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United Way Honors Batten

Frank Batten, Jr., Ed Walker, Frank Rogan and Walter Rugaber
Frank Batten, Jr., Ed Walker, Frank Rogan and Walter Rugaber

The rain was pouring down outside, but inside the lovingly restored former Garden Club building on Avenham Avenue, now the home of David and Mary Ann Wine, the mood was warm and convivial, as about 100 of the most generous donors to United Way of Roanoke Valley gathered for the annual meeting of the Tocqueville Society – those who give at least $ 10,000 per year to support the organization’s efforts.

They were there to honor the legacy of the late Frank Batten Sr. and all that he and the Landmark Foundation have done over the years for the United Way.  They were also there to rally themselves and their peers to give even more to the cause of helping the less fortunate in the community, a group whose size has grown exponentially in the very challenging economy of the last two years.

There to show them how it’s done in Norfolk was a modest young man in a tuxedo named Frank Batten, Jr. He was introduced by Ed Walker, Tocqueville Society Chair and intrepid recreator of a vibrant downtown, and Walter Rugaber, former Tocqueville Society Chair, publisher of The Roanoke Times, and President of Hollins University.

Without a microphone, Mr. Batten, now CEO of the company his father built, quietly but passionately told a story about a boy who had a rough start, losing his own dad, getting in trouble in school and pulling mildly criminal pranks, but who through the mentorship of a caring track coach, started turning his life around in middle school.  That young boy became Frank Batten Sr., whose work ethic, moral integrity, and extraordinary philanthropy became legendary.  Clearly the son, who has carried on his father’s legacy in a quieter but no less serious way, was moved by the opportunity to speak about his so recently lost father and by the sincere praise given to him by United Way’s leaders.  He urged the members and prospective members of the Tocqueville Society to “Keep it up!” and even to give more to help their fellow citizens who are suffering.

Also present at the event were representatives of the William C. Stephenson family, whose ancestor originally built the Wine’s home, known as “Fairacres,” and coincidentally, founded what became United Way of Roanoke Valley 85 years ago.  The fourth William Stephenson was emotional when he thanked the Wines for saving and rejuvenating the beautiful old building and mentioned gratefully how they had preserved a paint handprint that his father had left on a wall as a child.

“Generations of caring,” was the theme of the evening, and Mr. Batten, Jr. was presented with a specially commissioned bronze of an extended hand, titled “Giving” by sculptor Betty Branch, in recognition of all his family has done for the Valley.  Corporate Sponsors for the event and presentation were Advance Auto Parts, Thomas Rutherfoord, Carilion Clinic, and Elizabeth Arden.

Consistently humble and grateful for his own personal legacy, Mr. Batten said, “Thank you for this beautiful symbol of your mission.  This evening is really about my parents, and so I am going to take this home to my mom.”

By Linda Webb
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