CASEY: More than one star on Mill Mountain | Local News
You may not know that Friday was a big day in Roanoke. But if you were on top of Mill Mountain in the late morning, you couldn’t have missed what happened.
About 70 people gathered at the base of Roanoke’s most prominent icon, the Mill Mountain Star. They showed up in honor of another Roanoke icon – Brenda Hale.
At 76, Hale is in her ninth term as president of the Roanoke branch of the NAACP. This came after other careers – first in the US Army, from which Hale retired as Sergeant First Class, and later in the US Department of Veterans Affairs, where she cared for sick veterans. .
Over the past 12 years, she has received honorary doctorates from Bethlehem Bible College, Word of Life Theological Seminary, and Roanoke College.
Titled “Roanoke Star Dedication to Dr. Brenda Hale,” local luminaries abounded at the ceremony. Among them were Mayor Sherman Lea; former two-time mayor David Bowers; Verletta White, the superintendent of the Roanoke school system; and Nancy Agee, CEO of the Carilion Clinic.
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The honor granted to Hale Friday is temporary. It was born out of a creative fundraising ploy by the Roanoke Kiwanis Club, a civic group that has never been shy about doing stunts to raise money.
Last year, the organization ‘appropriated’ the star and auctioned it off for yuks as part of its annual pancake breakfast. Sam Lionberger was the first buyer. It was fun.
In May, before the second auction at the Twisted Track microbrewery on Shenandoah Avenue, a small group of Kiwanians came up with a plan.
Sheila Umberger, Rupert Cutler, Eric Danielsen, Ryan LaFountain, Steve McGraw, Cheri Hartman and Dr. David Hartman pooled their money and decided to purchase the icon in honor of Hale. Their winning bid was $650, club treasurer John Montgomery said.
And then they started inviting a hundred people to Friday’s event. They launched the dedication with a “citizen of the year” atmosphere. And the show exuded patriotism.
Organizers handed out portable American flags to spectators. Events began after a moving performance by Cherice Davis of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Hale, dressed in red pants, a white top and an American flag scarf, listened to speaker after speaker sing her praises in what sounded like a roast of appreciation.
“We know you represent all that is great about our country,” Cheri Hartman told Hale during her introductory speech.
Hale is “the spirit of multiracial unity in Roanoke,” former councilman Rupert Cutler said. “It’s my friend, Dr. Brenda Hale. What a wonderful asset she is to the community and the world at large.
“Brenda is a friend to everyone,” said Gloria Randolph King, first vice president of the NAACP Roanoke Branch. “She fights on behalf of every cause for every person in need.”
“She fought social justice issues at the local, state and federal levels,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds.
“The first word that comes to mind is champion, a champion for our children,” said White, the superintendent of schools.
Lea, who has served on the Roanoke City Council since 2004, called her “this great servant to the community. … Thank you for your commitment and dedication to improving lives.
“NAACP president is no easy task,” the mayor noted. It involves taking public positions on issues that aren’t always popular, which he knows well. “You have to have something inside, that commitment to serving others,” Lea said.
After those tidal waves of appreciation, Hale headed to the podium. She started by telling the crowd that whenever she comes back to Roanoke from out of town, she knows she’s home when she sees the lights of the Mill Mountain Star.
“The star is so special to me, and it’s been my whole life,” Hale said. “Having this honor here at Mill Mountain means the world to me.”
Then she told a story that surely made jaws drop. (She clarified some details in a conversation we had later.)
Hale was born in 1945 at Burrell Memorial Hospital, the black hospital in segregated Roanoke. She was the second of five children and the eldest daughter.
One night when she was 7 years old, Hale and her siblings suddenly and tragically lost their parents.
His mother and father had gone out to the Elks Club, then to Wells Avenue in the Gainsboro neighborhood. When they returned home, the couple had a fight and the argument escalated.
Her father beat her mother until she was on the floor of the family kitchen with her back against lower kitchen cabinets. Then he shot her at close range with a shotgun – as Brenda, then 7, used a dishcloth to wipe the blood from her mother’s crushed face.
The shot was fatal and his father went to prison.
As a result, Hale and her siblings were literally separated. Subsequently, Brenda was sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she was raised by a great uncle and great aunt. They let her go back to Roanoke every summer. And after graduating from high school in Bridgeport, Hale moved back here.
She told the crowd that her great-aunt and surrogate, Clara Watson, was a source of wisdom and determination.
“She told me, in your lifetime, people will hate you because of your color. They will hate you because of your clothes. They will hate you because of your hair, your shoes. You need to rise above this hate and show yourself every day.
“I started working at 9 and haven’t quit yet,” Hale added. “I don’t know how to stop…Success is not a destination, but something you choose every day of your life.”
The ceremony was more than words. After these were exchanged, the crowd moved towards the gazebo entrance, sort of on the back of the star. There, Kiwanians unveiled a dual display board displaying a plaque with Hale’s photo on it.
“Roanoke’s star adopted by people honoring Dr. Brenda L. Hale,” it read.
It will stay there at least until late next spring, after Kiwanians auction off the star in someone else’s honor.
So you have about 10 months to verify it in person.
Contact Subway Columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.