Roanoke Valley Schools Need To Re-Think Names

The worst of the lot: William Byrd
James Breckinridge
William Fleming
James Madison

While we’re having some serious discussions about which war hero statues need to be removed, let’s look close to home at which schools in (or near) the Roanoke Valley need to be re-named.

We can start, of course, with Washington & Lee University in Lexington which was named for two slave-owners, one of which was the leading Confederate general during the Civil War. But we all know about Generals Washington and Lee.

I doubt George Washington’s legacy will get much criticism because he was “the father of the country,” but if we’re going to tear down statues of slave owners, his probably should be among the first to go.

Let’s talk about those notables under the radar in most places, but who remind us daily of where we came from.

In Roanoke City and Roanoke County William Ruffner Middle School, James Breckinridge Middle School, William Fleming High School, Patrick Henry High School, William Byrd High School, and James Madison Middle School are all named for slave-holders.

Patrick Henry

The controversial Stonewall Jackson Middle School name was changed a year ago to John Fishwick Middle School because Jackson was a Civil War general. (Jackson also illegally taught young black children to read, which is noted on a stained glass window of an African-American church in Roanoke. Fishwick was a noted Roanoke Valley businessman and scion of a prominent and honorable family.)

William Henry Ruffner was a reluctant slave owner who lobbied against it. He was the designer and first superintendent of Virginia’s public school system and principal of the State Female Normal School (Longwood University). He was born in Lexington and was a graduate of what became Washington and Lee University. During the Civil War he was a Presbyterian minister and farmer in Rockingham County. Ruffner owned slaves, and he advocated the gradual emancipation and colonization of Virginia’s slaves.

William Ruffner

Of all those names on schools above, probably the worst was William Byrd, who not only owned slaves but also did “vast” business in procuring and selling them, according to

Worthy of dishonorable mention is Woodrow Wilson Junior High. President Wilson could not own slaves because it was outlawed during the Civil War, but he was a noted racist, born and raised in Staunton.

Lucy Addison Middle School is the only local school named for an honorable human being. She was an African-American educator in Roanoke who lived quite a notable life.


The Backyard Garden is Chugging Along

The Staymens, my favorite apple, seem to be doing well.

Looks like there’s some progress among my edible plants and trees … finally. The growing season has been so wet that it has discouraged growth, flowering, and creating fruit among most of my edibles, but the sun over the past few days is having a positive impact.

Tomatoes have been slow to grow, but there are a lot of flowers now.

I have Staymen apples, concord grapes, black cherries (all gone, thanks to the damn birds), blueberries, as well as a garden with Italian basil, white and green cucumbers, figs, four varieties of heritage tomatoes, red bell peppers and some spices. I planted all of it and have seen mixed results over the years.

Right now, the main ingredient (tomatoes) is growing slowly, but steadily and I’m holding out hope after nearly giving up a couple of weeks ago. The squirrels seem to like my apples, so I put up screening on them (the screening captured a bird when it was on the blueberries).

We’ll see how it goes.

My back yard contains a lot of food.
The basil goes nicely with the tomatoes.
This is the first promising sign from the cucumbers.
Netting saved the blueberries. I don’t recall the last time I got a handful.

Standoff Ends, Charged Man Identified

Police officials review the scene of the standoff. Note the destroyed front door. I was told to stop shooting because I needed to be behind the media tape, even though I live four houses away.

Police arrested a man four houses down from my home on Edinburgh Drive in Roanoke a short while ago and his name is John Burch, 51. Police had warrants for Burch for aggravated malicious wounding and abduction following what they said was a domestic assault. A woman was hospitalized with “non-life-threatening” injuries.

He was barricaded inside his home and armed, police verified.

This young WDBJ7 TV reporter, Lindsay Cayne, prepares to give a live report just up the hill from the police standoff.

I heard police call Burch’s name several times yesterday on their loudspeaker from the tactical vehicle being used. It sounded like ordering at McDonald’s, to be honest, so I couldn’t swear it was “Burch” in an earlier post.

The standoff lasted from Sunday afternoon until about 10 a.m. Monday.  It was mostly a case of waiting out Burch until he saw the futility of his situation. A police officer told me he is armed with an AR-15 and a shotgun.

I had earlier information that Burch was related to a family in Fincastle with a shady history of law-breaking, but I still have not verified that.



Police Make Arrest in Edinburgh Standoff

This is the press at the top of the hill. You’ll note that it hasn’t exactly been an exhilarating experience for them. (Check the dude on the left.)*

UPDATE: Police arrested a man wanted on a felony warrant four doors down from me on Edinburgh Drive just a little after 10 a.m. today. He is in custody and shortly, I should be free to get some exercise. Nobody was hurt, but a lot of people are suffering from a severe case of boredom. There are no details on who the man is, but apparently the warrant for him was issued in Roanoke County, which drove him away in a county police car.)

The police standoff with an armed neighbor of mine being served a felony warrant continues this morning with little movement either way after a quiet night.

Police cars, including a monstrous-looking tactical vehicle, remain in place. The tactical vehicle moves occasionally, setting off the beep when it backs up, but that’s just about the only noise you can attribute to the police force, which remains mostly hidden. Occasionally, a group of heavily armored (and armed) SWAT-looking dudes walk by my house, but I think that’s mostly shift change.

The tactical vehicle is in the accused man’s front yard and moves occasionally, setting off a loud beeping noise.

The neighborhood is normally a loud one with lots of mowers, leaf blowers, string trimmers, and chain saws going full steam through the day and into the evening. This morning there’s some kind of loud work going on a couple of blocks away, so the drama being played out on Edinburgh Drive isn’t keeping people from doing what they do, working where they work.

Last night, as has been the habit between 9:30 and 11 for about the past 10 days, some of my neighbors illegally set off fireworks. The police didn’t seem concerned. Once when a group of very loud explosives went off, sounding like gunfire, I was pretty concerned. But when I went outside, the officers were stationary and didn’t even seem to hear the fireworks.

From what I’ve been able to gather from the loudspeaker on the tactical vehicle which occasionally demands that the suspect give himself up, his name is something like John Birch or Burch. The police aren’t releasing his name or his alleged offense. I was told by one of the young officers yesterday that he was armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun and that he was considered dangerous.

Right now, it’s a waiting game and I’m waiting to be able to get outside the house (I’m shooting photos from my porches where I can see the accused’s house on one end and the police blockade on the other). I really need to get some exercise.

(*You might note that in the photos I have published, nobody–nobody at all–is wearing a mask.)


Guns and Tempers: I’m in Lockdown

These cops are about 20 yards from my house, keeping people in and out.

(UPDATE, 9:50 p.m.: “John Burch, this is the Roanoke City Police. We have a warrant for your arrest. Come to the front door with your hands held high.” A flurry of fireworks went off just before police told the man their are confronting four doors down from my house to give himself up. We’ve had a spate of firework shows for the past couple of weeks at this time, but tonight’s sounded like a shootout.)

I had noticed police activity outside my house since about 2 p.m. today and early on when I went outside to roll up my car windows against a sudden rain, a young officer zipped over and asked what I was doing. I told her and she said to go ahead and close the windows but to get back in the house and not to leave unless I meant to stay gone for the day.

I’m curious, but I was tired and mostly disinterested. By 4:15 my interest had increased as I saw some cops in battle gear walking by my windows and the same group on the top of my hill (and at the bottom as well). So, I pulled out my press card and went up to the officers on the hill with questions.

The young woman who stopped me asked if I lived close and I pointed to my house two doors away (we had talked earlier, but I must not have made much of an impression). I handed her my card and asked what was going on; I said she could answer me as a journalist or a resident. Made no dif, but I’l like to know if there was some danger.

Apparently, there is. A guy about four doors down from me (whom I have never met) had barricaded himself in his house with an AR-15 and a shotgun, the young officer said, and the situation was dangerous and unstable. She wanted me to either get on the other side of the police tape and join the journalists or go back to my house. I did both, talking to the reporters for a few minutes, then going back home 30 yards away. She walked me back to the house. I asked if she wanted to hold my hand. She said no.

This will likely go on for a while and I think I’ll just stay inside.


A Dry Walk on the Greenway

My hiking buddy Susan takes a photo of one of the swimming holes along Wolf Creek.
This bog old boy didn’t make it through the flood. Don’t know if he drowned or died of old age.

Finally found a dry pathway along the Roanoke Valley greenway system. This one is on the east end of Vinton at Goode Park and runs probably a mile and a half.

It is an attractive, calming little walk with a creek, a farm (with a number of animals the kids can pet), a mini-waterfall, a couple of swimming holes and, yesterday, a large dead turtle.

Not exactly an adventure of the first magnitude, but at a time when there are few choices, a decent alternative.

This farm is a real highlight for the kids when the animals are out. They are friendly and enjoy being petted.
Susan shot this weed flower and I can’t ID it.
The little waterfall just under the bridge is a great place for a photo.
Here’s the waterfall with some additional light patterns.
Susan was intent on getting a photo of me in the shadows.
Wolf Creek Trail is tree-lined, smooth, and calming.



Still Flooding Along the Greenway

This is the Walnut Avenue Bridge. The trees in the center are the normal demarcation between the greenway and the river.

I just got back from an attempted walk on the Roanoke River Greenway through  Wasena and Smith Parks and down toward the sewage treatment plant. Most of that is underwater still and more rain is expected today and tomorrow.

This is the other side of the Walnut Avenue Bridge, which has a depth marking on the side. It measured 10-feet over flood stage today.

My guess is that I’m going to have to find another place to walk over the next few days, a place going up mountains instead of down by the waterside. ‘Course, that has its own hazards, as I discovered a while ago trying to scale a steep hill that was wet. Hope the stains come out of my jeans.

Here is some of what the greenway looks like today.

This is the river just below the Blue Cow ice cream parlor. The greenway is under the water. The river would not normally show in this photo.
This view is near the old American Viscose Plant, with Mill Mountain in the center of the photo. At the end of the rock wall, the greenway is completely underwater.

The Right Choice for My Friend Carl

That’s Carl, back row right with the gorgeous and truly nice Perry sisters and somebody I don’t recognize. I apologize for the quality of the photo, but it’s the only one I could find.

I talked to my old friend Carl Waycaster for about 45 minutes on the phone yesterday and I will say without reservations that some friendships have their own momentum and never slow down.

I haven’t seen Carl since high school, about 55 years ago, but you’d have thought we had lunch last week judging from the conversation.

I met Carl, a dark, curly-haired, good-looking full Cherokee, during my senior year at Cranberry High School in far mountains of North Carolina. We began as football teammates and I was in awe of Carl, who to this day remains my favorite defensive football player, even though he weighed just 165 pounds and played in the middle of the line. He was tough, fast, smart, instinctive, and found his sport to be pure joy. He laughed and yelled and encouraged (teammates and opponents, whom he often picked up after leveling them) and so thoroughly enjoyed every minute he spent on the field that it had a great impact on us all.

This is me at the time Carl and I first met.

Carl had and still has a deep speech defect that made him hard to understand until you’d been around him for a while and began to speak his language. It took me a while because he talks so fast, but I adjusted and found one of God’s best people behind that speech pattern. My mother adored Carl and they were so relaxed together that she was comfortable enough to make jokes about the way he talked. Carl loved it and those two were fast friends.

I had gone into my senior year at a new school, knowing almost nobody and raising suspicion among many of the country boys as an outsider from a “big city” (Asheville, which is hardly big, but compared to Cranberry–population 62 families–was a metropolis). One guy in particular, Jackie Buchanan, detested me from Day 1 and when he found out I had a bad knee, he took a couple of shots at it one day in practice.

I watched Carl pull Jackie over to the side and have a conversation with him during practice. Carl said yesterday, “I tole him, if he ever hit you like that again, I break his neck and he know I would.” Jackie never went after my knee again, though I didn’t know why at the time.

This is Joyce. The eyes are still big and blue half a century later and she’s still the sweet, warm, kind woman she was then.

I discovered during our phone conversation that Carl had a crush on the same girl who attracted me, Joyce Watson, but she was taken by the self-same Jackie Buchanan and Carl and I kept our crushes to ourselves. Joyce told me a few years ago at a high school reunion that she felt the same way about me and I was floored. We would have been a great couple.

Carl had some tough teen years, working a 350-acre farm through long, sweaty days, but his step-father threw him out of the house when Carl was a junior and he had to live hand to mouth. He found a barn to live in and people who would occasionally put him up, but he made it through and still managed to be an All-Conference and All-Western North Carolina football player.

His life after high school sounds pretty ordinary, but ordinary is great when you face all the obstacles this good guy faced. Want a learning moment? Talk to Carl for a while and discover just how fortunate you are and just how important an indomitable attitude is.

Carl is a man whose life has revolved around the joy he found amid the difficulty. It was his choice and he made the right ones.


Back to the Woods for Smileyboy

Smileyboy is at (temporary) home on this uprooted tree today. Somebody may move him along the trail later.

About a month or so ago, I ran across a little plastic yellow man with a smiley face sitting on a small bridge on the hiking trail at Tinker Mountain. My hiking buddy and I noted the little guy, took a couple of photos of us with him and left him where we found him.

This is where I left my buddy (on the right).

A couple of weeks later, I ran into him again, this time in a tree stump at one of the 34 or so trails at Carvins Cove. I was by myself and thought, “Heck, I’ll take Mr. Smiley along for the ride.” And I did. I re-named him “Smileyboy” and he’s been my companion while hiking since.

This morning, I got a note from one of my old pals who reminded me that Smileyboy was a trail fixture and that I should not have appropriated him for my own entertainment. I thought, “Well, he’s right. Smileyboy belongs to us all.”

So I set about correcting the error and now his yellowness is back on the Carvins Cove trail, awaiting other hikers’ interest.

I enjoyed our hikes, Smileyboy.


Smileyboy, the Hiker’s New Pal

Smileyboy: Have a nice hike.
This is Smileyboy in his new hiking gear (on my belt).

I ran into this little guy, whom I promptly named “Smileyboy,” several days ago while hiking at Carvins Cove. He was sitting on a bridge, greeting the public and I left him there, after picking him up and patting his head. I ran a photo of it on this blog.

Yesterday, while hiking Tinker Mountain, he showed up again, this time smiling up from me on a stump. I thought, “this is too much of a coincidence. Smileyboy wants to come along.” So I adjusted a strap on my water bottle container, slid him in, and now, he’s going to be a permanent fixture on my hikes. You’ll see photos of him in different places in the future and I’ll welcome the company.