain aneurysm. He was 49.

As news of his passing spread through the community on Tuesday, there was a shock to all who knew the gregarious man who worked at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave before taking on the economic issues of the area.

In August he was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Manufacturing Development Commission.

A fixture at Augusta County supervisor meetings and throughout the economic and tourism community, it’s hard to come to the realization that we will no longer see Dennis, reading glasses jauntily propped on top of his head, smiling and laughing at events in the area. What a loss.

Friends are leaving condolences and remembrances on his Facebook page. While all are poignant and touching, one written by Deona Landes Houff stood out:

At 4:30 p.m. today I realized I’d never had lunch. I had been too pre-occupied with Dennis. He was such a supporter when I published eightyone, and I know many a business person can say the same about Dennis’ help with their endeavors. What an amazing man. I have funny memories, too. Don’t we all?

When I got home from work, I headed to the basement and dug out the old eightyones. I first interviewed Dennis in 2000 for a story on the airport. Gerald Garber’s thoughts at the time: “Dennis reminds me of a wind-up toy that has a extra strong spring. It’s just a breath of fresh air to have someone that exuberant in their job. He just doesn’t give up. I think it’s easier to say yes to him than to say no.”

I also interviewed Dennis in 2005 when he left the airport for Colgan. I headlined that little story “Hot Air.” Ha! Get it? The first line was “Dennis Burnett can talk. Ask anyone who’s ever met him. Heck, ask him.”

Elsewhere in the piece, he shared these words of wisdom: “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

And here’s the last paragraph of that story:

“Does he like his new job? ‘I ab-so-lute-ly love it,’ he declares. When accused of loving everything, he cops to it. ‘I do love everything. I’d have a good time in a shoe box.’ ”

Dennis, to you tonight, I raise my a glass and eat a good supper, extra salty with tears. And worry not. I’ll have dessert. We all love you. We are better, as a community and as individuals, for having known you. Thanks, Dennis. For everything.

Our thoughts and prayers go to his family as they try to make some sense of this unexpected loss. As arrangements are announced, they will be posted here.

MORE ABOUT DENNIS in the articles Cherish sunsets, friends, and memories … ‘the moment might be gone too soon.’ and Remembering Dennis Burnett 1964-2014.

UPDATE #1: Among the dozens and dozens of comments left on Dennis’ Facebook page — all touching and remembering a man who radiated warmth and kindness, was this one from Tara Todd, photojournalist and reporter with NBC-29. Her retelling of Dennis’ anecdote about the “dash” in our lifelines really hit home for me:

I am so sad tonight… like so many of us who knew Dennis Burnett.

I got to know Dennis over years of interviews. A sharp dresser, always with a smile, boundless positive energy and for nearly a decade still offering to carry my tripod. Dennis was the kind of person that you just felt better being around.

I’ll never forget something Dennis told me. He said when you look at a headstone it always has a person’s birthdate, a dash, and then the day they died. He said the part that matters is the dash.

Dennis, your dash was entirely too short, but it was impressive!!! I will miss you!

“The part that matters is the dash.” What a reminder to make your dash count….

UPDATE #2: Valley Partnership director dies unexpectedly by Laura Peters at the News Leader.

UPDATE #3: From reporter Laura Peters: “His family has established a memorial fund with the Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation in his name. Burnett attended BRCC and was a member of the foundation’s board of directors. Contributions may be made to the Dennis Burnett Fund, c/o BRCC Educational Foundation, P.O. Box 80, Weyers Cave, Va., 24486.”

UPDATE #4: Political reporter Bob Stuart has a wonderful article about Dennis’ professional side in the News-Virginian (Local residents mourn loss of economic development leader) and how he brought badly-needed jobs to Augusta County. Talking with local leaders, Stuart included this from Supervisor David Karaffa:

There are stories about Burnett’s commitment to people. Beverley Manor District Supervisor David Karaffa said he first came to know Burnett when he was running for a supervisors seat in 2011.

Burnett introduced himself and “would answer my questions.” Once elected to the board Karaffa said he would bombard Burnett with questions. “I had a million questions. He would come over to my house after hours and go over something with me even if it wasn’t in my district,’’ he said.

UPDATE #5: Shenandoah Valley Partnership director dies at 49 by Sean Cudahy and Tara Todd, NBC-29.

UPDATE #6: Honored to have WHSV AM 550 use my post in their tribute of Dennis: Dennis Burnett Remembered.

UPDATE #7: Valley Economic Development Leader Dies, WHSV  TV-3

UPDATE #8: Chris Graham at Augusta Free Press has an endearing remembrance of Dennis that taps into the exuberant man whom we were lucky to have known (see Dennis Burnett: A bright light extinguished too soon): “Dennis Burnett cannot be gone. He would be a bright light on a star in the sky; he could serve as a source of energy power for a small town. People like that don’t die; they don’t even fade away.”

UPDATE #9: Staunton News Leader Editorial: Grief for a gifted man that began: “Dennis Burnett was gifted. Positive, solutions-oriented, generous and gregarious, he shared those gifts with this community in economic leadership roles that helped us survive the recession and recover.”

UPDATE #10: Obituary for Dennis….

Dennis O. Burnett

Dennis Owen Burnett, 49, of Staunton passed away unexpectedly Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Born Nov. 9, 1964 in Waynesboro, he is the son of Vernon M. Burnett and the late Mary (Mills) Burnett. On Nov. 7, 1987, he married the love of his life, Cynthia (Quick) Burnett. The two shared a blessed union of 26 years together.

Dennis was a graduate of Fort Defiance High School. Following high school, he attended Blue Ridge Community College and currently served on the Board of Directors of the BRCC Educational Foundation. He was currently serving as Executive Director of Shenandoah Valley Partnership. Being an active member of the community, Dennis was involved with the Greater Augusta United Way, Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Staunton-Augusta, International Economic Developers Council, Virginia Economic Developers Association, Virginia Agricultural Directors Association, and the Virginia Manufacturing Development Commission.

In addition to his mother, he was preceded in death by his sister, Patsy Painter; father-in-law, Harry A. Quick III; nephew, Christopher Norene.

In addition to his loving wife and father, survivors include his sisters, Denise F. Brugler and husband, Tom, and Sandy Skillman Rooney and husband, Mike; brothers, Larry A. Skillman and Michael J. Skillman; mother-in-law, Charlotte Quick Hodge; brother-in-law, Jeremy Quick and wife, Teresa; sister-in-law, Brenda Norene and husband, Kevin; as well as a number of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and extended family.

A private service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, for family only at the Waynesboro Chapel of Reynolds Hamrick Funeral Homes, 618 W. Main St. A public memorial service for friends, colleagues, and the community will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences/Mary Baldwin College, 100 Baldwin Boulevard, Fishersville, VA.

In lieu of flowers, those desiring may make memorial contributions to the Dennis Burnett Fund, c/o BRCC Educational Foundation, P.O. Box 80, Weyers Cave, Va., 24486 or a charity of your choice.

Relatives and friends may share condolences and memories with the family online by visiting http://www.reynoldshamrickfuneralhomes.com.

UPDATE #11: Bob Stuart, political reporter with the News-Virginian, covered the memorial service (see Hundreds remember economic development leader Burnett).

UPDATE #12: Laura Peters with the News Leader also covered the memorial service (see Hundreds mourn Burnett’s death).

 

Cross-posted at SWAC Girl

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Augusta County: Let’s talk school funding

David KaraffaBy David Karaffa
Supervisor, Beverley Manor District, Augusta County

[Recently the Staunton News Leader had an article written by reporter Megan Williams that had many inaccuracies. I was extremely disturbed by what I read due to the fact that the article painted a false picture of how Augusta County schools are funded. Information has been sent to her with the facts, and a correction was printed in the Thursday, October 2, 2014, edition of the News Leader. This article has been updated since its original post.]

“Facts are Stubborn Things” — John Adams

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Augusta County’s ‘Chapstick Girl’ has gone viral, AP, Fox News calling – UPDATED: School board responds

Karaffa, GraceBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Ten-year-old Grace Karaffa’s common sense question asking why it is against Virginia’s Augusta County School Board rules to carry Chapstick to school has gone viral. Now Fox News has come calling.

Grace attended last week’s school board meeting armed with petitions that included over 200 signatures asking that they reconsider the rule prohibiting students from carrying lip balm to school. She has become the Shenandoah Valley’s “Chapstick Girl.”

I wrote earlier this week (see Grace Karaffa, 10, petitions Augusta School Board to allow Chapstick in schools):

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Grace Karaffa, 10, petitions Augusta School Board to allow ChapStick in schools

Karaffa, Grace 2

Grace Karaffa

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Augusta County Supervisor David Karaffa, 30, had better watch his back. He has political competition from within the four walls of his own home. Karaffa’s ten-year-old daughter Grace petitioned the Augusta County School Board at their Thursday night meeting to have the school system’s ChapStick policy changed. ChapStick in Augusta County is categorized by the school system as a medication.

Armed with petitions that held more than 200 signatures, Grace attended the meeting to address representatives and presented her position asking school officials to allow students to have possession of the regular, non-medicated lip balm at school.

WHSV TV-3 was there and picked up her story for their broadcast (see video of school board meeting). Political reporter Bob Stuart was there for the News-Virginian (see Student’s chapped lips lead to policy change request).

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Military jet crash: Search continues through the night

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Local newspapers are covering the military fighter jet crash in western Augusta County with reporters on the scene interviewing and photographing events.

Reporter Bob Stuart spent most of the day in the crash area and filed this report with the News-Virginian (see Search continues for missing pilot):

As part of a program to upgrade earlier model aircraft, the plane was en route to New Orleans to get a new radar system when it went down.

At the Staunton News Leader, Brad Zinn, Laura Peters, Megan Williams, and Calvin Trice contributed to the continuing coverage (see Search for pilot to continue through the night):

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NL’s Calvin Trice: ‘Approval, well wishes for Afton popcorn vendor’

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Ronald King addresses BZA as Carrie Eheart listens.

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Staunton News Leader reporter Calvin Trice has a great article about Thursday’s Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing where Ronald King, owner of King’s Gourmet Popcorn on Afton Mountain, appeared to request a permission to continue his business (see Approval, well wishes for Afton popcorn vendor). Calvin wrote:

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Immigrant children issue comes to Augusta County

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Video courtesy of Dan Sullivan.

The immigrant children crossing America’s southern border have been in the news for weeks but now the issue has come to the Shenandoah Valley. (See Valley protesters question cost of sheltering immigrants and 14 facts that help explain America’s child-migrant crisis.) Today at LynnRMitchell.com, we are taking a look at the issue.

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Augusta County: Myers Corner development plans 2.5-mile bike-walk trail

ConstructionBy Lynn R. Mitchell

The news of a two-and-a-half mile biking-walking trail in Augusta County is welcomed in an area that is becoming increasingly developed around Augusta Health Hospital. The trail, as reported Tuesday by Staunton News Leader reporter Calvin Trice (see 2.5-mile trail planned for Fishersville area), would begin at Rt. 250 across from the entrance to the Wilson Complex and continue past the hospital and across I-64 to Expoland.

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