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trides Sunday, feb. 24, 2013

growing together


2013 Strides

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2013 Strides


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2013 Strides

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EDITORIAL R.E. Spears III Editor Tracy Agnew News Editor Matthew A. Ward Staff Writer

ADVERTISING Sue Barnes Marketing Consultant Earl Jones Marketing Consultant Michaela Chesson Marketing Consultant


2013 Strides



25 Reasons We Love Suffolk

Table of contents

Hope Rose Classified Consultant

PRODUCTION Beth Beck Land Designer Hope Rose Advertising Design

The 2013 Strides and the Suffolk News-Herald are publications of Suffolk Publications, LLC. For more information, call (757)539-3437 or visit

Inside Strides


Abundant arts

Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch says Suffolk abounds with artists and arts appreciators. You may not be aware that your neighbor, lawyer, accountant or business associate is a painter, musician or thespian.

Land spread out so far and wide


There is an abundance of country living available that adds to the city’s appeal. A certain group of Suffolk residents wake up to that every day. For them, and many in Suffolk, it’s all about country living.


Finding a place to call home

Andy Damiani, Mr. Suffolk himself, has been many places — from Richmond to New York to Paris — but only one was worth calling home. He says that he found his permanent home and good friends in Suffolk and that you can, too.


2013 Strides

At home in Suffolk T

here is much to love about Suffolk, this city we call home. When we began making plans for this annual Strides edition last year, we quickly settled on the idea of focusing its content on the reasons we love this great city. The problem, we soon realized, would be narrowing down the list of topics. Especially for those of us who have lived in Suffolk for most or all of our lives, choosing just 25 reasons we love Suffolk would be a tall order. There were, of course, some obvious things: Schools, history, rural life and the like were Res on everybody’s short list of the Spears city’s most beloved characterisEditor tics. But we wanted to be sure that we’d given due consideration to some things that might not have been so obvious to us on South Saratoga Street, so we opened up the nomination process to our readers, posting notices on our social networking sites and in the newspaper that we wanted to know what our readers love best about Suffolk. Your responses proved invaluable to this special section. From the recreational

opportunities provided by the YMCA and the Great Dismal Swamp to the family connections that give life here its meaning to the community organizations that strive to improve the lives of Suffolk’s people, your suggestions provided the framework for this entire project, and we appreciate the thoughtful replies we received to our inquiries. We also appreciate the time and effort spent by those whom we asked to provide personal reflections on Suffolk for this section. From the beginning, we wanted this edition of Strides to be a community effort, so we selected five people who represent a broad cross-section of interests in Suffolk to tell us, in their own words, what they love about the city. They found, as we did, that the challenge was to narrow their topic sufficiently to space we had allotted them. In any effort such as this, there are bound to be many obviously worthy topics that just could not be fit within the space available. Limiting ourselves to 25 reasons we love Suffolk meant that some people, organizations, concepts and qualities would, unfortunately, not be included in this edition. If we’d had room for 50 reasons we love

Suffolk, we surely would have included discussions about the educational opportunities to be found at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Hobbs Suffolk Campus, about the city’s fine array of restaurants, about its great resiliency as highlighted by the recovery from the tornado in 2008, about some of the dedicated people who work behind the scenes to make the city a better place to live, about the peacefulness of paddling a kayak along the Nansemond River and about so many other things that have always made Suffolk home for me, no matter where I happened to live at the time. For me, that’s the No. 1 reason to love Suffolk — because it’s home.

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Serving The Area’s Agribusiness Community Since The Early 1900’s

2013 Strides


A festival for peanuts story by Tracy Agnew


uffolk may not be a county, but it has something even better than a county fair — a Peanut Festival. The peanut, which put Suffolk on the map, was first officially celebrated in Suffolk in January 1941. It included a parade, dances and balls and the coronation of a queen, with about 10,000 in attendance at the activities. The event was so popular that organizers decided to hold a similar one in October of that year. In 1978, the festival became an annual event celebrated downtown, and it included dances, concerts and a hot-air balloon festival. It moved in 1981 to the municipal airport, where it has remained ever since. Held each October, the modern Peanut Festival attracts 125,000 people from across the country for concerts, amusement rides, competitions, midway games, agricultural and historical displays, truck and tractor pulls, a motorcycle rally, fireworks and the demolition derby, which is arguably the most popular event, filling the grandstands every year. With all this fun lined up (and the usual cooperation of the weather), it’s not hard to figure out why people love the Peanut Festival, said Lisa Key, executive director of Suffolk Festivals Inc., which produces the festival. “I just think it’s the biggest outdoor event in Suffolk,” Key said. “They enjoy the rides and entertainment. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold. It’s an annual event they look forward to.” The festival, which had record attendance on the Saturday of its 2012 edition, enters its 36th year in 2013. The tradition and low cost of attendance allows visitors to remake memories year after year, Key said. “They get to see friends and family they haven’t seen in a while, and they get to get outdoors and have a good time,” Key said. “There’s no fee for admission, and you can do some things that don’t cost anything. In that way, it’s not expensive.” The festival in past years has cost only $10 for parking. Many of the special events, including the demolition derby, truck and tractor pull, fireworks and concerts, are free. “It’s like a hometown county fair, and who doesn’t love that,” Key said. Others seem to agree. The festival has garnered national accolades, including a mention in Parade magazine in 2011. “Trust us — you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the world’s only peanut-butter sculpture contest,” the magazine raved in its feature “Eat Your Way Across America: 50 States, 50 Fabulous Food Festivals.” It isn’t just the four days of the festival that makes people fall in love — a number of pre-festival events include a parade, the Queen’s Luncheon and the Suffolk Ruritan Shrimp Feast, which raises thousands of dollars for local community projects.


Peanut Fest


Drop a line 2013 Strides

The fishing’s fine in Suffolk’s rivers and lakes

“I think Suffolk is mainly known for or fishermen who don’t want to be its freshwater fishing due to the variety of limited to one or the other when it freshwater lakes that we have within the comes to freshwater and saltwater city,” Ruggiero said. fishing, don’t like to settle for a narrow The eight primary freshwater bodies, variety of species to fish and don’t like to many of which are owned by other cities, take even one season but are located in Suffolk, are Lake Burnt off, Suffolk is a rare Mills, Lake Cohoon, Lake Drummond, and special place to be. Lone Star Lakes, Lake Meade, Lake Park Ranger Prince, Speights Run and the Western Sergeant John “J.R.” Branch Reservoir. Ruggiero of the city’s “Suffolk will suit any style of fishing, Department of Parks no matter what level of expertise, from the and Recreation talked very beginner to the avid, big-water fishrecently about the fishing opportunities erman,” Ruggiero said. “We have somethat are available to folks who live in where in Suffolk to accommodate (each Suffolk. of) those needs, which makes us unique.” “The Nansemond (River) and James Smaller boats work well for the lakes, (River) are two major tributaries of while larger vessels can troll the rivers. Chesapeake Bay that both are located in Suffolk resident Billy Williams has Suffolk,” he said. lived and fished in the city for 38 years The rivers, extending through neighbor- and is now semi-retired. He enjoys the ing cities, offer Suffolk residents ready diversity of quiet, relaxing opportunities to accessibility to saltwater fishing. But the go for a few hours on a given day. point could be argued that the city’s fresh“The key thing is there’s a lot to fish water fishing opportunities make saltwater for and lot of little different places that



Fishing Spots

Both fishermen and women take advantage of the opportunities to do saltwater fishing in the James River from the Bennett’s Creek pier.

story by Titus Mohler trips something of an indulgence.

are real close by, and it’s a year-around thing,” he said. In the winter, he will fish for crappie in the lakes and catfish in the Nansemond River with longtime friend Roy Butler, also of Suffolk. “This time of year, we fish for speckled perch,” Butler said, referring to an opportunity found in the Western Branch Reservoir, one of his favorite lakes. Come spring, Williams said, both rivers offer croaker, while the lakes start to yield largemouth bass and sunfish called shellcrackers. Ruggiero said the shellcrackers are very popular, and several state-record catches have come out of Suffolk’s lakes. In the summer, Williams fishes for puppy drum in the rivers, and white perch comes into season in the lakes. Both rivers also have spot and striped bass in the fall as the lakes continue yielding largemouth bass and crappie. Even the private ponds around Suffolk give anglers a chance for a little variety, Butler said, noting that he enjoys the opportunity to go pole fishing in them without a reel.

Get Ahead Paul D. Camp Community College

2013 Strides


The Goldilocks schools SPS: Big enough to be diverse, small enough to care story & photography by Matthew A. Ward


uffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney says that maintaining full accreditation at most schools is the district’s biggest achievement of the past year. “Out of our 19 schools, we have 17 schools that maintain full accreditation, and they have maintained that over the last four, or maybe even five years,” Whitney said. King’s Fork and Lakeland high schools didn’t make full accreditation due to the new Standards of Learning math assessment, he said. “Looking at the progress that we’ve made per test, per school, is encouraging. We have roughly 35 SOL tests that we administer on a yearly basis, and roughly half of those increased as far as a percentage of students passing the test,” he added. “Overall, Suffolk Public Schools stands for continuous improvement. No matter where the student is, no matter where the school is, we strive to improve. To improve that pass rate, to improve the school, to improve individual students as well.” Whitney described the district’s size in Goldilocks terms: It’s “not so large that we don’t know everyone,” and “not so small that we have to wear so many hats that you don’t have time to maintain a personal touch.” “Administrators within our school system are very personable, to where parents feel


Public Schools

comfortable approaching them,” he said. “We still have somewhat of a communitytype environment to where everyone’s in it all together.” School administrators encourage a progressive district. For instance, they’ve introduced a community-service graduation requirement — a first in Hampton Roads — and they are allowing electronic devices in the classroom at King’s Fork High on a trial basis. “It’s a matter of recognizing the fact that our classrooms look a little different than they did — much different than they did — 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago,” Whitney said. “We know that technology is here to stay. Our job is to show them (students) how to use it appropriately.” While academics remain the core concern, in recent years, the district has worked to get more students involved in extracurricular activities, Whitney said. “I think it’s important we talk about the academics, that that stays at the forefront, but we also need to realize that when we’re preparing students for the 21st century, we want them to be able to maintain that balance where they can keep their grades to their potential, and work on the social aspect to where they are getting along with others on a club, on a team or just … being a spectator at a team event,” he said. “Football teams recently have done markedly better, and I think part of that is because we brought back middle (school) sports and students are working together more as a team. All of that plays a role when we are talking about the whole child.”

Dr. Deran Whitney, superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, describes why the school system is loved by the community. The district, he says, has maintained full accreditation at most schools, has a community feel, offers students a well-rounded experience and institutes progressive policies.


2013 Strides

Lion trainers and ordinaries

Suffolk’s people and places give it a rich history Column by Sue Woodward


hat I love most about Suffolk, of course, is the history. Here are six pieces of it that I love:

The waterways

How beautiful! I forget sometimes how lucky we are to have all this beauty around us. The Nansemond River was the first highway in what is now Suffolk. John Smith explored part of it in 1608, bringing it into written history. The creeks were also early highways. Shingle Creek was even named for the product it most often moved, those cypress shingles from the Dismal Swamp. Chuckatuck Creek was the reason for the ancient village that bears the




same name.

Colorful names

most of the last 200 years. I like that.

The train whistles

I love the colorful old names that often tell histories themselves, like Pitchkettle Road, where there actually was a huge kettle for cooking pine to make pitch or tar; Bennett’s Pasture Road, which Woodward was on part of Richard Bennett’s large land grant in the 1600s; and Sleepy Hole, which I’ve never figured out.

I love the train whistles, but not the long wait for long trains to go through town (at 10 miles per hour). Once there were six railroads, with passenger service as well as freight. Those railroads truly shaped the history of Suffolk, creating the villages of Driver, Holland and Whaleyville and smaller ones. Those railroads helped Suffolk claim to be the World’s Largest Peanut Market. The model at the Seaboard Station Railroad Museum tells some of the story.


The village of Somerton

So many families have such deep roots here. I love knowing four generations of many families. Our neighbors’ ancestors and my husband’s ancestors have been neighbors for

Though it is a shadow of its original self, this village is probably the one least changed by modern life. Somerton was bypassed more than 50 years ago by the road that is now

U.S. Hwy. 13. The village was left to live life at its own pace. The Washington Smith ordinary or inn still stands. It is where General Lafayette, great French hero of the American Revolution, stopped for refreshment on his triumphal tour of the United States in 1825. The inn is still owned by Smith descendants. I really love that.

Cedar Hill Cemetery This serenely beautiful spot tells much of the history of Suffolk and old Nansemond County. Though it is downtown, families from all over Nansemond County are interred there. Two generals, a governor, a lion trainer from a circus, people who represent all walks of life are laid to rest there. They are all the people of this place, this town that we love.

2013 Strides


humane group Organization advocates for animal companions story & photography grams like the Virginia Beach Neuter by Tracy Agnew Scooter to Suffolk several times a

year to encourage Suffolk pet owners bout six years to get their animals fixed — one of ago, a group the best ways to solve the pet overof Suffolk population problem and prevent more citizens attended an animals having to be euthanized interest meeting for because they could not find homes. people who wanted to Finally, the society conducts help protect the city’s humane education programs to teach animals. children and adults about responsible That group, and pet ownership. many others who “I’m trying to create a place where have joined during if you have a problem, if you ask us, the ensuing years, we’re going to try to help you withnow is known as the out judgment,” Thames said. “That’s Suffolk Humane Society, a force of something I’d like to work on in the about 60 active volunteers who have future.” joined together to help animals in The society funds all these proSuffolk. grams through its annual fundraiser, “I think that peo- the Mutt Strut, as well as individual ple love us because donations throughout the year. It we are a diverse also hosts one of the few pet-friendly group of people,” 5K races in the area and is trying to said Michele develop more events where animals Thames, interim are welcome. executive director of the society. “We kind of highlight how much “We all have different ideas on how fun having an animal companion can to make Suffolk a better place for be,” Thames said. animals.” Thames said the Humane Society From that interest meeting in 2006, has built partnerships with many “it just snowballed from there,” organizations and businesses in Thames said. Now, the society focus- Suffolk and surrounding cities. es on a trio of priorities — adoption “We’re in a lot of places,” Thames programs, low-cost spay/neuter pro- said. “We’re at Chesapeake Square grams and humane education. (where the organization’s foster The society partners with Suffolk cats are up for adoption). You see Animal Control to our logo in vets’ run adopt-a-thons offices. It’s all ‘They bring so much to encourage about working for animal adoption. good.” to our lives, and they theIt’sgreater Dozens of volunall worth it teers also foster don’t ask for anything. to help the anianimals that are mals, she said. It’s the least we can do up for adoption to “They bring so help the animals much to our lives, to make sure they’re get more socialand they don’t ization and expoask for anything,” not treated cruelly.’ sure to potential she said. “It’s the adopters. least we can do to The society also make sure they’re Michele Thames brings low-cost not treated cruinterim executive director of the Suffolk spay/neuter proelly.” Humane Society



Humane Society

The Suffolk Humane Society sponsors the BARKS (Books And Reading for Kids in Suffolk) program to help children become more confident readers by reading to therapy dogs. Top, Riley Gregory, 8, reads to Ginger Owen’s dog Ella, and above, 8-year-old Ciara Patton reads to Robin Smith’s dog Mocha.

A hometown festival 12

2013 Strides

Driver Days gives visitors a taste of the past ing to Parsons, is Pungo Strawberry Festival. “The major attraction is the oldone wanted it, because it was a famitizens of Suffolk don’t have town charm that we have,” he said. ily oriented event. It wasn’t like the to drive far to experience an Peanut Fest and every other place that “It’s people seeing people; I don’t authentic hometown festival — has the beer tents around. We decided think any attraction (at the festival) has the village of Driver is just down the been better than just the social occaagainst it, to keep the family atmoroad. sion.” sphere.” Last year’s festival in October was The festival seems to get new attracWith a car show, a motorcycle the 19th Driver Days, which was origi- show, bounce houses and other amuse- tions every year. This year it was the nally started by villager Craig Parker “Space Ball,” a gyroscope-like conments and activities for the children, to capitalize on a cornhole games, music, crafts vendors, traption into which folks are strapped hunting and fishing a blacksmith demonstration, Civil War and spun in three different directions show that used to at once. re-enactors and more, visitors to the take place at Sleepy festival can have a hard decision on One staple of the festival, the street Hole Park. parade, gives local schools and comhow best to invest their time. “He (Parker) munity groups a chance to reach out “Our goal is more toward the chilwanted to get the beyond their usual domains. dren,” said Parsons’ mother, Joan traffic that was “Everybody said it was the best Mayo, proprietor of Knot Hole Station. going that way,” festival organizer parade this year,” Mayo said. “People start calling in the sumKen Parsons said. “That’s when he While the hunting and fishing has mer, ‘Do you have a date for Driver stood outside in a gorilla suit and start- Days?’ The biggest one we ever had been canceled and gorilla suits are ed what he called ‘Driver Days.’” no longer the main attraction, Driver was when we had (popular ‘50s-style The festival, which usually attracts Virginia Beach band) The Rhondels.” Days has continued to endure. upward of 7,000 visitors, has someFor many Suffolk families, it’s an The only thing in the area that thing for the whole family. comes close to the country, hometown annual ritual that wouldn’t be missed “I tried to get beer incorporated into atmosphere of Driver Days, accordfor the world. story & photography it five years ago,” Parsons said. “One by Matthew A. Ward of the big things that I heard was no



Driver Days

This year’s Driver Days, like every year, attracted a large crowd of folks to the village center. A popular lineup of entertainment seems to bring people back year after year.

Training camp

2013 Strides


Youth of all abilities enjoy sports through SYAA Susan Brayshaw of Smithfield oversees the intermediate field hockey age group (9-12), he Suffolk Youth Athletic Association and she also coaches and has a 13-year is a non-profit, charitable, volunteerold daughter who plays in the league. Her run program that provides year-around description of the league’s appeal could be sports opportunities for children ages 6-18 said of all the sports that SYAA offers. in Suffolk and the surrounding areas. It was “The best thing about it, I think, is that all founded in 1981 and has since grown into the girls of any abilities can come out here one of the largest privately operated youth and play,” she said. sports organizations in Virginia. “There’s not a limit to who can and who “It’s a way to give back,” SYAA President can’t play any of the sports,” SYAA soccer Rod Taylor said. commissioner Stacy Pauley said. “We won’t Between 1,600 and ever turn anybody away.” 1,800 kids register to play “If they’re not real strong players, they feel sports through SYAA each comfortable playing here, and then they can year, which includes fall develop a love for the sport,” Bradshaw said. and spring seasons of socAs players develop more skill, they can cer, baseball and softball graduate to more challenging levels of play and a winter season of within SYAA, or they can take advantage field hockey. More than 25,000 volunteer of opportunities like training to be referees hours are required annually to make SYAA or giving pointers to younger players. Real work. friendships can also come out of SYAA, like “It’s been an amazing situation when you the one that Shelbi Holloman of Suffolk and look at — for 30 some odd years, every time Dana Crocker of Smithfield have experia game is played, every trash can that’s emp- enced. tied, every hamburger that’s cooked — (it) is “We’ve become really close just doing all volunteers,” Taylor said. this,” Holloman said of refereeing. “And Referees and umpires are the only we’re on the same team for the senior paid positions related to the association. league.” Volunteers occupy all the other positions, “I’ve got three or four girls in the Suffolk including board members, commissioncommunity that I call ‘my’ girls,” President ers, and the people who provide and utilize Taylor said. “Every time I see them, I get a equipment during the summer to mow — big hug, because I coached them. We’ve met twice weekly — the 45 acres and 25 fields some amazing people up there. We’ve develthe organization owns. oped friendships that will last a lifetime.” story & photography by Titus Mohler




Michael Clark Photo

Top, children from the SYAA Shetland league cling to the chain link fence before to a game of T-ball. Above, Arylee Clark of the SYAA Dolphins Pinto softball team waits for a good pitch.


2013 Strides

The family name Some Suffolk families have been here for centuries peared from Suffolk as actual families, now surviving only as appellations for othing beats a stroll through a landmarks whose significance newcomcommunity’s old cemetery to ers might never know without a trip to help one connect with the names Cedar Hill. of the families that built the community. Historic Prentis House on North Main In Suffolk, that hallowed ground can Street, for example, was named for a be found at Cedar Hill Cemetery in the family that arrived in the small town downtown area. of Suffolk in the early 1800s, she said, Scattered but the family is gone. The Meade and amongst the thou- Kilby families, which both have lakes sands of tombnow bearing their names? “Gone long stones and monu- ago,” she said. ments there, one “A lot of the oldest families have diswill find many of appeared,” she said. the names that are But not all of them are gone. repeated on street signs and in the names The Norfleet family has been in of buildings and lakes and geographiSuffolk since 1656, she said, and the cal features throughout the city: Prentis, family held a big reunion here some Kilby, Riddick, Pinner, Meade and many time back that brought members from as other names are etched on those stones. far away as Brazil. According to Sue Woodward, The Williams family tree has branched president of the Suffolk-Nansemond many times since Capt Thaddeus Historical Society, some of the most Williams led the Nansemond Guards, a famous of those names have disapConfederate company serving under Col. story & photography by R.E. Spears III




Daniel Atienza, M.D.



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William Mahone’s 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Williams’ descendants today, she said, include Suffolk Treasurer Ron Williams, but the family’s DNA, if not its name, can be traced to current Suffolk families with names like Brothers, Pretlow, Duke, Cross, Webb and others. The Riddick family is another prolific one with deep roots in Suffolk. “Everybody whose family was here 200 years ago has Riddick connections, I’m willing to bet,” said Woodward, whose husband’s family has lived in the same block of Main Street for most of the past 200 years. The Godwin family of the Chuckatuck area goes way back in Suffolk’s history, she said, and its most famous member was the late Mills E. Godwin Jr., who served two separate terms as governor of Virginia and now has a North Suffolk bridge that bears his name. The Rawls family of Holy Neck has dwindled in its Suffolk presence in

‘A lot of the oldest families have disappeared.’ Sue Woodward

president of the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society

recent years, Woodward said, but one of its forebears was a doctor and founder of Lakeview Hospital, now Lakeview Clinic. The Pruden name is familiar to those who travel Route 460 — Pruden Boulevard, which passes the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology — and it dates back to before the Civil War, she said. One of the things Woodward said she finds most interesting about the families of Suffolk is their interconnectedness. “Everybody who’s been here for very long is related to somebody else,” she said.

2013 Strides

Abundant creativity Column by Linda Bunch serves to build a community of

adults who understand the value ne of the things I of creativity and how vital it is love about Suffolk to our prosperity. is our vibrant arts comSuffolk abounds with artmunity. ists and arts appreciators. You It all begins with the active may not be aware that your visual and performing arts neighbor, lawyer, accountant or programs in all of our schools business associate is a painter, â&#x20AC;&#x201D; public, musician or thespian. Artists private and in our community decorate the home school. locally owned restaurants, sing Our school in our church choirs, perform at administramunicipal events and share their tions seem talents through teaching. dedicated We have numerous venues to to continuing these programs. enjoy the arts â&#x20AC;&#x201D; both traditional Like many leading business spaces, galleries and theaters, professionals, they recognize the and some not so traditional. need to develop creativity and They include not-for profit encourage expression of ideas. organizations, municipal faciliWe also have the good forties and locally owned busitune to have dedicated educators nesses. Without leaving the city who are willing to share their limits, you can view art exhibicreativity and enthusiasm for tions, take in a show or join the the arts with their students. This cast of a play, participate in



The Arts

Get Skilled Now; Benefit Tomorrow!

The Pruden Center meets the needs of students by providing career development, work-based learning experiences, industry credential opportunities, and transition agreements, thus creating a seamless transition to post-secondary education and/or high-demanding, high-wage, high-skill employment.

Isle of Wight County Schools and Suffolk Public Schools

4169 Pruden Blvd. 925-5651 1-800-831-8639 or visit us on the web at:


open-mic music and poetry nights or explore your talents through classes and workshops. What I love the most is the people who are involved in the arts in Suffolk. They are passionate about what they are doing, whether working in a studio, rehearsing in an auditorium, painting on the kitchen table or working to make sure opportunities to create and share the arts are available. They pour their souls into making what they do the best. I hope to see you enjoying the arts in Suffolk. Linda G. Bunch is the executive director of the Suffolk Art League, which is located at the Suffolk Art Gallery at 118 Bosley Ave. She is a clay artist and a board member of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Hampton Roads. Call the Suffolk Art League at 925-0448.


2013 Strides

War on the home front Suffolk had an important part in the Civil War river, throughout the war, said local Civil War buff Fred Taylor, an attorhe scene: Along the Nansemond ney and member of the Tom Smith River. Camp of the Sons of Confederate The year: 1863. Veterans. It’s the siege of Suffolk, and the “Basically everywhere along the Confederacy is fighting to regain con- river where there’s a bend, there was trol of the area. With a river and mula cannon,” Taylor said. “For as many tiple railroads lacing the rural backdrop (forts) as there are left, there’s probsurrounding the town ably as many or more that have been of Suffolk, neither destroyed.” army can ignore the The earthen forts — being, after all, area’s logistic impor- merely earth — are susceptible to erotance. sion and other forces of nature, as well A Confederate ship as development. Fort Rosecrans was rounds a bend on the probably protected because the city of river near modern-day Portsmouth owns the water and surPitchkettle Road’s Boston community. rounding land there in Suffolk, and the Suddenly, from the banks of the river, old fort has been shielded from develcomes cannon fire. opment, Taylor said. Furthermore, the The Union troops are firing from fort’s sheer size and heavy tree cover an earthen fort that will come to be have protected it from erosion. known as Fort Rosecrans. The simple “Most of them that are out there hill of dirt is actually quite sophisticat- have begun to deteriorate,” Taylor ed, with deep valleys on the shore side said. “Fort Rosecrans is probably the to allow cannons to be rolled to the top most well-preserved earthen fort in of the hill and a low moat and steep the entire Hampton Roads area, (and hill on the riverside to make an attack it) probably comes close in Petersburg unattractive. and Richmond.” It was a scene that likely played out Fort Rosecrans is among the most over and over again, up and down the inconspicuous Civil War sites in story & photography by Tracy Agnew



Civil War History

Suffolk, the kind that hides in plain sight unless an observer with a trained eye takes a 10-minute hike through the woods. But it’s far from the only important site Above, local Civil War buff Fred Taylor stands on top of Fort Rosecrans, a manmade in Suffolk. embankment designed to shelter cannons and soldiers who could attack ships There’s the artillery locat- along the river. Top, the view of Fort Rosecrans, barely visible as a mound of earth ed at modern- with trees growing on it, from across the river. day Cedar Point Golf Course; Riddick’s Folly, Nansemond and James rivers. The whence Union Gen. John J. Peck Battle of the Ironclads technically occupied Suffolk; the Confederate might not have taken place within Memorial in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suffolk’s borders, but people from and indeed the entire cemetery, where Suffolk and Nansemond County would many Confederate soldiers are buried; have witnessed it directly, and news and many more. of it spread quickly throughout the And a battle that changed the course Hampton Roads area. of naval history took place right at Taylor is biased, but he believes it the mouth of the Nansemond River, is a privilege to live among so much with folks standing and watching history. it from Pig Point, a North Suffolk “Suffolk was sort of a key in several point of land at the confluence of the ways,” he said.

Path to ‘another world’

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soon. “I expect that the Great Dismal Swamp will continue to attract visihe Great Dismal Swamp offers tors for generations,” she said. Suffolk citizens nature, history, The Great Dismal Swamp, which recreational opportunities and, even has a craft beer named after above all, a convenient chance to it, extends into northeastern North escape to another world. Carolina. “The Great Dismal Swamp is a The more than 112,000 acres snapshot into a different time and of forested wetlands, including place — when wilderness far surVirginia’s largest natural lake, the passed civilization,” 3,100-acre Lake Drummond, have Suffolk’s tourism been attracting Suffolk day-trippers development manfor generations. ager, Theresa Earles, The Great Dismal Swamp National wrote in an email. Wildlife Refuge was established “Parents enjoy intro- when pulp and paper company Union ducing their children Camp, which had acquired it from to nature and learn- the George Washington-formed ing about the ecology, wildlife and Dismal Swamp Land Company, history of the Great Dismal.” donated its swamp holdings to The Along with biking and hiking the Nature Conservancy in 1973. various trails, birders at the swamp Refuge manager Chris Lowie “especially love the sheer quantity says that in his experience, Suffolk and diversity of birds,” according to citizens either have never visited the Earles. swamp or have an interesting story to “Such a mysterious place, the tell about it. swamp is always changing and “When I go to groups (such as evolving. (It’s) a unique ecosystem Rotary, to talk about the swamp) … right here in our own back yard.” there’s always two or three people Earles doesn’t expect the swamp’s that have a story,” he said. enchanting wiles to wane any time “Either people have never been story by Matthew A. Ward



Dismal Swamp


here, or people feel they have a connection to the swamp and a story.” These two different reactions, Lowie says, attest to the fact that those who visit the swamp often fall in love with it. The swamp “allows people to reconnect with nature, which is what we used to do before … urbanization,” he said. “It has this intrinsic value to people. It takes people away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment.” “It’s a unique environment that’s right here in Suffolk,” he added. “It’s gives you solitude, because even though we get 70,000 visitors a year, that’s really not a lot when you spread it across 365 days.”

Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a large portion of which rests inside Suffolk city limits, offers visitors a chance to reconnect with nature through activities like hiking, biking and canoeing on Lake Drummond.

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The Big Game


2013 Strides

Cross-town rivalries highlight sense of community story & photography by Titus Mohler ably be long after I’m gone.”

The excitement explodes when uffolk is the biggest city in the team records are good, and is Virginia in terms of land, but still present even when they are its population is still small poor. enough that one gets a palpable “Plus, there’s a strong underlysense of coming overall allegiance to Suffolk,” munity at a cross- Young said. “I like to think the town basketball majority of Nansemond River fans game. When will root for a King’s Fork or a Community Suffolk plays Lakeland if Nansemond River is Suffolk on the out. And of course, if King’s Fork court, it’s a big is out, those fans will jump on deal. board of a Nansemond River or a “I think Suffolk has always prid- Lakeland.” ed itself in its high school basketKing’s Fork head coach Josh ball,” Nansemond River head coach Worrell underlines the special Ed Young said. “That was before I importance that basketball games got there (in 1983) and will probhold with local sports fans. “They want to plan in advance to make sure they’re there,” he said.



Lakeland head coach Clint Wright notes that for students at all three public schools, “one of the great aspects is that all of these kids grew up with each other.” He recalled the same thing of his days playing at the old John Yeates High School. “Those community-type basketball games, it was almost familycentric,” he said. Tony Smith, an assistant coach at Lakeland and a former Suffolk High School star, remembers the atmosphere. “Coming up during my time, during the ’84 to ’88 years, the crowd, it was just huge,” he said. “You fed off their energy, especially (at) the Christmas tournament.” Wright described the feeling of playing in a cross-town game. “It actually went fast, because you had so much fun, things were

A large crowd at Nansemond River High School takes in a recent showdown between the Warriors and their cross-town rivals from Lakeland High School.

going 75, 80 miles an hour, and it was one of the greatest feelings,” he said. The motivation to play well is built in, because the stakes of city bragging rights are so huge. “Every kid messes up in every game, but I tell them, ‘Hey, you can mess up and the whole city’s going to know,’” Worrell said. Young was surprised by the level of passion for local teams that can be found in area barbershops. “I’ve got a couple former players that cut hair and they tell me when it’s a big game — boy, that’s all they talk about, and the arguments are unbelievable,” he said. Worrell said this community passion creates a special platform for his current players who were avid spectators themselves while in junior high. “Now they’re in that moment,” he said. “It’s a neat concept. It’s something I wouldn’t give up for the world.”

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Special handling


WTFC and Suffolk take care of each other story & photography by Tracy Agnew


he Western Tidewater Free Clinic has never had to advertise for clients — so great was the need for its services, it has had a waiting list since before it opened. “The word had spread like wildfire,” said development director Stephie Broadwater. “As soon as our telephone number was up and running, people were calling.” The clinic provides medical, dental and prescription services to clients who have no insurance, live at or below twice the federal poverty level and reside in Suffolk or Western Tidewater. Obviously, people who receive services love the clinic, as testified to by the people who work there. “They’re almost surprised at how much we care about them,” said clinic coordinator Pam Witt. “Caring is one of the cheapest interventions you can do for somebody.” “I always hear, ‘You spend so much more time with me than my last doctor’s appointment,’” Dr. Patricia McNulty said. “The people that we see are so appreciative,” Dr. Ernest Knight, the clinic’s dentist, said.

25 Free Clinic

Dr. Patricia McNulty consults with employee Kathy Alldaffer on a patient’s chart at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. The clinic provides a range of medical services to patients in Suffolk and Western Tidewater who have no medical insurance.

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People who receive services pay nothing, although they are invited to make minimal, optional donations — usually $5 per visit and $4 per three-month supply of medication. But the services, while free to clients, aren’t free to provide. The clinic is funded by private donors and foundations like the Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Virginia Health Care Foundation. “We are completely dependent on the support of the community,” Executive Director Miriam Beiler said. The support it has received from people who don’t even need its services shows the community also loves the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. “I think part of the reason people value it is that people are concerned about their neighbors,” Beiler said. “They care about the people around them. That means something to them, even if they don’t have that need themselves.” There’s also a strong contingent of volunteers demonstrating their love for the clinic daily, working in every capacity from seeing patients to organizing files to caring for the grounds at the Meade Parkway facility. “You could pick any one of our volunteers,” Broadwater said. “They’ll tell you they get back a lot more than they give.”

The best defense 20

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Suffolk is home to a growing military community story by Matthew A. Ward


rom government installations to defense contractors to Navy families, the military has a strong presence in Suffolk, whose citizens appreciate its contributions to the community. One of those Navy families is the Purkeys of Burbage Grant. Donna Purkey’s husband, Navy warrant officer Woodrow “Keith” Purkey, returned from his last overseas deployment in January. “The ship that he’s on is scheduled to deploy again in February,” Donna Purkey said, adding that, “thankfully,” her husband is transferring to a new role and won’t be on board this time. “(But) it’s kind of like six months out and seven months home.” Purkey, whose children attend Northern Shores Elementary, has written a children’s book to help families cope with overseas deployments, titled “Miss You To Pieces.” Like so many other military families, the Purkeys, who moved from Hawaii six years ago, get a lot of support from the wider Suffolk community. “That’s one of the reasons we moved (here),” Donna Purkey said. “We knew a lot of neighbors would



be military and, if nothing else, they would understand our situation. Military are good neighbors.” A vice president for one of the larger defense contractors in Suffolk, James D. McArthur Jr., of Lockheed Martin, says the company “strategically” located its Center for Innovation to the city. Suffolk allows the organization to “leverage an ideal proximity to Hampton Roads’ multiple U.S. defense locations and the many joint and allied military commands involved with national security,” he stated in an email. “Our location here, along North Suffolk’s technology corridor, affords our researchers and technologists unique and exceptional opportunities for collaboration with decision leaders who hold responsibility for devising the operational concepts and articulating the current and future defense capabilities that help guide defense strategies.” Suffolk has small-town charm with big-city amenities close by, according to McArthur. “These attributes make working and living here a wonderful experience. The frequent flow of visitors to the Lighthouse (as the center is known) comment favorably of the area’s nearby hotels and restaurants, and their experience is an important barometer of the area that Suffolk’s citizens can take pride in.” The Purkeys, meanwhile, were on a military base in Hawaii, and Donna

Purkey now appreciates living in a civilian environment. With its strong military ties, however, Suffolk still offers support and understanding to military families, she says. “You feel a little more normal, because you’re not on-base. But then you still have that connection with your neighbors who you know are military. It’s a comfort,” she said. One thing military families in Suffolk definitely appreciate are the military discounts many businesses offer, she said. Purkey says storekeepers, sales assistants and wait staff often respond favorably to her keychain, which features her surname stitched in block

Courtesy of

Donna Purkey

letters on a piece of camouflage fabric, as if cut from her husband’s uniform. “When I get my keys out, they know I’m connected to the military,” she said. “(Another) big giveaway is the decals on our car.” “It’s almost like we get a little extra respect,” she said. “A pack of people come up to my husband and hug him and thank him for his service, complete strangers. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Tell your husband, ‘Thank you.’”

Above, the Joint and Coalition Warfighting Center in North Suffolk is the prime military installation in Suffolk. A range of military contractors and other ancillary institutions, including many military families, surround it. Top, the Purkeys, mom Donna, Ryan, 6, dad Woodrow, and Leanne, 5, are a military family from North Suffolk. Donna Purkey says the Suffolk community offers military families support and understanding, while still allowing them to feel “more normal.”

2013 Strides


Where the heart is Suffolk feels like home for transplanted family

Column by Bob Stephens along with the appeal of a safe, nur-


ome is where the heart is.” That’s an enduring statement that we often use to express our heartfelt thoughts about a place or person we love. For the purpose of this writing, the term best describes why my family and I love Suffolk, for at the center of this expression is family — immediate and extended. Nearly seven years ago, my family relocated to Suffolk from the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Laurel, Md. Prior to claiming Suffolk as “home,” during visits with relatives, we had always felt an affinity for the slower pace of life, the warm, cordial and friendly folks who seemed to be like family and the small-town feeling of being connected with others. This family-oriented environment,



turing and established community, are but a few reasons we have come to love Suffolk. For context, you should know that relocation to Suffolk was a “quality of life” choice, prompted by two significant health events, which dictated a lifestyle change. Living and working in the D.C. metropolitan area did not support my personal need for a more tranquil setting; nor did it provide the educational and social support system that we wanted for our son. We have come to love Suffolk, as it provides a lifestyle that allows us to be close to aging relatives and immediate family, to enjoy holidays without travel, to connect with extended family and to constantly make new friends — who are likely to also be family. (Since most folks we have met seem to be related, we now assume that they probably are!) Because our professions and occupations still keep us connected to the

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Bob Stephens and his wife, Karen, and son, Fletcher, moved to Suffolk from the Washington, D.C., area seven years ago.

rest of the world, Suffolk provides the “home” to which we love to return. (Karen commutes every week to her job at a law firm in Washington, D.C.) Finally, we love the Suffolk community, because it has given our son extraordinary opportunities and has provided an empowering environment during his critical development years, where having access to his grandmother, aunts, and numerous cousins and friends is an enriching and meaningful experience.

Along with its rich offerings of cultural, historical and ever-present community events and programs and its natural beauty of long country roads, waterways and tranquil environments, Suffolk provides a lifestyle that gives our family the best of all worlds. And as a family, Suffolk is the “home where our hearts are.” Robert Stephens is president and general manager of Genesis Development & Consulting LLC. Email him at


2013 Strides

Above left, Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin are large employers in North Suffolk and also contribute to the community through involvement in things like the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign. Above right, Regal Harbour View Grande 16 is a popular place of entertainment at North Suffolk’s Harbour View.

Something for everyone North Suffolk supports many diverse lifestyles Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. “I go to the (River Stone) rom entertainment, shopping, Chophouse when I want a steak,” dining and modern industry Williams said. “The Mexican restauto sleepy little villages and rants (La Parrilla and Casablanca) waterways, North Suffolk is seen as offer something a little different. a jewel in the greater city’s crown. The Japanese restaurant with hibaDeveloper Bob Williams says that chi grill (Ninja) … their lunchtime the Harbour View things are excellent. I also go to precinct has somelunch at the Broken Egg Bistro and thing for everyone. the Panera Bread. I move around a “We’ve got lot; I try to patronize them all.” amusements with Away from the vibrancy of the theater and, for Harbour View, residents of villages sporting, with the like Driver, Hobson and Chuckatuck golf course, and prefer the peaceful and nature-lovwe have shopping and we have eat- ing side of North Suffolk. ing establishments,” he said. “Most Karla Smith, president of Suffolk people in their life like to enjoy River Heritage, lives in the back amusements, enjoy playing golf, section of Hobson on Chuckatuck and just about everybody shops and Creek, and enjoys nothing more eats out.” than taking her kayak out for a The planned community is a short paddle. drive for most people in Suffolk “I would just as soon be out on and the rest of Hampton Roads. a boat sometimes than anywhere As well as entertainment, it also else,” she confided. offers “starter and move-up homes,” North Suffolk’s villages, she said, Williams said, along with job have a strong sense of community opportunities with defense contrac- and “neighborliness.” tors and installations, large com“Within the little pockets of North panies like Sysco and the Virginia Suffolk, there is a real pride in livstory & photography by Matthew A. Ward



North Suffolk

ing in that semi-suburban, rural atmosphere,” she said. “I believe the fact that we do know our neighbors, in many cases … makes a difference. You look out for your neighbor and know the young people in the community.” North Suffolk often draws back young folk who, for whatever reasons, had decided to leave, she said. Suffolk River Heritage, through book projects like last year’s “Peninsula in Passage,” works to connect new residents of North Suffolk’s proliferating subdivisions with the area’s history and cultural and natural heritage, Smith said, helping overcome the commuter suburb mentality. Other community-service groups in North Suffolk like Rotary and the Ruritans are also proactive in building stronger communities, she said. Meanwhile, North Suffolk is always moving ahead. Williams said more restaurants, shopping, educational opportunities and rental apartments are coming to Harbour View in the foreseeable future, including 1,300 jobs with three military cybercommands relocating from Virginia Beach.

‘Within the little pockets of North Suffolk, there is a real pride in living in that semi-suburban, rural atmosphere. I believe the fact that we do know our neighbors, in many cases … makes a difference. You look out for your neighbor and know the young people in the community.’ Karla Smith president of Suffolk River Heritage

2013 Strides


Ode to a Barn

By Nathan M. Richardson Throw open those doors before the hinges rust away. Catch those long shadows that mark the end of the day.

Barns of days gone by Suffolk’s rural culture nourishes many memories Column by Nathan M. Richardson


hat I like most about Suffolk is the rural culture and picturesque landscape of the farms throughout the city. I am particularly fond of the old barns that still dot the countryside. I grew up in the Buckhorn section of Suffolk and


Rural Living

spent my evenings after school and summers exploring barn lofts and fields on many of the farms in the area. One of the roads I frequently traveled on by bicycle was Indian Trail Road. The barn pictured here has been standing on Indian Trail for as long as I can remember. The red barn sits on the old Perry Farm. The property is now owned by Indian Trail Electric. The family operating the company has restored several old



structures, including the original two-room clapboard house, built in the late 1800s. Another nearby unpainted barn sits on the Ashburn Farm. Park Ashburn Jr. continues to farm the land today, in the tradition set by his father Park Ashburn Sr. Nathan Richardson is a renowned poet who frequently holds workshops and readings around Suffolk. Email him at

Patch that tin roof before it rains and the hay gets wet. Prop up that post before night falls and we forget, Where Grandpa’s tractor sits still hitched to the plow, Where his swing blade and grubbin’ hoe and the stall where that mean old sow Once broke free and chased us children clear back to the house. And the hogkillin’ that fall,  when Grandma turned her into souse. Oh paint me a picture, Oh take me a Polaroid, Oh do it before they fall, and my recollection is void.

Copyright 2008 Nathan M. Richardson

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Protecting and serving

Suffolk requires more than 500 employees to keep the 430-square-mile city safe and secure around the clock. From left are firefighter Chris Strong, fire medic Manny Franco, police officer Antonio Diggs and animal control officer Katie McLendon.

Protecting and serving Public safety agencies focus on prevention help, no matter what their needs are,” interim Fire Chief Ed Taylor hether it’s a couple getsaid. “That makes people very ting robbed in their home, comfortable.” a woman having a seiThe departments’ primary duties zure, a man whose home is on fire include enforcing the law, putting or a child who got bit by a dog, out fires and responding to medical Suffolk citizens know emergencies. But they also conduct they will get help many behind-the-scenes activities when they need it. including continuous staff improveThe Suffolk Police ment, youth and community educaDepartment and tion, crime and fire prevention and Suffolk Department more. of Fire and Rescue For the Suffolk Department of are a 500-strong force that helps Fire and Rescue, teaching fire preprotect the city’s residents, visivention to the community starts tors, animals, personal property with its youngest members. and roadways. They also work with “We try to work with our youth numerous volunteers in volunteer as much as we can,” Taylor said. fire departments around the city, “We feel like that is a good start. as well as the Nansemond-Suffolk Kids learn young, and they take it Volunteer Rescue Squad. into their adult lives.” “I think most people believe In addition to visiting schools to when they dial 911, they’ll get teach about in-school fire safety, story & photography by Tracy Agnew



Public Safety

the department sponsors the Fire and Life Safety Camp annually for children to learn about fire safety and the firefighting profession. The children take home the lessons learned and teach their parents, Taylor said. The department also goes to civic leagues and other groups to educate adults, Taylor said. Members emphasize the importance of a fire escape plan and, above all, a working smoke alarm, which Taylor says is the most important thing homeowners can do to increase their families’ chances of surviving fires. As the fire department focuses on preventing fires, rather than fighting them, the Suffolk Police Department focuses on preventing crimes, rather than just investigating them. “Overall, we had a good year

last year,” Police Chief Thomas Bennett said. “We would have been down double digits this year (in major crimes) if it wasn’t for larcenies in retail stores.” Larcenies rose, Bennett believes, partially because of the economy. But burglaries, a high area from the previous year, were down 26 percent after the city devoted two detectives to burglary investigations. The police department also works with young people through its CSI camp, which helps young people separate fact from television fiction. The two departments also coordinate on the Youth Public Safety Academy, which serves young people who are at-risk because of disabilities, disciplinary problems, living in a single-parent household or other factors.

A private education

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First Baptist Christian School becomes Suffolk Christian Academy story by Tracy Agnew


irst Baptist Christian School has been an institution in the community for 25 years, but it’s making some changes lately. The school is now its own incorporated entity and is changing its name to Suffolk Christian Academy. Three churches — Southside Baptist Church, Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church and Open Door Church — have joined its governance, which also still includes First Baptist Church, which started the school in 1988. “We’re real excited about it, because it brings a stronger base of support for the school,” said Tamra VanDorn, principal of the school. “The other churches had been asking to be involved for a long time. (First Baptist) felt … like God is moving them toward unifying with the other churches and bringing other people in to help support the school and make it a larger force in the community.” First Baptist Church started the school in 1988 and initially had only kindergarten through fourth grade. It gradually grew, and grades six through 12 began meeting at Westminster several years ago, because the First Baptist building on North Main Street was becoming crowded. The first senior class graduated in 2010. The transition was about a year-and-a-half in the making behind the scenes. Each church voted to participate, and the board held monthly or sometimes twice-monthly meetings. “This is a really exciting thing,” said Thurman Hayes, pastor of First Baptist Church. “The dream is to have a state-of-theart Christian school. We feel like that would meet a real need in the community.” VanDorn envisions a stronger school because of the larger base that can help provide support in the form of time, talents and resources, she said. “This gives the body of Christ the opportunity to work together for a discipleship school in Suffolk,” she said. Ruffin Alphin, pastor of Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church, said he sees the transition as a good thing. “We’re trying to broaden its posture, so that it’s not just seen as a one-church school,” Alphin said. “We’re getting buy-in from the community by asking the churches to get involved.” Stewart McCarter, pastor of Southside Baptist Church, said the move will help the school grow and improve. “I’m grateful that First Baptist has carried this for so long,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it really strengthening the school and providing a great choice.”

NSA students encouraged to achieve

Colley W. Bell III, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s head of school, pictured with “Bear,” says the school focuses on helping students reach their full and unique potential.

story & photography by Matthew A. Ward


ansemond-Suffolk Academy takes pride in forming students into well-rounded individuals and takes a unique approach to education, Head of School Colley W. Bell III says. “It unto itself is an unbelievable community. It’s a very special place,” he said. Bell said he believes NSA is one of Suffolk’s true regionally diverse institutions, with students traveling to the Pruden Boulevard campus from Smithfield, Franklin, Windsor, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and even from Edenton, N.C. “There are not that many schools that have that kind of diversity,” he said. NSA was founded on a strong sense of community, he said, adding, “It has a community outlook as a school. So with that, these families that have come from far and wide actually complement and meld into our mission.” NSA parent Dee Williams said the school gives her children, ninth-grader Cole and sixth-grader Samantha, the opportunity for a quality education. “It has a warm and friendly feel,” she said. “It’s just like being around friends and family when you are out there.” Bell said that a new head of Upper School this year has instituted a new advisory program to track student achievement in a more personalized way. “(It’s) having an adult who’s a real mentor and works closely with students, so it’s a holistic


Private Schools

approach; it’s not just simply classroom teachers, it’s somebody who binds that all together,” he said. New Chromebook computers have been introduced in the Middle School, and in the Lower School, all students have started learning Spanish every day, he said. “The whole field in education has changed so significantly in the last five years,” Bell continued. “We have to deal with technology, hybrid classrooms, blended classrooms. “Just the way we teach, the way we engage with students, I think is changing geometrically right now. “Every child from here goes to college — that’s been understood since we were founded. But now we’re literally telling the students (to) look beyond higher education, and that has to do with being able to learn quickly, sort of have a nimble mind, and different approaches, whether it’s with technology (or) whether it’s with a traditional classroom.” Student self-discovery has always been important at NSA, which Bell said has always focused on individualizing the educational experience. “It’s not just a grinding out to the colleges or what have you, it’s about the students finding their voice,” he said. NSA graduates stand out in the community, he said. “From day one … it’s a look-you-in-the-eye, it’s a very personal approach, yes-sir-no-sir, these sorts of old-school approaches,” he said. “It’s about being decent to one another and being aware of one another.”


2013 Strides

The country life Land spreadin’ out so far and wide

story & photography by Titus Mohler 17,209 would be in areas that I would

consider to be rural,” he said. ost of Suffolk’s population is “Once you start getting over an acre concentrated on a very small in size, you’re considered, from a zonpart of the city’s land, but ing category, to be relatively rural,” he there is an abundance of country living said. available that adds to the city’s appeal. Some families have significantly A certain group of more land than that. Scott and Alison Suffolk residents Wilson and their seven children were wake up to that living in Chesapeake on a tiny piece of every day. property that Scott described as a “one Based on the car-length, backyard privacy fence-type 2010 census, the area.” total city population Alison Wilson said they “wanted to was 84,585. Scott have a simpler life, more laid back — Mills, the director of planning and we were really in a rat race, gone a lot community development, broke that from home — and for Scott to be able number down. to eventually work his way to being “We had done some previous analy- home so we could work together as a sis back in the early fall, and I would family. And a farm kind of pulled all estimate that a population of about those things together.”



Country Life

They moved to Suffolk in 2003 specifically to have farm land, and now live on 25 acres off of Manning Road where they own and operate the family enterprise known as Full Quiver Farms. They have developed half the property so far, raising poultry, hogs, turkeys, rabbits and some grass-fed beef to sell meat, laying hens to sell eggs — and they are operating a cow share program to provide milk. “We direct-market all of our products and so being close to the other big cities — relatively close, anyway — we can kind of have the best of both worlds,” Scott Wilson said. The Wilsons now have nine children who are homeschooled, contribute to the success of the farm and enjoy the recreational opportunities of country life.

Don and Francine Johnson took the opportunity presented by their expansive 33 acres on Whaleyville Boulevard and turned it into a disc golf course called Ace Run Ranch, where in years past they have held official tournaments. For the past 13 years, they have also enjoyed the tranquil area “and I like seeing the wildlife,” Francine said. They see foxes, deer, turkeys and possum on their property. For them, and for many others in Suffolk, it’s all about country living.

Thirteen-year Suffolk residents Francine and Don Johnson stand at the end of the first hole on the Frisbee golf course known as Ace Run Ranch that they created within their 33-acre property. The hole is largely surrounded by a moat that Johnson also created himself.

Fellowship, goodwill and community service to grip the nation less than two years later, clubs sprang up across the n the brink of the Great country to serve their communities. Depression, a movement “People needed people helping started in the village of each other,” said Donald Worrell, Holland began spreading across the whose grandfather was a charter nation like wildfire. member of the Holland club and Tom Downing of Suffolk and Jack who has been a national president Gwaltney of Holland formed the in the past. “It’s just amazing how it group that would spread.” come to be known Ruritan is now the country’s leadas Ruritan when ing community service organization. they recognized the “I find it amazing something need for an organifounded in the village of Holland zation where comcould grow to 29 states and 30,000 munity leaders could members,” Worrell said. meet and discuss ways to make their Ruritan clubs don’t just have barbecommunity a better place to live. The cues and sponsor Boy Scout troops, first club was chartered in May 1928. although they do those things, too. In When the Great Depression began some places, they started volunteer story by Tracy Agnew



Ruritan Club

fire departments and rescue squads, formed local Little Leagues, even started the local water or electric utilities or brought a needed stoplight to town. “You could just go on and on,” Worrell said. “We are focused on what that community needs. Naturally, each community’s needs differ. That’s what makes Ruritan unique. It’s whatever the clubs feel the community needs most.” Ruritan clubs hold fundraisers in order to raise money for the community’s needs, sponsoring a diverse range of youth activities, community organizations and other efforts, such as giving scholarships and helping needy families. Holland and the surrounding area

have continued to contribute heavily to Ruritan. Suffolk has given five national presidents to Ruritan, three of them — including former Gov. Mills Godwin — from the Chuckatuck club. Just last year, area clubs donated more than $77,000 and 24,000 manhours to the community. As for Worrell himself, his father is a 64-year member of the Holland club, and his two sons and one of his grandchildren belong to Ruritan clubs, making his family part of a small set of five-generation Ruritan families. “It’s a great honor to see something that has progressed from a small little village in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

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Life. Well Played.

Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald

Andy Damiani salutes veterans near Cedar Hill Cemetery on Veterans Day 2012.

‘I’m finally home’ Column by Andy Damiani the city grew. It is part of Hampton


hy do I love Suffolk so much? For one good reason: I’m finally home. I journeyed from birth to my graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond and then to New York City, where I studied at Julliard. Then I performed with the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Division Band in the United States for more than three years and sold bonds to fund the war. But I never found a permanent home. When World War II ended, the band was performing at the opera house in Stuttgart, Germany, and was scheduled for redeployment back home, but I wanted to go see my grandfather, who lived in Paris. Maybe that would be home. It was a rare request to the Army; still, 11 of us were permitted discharge in Paris, provided we agree to attend school there. I found a temporary home, remaining in Paris for nine years. Then, I came back to the States and to Richmond in 1954. The firm I was working for sent me to Suffolk in 1958. I played string bass in various bands around Hampton Roads. I met my wife, the late Mary Manos, here. I realized Suffolk was a nice place to live and to work. My interest in



Roads, comprising 430 square miles, nearly half the size of Rhode Island and the largest city, land-wise, in the state. I was impressed. It is close to the opera, museums, ballet, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Major corporations were also impressed. Planters Peanuts, Lipton Tea and General Electric located here. At one time, G.E. in Suffolk made every color television in the world. A population of 47,000 in the mid 1970s has swelled to some 86,000 today. Lots of others have been impressed, too. As Suffolk grew, I wanted to be an active part of it. From 1970 until 1991, I was elected to city government, serving as mayor in the early 1980s. I helped with the consolidation of old Nansemond County and the city, accomplished in 1974. I have said Suffolk was the most misunderstood in Hampton Roads. In 1982, I explained the city is both rural and urban, suburban and village, agricultural and maritime, recreational and industrial. You choose your lifestyle and settle in your own niche. I found my permanent home and good friends in Suffolk, as have so many others. You can, too. Andrew Damiani, known to many as Mr. Suffolk or Mr. Downtown for his staunch support of the city and its core downtown area, can be reached at 539-1216.

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Above par

This scenic green is part of the private golf course at the Cedar Point Country Club, which its president and general manager Cameron Robinett described as “the only full service country club out of the five golf courses” in Suffolk.

Suffolk boasts 90 holes of golfing fun “We offer affordable golf to the average working man, and there’s here are five golf courses that something to be said for that,” he call Suffolk home, and each said. brings something slightly The Cedar Point Country Club on unique to the game. Clubhouse Drive was founded in The Suffolk Golf Course on 1964 and features a private course. Holland Road was the first public “We are the only full-service course in the city, built in 1952. country club out of the five golf Professional Golf Association Pro courses,” President and General and lessee Eddie Manager Cameron Robinett said. Luke said the “It’s not just about the golf, it’s course is special, about the other services that we because “it’s not offer, from having a restaurant, built around a hous- pool, and the tennis facility. But ing community, like really more than anything else I most of the golf think it’s the sense of community courses nowadays.” that a true country club provides. He said people appreciate the Everybody knows one another, the course’s hometown feel and that staff knows your name, they know for more than 20 years, many have your preferred tee time, they know come to the course for breakfast and what your favorite drink is.” lunch with Pam Bradshaw, the resSleepy Hole Golf Course on taurant manager. Sleepy Hole Road has a history story by Titus Mohler



Golf courses

that sets it apart. It opened in 1974 and has on its property the mansion of Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici, which serves as the clubhouse. The course, mostly secluded from houses, was also host to a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament for five years in the 1980s. Director of Golf Operations J.T. Belcher shared one of its other claims to fame. “Every year, we got the ranked number one hole in the state with the 18th hole here,” he said. “It’s a legendary hole.” The Riverfront Golf Club on River Club Drive was built in 1999 and is the only course in Virginia to be designed by Tom Doak, one of the most renowned designers in the country. “Our layout meanders through tidal marshes, and you get these spectacular views of the Nansemond

River,” Director of Operations Tim Newsom said. “So, that’s a big part of why people like to play, because it’s just so scenic.” The other part has to do with the course’s condition, as it’s “historically been probably one of the bestkept golf courses in Tidewater,” Newsom said. The Nansemond River Golf Club opened in 1999 and features what PGA Professional Mark Lambert calls a playable, championship golf course that consistently hosts major events. He cites the setting as the course’s biggest appeal, holding prime real estate that provides the ambiance similar to a Myrtle Beach, S.C., low-country course. “We’ve just got a lot of holes on the water itself — that’s very unique,” he said. “It’s a great piece of property, and I think it separates us.”

Many things to many people

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story & photography by Titus Mohler ent schools via its after-school programs, the members, and everybody’s there to


he YMCA has become a standardbearer for positive community impact in Suffolk. The association known as YMCA of South Hampton Roads has three simple things it tries to inspire in people: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. “I don’t think there’s a Y in this association that meets those three to the depth and level that Suffolk does, and I say that very confidently,” YMCA district vice president Rick Matthews said. The YMCA has around 12,000 members averaging 240,000 visits a year to the two main facilities in the city — the Suffolk Family YMCA on Godwin Boulevard and YMCA Camp Arrowhead on Kenyon Road. However, the Y also has a presence at eight differ-



and it also conducts off-site sports activities. Matthews said he thinks the YMCA is cherished by Suffolk residents because it is able to meet a melting pot of different needs. “For you it may be fitness, for somebody else it may be childcare, for somebody else it may be sports, for somebody else it may be a safe haven to get away from a spouse that’s abusing them,” he said. “It may be a place for a single mom to send her kids while she works two jobs.” Operations Director Matt Lewis said that — more than just a gym-and-swim — the Y is “a place where you come and you just feel good.” When members describe what they like about the organization, they mention the uplifting atmosphere. “Everybody’s friends,” four-year member Arleen Tisdale said. “The members become friends with each other, and the staff becomes friends with



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help each other out. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody here that I don’t like.” “You feel like you’ve got your second home,” she said. “The people that work here and the instructors really make the place,” fiveyear member Owen Reece said. Tisdale uses the childcare offered and takes group exercise classes on land and in the pool. Reece is part of the Y-Change program that teaches participants about nutrition and fitness and includes exercise sessions. Demetris Scott, 23, has been a member since he was little and enjoys the positive environment, recreation and the volunteer opportunities the Y has during special events. “It’s a great place to be,” he said. “It keeps your head focused, it keeps you positive, it’s just great all-around.” “The members speak for themselves,” Matthews said. “They’re voting with their feet. If not, this place wouldn’t be nearly what it is today.””

Kendrick Ammons and his mother, Kimberly, participate in Toddler Time, one of the many features of the YMCA that meets the needs of families in Suffolk.


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Generously giving

Cheer Fund helps fund Suffolk Toys for Tots program story & photography by R.E. Spears III State Corporation Commission.


eople with big hearts help fill a community with love, and each year around Christmas — for more years than anyone can quite recall — Suffolk’s big-hearted residents, businesses and community organizations have banded together in an effort to make sure that even the city’s poorest children have a chance to experience that love. The Cheer Fund was started by the Suffolk News-Herald sometime last century — during the Great Depression, it is believed — and initially provided money for clothing and food for needy Suffolk residents. Over time, its mission changed to providing money to purchase toys for children who might otherwise find nothing under the tree on Christmas morning. Money raised through the effort goes directly to the Toys for Tots organization, which purchases and distributes toys to families of boys and girls in Suffolk. During the 2011-2012 collection effort, more than $33,000 was raised. All but about $50 is used to buy toys, which are then distributed at toy-shopping events sponsored by the Suffolk Unit of the Salvation Army to families who have been identified and qualified by the Salvation Army and the Suffolk Department of Social Services. The only non-toy cost for the effort is the expense of an annual filing with the


Cheer Fund

John Woleben sits among some of the toys that were donated during the 2012 Toys for Tots collection effort in Suffolk. Each year, the Suffolk News-Herald’s Cheer Fund raises thousands of dollars in donations to contribute to the local Toys for Tots program.

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At the heart of the effort are volunteers like Cheer Fund Board of Directors president Frank Rawls, a Suffolk attorney who has been involved with the project for years. Rawls coordinates the campaign to solicit donations through letters, phone calls and face-toface meetings with potential donors. “The need is as great or greater than ever,” he said in late 2012, as the collection drive began. “Essentially 100 percent of every dollar given is available for the purchase of toys. In terms of bang for your buck, it’s fully there. Please give generously.” It’s a call to generosity that hundreds of individuals and groups around Suffolk take to heart each year, one that results in thousands of smiling children’s faces on Christmas morning. In 2011, the Cheer Fund donated the money that bought toys for 5,260 children. For John Woleben, a Suffolk insurance agent who serves as the Toys for Tots program director for Suffolk and who is also the man who collects donated toys and sometimes distributes them as late as Christmas morning to families that were missed in the original distribution effort, there’s a simple motivation for the effort, which consumes much of his personal and professional time each year, especially around Christmas. “It’s all about the kids,” he said. “You see the look on the children’s faces when they get a toy at Christmas.” The Cheer Fund accepts donations year ‘round. Donations may be given by check made out to the Cheer Fund and mailed to the Suffolk News-Herald, P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439.

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25 reasons we love Suffolk, Va.