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Autumn Days 5K shows strong attendance

A brisk October morning saw the annual Galax Autumn Days 5K Run return to full swing. According to Galax Rec Center Director Tony Quesenberry, “We had over 20 more participants than in 2021.” Points of interest among the results include Rebecca Johnson, who is a four-time winner; and Brian Ulrich, earning his first win. The race was co-sponsored by the Galax Parks and Recreation Department and Twin County Regional Healthcare.


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Grayson voters choose council members

Election night in Grayson County saw a couple of upsets in town council elections, with voters choosing to replace two incumbents with challengers.

The results in this article are based on unofficial totals from the Virginia State Board of Elections and local registrars. Absentee and mail-in votes were still being counted as of press time for this edition, but these are the results from in-person voting as of the afternoon following Election Day.

See upcoming editions of the newspaper for final results.

Independence

One incumbent and two newcomers will join Independence Town Council, based on the early results from the Nov. 8 general election.

There were four candidates (two incumbents and two challengers) for three seats this year, with two currently serving council members choosing instead to run for mayor.

Buddy Halsey, who has served on council for more than two decades, was re-elected with 23.6% of the vote.

Expected to join council starting in January are newcomers Mark Miller, who received 27.8% of the vote (the most of all four candidates) and Joan Collins, who received 25.7%. This would be the first public office held by each.

Incumbent Tom Maxwell, who now serves as vice mayor, appears to have lost his bid for re-election, earning 20.6% of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon.

The unopposed race for Independence mayor was somewhat bittersweet.

Butch Reeves, the current mayor, is retiring in December at the end of his term. Former council member Jeff Miller and incumbent council member Ronald Sexton were vying for the position. Miller passed away in October, but it was too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.

Sexton won on Tuesday with 60.4%, but Miller still received 33.6% of the total, likely from voters unaware of his passing.

Fries

In Fries, voters chose a mix of old and new faces to serve on town council.

There were 10 candidates for seven seats this time — six incumbents and four challengers. The seven receiving the most votes will take office starting in January 2023.

According to preliminary totals as of Wednesday afternoon, the seven candidates receiving the most votes were incumbents Jo Ann Gunter (12.3%), Cynthia Grant (10.9%), Yvonne Burr (10.2%), Richard Hawks (9.7%) and Bill Davis (8.7%); and newcomers Junior Young (12.8%) and Johnny Dickson (12.7%).

Candidates who appear to have lost their bid include incumbent Frances Boone (5.5%), fomer council member Terry Akers (8.1%) and newcomer James Dowell (6.9%).

Incumbents Richard Farmer (the current mayor) and Nancy Hawks did not seek re-election.

As is tradition, town council members will choose a mayor from among their members, then appoint a citizen to fill that member’s seat until the next election.

Troutdale

In the Town of Troutdale, nine candidates ran to fill six seats on town council.

According to the preliminary figures from the state board of elections, the winners included incumbents Tina Michelle Delp (13.1%), Gary E. Tilson (13.1%), Scott Lee Cornett (12.8%), Ira K. McGrady Jr. (12.5%) and Deborah R. Cornett (12.2%); and newcomer Samuel J. Pennington, 11.9%.

The three candidates who appeared to have lost their bids included challengers H.M. “Mike” Leake (7.7%), Dawn G. Leake (7.4%) and Sean R. Baston (4.3%).

William C. Mitchell was unopposed in seeking re-election as mayor, and received 95.8% of the vote.

Savanna Shea Cornett, also unopposed, received 93.7% of vote to become the town’s new recorder.

Updated election results can be found online here: tinyurl.com/3udrexpx.


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Citizens petition to save trees

At least one Galax resident isn’t giving up the existing downtown trees without a fight.

Newcomer Dave Bremmer, who bought the Doctor’s Inn and the Dannelly House, has started a petition to save the remaining trees after two on Grayson Street were cut down by the city.

“Maybe I’m the only one,” who wants them saved, Bremmer said, “but I don’t think so. We’ve gotten a lot of traction. I think the trees are the best part of downtown, and I think the council needs to hear from the citizens on it.”

City Manager Barry Moore, the driving force behind their removal, said that after consulting with the crew working on repairing and strengthening the stormwater system, it became clear that the trees’ roots are interfering with the lines, and generally causing infrastructure damage, like buckling the sidewalks and creating cracks in the road.

Moore proposed trees set into planters as replacements, noting that when they became too rootbound, they could be removed and replaced with less effort, and would not be able to cause damage.

He speculated about using arborvitae, hardy evergreens that do not offer much spread or shade, unlike the existing golden rain and honey locust species, but thrive well in planters.

Former City Manager Keith Barker noted that the trees were already there when he took the position in 1992, and said he thought they’d been planted somewhere in the mid-1980s as part of a downtown improvement project.

He mentioned that concrete slabs had been placed around some of the trees’ root systems underground; it’s not clear if they’re helping to contain the roots as planned.

But Bremmer, newly transplanted from Washington state, said that the beauty of the downtown area, in particular its shade trees, was one of the reasons he wanted to move across the country and make Galax his home. “I want to just do something that’s not going to destroy our downtown,” he said, adding that he believes planters “would destroy the look of the downtown. And our sidewalks are only 8 feet wide; a planter would create a bottleneck.”

So far, the petition has gotten “a tremendous response for a small town,” he said. “I handed out some out at local businesses today and I would say got probably at least 500, if not more, signatures.”

Bremmer said he spoke to downtown motel owners, who hadn’t heard about the situation. “They weren’t aware that it was going on,” he said. “They were like, ‘They can’t do that! The customers pay 8% on their bill for tourism and what do they get for this amount? They want to tear down our trees?’ They were incredulous.”

“One of the things that this city has going for it is its picturesque little downtown, and it would no longer be picturesque if we took the trees down,” he continued. In his opinion, “We have no buildings of historical significance. I think it would drastically hurt our tourism industry if we pulled them down and did not have a plan in place to replace them.”

Regarding infrastructure damage, Bremmer said he’d gotten in touch with an arborist from North Carolina, who came up, walked Main Street and gave some suggestions. Bremmer also said he did a virtual tour of Main Street with a friend who’s employed as an urban planner.

“Some of the trees do need to come out,” he said, in reference to trees that are already dying or may be directly causing problems, “but do it in a manner that will not destroy the character of the downtown area. Maybe if you get the professionals in and look at it, they’ll say, ‘It’s gotta go, but do it on a 10-year plan.’ ”

Bremmer plans to be at the Galax City Council meeting on Nov. 14. “I have encouraged people, ‘Go down and let your voice be heard,’ ” he said. “That’s what democracy’s all about. I’m not trying to make waves in the town, I just think it’s important that we have a talk about what we’re passionate about, and those trees to me are what makes our downtown.”

How To Get Involved

If you would like to sign the petition to save the remaining trees in downtown Galax, copies can be found at several downtown Galax stores, including New River Trail Outfitters, Tizzy Lizzy Dog Grooming, The Galax Smokehouse/Q-Pigs, A Place in Time Antiques, Gardner’s Pawn Shop, Babyland Boutique, Canton Chinese Restaurant, Phoenix Graphics, N2U (both locations), Willow Bee Apothecary, The Doctor’s Inn and Wreckmaster Towing and Recovery. The Galax City Council meeting will be held Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in council chambers, 111 E. Grayson Street, second floor.


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Griffith sweeps Twin Counties
  • Updated

Morgan Griffith

Taysha DeVaughan

U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith appears to have swept the competition in the Twin Counties on Nov. 8, in the incumbent Republican’s bid for re-election against Democratic challenger Taysha DeVaughan.

Griffith held his 9th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to preliminary results Tuesday evening from the Virginia Department of Elections.

The 9th District encompasses most of Southwest Virginia, including Carroll and Grayson counties and the City of Galax.

In Carroll County, Griffith gained a grand total of 8,049 votes (85.4%) compared to DeVaughan’s 1,374 (14.5%).

Totals were similar in Grayson County, with Griffith taking 4,370 votes (81.7%) against DeVaughan’s 975 votes (18.2%).

DeVaughan fared a little better in Galax, where she had 388 votes (24.7%) to Griffith’s 1,182 votes (75.2%)

As of press time of Wednesday, votes were still being tallied by election officials. With 98% of precincts reporting, Griffith had a total of 180,041 votes (73.5%) in the district, compared to DeVaughan’s 64,852 votes (26.5%), according to the Associated Press.

Overall, many races across the country were too close to call at press time to determine whether Republicans or Democrats will control the U.S. House of Representatives starting in January.

See upcoming editions of The Gazette for final vote counts in this and other races.


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Gravely named caregiver of the year

The life of a non-professional caregiver is frequently not easy. People who take on the role usually do it for family, due to medical or housing emergencies and without benefit of training or outside help.

Senior Home Share sponsored an event to honor local caregivers in just such positions, nominated by friends or family and recognized at a Community Caregiver Luncheon at Cornerstone’s Acts 2:42 Center.

They also awarded one of the nominees the title of Caregiver of the Year. Prizes for all nominees were a copy of “Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul.”

“This doesn’t mean that one caregiver is more important or did a better job or had a harder struggle,” noted Senior Home Share owner Jackie Fox. She said that while everyone deserved the title, they chose the story that spoke to them the most.

The full list of nominees included Martha Bowers, Audrey Coleman, Lynn Gravely, Mike and Reida Jennings, Mike and Janet Jones, Ciera Kenny, Debbie and Bill Lanter, Vance Lineberry, Jessica Luper, Venessa McNeill, Marcus Ogle, Linda Organ, Udale Reed, Della Russell, Lora Felts Tober, Jimmy Waller, Kathy Williams and Josie Wooten.

Not all were present, but all received applause. A plaque was given to recognize the winner: Lynn Gravely of Woodlawn.

Gravely was nominated for the honor by her sister, Michelle Corso. Corso, along with another of Gravely’s sisters, Valinda Hawks, and their nephew, Chris Coffin, were present at the luncheon.

Fox read Corso’s nomination of her sister to the assembly: “ ‘She has the heart to do what she does. She took care of our mother until her passing seven years ago. Since her passing, she took on one of my sisters who was struggling with drug addiction and homelessness. She [the sister] is now living on her own.’ ”

Fox continued in Corso’s words, “ ‘Lynn then took on my other sister, who has special needs. She lives with her now, and she cares for her daily, making appointments, meals, personal hygiene — you name it, she helps her. Lynn interceded on behalf of our great-niece, who at the age of 5 was nonverbal due to extreme neglect and abuse. Lynn has custody of her now, and she is thriving, able to talk and communicate.’ ”

Gravely also, according to Corso, took her elderly mother-in-law into her home to care for, and the woman is improving and thriving now.

Gravely does what she does mostly under her own power, as her husband’s job has him away for long stretches, said Corso, and all for free.

“ ‘That is her heart,’ ” read Fox. “ ‘She’s sweet, she’s loving, compassionate, funny, honest, kind and sincere towards everyone that she meets.’ And I think this is a wonderful choice for Caregiver of the Year for our community. Thank you for everything that you do!”

Gravely knew about the event because Corso told her she’d been nominated — “She said that even if you don’t win, you’ll have a free lunch,” Gravely said with a laugh. “I said ‘I’ll go, but I have no reason to win.’ I was totally shocked.”

Gravely said she wasn’t going to let any relatives go into a nursing home as long as she was able to help — as she did with her mother. “I feel like she took care of me when I was little,” she said. “Mama raised nine kids on her own.” Gravely said she would rather ailing relatives “be around family if they can. It’s nothing to do with the nursing home.”

As to the main impulse behind her deeds, she said, “For me, it’s just that I have all this love, and even if they weren’t kin to me and [someone] came to me, I would help them if I could. If I could help anything with anything, I wouldn’t turn them down.”

Additionally, she said, “I guess it’s just now that I’m older, I’m not rich, but I’m not hurting. I just want to give back to people who are like us when we were little. I think it keeps me young.”

The meal was provided by Beyond Catering SWVA; musician and Senior Home Share employee Pam Craig played guitar and sang her own work, “You’re Not Alone.”

The event was organized by Julie Rippey of Senior Home Share. Caregivers were served by others, since, as Rippey said, “They’re usually the ones waiting on others.”

After the meal but before the award, keynote speaker Sandy Blanton from Hanover detailed the caregiver’s often difficult journey by describing life with her late husband of 21 years, Bill, who passed away in January.

“We had a very good life, and we worked every day together to build our business,” she said. The couple owned and ran a real estate company, and spent time traveling in their motor home and enjoying each other’s company.

In 2005, Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated. “We felt like we had beat this cancer, and we would never have to worry about it again,” she said. “We just enjoyed everyday life.”

After five peaceful years of traveling, working and playing with their grandchildren, however, Bill received a much worse diagnosis — leukemia.

“We weren’t as fortunate this time,” she said; her husband underwent multiple rounds of chemo and was declared cancer-free again, “but the rollercoaster continued for seven years.”

Bill asked Sandy to be the one to tell him about the doctor’s prognosis; he didn’t want to hear it directly from a physician.

“I was his strength,” she said, illustrating the emotional labor inherent in caregiving.

About six months after his latest clean diagnosis, Bill started having problems figuring out basic problems like changing batteries in a flashlight, and his personality became angry and paranoid. Blanton chalked it up to the chemo and its aftereffects.

Gradually he got worse and worse, waking at erratic times, threatening to divorce her, calling the police and locking her out of their bank account. “I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “This was not my husband.”

The couple received a diagnosis for his changes: dementia. Knowing helped some, but it was a struggle to watch him degenerate, and Blanton tried to look after him by herself, planning her life around every contingency. She was forced to sleep in a separate room to avoid being lashed out at, but occasionally he still woke her, sometimes wielding a switchblade.

“I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t leave him, I had to be with him every second of the day,” Blanton said. “I was his safe place…he was unable to function the way he’d always done… Cancer had its peaks and valleys, but dementia for me was all downhill. My husband, who had always protected me, I now needed protection from.”

She admitted that after he died, she felt relief, and then guilt for feeling relief. She told everyone that it was normal, and they didn’t have to feel bad for feeling good.

“You are making a difference in someone’s life,” she told the other caregivers. “It’s OK to say you’re afraid, or life sucks, because it does. It’s OK to go to lunch with a friend. It’s OK to go to your car and cry for 15 minutes. Don’t feel guilty about wanting it. It’s OK.”

Blanton received tremendous applause for her story.

The event appeared to be a great success, and Rippey said that Senior Home Share plans to hold one annually from here on out.


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