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'5 Over 50' honored for extraordinary community service
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'5 Over 50' honored for extraordinary community service

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An adventure-seeking role model who has influenced countless people. A husband and wife who feed the hungry and guard against scams. A military veteran who saves lives and serves his church. A couple that provides housing for the homeless and salve for the soul. A woman who pioneered outreach to the mature population while creatively contributing to the arts.

These are 2020’s “5 Over 50.” They are residents of Culpeper’s five-county area, aged 51 or better, who make their communities healthier, wiser, warmer and more compassionate places to live.

Aging Together celebrated its 7th annual 5 Over 50 in a virtual event last week on Facebook Live produced by Culpeper Media Network. The honorees were: Dr. David “Doc” Snyder of Culpeper; the Revs. Tyrone and Felecia Champion of Fauquier; Larry Eiben of Orange; Jerry and Judy Butler of Madison; and Sallie Morgan of Rappahannock. More than 500 people tuned in for the program, which met its $10,000 fundraising goal.

Aging Together Executive Director Ellen Phipps introduced the 90-minute program of interviews with honorees as well as supporters and friends.

Aging does not randomly happen when one reaches a certain birthday, Phipps said.

“We are all aging from the moment we are born until we die,” she said, encouraging a new way of thinking about aging. “To honor and celebrate growth and development and experience and to promote elder-hood and old age. That’s what we’re all about here at Aging Together.”

Aging Together Board Chairwoman Lisa Peacock, hosting from the network’s TV studio, noted that by the year 2030, some 25 percent of the region’s population will be over age 60, with the largest growth in the 75-and-older category.

“As a region, how are we going to meet the growing needs and preferences of the aging population?” Peacock asked. “Aging Together addresses those needs.”

The night’s senior honorees are also doing that work, and have one thing in common, Phipps said, in that they are all selfless people.

From Rappahannock, Sallie Morgan wrote the grant that launched Aging Together during her more than 40-year career with Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services in Culpeper and the Mental Health Association serving Fauquier and Rappahannock.

“Sallie Morgan has addressed many major issues facing our community,” longtime colleague John Waldeck said in his introduction. “Sallie is a special person with incredible gifts … She cares most for people that are vulnerable.”

In addition to advocating for the elderly, Morgan has helped people with severe development disability and mental illness and is a singer and thespian in her home county, where she lives in an old farmhouse in a hollow with her husband, Todd.

“We follow her because we trust her even in this divided world, because she does the right thing in the right places,” Waldeck said.

Morgan started the Area Agency on Aging 45 years ago with a group of 20-somethings “who saw ourselves as community change agents,” she said.

Morgan helped establish senior centers in each county while helping with in-home care. Forming Aging Together was the most exciting because it united communities in creating supportive spaces for older adults, she said.

Working with clients has been her biggest motivator, Morgan said.

“So many resilient souls despite struggling … all had dreams and a sense of humor and a spirit of health,” she said. Like Louise, who couldn’t walk so she built herself a three-legged stool on wheels that she scooted around the house; or 104-year-old Anna, who still split her own wood for heat; or the families who turned the pain of losing a child to suicide or overdose into outreach to other families.

“I am happy to contribute, but I know I have received,” Morgan said.

From Culpeper, Doc Snyder, an orthopedic surgeon, moved with his wife and family to a farm in Rixeyville some 45 years ago and turned it into Verdun Adventure Bound, an outdoor team-building facility and youth retreat center where countless lives have been changed.

Longtime associate and Verdun Chairman Jeff Hollis introduced Snyder, saying he has done far more for the community than anyone he knows.

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Verdun is “a perfect oasis” for youth and families and a refuge from the real world, Hollis said.

Snyder is the richest man he knows, he added, comparing the doctor to Indiana Jones and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi master from ‘Star Wars.”

“He has more value in his soul and memories that will last a lifetime,” Hollis said. “The happiness he has brought us … it is not money that makes a man wealthy, it’s what he is to the world around him.”

Snyder, interviewed at Verdun—French for “green”—said children should be allowed an adventure of discovery to their garden within. He moved to the Rixeyville cattle farm—situated on State Route 229 halfway between Culpeper and Warrenton—in 1975 after medical school. Snyder started planting trees and building camps for youth and their families on the expansive property.

“I just love working with them. That’s what it was about. Our country needs this—not money. It doesn’t need rich families with bigtime cars for their kids. You have to decide where God is in your life. It’s about love,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place, it’s a beautiful thing you try to do … It’s the adventure of discovery to the garden within. What’s your garden going to be like? What’s your harvest? How are you going to use it, how are you going to give it away?”

From Fauquier, the Champions lead Community Touch, a ministry providing support to the homeless and hungry. The nonprofit facility started by Mrs. Champion’s father can house up to 40 people at a time, and has provided shelter for more than 1,500 homeless. The ministry, in operation for nearly 20 years, also operates a food closet, a daycare center and the Noah’s Ark Thrift Store in Marshall.

Felecia and Tyrone were living in Alaska when they were called to Virginia to take over the work started by her father.

“We had all these buildings, so we started a food pantry. Then people would come and they were homeless … so we allowed them to stay,” Mrs. Champion said. “It’s been a good opportunity to work in this community and collaborate to meet the needs of the less fortunate. God called us to do this ... It’s just a passion and a love for people, embedded in us.”

Since the pandemic, the need has grown by 200 percent, Tyrone Champion said.

The transformation and lives changed are what motivates him. “We’re not just about giving you food, clothing or a place to stay. To see someone broken down by life, to see someone transform, their kids stable, money in their pocket that is the passion, the joy I get,” he said.

From Madison, Jerry and Judy Butler have been involved in the community since relocating 15 years ago from Chicago. She volunteers at the Chamber of Commerce, works three days a week in the MESA food pantry, and has been associated with free clinic and literacy council. Jerry Butler spent 50 years with the FBI before joining the Madison County Sheriff’s Office as a civilian investigator. He also served a term on the Board of Supervisors and is involved with the Triad scam-busting program for seniors.

“I love the people,” Judy Butler said. “We do it because this is what we love, but it is nice to be appreciated.”

The couple lives off a private road; many times, Judy drives one way and Jerry goes the other way, each on their way to community service.

“We’re glad to serve the people of Madison County. It makes the day worth it,” Jerry said.

Finally, from Lake of the Woods in Orange County, Larry Eiben gives back to his church, volunteer fire & rescue company, of which he is past president, and the Lions Club, as well as a LOW veterans group.

Eiben recalled growing up in the Panther Hollow, Little Italy section of Pittsburgh.

“A wedding, funeral, sickness or health, they would come to aid and they didn’t have much,” he said. “When someone was in need, these people were there. It inspired me to become a giving person.”

The more he volunteers, Eiben said, the more he is asked to volunteer elsewhere.

“I’m a blessed person. That has aided me so much in giving back to the community because I had so much to give back,” he said, noting that his work was always part of a team effort.

“You just buckle up and go and have a smile on your face when you’re doing it to support someone in need,” Eiben said. “You got to suck it up.”

He accepted his 5 Over 50 award on behalf of everyone in Orange County who makes the effort to support their community.

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