The Very Best (and Worst) of Roanoke, 2019

Roanoke from McAfee’s Knob. The Best view of the city. You can see my deck from this vantage point.

I started compiling the following list a few days ago and it just kept betting new additions until Dec. 31. Here are my bests and worsts for 2019. Feel free to comment, adding your faves, or even argue if you’d like.

  • Most Valuable Roanoker, 2019: Nancy Agee, CEO/President of Carilion. If you believe she is everywhere doing everything, you are right.
  • Roanoke’s Most Visionary Person, 2019: My pal Samantha Steidle, who may also be the smartest person I know. Sam’s trying to figure out how to give everybody a job and my guess is that she’ll do it.
  • Best Live Theatre Performance by a Roanoker, 2020 (tie): Emma Sala and Anna Holland in Hollins’ “Chicago” (they were so good they count as one), and Emma Leigh Gwin in “The Sound of Music” at Mill Mountain Theatre. (We’re in great shape for the future for quality actors.)
  • Roanoke’s Most Important Continuing Drama of Good vs. Evil, 2019: The Mountain Valley Pipeline Kerfuffle (the Evil). Most Effective MVP Opponent (the Good): The Estimable Diana Christopulos, a Woman of Considerable Strength and Conviction.
  • Roanoke’s Best Politician 2019: Vice Mayor Joe Cobb. Worst Political Screwup: The Roanoke Housing Authority Basically Forcing Councilman John Garland to resign because of bureaucratic bullshit.
  • Roanoke’s Most Significant Loss of 2019: Pearl Fu, who moved to Philadelphia; and James Tarpley, who died. We will all miss them both.
  • Roanoke’s Best Person To Follow on Facebook in 2019: Marj Easterling. Always lively, interesting and fun.
  • Best Sales Brochure in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: The Illuminights’ video-in-a-box. This is the video advertising the Explore Park’s Winter Walk of Lights, sponsored by Roanoke County and Center in the Square. Truly eye-catching with one of those “Oh, wow!” moments when you open it.
  • Roanoke’s Best Journalist 2019: Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times. Close second is my friend Dan Casey, the Times’ Metro columnist.
  • Most Effective Roanoke Valley Job Creator of the Year in 2019: (tie) Mary Miller of RAMP and Annette Patterson of the Advancement Foundation. Two remarkable women.
  • Roanoke Political Hell Raiser of the Year, 2019: Again, an easy pick: Catherine Koebel Stromberg, who asks no quarter (from the gun people) and damn well gives none.
  • Best Roanoker, 2019: George Kegley. Nobody else comes close, though we have some great people. George is over 90 and is still serving Roanokers, sometimes one at a time and helping to keep our environment as good as it can be.
  • Best Roanoke Event, 2019: Local Colors, which shows off Roanoke’s ethnic diversity in a spectacular way.
  • Best Person to Ask a Question–any Question–About Roanoke People and To Get a Good Answer, 2019: Getra Hanes Selph, who knows damn near everybody. She has been a vital source for me for story contacts for some time now.
  • Best-led Educational Institution in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Virginia Western Community College, led by President Bobby Sandel, whose vision for this small college is being realized all the way down to making sure students have enough to eat.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Bank, 2019: Pinnacle, which began as locally-owned Valley Bank, still maintains the local feel even though it has been sold, and sold.
  • Best Place To Get Married in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Roof of Center in the Square.
  • Best Wedding/Event Guru in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Caroline LaRocca Hammond at Caroline Larocca Event Design. Caroline gives you grace, elegance, beauty, superb creativity and a heck of a lot of fun.
  • Best Vital Health Service in Roanoke, 2019: SARA, which comes to the rescue of rape victims, many of them little more than children.
  • Best Private School in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Community High School where kids who often don’t fit elsewhere thrive.
  • Best Developer in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: John Aubrey Garland (and sons). John concentrates on saving old buildings and making them useful again. A noble achievement and profitable, as well.
  • Most Anticipated New Construction in Roanoke, 2016: The reconstruction of the old Hieronimus building on Jefferson Street, closed for so many years, is well underway and Mast General Store will be its headliner occupant when it opens in late spring/early summer. Could extend City Market and rejuvenate sales traffic downtown.
  • Best New Architecture in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: The campus additions at Virginia Tech/Carilion Research Institute, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Carilion Riverside (one campus). One Roanoke architect named VTC as the worst new architecture in Roanoke a few years ago for a magazine piece I wrote. He was spectacularly wrong. This place is gorgeous and wonderfully functional.
  • George Kegley: The Best Roanoker.

    Most Promising Roanoke Valley Leaders, 2019: Mike Hamlar and Djuna Osborne. Young, smart, ambitious and ready to serve in bigger roles.

  • Best Place in Roanoke to Buy Comic Books/Graphic Novels, 2019: B&D Comic Shop is in a dimension of its own.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Hobby Store, 2019: Rail Yard Hobby Shop.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Camera Store, 2019: Lee Hartman & Sons is nearly alone in this because camera stores don’t do well these days. LHS has other profit centers, so it can hang on to camera sales and repair (which is indispensable for those of us who still use cameras). Note: It is expensive.
  • Best Roanoke Cafeteria, 2019: OK, so it’s not your usual American cafeteria, but Nawab traditional Indian restaurant serves lunch as a buffet/cafeteria and it is a work of art for those of us who don’t know the names of the Indian dishes. I have to limit myself to a single serving when I go because I will eat myself to death.
  • Best Goodwill Store in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Cave Spring Corners area (honorable mention: Daleville).
  • Most Overpriced Book from a Roanoke Writer, 2019: ‘Burning the Furniture’ by me. As of Dec. 27, two copies were available used on Amazon for $923, plus $49.18 tax and $3.99 shipping ($976.17) or, cut-rate $814, plus $43.38 tax and $3.99 shipping ($861.37). You can also buy a new copy for $36 (plus shipping) or put it on your Kindle for free. I don’t get paid anything for the used copies and I get the same for a full-price new copy or a free Kindle. The market is screwy.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Playwright (there are more than you think), 2019: Dwayne Yancey, who has plays being performed all over the world, as we speak. Dwayne is also the best editorial page editor (Roanoke Times) and a workaholic of an immeasurable degree. He’s in the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and damn well deserves it.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Bookstore: Book No Further. This one’s where it should be, on Roanoke City Market, following a long-time tradition. And, though it is small, it has a wonderful sampling of books by this region’s army of good writers, thanks to Doloris Vest. I even bought a graphic novel of “To Kill a Mockingbird” there for my grandgirl’s Christmas stocking.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Charity, 2019: (tie) The Rescue Mission continues to help the helpless, homeless, hungry and oppressed; Feeding America; and Roanoke Area Ministries. I am thrilled that there are many charities in the Valley whose income goes to the people they help and not to the executives running them.
  • Best Teacher in Roanoke Valley, 2019: Tie: Jeanne LarsenHollins University; Melanie Almeder, Roanoke College. Both teach English. Both are beloved, and that’s a conservative view.
  • Best Roanoke Post Office, 2019: Low bar, but the one downtown is accessible, fast and professional. I often drive halfway across the Valley to use it.
  • Best Roanoke Bakery, 2019: On the Rise on City Market. My friend Steve Hartman founded it some years ago and even though it changed hands, it remains singular.
  • Best Roanoke Ethnic Food, 2019: Alejandro’s on City Market (not the other locations; they’re fine, but the downtown restaurant has an old grill that is wonderfully seasoned).
  • Best Roanoke Deli, 2019: The New Yorker, with little competition. This place just keeps serving delicious food and not accepting anything but cash.
  • Worst Construction Performance, 2019: Renovating 10th Street in Roanoke, which has been going on since god was a baby with no end in sight.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Governmental Accomplishment, 2019: Continuing the construction of the greenway with additional trails to an already good system. This took cooperation among the Valley’s four governments and the greenway (with Liz Belcher in the lead) has set the standard.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Musician, 2019: Violinist Akemi Takayama, concertmaster of the Roanoke Symphony.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Musical Family, 2019: Roanoke Symphony maestro David Wiley and his wife Leah and two kids, Mara and Misha.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Musician (non-classical), 2019: Hoppy Vaughan.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Gym, overall, 2019: YMCA, Daleville.
  • Best Roanoke Valley gym for old people (like me), 2019: Carter Athletic Center.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Community Journalist, 2019: Brian Hoffman, sports editor of Salem Times-Register.
  • Best Lawyer in Roanoke, 2019: John Fishwick, who has been a defense lawyer and a judge. A guy who works with a level of passion to do the right thing that is becoming rare in law.
  • Best Dressed Roanoker, 2019: J. Tyler Pugh and Callie Dalton.
  • Best Roanoke Valley waterfall, 2019: Stiles Falls, Camp Alta Mons. It’s also a lovely hike. (Runnerup: Bottom Creek Gorge.)
  • Best Local Government in Roanoke Valley, 2019: Vinton. These dudes have done a really nice job supporting businesses.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Board of Directors, 2019: Carilion Clinic.
  • Worst Popular Restaurant in Roanoke, 2019: Macado’s Downtown. Hadn’t eaten there in years until today and my suspicion was confirmed. Six of us at the table and four had difficulty eating what was served. Nobody at our table was happy and we’re not picky. My pastrami was so tough I couldn’t chew it and the sandwich came with potato chips on it. Ugh. Didn’t notice that. Just awful.
  • Best view of Roanoke from a mountain top, 2019: McAfee’s Knob just around the corner from the best-known view. You’re right above the airport, looking straight at downtown. Most people stop with the more famous view that doesn’t include Roanoke. I can see the Knob from my back porch.
  • Best Roanoke Valley Hike, 2019: Dragon’s Tooth (tough and beautiful).
  • Roanoke’s Best TV Journalist, 2019: Joe Dashiell. That was easy. Joe has almost no competition and hasn’t had for 20 years. There’s not even a No. 2. The Best Radio Journalist in a city that has few is my old bud Gene Marrano (who is also quite a good print journo; maybe the best interviewer around).
  • Roanoke’s Worst Political Disasters, 2019: Morgan Griffith of the U.S. House 9th District, even though he doesn’t live there; Ben Cline, who took over Bob Goodlatte’s 6th District seat and didn’t miss a beat in kissing Trump’s fat ass. Both are embarrassing and worthless and I’m being kind.
  • Roanoke’s Most Interesting (and Successful) Turnaround, 2019: Downtown Vinton, which has moved into the 21st Century. Good things happening there (go to eat at one of the good restaurants and stay for the hemp).
  • Roanoke’s Best Cheap Entertainment, 2019: Carvins Cove, where you can put in your kayak, canoe or John boat, hike a circle around the lake, bike the difficult trails to some lovely views or just picnic with the family. I have upon occasion even skinny-dipped there, but I don’t recommend it for the timid.
  • Roanoke’s Best Museum, 2019: The Salem Museum. OK, I know. It’s not in Roanoke or even Roanoke County, but it’s in the Roanoke Valley and it has a consistent turnover of good events and displays.
  • Roanoke’s Best New Author of 2019: Jane Jane Andrzejewski Fenton, “Repo Girl.” (OK, Jane lives in Ferrum, but she visits Roanoke a lot and, hey, it’s part of the metro area.) Best Old Author: my good friend Roland Lazenby (who’s to argue with 60 books?).
  • Roanoke’s Most Impressive (and Important) Immigrant, 2019: Yolanda Rodriguez Puyana, a native of Mexico. Physician, diplomat, human rights activist. (This is a field where Being No. 1 means something; our immigrants are jaw-droppingly impressive.)
  • Most Impressive High School Team: Cave Spring High School Academic Quiz Tournament Team, 2019. That’s four straight state championships, boys and girls. Four straight.
  • Roanoke’s Best Athlete of 2019: National racquetball champion Kelani Lawrence.
  • Roanoke’s Most Effective Neighborhood Proponent: Colbert L. Boyd, who just doesn’t give up.
  • Best School Gym, 2019: Roanoke College’s new athletic center is just about the coolest around.
  • Best Family Physician in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: Mine, and I’m not going to tell you who she is because I don’t want her overwhelmed with new patients.
  • Best Streaming Series Available in the Roanoke Valley, 2019: “A French Village.” Easy pick. Nobody else was close in my house, although “Spiral” was solid and entertaining.

Roanoke from the star.

Leave a Reply