Stephens Named ‘Volunteer of the Year’

Published in the Virginia Mountaineer on December 18, 2014, featuring Grundy Woman’s Club Member Tania Stephens as she received the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award.

Rife, ‘Volunteer’s Volunteer,’ Named 2014 County Hall Of Fame Inductee

by Scotty Wampler
Virginia Mountaineer

Retired educator and local civic leader Robert Rife became the newest inductee into the Buchanan County Hall of Fame last Thursday night.

Rife, who prior to his 2011 retirement served as transportation director for the local school system, was announced as the 50th inductee into the hall of fame during the Buchanan County Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet, held at the Appalachian College of Pharmacy at Oakwood.

“I daresay that almost everyone in this room knew him, or knew of him, through his affiliation with the Buchanan County School System,” Cathy St. Clair, chairperson for the chamber’s hall of fame committee, said in announcing Rife as the 2014 inductee. “Many of us have quipped at one time or another that he must have become good friends with NBC weatherman Al Roker, or WCYB’s Dave Dierks, since for many years, he was one of the men on ‘snow watch’ — called upon to help make the decision as to whether school in Buchanan County should be held, or cancelled, based on the winter weather.”

In accepting the honor, Rife said he was surprised by the induction, and joked of his many community involvements that he “didn’t know how to say no.”

“Thank you for this great honor,” Rife remarked. “I don’t deserve it, but I’ve just been about doing good. And, I couldn’t say no. And I really care for Buchanan County, and the children most of all, because they are the future.”

Two additional honors were given earlier in the evening. Grundy Woman’s Club representative Tania Stephens was named Buchanan County Community Volunteer Award winner for 2014 for her efforts, while Tonya Hurt received the chamber volunteer award.

For Rife, his induction into the hall of fame came after years of exhaustive service to the community not only as an educator, but also as a civic leader whose involvements include being a charter member of the Whitewood Volunteer Fire Department, having worked with others in the community to establish that department in 1973. He remains active in the department today, helping to write grants and obtain the funds that were needed to construct the new fire hall.

“He continues to go out on fire calls when he can – no matter the time of day or night,” St. Clair said. “He also helps to clean and maintain the trucks, the equipment and the building and currently serves as secretary of the department.”

Active in the Lions Club since 1977, he was also a well-known face at football games where he volunteered to work the concession stand under the Friday night lights.

In 1986, he became active in scouting and served on various committees of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1991, he became Scoutmaster of Troop 749 and he continues in that role today.

“Members of his troop are very active and are regular participants in the annual Buchanan County Litter Control Office Earth Day clean-up activities,” St. Clair added.

He also remains active in Breaks District scout events.

Rife has also volunteered his time for a number of years with the Remote Area Medical event, helping in the clean-up which occurs once the event has ended and after the medical volunteers have gone home.

In 2004, Rife began working with Buchanan County Youth Inc. and currently serves as chairman of the Boys and Girls Club. He is a member of Richlands Masonic Lodge #318; serves on the committee for the Friends of the Breaks Interstate Park; and is a member of the Buchanan General Hospital Board of Directors. He also serves as preacher at Maple Grove Church of Christ.

In accepting the honor last Thursday evening, Rife recalled an exchange between he and former school board member Paul Hayes late in his time as transportation director for Buchanan County Public Schools.

“Paul Hayes and I were traveling to one of the schools,” Rife recalled. “Paul said, ‘Robert, you’re a pretty good old boy.’ And, my reply is how I see myself. I said, ‘Paul, if you see any good in me, give credit to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of Him, I am what I am.”

Rife continued, “The Bible said He went about doing good. That’s how I try to portray my life, to be like Him.”

In introducing Rife to those in attendance for the banquet last week, St. Clair described Rife as a soft-spoken “volunteer’s volunteer,” eager to give of his time without expecting anything in return.

“He’s always been one to work quietly behind the scenes, accomplishing much while not seeking the credit for it,” St. Clair said.

A Buchanan County native, raised at Pilgrims Knob, Rife is the son of Nelson and Ruth Rife. A 1972 graduate of Whitewood High School, he went on to attend college at Southwest Virginia Community College, transferring two years later to Virginia Tech where he graduated in 1976 and later went on to obtain his masters in administration, also from Virginia Tech.

He met his wife, Evelyn, while in college, and the two recently celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. Evelyn and their daughter, Allison, attended Thursday’s induction. The couple also has two adopted children, Tim and Tonia.

Rife first worked for J.B. Rife at Rife Chevrolet selling cars, fulfilling his passion to be around vehicles, something he still has today, holding on to a 1972 Chevy pick-up he bought from Cornelius Rife. He is also known as a routine car show organizer in the area.

Rife began working for the Buchanan County School System in 1982 at the vocational school, now the technology and career center. He taught auto body repair there for more than 10 years and then transferred to the bus garage for several years before returning to the vocational school in 1991 as its principal. He later became transportation director and held that post until his retirement from the school system in 2011.

Prior to the awarding of the hall of fame honor, Stephens was announced as the community volunteer of the year for her active role in the Grundy Woman’s Club.

“When we think of volunteers in our community, we think of those individuals who work tirelessly for their cause and never expect recognition or payment for their good work,” Jessica Savage said in announcing Stephens as the recipient of the award. “Popular writer Erma Bombeck once said, ‘Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the Earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.’ Our honoree tonight embodies all of the qualities of a true volunteer.”

Savage noted Stephens, who works in her family business at Vansant Lumber Company, was the “mastermind” behind the Grundy Woman’s Club’s successful princess extravaganza event earlier this year, which raised close to $2,000 to purchase shoes for needy children in Buchanan County.

“She has also organized the Holidays in the Hills market for the past several years, an event that has grown to become one of the yearly highlights in our community,” Savage said. “I can personally attest to her volunteerism when she approached me about adding a new fundraiser to Relay For Life’s Ladies Night Out Breast Cancer Awareness Event called Bras For a Cause. Together, with the Grundy Woman’s Club, we raised over $500 to contribute to the American Cancer Society. In my personal opinion, excellent volunteers work and support other causes in the community in addition to their own and I think our honoree tonight does just that.”

In accepting the honor, Stephens brushed aside the notion her accomplishments were her own, giving credit to the woman’s club’s membership.

“We all participate, we all did this together,” Stephens said.

Stephens also took the opportunity to advocate for the club, urging anyone in attendance who was interested in becoming a member to consider joining.

“If you are not a Grundy Woman’s Club member, I do have applications with me!” Stephens exclaimed.

Stephens has served as president of the woman’s club, as well as district chairperson, state chairperson, was a GFWC Virginia LEADS representative in 2012 and currently serves as GFWC Southwestern District president.

“She is the volunteer who spearheaded Spirit Fest, started the silent auction here at the chamber banquet, and organized both the Mom Prom and Vintage Fashion Show,” Savage added. “She has helped with decorating the town with pinwheels for Child Abuse Awareness Month and pink ribbons for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The list goes on and on for this extremely hard worker.”

Stephens resides at Vansant with her husband, Joe.

They have three children, Matthan Houser, Ashleigh Stephens and Joseph Stephens.

Also during the annual banquet, Buchanan County Chamber of Commerce representative Tonya Hurt was honored as the chamber volunteer of the year.

Hurt has served on the annual banquet committee for several years, and also serves on the chamber’s scholarship committee.

“She is someone the chamber can always count on to lend a hand and in addition to her work with the chamber, she also volunteers with Relay for Life and Feeding America, all the while holding a full-time job with Sykes Enterprises as a metrics analyst in their human resources department,” Chamber Executive Director Mary Belcher said in announcing Hurt as the honoree.

“Thank you so much,” Hurt said in accepting the honor. “This means the world to me.”

Hurt and her husband, Jamie, have two children, son Dalton and daughter Lindsey.

Those attending the banquet were also treated to a performance of “The Throw Away Family,” performed by 4PALS Productions.

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