Hometown Heroes 2012 | Allen and Allen
Hometown Heroes 2012

Hometown Heroes 2012

The personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen was founded on service and action. For over 100 years, Allen & Allen attorneys and staff have been inspired by those in the community who make Virginia such a great place to live and work. In 2012 we’re honored to again feature local heroes responsible for community initiatives and acts of kindness.

This May our firm received an overwhelming response from the community, with hundreds of nominations for impressive candidates from Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Charlottesville.

After careful consideration, we’ve selected fifty 2012 local Heroes.

Bunny Abernathy

From volunteering with the American Red Cross and the local fire department to teaching horseback riding lessons for kids, Bunny, a school bus driver, is the kind of person that always gives with little expected in return. Despite the countless hours that she dedicates to strangers, Bunny finds time to always care for her family members, open her doors to teenagers in need, and offer a helping hand to neighbors.

Patricia Atherholt

After retiring as Historic Director of St. John's Church on Church Hill, Pat began to volunteer in her community with Friends of the Goochland Library and served as a Trustee on the Library Board. She was twice named Trustee of the Year. She also volunteered with The Elizabeth Kates Foundation, a non-profit organization helping incarcerated women of Virginia gain an education where she served as President for a decade. She was also the Goochland Christmas Mother in 2007 and still serves on that board.

Jim Baber

Moved to memorialize a friend, Jim Baber helped create the Tad DuPriest Foundation (TDF) after Tad tragically lost his life in a car accident while volunteering to drive eight children from a Putt-Putt outing. For half a decade Jim has served as President of the foundation where he leads their fundraising efforts. Since 2006, he has also helped raise funds (over $530,000) for ASK, where he actively serves on the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation's board and frequently volunteers at events for patients and families.

Captain Kenny Bennett

Captain Kenny Bennett passed in February 2015. A medic and one of the founding members of the Lake Anna Rescue Squad, he was known for dedicated volunteerism with the rescue squad, the Bumpass Fire Department, and other worthy causes. When not volunteering, Kenny drove a school bus full time. "We can't say enough about Kenny," explains his nominator, "he's well respected, loved and a cherished member of our community."

Jason Blackwell

Jason's involvement in the disability community has brought opportunity and awareness to mobility challenged individuals throughout the Commonwealth. Injured in a motorcycle accident, Jason has been in a wheelchair since he was 21 years old. Since his accident, Jason has completed his bachelor's degree, married, and become a sales manager at Mobility Supercenter. Jason has also served as a board member with the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Virginia for five years as well as serving as the organization's Vice President. Today he is the coordinator for the mentor program at VCU Health Systems where he helps Spinal Cord Association members meet people who have recently had a spinal cord injury.

Sonya Brown

Sonya has served as a volunteer helping at risk youth since she was 13-years old. Today Tonya continues to help others by impacting hundreds of children each week. By day she is a teacher at the Restoration Preparatory Academy in Petersburg, VA and by night she rides on a bus through underserved areas in Petersburg and Hopewell to help get kids off the street and into a safe environment. Since 1999 she has volunteered as the Youth Director for the House Of Restoration Community Development Programs working with the at risk youth in the Petersburg / Tri-Cities Area. When not working and volunteering, Sonya is working on her Masters degree.

Grace Butler

Grace, an inspiration to all who know her, started a food pantry in Goochland that has assisted countless Virginians in need. When not helping others through the food pantry, this local hero volunteers with CASA where she accompanies abused children in court.

Sergeant Keith Chatman

On March 19, 2011, Sergeant Keith Chatman of the Caroline County Sheriff's Office responded to a man with a knife call. Sergeant Chatman arrived to find the man in the woods behind his residence hanging from a tree in an apparent suicide attempt. The first on the scene, Sergeant Chatman quickly positioned himself under the hanging man to support his full body weight for over 10-minutes until other rescue personnel arrived to assist. His quick thinking on the job saves lives.

Officer Jonathan Cherry

Officer Cherry, a Henrico County police officer, saved the life of a local man who went into cardiac arrest on his way home from work one cold February evening. Officer Cherry, who was off-duty at the time, spotted the man's car on the side of the road and began CPR immediately upon discovering the driver inside was not breathing. Today the driver is healthy and recently returned to work thanks to the quick thinking of Officer Cherry.

Sheriff Vanessa Crawford

Since becoming Petersburg's first female sheriff in 2006, Vanessa Crawford has maintained the safety and security of the jails, courts, and community at large. She has helped to lead programs for elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as countless opportunities for seniors and citizens with intellectual disabilities. Sheriff Crawford has also worked tirelessly to provide numerous opportunities to offer inmates treatment programs and GED courses.She is a member of the Trustee Board at Good Sheppard Baptist Church and President of the Petersburg High School Booster. Humbled by the award, she says "I couldn't do it without support from my talented and professional staff."

Sheriff Crawford is the first female to become President of the Virginia Sheriffs Institute leading all of the Sheriffs in Virginia.

Ronald DeFreitas

Ron, who received eight nominations, is an inspiring local hero known for his dedication to helping our nation's military. Ron is the founder of Reel American Heroes Foundation, a popular non-profit that provides wounded veterans with opportunities to unwind by spending the day fishing. Ron provides rods, reels, tackle, and everything else needed to keep veterans fishing in the future. "The smiles on their faces is all he ever asks for in return," says one participant of Reel American Heroes who has benefited from Ron's good deeds. Ron spends countless hours fundraising and gathering "Proud Supporters" so he can provide awards, gifts and fishing gear for the Wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines that attend Reel American Heroes events.

Karen Dolan

As a volunteer for Book Baskets, Karen works tirelessly to provide books to low-income children in the Charlottesville area. Book Baskets has distributed more than 10,000 books since July 2010 with 95% of all donations going toward buying books. The Community Dental Center alone has given out more than 11,000 books, received from Book Baskets, in the past six years. But books aren't Karen's only priority. She is the Vice President of Toy Lift which is run by the Kids Lift Foundation, whose focus is to support local families through volunteerism, community cooperation, morale building and educational tools.

Willard Douglas

Willard's goal is to improve the lives of low-income individuals and families in his community. Participating in a variety of organizations, he works to ease the suffering of those living in poverty, assists ex-offenders trying to become active members of society, and helps bring indoor water and plumbing to families in rural areas of Virginia. At CAPUP, he spends afternoons at the senior center playing games, discussing current events and simply being a friend.

Bart Drummond

As a volunteer for Tidewater Search and Rescue, Bart is an active participant in searching for lost or missing people in wilderness, rural, or disaster environments across the state. He is always on call and even volunteers his time as an instructor. Everything he does for TSAR is at his own expense, including attending meetings and training and purchasing his own gear. Bart feels that what he does is "no big deal," but his volunteerism saves lives. Bart and his team are also active in community events to raise funds for equipment and operational expenseive for Tidewater Search and Rescue.

Jared Egan

Jared has devoted countless hours and a great deal of dedication working as an EMT for the Spotsylvania County Rescue Squad. In 2007, when he began working with the squad, he was honored as Rookie of the Year. Many times, Jared has sacrificed family time to serve his community, but the satisfaction outweighs the sacrifice because he loves helping people.

Stephen Fontaine

A skilled firefighter and EMS provider with Chickahominy Fire Station Ten in Hanover County, Stephen is not only an asset on emergency calls but he is also a leader in educating less experienced firefighters and EMTs. Known for his communications skills, he has an easy rapport with both citizens and visitors. Stephen is truly dedicated to the fire station's mission of serving others.

Emily Gardner

Emily has always given of her time and heart to help others. In high school, she walked the paths of Panama to share her faith and spoke to large groups of kids in South Africa about AIDS. When she learned her aunt had cancer and needed help to pay for medication, Emily started Cupcakes for Chemo, spending countless nights and weekends baking and selling cupcakes to raise money. Her business, in addition to selling delicious treats, helps support cancer patients and their families.

Chief Howard Henley

A founding member of Goochland Fire-Rescue, Chief Howard Henley identified the need for organized fire protection in 1951 and acted upon it. Chief Henley has served as a leader, mentor, and educator for generations of fire and EMS providers. The name "Henley" is known throughout the Central Virginia first responder community and is associated with high quality, compassion, and professional emergency service.

Ken and Gail Henshaw

Through the "I Have a Dream" Richmond program, Ken and Gail Henshaw have championed the value of reading, bringing books to elementary students in the City of Richmond. Starting with one grade level in one school in the City of Richmond, they have expanded the program to include the entire school system in five short years. The program brings guest readers to classrooms, holds novel studies after school, sponsors book report incentive programs, brings visiting authors to schools, and has given 75,000 books to students throughout the city.

Eli Hopkins

Although 10-year-old Eli has juvenile diabetes, he doesn't let it stop him. Not only is he an Honor Roll student at Acquinton Elementary School, but he is also a two-time National ATV Champion winner. He even raises chickens to sell their eggs. As a spokesman for the American Diabetes Association for Juvenile Diabetes, he has been interviewed by newspapers, radio, and Fox TV. Eli gives himself his own shots, but never complains and always maintains a positive attitude in the face of any challenge.

Andy Inge

Andy is a career volunteer. While in high school, he volunteered with Henrico County Police as an Explorer, assisting officers directing traffic and aiding in crime prevention at events. For the past 12 years, Andy has been a volunteer EMS provider in Henrico County (Tuckahoe VRS and Lakeside VRS) and was an Advanced Life Support provider while a junior member of Tuckahoe. On top of the countless hours he has spent at the rescue squad, he also maintains two jobs and volunteers with ROSMY, an organization that offers support and understanding to LGBTQ youth.

Constance Jones

Whether simply encouraging students or giving them money or buying them items that they might need, this Petersburg High School counselor gives generously of her time and resources. Constance often fills the void left by parents who are not there for their children, treating all children like they were her own. Her nominator adds, "She would gladly give her last dollar if someone needed it."

Helene Krespach

Helene lends her support to a home for brain-injured people by cooking her delicious French food as well as contributing financially. She is also active in her church as a Eucharistic minister and groundskeeper, and in her neighborhood preparing and sharing meals, driving friends to appointments, and sharing her vast knowledge of gardening.

Steve Maslock

A career firefighter for the past 10 years, Steve is dedicated to protecting and serving the citizens of Spotsylvania County. This line of work is a great fit for him because he has such a big heart, says his nominator. His dedication to his job is only equaled by his dedication and love of his family.

Anne McDonnell

As executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, Anne is tireless in her efforts to create awareness of brain injury, drive prevention, and increase resources for the brain injured and their families across the state. She lobbies regularly for legislation to increase education to prevent brain injury and to improve the rights of Virginians suffering from brain injury. Her energy is infectious and her passion to give a voice to the cause is inspiring.

Deputy Mark O'Connor

On February 28, 2012, Deputy Mark O'Connor of the Caroline County Sheriff's Office was about to go home after working the midnight shift when he heard the call for a structure fire. Deputy O'Connor responded to the residence to find six- to eight-foot flames shooting out of the roof. Without regard for his own life, he entered the house, which was full of heavy smoke. Deputy O'Connor found the only occupant still in bed asleep. He helped her out of the house and is the reason she is alive today.

Cheryl Parks

This amazing woman has been a champion for children for decades. Actively involved for years in the Fresh Air Fund in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Area, Cheryl organizes the host families for disadvantaged children visiting from New York City in the summer, giving inner-city children the joy of a summer vacation. For the last two years, she has also fostered premature twins who have thrived in her care, thanks to her love and devotion. Cheryl does all of this compassionate work humbly, without seeking an ounce of recognition.

Chief Eddie Payne

This local hero has been the Chief of the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department for 10-plus years and has devoted his life to this organization. Chief Payne is the chairman of the Special Ops committee and continues to hone his skills through advanced training. Making appearances at schools, parks, and children's birthday parties, along with his fire truck, he demonstrates the importance of "stop, drop and roll" to the community's children. The chief, who is also an avid animal lover, has said time and again, "If I had enough money, I would have a place that all animals would have a home and be loved."

Evelyn Peebles

Evelyn lends a hand, wherever it's needed. She visits the sick and those in nursing homes, picks up trash in her neighborhood, sends 121 postcards with an original verse to college students each month, offers rides when people need transportation, and helps plan programs for Senior Day at her church. She is a real hero to those in her community.

Cathy Richmond

Cathy, a history teacher, was instrumental in bringing Rachel's Challenge to L.C. Byrd High School. Rachel Scott was the first person killed at Columbine High School in 1999. Cathy has has encouraged a "chain reaction" of trust and compassion to help end bullying at the school. With her students, Cathy has shone a light on the power of kindness and understanding and successfully influenced nearly 1,800 students and faculty to stop bullying.

Marianne Rollings

Marianne has volunteered her whole life, starting her volunteerism as a Sunday school volunteer at St. Bridget's, a volunteer camp counselor, and a religious vacation school teacher. In high school, she was president of Richmond's school division of the American Red Cross. Marianne has also served on the Richmond Board of Health, Virginia Board of Pharmacy and Board of Health Professions. As president of the MCV Alumni Association and Virginia Association of Professions, she pioneered training sessions and publications to advance women's health issues and promote women as pharmacists in Richmond.

Jorge Rosario

Jorge believes in giving back to the community. Over the years, he has held charity events to help Habitat for Humanity, the Children's Hospital, and several individuals with serious illnesses. Jorge has done whatever he could to support and help local businesses survive during the recession. "He is the type of person who is willing to help everyone, whether he knows them or not," says his nominator.

Kenton Scearce

Kenton's friend Mike had two surgeries for a tumor on his spinal cord. To celebrate his successful recoveries, the two men started the Lovern & Friends golf tournament, an annual tournament to raise money for cancer research as well as to help care for cancer sufferers. The tournament has brought in more than $40,000 over the past three years. Kenton is also active in the Innsbiz business organization, creating a bowling tournament to fundraise for the organization.

Jessica Sears

Jessica Sears, the widow of Colonial Heights Police Lieutenant James "Jamie" Sears, who was tragically killed in a high-speed police pursuit from another jurisdiction, has turned tragedy into a learning experience for law enforcement officers across the Commonwealth. Working alongside police driving instructors, she teaches officers about the potential consequences of failing to conduct a police pursuit properly. Jessica's commitment to the safety of law enforcement officers and citizens is evident as she continues to tell her story – speaking to over 1100 officers in 2011 alone.

Dr. Robert (Bob) F. Selden

As a pediatrician at UVA specializing in cystic fibrosis in the 1960s, Dr. Selden helped found Camp Holiday Trails, a camp for children with chronic medical illnesses. He travelled throughout the state establishing clinics to treat cystic fibrosis, most notably in Virginia's more rural regions. Bob's presence at the Camp over the last several decades has been one of quiet strength. He never asks to be a leader, never pretends to have all the answers, and continues to learn. In this way, he is a mentor to everyone around him.

Mike Sheridan

"If you need help, all you have to do is ask Mike and he will be there," writes his nominator. Outside of his job as a coach and teacher at Fluvanna Middle School, Mike is able to fit in at least 40 volunteer hours a week. A great asset to Fluvanna County, he is founder of Helping Hands in Fluvanna, a volunteer firefighter, and a leader of his church's youth ministry. In the community, Mike serves as a father figure to many children who don't have a father and is viewed by many as an angel sent to protect, comfort, and lead Fluvanna.

Ray Slaughter

Volunteering at Memorial Regional Medical Center, this 86-year-old received an award for his 8,000 hours of service (higher than any other volunteer) in April. While he now works behind the desk in the volunteer office, he used to push patients in wheelchairs, deliver newspapers, and work the front desk. He also turned the pages of the War Memorial book in the chapel every morning.

Chris Slemp

With 27 years of experience, Chris Slemp is a veteran responder for Hanover Fire-EMS. In addition to local and countywide agencies, Chris has also assisted a state department with their grants program to drive needed funds to rescue squads. His integrity, work ethic, dedication, and team spirit have all contributed to his continued success. When asked about memorable emergency calls, Chris says that delivering a baby was the highlight of his service.

Jan and David Snow

For the past six years, Jan and David Snow have hosted a party to collect donations for Toys for Tots. The party has become a staple in the Fredericksburg community each December. The event has continued to grow each year, despite the economy, raising approximately 1000 toys in 2011. Their daughter writes that "they put needy children first every year."

The Spence Family: Carolyn, Paul, Aryn, and Ashton Spence, Midlothian

On May 1, 2011, Avery Spence was killed in a car accident involving five other teenagers. Instead of blaming the other kids in the car, Avery's parents and sisters reached out to these teens and their families, helping them to move on with their lives. One family who was helped (and nominated them for this honor) goes so far as to say "they saved the other five children's lives." They have also maintained Avery's Facebook page to help make an impact on other youth and their families in the community.

From the Spence Family: "We never thought of ourselves as heroes but appreciate Marianne's nomination and feel honored to have been able to help her family as well as many others in the community. Avery was a beautiful, intelligent and athletic young lady. We felt that we responded exactly how she would have wanted us to. She loved life and people and enjoyed helping others. She would never want anyone to be hurt or sad but rather continue enjoying life as she did. We know God works in mysterious ways and have coped with this tragedy by knowing that it was her turn to be called to Heaven. We hold no hard feelings and wanted to be sure our thoughts were shared with the other teenagers in the car. Avery could very well have been in any one of their shoes. She had a very large network of friends through soccer, school, community events and our neighborhood. Many people were saddened by her accident, and with us all pulling together to support one another, it has brought our entire community together and helped us cope with our loss. In our book, Avery is the true hero."

Christopher Stem

Investigator Chris Stem of Hanover County Sheriff's Office loves his job and it shows in his service to the Ashland community. Chris is responsible for the seizure of large quantities of synthetic marijuana possessed by a local storeowner as well as the seizure of an illegal gambling operation, involving 34 gambling terminals. When an elderly man collapsed in a local restaurant, this community leader stepped in to administer CPR and save the man's life.

Susan Stevens

When Susan lost her father to cancer, she found a way to have a positive impact on the lives of others struggling with this disease. Actively raising funds in the fight against cancer for the past few years, she has also co-founded the Giving Hope Foundation with fellow Nelson County resident Sheila Layton. The Giving Hope Foundation gives emotional and financial resources to Nelson County residents facing a cancer diagnosis, including goodie bags, assistance with bills, and medication or groceries. Perhaps most importantly, this organization provides a "buddy" for emotional support.

Alan Tuck

Alan has served multiple deployments with the Army. Although injured on duty and in constant pain, he supports his family and is described by his wife as a wonderful husband, father and stepfather who proudly serves our country.

Russ Warnick

Russ recently formed the nonprofit Foundation for Health Improvement and Technology (FHIT) to increase awareness about the latest scientific developments in cardiovascular and related diseases. In response to more than 50 years of research proving that early detection and aggressive medical treatment can prevent cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes, FHIT will teach physicians around the world how to focus on hidden risk factors. In addition to his foundation, Russ co-founded Health Diagnostic Laboratory, which is being credited for changing the way the medical community detects heart disease. Russ also volunteers for Special Olympics Virginia, where he has been the top fundraiser for Over the Edge.

Kathleen Wilson

Receiving ten nominations, Kathleen is the mother of 10 children (seven of whom were adopted) who has dedicated her life to the less fortunate. She founded Mary's Shelter, a homeless shelter for women and children in Fredericksburg. Starting this shelter out of a basement, it has now grown to four homes in the Fredericksburg area. As the director, Kathleen Wilson receives no paycheck, even though the position takes 60 to 70 hours a week. Thanks to her hard work and devotion, these women and children come home to a warm, caring environment instead of a sterile cinderblock facility.