Gladetown community gathers for reunion

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For each reunion, Harriett Childress and Joe Banks create a Memory Wall display, with photographs, news clippings, memorial cards, graduation announcements and other recognitions of Gladetown residents. Shown left to right are John Harris, Debby Grose, Harriett Childress, Joe Banks, Mandi Grose, Mayor Brad Grose, and Virgie Craighead.

Vinton’s Gladetown community held their biennial reunion on August 3 and 4 — a long tradition. The first reunion celebrating the Carline, Midway, and Gladetown communities was held on September 6 and 7, 1992.

At one time, Gladetown, Carline, and Midway were primarily black communities in Vinton. Gladetown lies south of Virginia Avenue (Route 24) and east of Third Street. Midway and Carline were located along Walnut Avenue. Midway is now mainly an area of white families. Carline disappeared with renovations to Walnut Avenue over the past 30 or so years. However, the Gladetown community has not only remained, but flourished. Th e reunions started out with a conversation between Joseph Banks, Glen Thomason, and the Rev. Melvin Anderson reminiscing about their years growing up in Gladetown.

They came up with a plan to celebrate the community and families that would be fun, but would also preserve the past for younger generations. They recruited Arthur Preston as the first committee president and a committee to help with planning the event. Th at spirit continues today. On Saturday, August 3, the community gathered for a picnic and afternoon of music, games, contests, and fellowship. On Sunday afternoon, they held a memorial service for those in the community who have passed on. Preston passed away since the last reunion in 2017, but a large committee continues to not only facilitate the reunions, but other special events, and to keep the community informed about the health and welfare of the residents. Members of the committee this year included president Glen Th omason, Joe Banks, Frank Miller, Diane Childress, Harriet Childress, Frances Wright, Tass Poindexter, Evelyn McCauley, Ed Smith, Billy Fitzgerald, and B.J. Fitzgerald.

A huge crowd came to the picnic on Saturday. Over 100 participated in the memorial service on Sunday. Traditionally, dignitaries from the town attend. Mayor Brad Grose has attended each reunion and was there this year with his wife, Debby, and daughter, Mandy. Council member Sabrina McCarty attended along with her husband, Chris McCarty, who has become an important fi gure in the Gladetown community, leading the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club in rescuing and preserving the historic Gladetown Cemetery. Vice Mayor Keith Liles and Councilman Mike Stovall also joined the celebration along with Public Works Director Joey Hiner and his wife, Bonnie.

Several members of the Lions Club came for the Sunday service. At the picnic, Mayor Grose read a proclamation from Town Council and the citizens of Vinton in honor of the event, declaring August 3 and 4 as “Gladetown, Midway, and Carline Reunion Days” and recognizing the communities for their “rich and diverse cultural history which serves as an inspiration to others to gather in celebration and remembrance of their heritage.” In fact, more than one person present commented on how wonderful it would be, in these troubled times, for more communities to gather together for old-fashioned fun and fellowship. Th ere were mountains of food. Glen Thomason himself prepared a deep-fried turkey, a roasted turkey, and pulled pork BBQ. Three much acclaimed varieties of rice pudding were on the menu.

There were sack races for children and adults, a corn hole tournament, Bingo for all ages— and lots of conversation. Th ere was a contest to determine the oldest one present. Gaynell Wright, who is turning 90 on August 12, was the winner, with Virgie Craighead, John Harris, and Carolyn Th omason Keith as runners-up. A highlight of each reunion is the “Memory Wall” created by Harriet Childress and Joe Banks, replete with photographs, newspaper clippings of important events and people, graduation announcements, and memorial cards of those who have passed. Th is year they put together three special displays— two honoring beloved members of the community— Arthur Preston and Barbara King— who passed since the last reunion and one thanking the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club members who have restored the cemetery. Banks also put together a display of scrapbooks and yearbooks recounting the history of Gladetown and its residents.

As its unofficial historian, he has begun an “Ancestry. com”-like genealogy of the families in Gladetown history. His research and tireless eff orts and determination contributed mightily to the cemetery restoration project. At the memorial service each guest received a white ribbon of remembrance upon entering. Frank Miller served as master of ceremonies. He reminded the group that it was not a sad day, but a day to pay “tribute to those who have gone on.”

Deacon Casey McCauley read the Scripture. Deacon James Wright led the prayer. Diane Childress welcomed those who attended. John Andrews delighted the crowd singing two hymns, “Jesus, I Want to Be Like You” and “Just a Closer Walk with Th ee.” Sandra Wright read the poem “Don’t Cry for Me” as Harriet Childress lit candles and guests went forward to place their white ribbons in remembrance of a loved one. Glen Th omason introduced the guest speaker, the Rev. Patricia Johnson, pastor of Galilee Baptist Church, who grew up with him in Gladetown. At 69 years of age, she is just one class away from completing her Doctorate in Christian counseling and theology. She praised God for the three communities.

She recalled instances from her childhood and her beginnings at the First Baptist Church of Vinton, walking there every Sunday to attend. She reminisced about Banks’ store where 25 cents could buy “all the bologna and cheese” a family needed for lunch. She talked about changes in the community and changes in society. Her sermon focused on the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, verses 1-12 and the prophet’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. “God is still alive” was her message. “Even when we turn our backs on God, he is faithful as when He breathed life into a huge pile of dry human bones and formed a vast army. Do not despair; God is there. With God, all things are possible. Have faith.” Frank Miller called forward the members of the Breakfast Lions Club to thank them for their eff orts to preserve the cemetery, which began in 2015.

President John Dyer said that initially he thought cemetery work would be a “nice beautifi cation project,” but that instead, it has built a sense of community he is proud to be a part of. Chris McCarty said that although a beautiful fence has gone up around the cemetery there still remain things to be done: “it is a work in progress.” Mayor Grose thanked those present “for the love you have shown to the community. People in Vinton stick together. You are a great example of that. Things change. As long as they change for the better, that’s a good thing. Change is all right as long as Vinton stays Vinton.” Glen Thomason paid tribute to Arthur Preston, a strong man who “taught me a lot. I will always miss him. This community is a nice place to live. I have always loved living here. We have always stuck together.” Evelyn McCauley presented gifts to recent high school graduates Michael Banks, Larry Basham Jr., Alia English, Nick English, and Jasmine Scales. Nalah Saunders, a William Byrd student who passed away in the fall of her senior year, was recognized on the Memory Wall. With that, the service concluded, the cakes were served, and the crowd was left to reminisce and begin anticipating the next reunion in 2021.