By Josette Keelor
A year of lifestyle and entertainment stories means excitement and fun around the valley as well as a celebration of togetherness and personal success. In 2013, the valley's last remaining professional theater gave everything it had to school drama programs. An Edinburg teen spent the summer filming a movie and the fall enjoying sold-out theaters. The community partied hardy in Winchester's new downtown "family room," and a puppy from Stephens City rose to fame when he became a U.S. Marine.
Here we offer our the top lifestyle stories of 2013:
Wayside props help revive academy's theater program, musical a first for Warren County Middle
When Wayside Theatre in Middletown closed last August, the Northern Shenandoah Valley lost its only remaining professional theater and the second oldest in the valley. But while stage curtains closed on Wayside, they opened at area schools where theater programs were just beginning.
In September, cadets from Massanutten Academy in Woodstock traveled to Middletown to collect wigs, hats, makeup, shoes, clothes, ties and props, English and drama teacher Michelle Harper said for the story that ran Oct. 7.
"We wear uniforms every day, so having wigs and hats just does amazing things," Harper said. "It has really helped the program come to life. I think it is just a big treasure trove."
In Front Royal, Warren County Middle School was able to put on its first ever musical this fall due to a costume donation from Wayside.
Middle school band director and a former Wayside board member, Pam Dyke said the majority of the play's costumes came from Wayside, as well as props like eyeglasses and accessories like ties.
"We don't really have a budget for our theater department," she said. "[It's] nice to have something to start with."
Bright Box Theater takes center stage in Old Town Winchester, Shenandoah Conservatory teams with Bright Box Theater
The black box theater that opened last May in The Bright Center on Winchester's Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall announced its partnership with Shenandoah Conservatory at the end of July. It was the conservatory's first alliance and has allowed for more musical and theatrical venues for the school's 2013-14 season.
Sloan MacRae, managing director of the conservatory and artistic director of the school's Performing Arts Live, called the partnership "a no-brainer," and Marilyn Finnemore, owner of the Bright Box, said it's a win-win for both sides.
"This is really going to help put Winchester on the map as a downtown," Finnemore said. "I mean, this is going to be the place to be."
Skyline Indie Film Fest to unite world-class films
The first Skyline Indie Film Fest hit the streets of downtown Winchester and surrounding Frederick County in September. It attracted submissions of independent films from all around the world.
Locally made film "A Little Off the Top" by Nick Nerangis stars actors from Winchester Little Theatre and competed against films like the Oscar-winning short "Curfew."
Nerangis, who played a murderous barber in his film, described his role as "a nice-guy-goes-nuts role."
Festival director Brian Patrick said he wanted to bring a film festival to Winchester because he's a lover of culture and community.
"The quality of the submissions is really high," Patrick said. "Every film went head to head with every other film."
New Marine Corps mascot born in Stephens City
Last February, a puppy from Stephens City went to Washington to become a United States Marine. Chosen by the Marine Corps to be their mascot, Chesty XIV, the puppy came from breeder Sarah Gomez and her daughter Abigail Callahan.
Named in memory of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller Jr., Chesty is the 14th in a line of English bulldogs dating back to 1957. The first mascot was Jiggs I, who took office in 1922.
Bulldogs are very social dogs and "thrive on attention," Gomez said. In the Marine Corps, Chesty XIV will get just that, said Capt. John Norton, public affairs officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington.
As Corps' mascot, he said, Chesty is "a very big portion of the public face of the Marine Corps."
Music festival celebrates 50 years, launches Future Fifty Fund
In May, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival announced the launch of its Future Fifty Fund in anticipation of its 50th anniversary celebration this past summer.
Recalling the festival's many successful years, festival director Dennis Lynch said it was a risk setting a festival of such magnitude in a place as small as Shenandoah County's Orkney Springs.
"Thank goodness market analysts and focus groups weren't around 50 years ago," Lynch said.
"Great, world-class music," he said. "Close by. Great value. Great fun. After you come there for the first time, we know you will want to come back."
Fun events, entertainment planned for Old Town Winchester's walking mall
This year downtown Winchester gave itself a makeover.
Following a year of construction, a rededication ceremony of the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall on May 18 opened what Dario Savarese of Full Circle Marketing called "an outdoor family room." Planned events included Friday night music, free movies on the mall and other family-themed festivities.
"It's a place where everyone can come and see smiling faces," he said.
Said downtown manager Jennifer Bell, "We really want to support the businesses that are here." Increasing the number of events will provide "even more reasons to come downtown," she said.
Museum to add new building, trails
In a "master plan" that will implement four phases over 10 years, The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley announced last month a revival of its property for community use.
With plans for a layered system of walking and hiking trails on museum property, a dramatic new entrance road to the site, satellite parking, an on-site Arts and Education Building, the reworking of existing spaces and the expansion of gallery and collections storage spaces, the museum will be able to provide what architect Chuck Swartz with Reader & Swartz Architects called a "much larger, richer, more inclusive experience."
Julie Armel, director of marketing and public relations, said the museum's focus will remain with the community and encompass "past, present and future."
But while new and bigger is good, Director Dana Hand explained, "what we needed to do is care for what we already had."
Young director films movie with grant from Virginia Film Office; local film 'Detached' to show at three area theaters
Last summer, Edinburg 14-year-old Stephen French wrote, directed and edited a film he then showed to sold-out theaters around the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
The Virginia Film Office awarded him a $500 grant on the condition that he complete his film, and with help from area volunteer actors, writers and musicians, Stephen succeeded.
His 60-minute psychological thriller "Detached," about a young widow whose short stay at a secluded bed and breakfast is anything but restful, was his first feature-length film.
"It's definitely not as much horror as my previous work," he said, but, "it's scarier because it could really happen."
He debuted "Detached" at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to two sold-out showings on Sept. 13, followed by another at the Woodstock Community Theater Sept. 15. The film kicked off the Stephens City Family Drive-In's Halloween Horror movie month on Oct. 3, traveled to Harrisonburg's Court Street Theater Oct. 7 and encored at the Woodstock theater in late October.
But even before anyone saw his film, he already had an offer to direct a movie for local writer Lisa Mikitarian, who helped him edit his script. He plans to direct her film "Spent" next summer. For information, go to https://www.facebook.com/spentthemovie
"When you see his ability and interpretation of film through a story," she said, "... I just immediately knew that he would be able to pull this off and it would be a beautiful product."
Fair to close summer with celebration, celebrity; local resident films "Essence of Fair"
No other area county fair packed as much into one week as the Shenandoah County Fair did. Each night in late August mixed locally and nationally known headliners like The Fabulous Hubcaps, Thompson Square, the Eli Young Band, Five of a Kind, The Amanda Wilkins Trio, Danni Leigh, the Just 4 Fun Band, Stoney Creek and X-Factor winner Tate Stephens.
A Civil War 150 History Mobile gave tours each day as favorites like harness racing, wheelbarrow racing, a tractor pull and a demolition derby kept the celebration going.
Food vendors catered to the crowds, area children and teens showed their stuff in 4-H and FFA displays, carnival rides spun long into the night and Maurertown resident Roy Stokes captured it all on film through his "Essence of the Fair," online at Youtube at YouTube or through the Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 540-459-6140.
Home at last: Family welcomes return of POW 62 years after his death
U.S. Army Cpl. James Rexford Hare was just 19 years old when he disappeared from his unit in South Korea. On Feb. 13, 62 years to the day of his capture as a prisoner of war, Hare's siblings laid him to rest in Wesley Chapel Cemetery in Points, W.Va.
As a result of the Army's vow never to leave a fallen comrade behind and DNA research, Hare's remains were recently identified and returned to his family.
Shirley Hare Shipway of Strasburg was only 2 years old when her brother joined the Army. The 10th of 15 sisters and brothers who lived past infancy, Shipway, now 65, has spent her entire life wondering about her brother James.
Her mother died never knowing what happened to her eldest son.
"Still, in her heart, I can remember her praying," Shipway said. "She still wanted to know where her son was."
In September 1953, during a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and communist forces, a returning U.S. soldier told de-briefers that Hare was captured by the enemy and taken to a POW camp in Suan County on Feb. 13, 1951. According to a news release from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, the soldier said Hare died from malnutrition in April of that year. His remains were not among those returned by communist forces during Operation Glory in 1954.
The North Koreans did not initially grant Americans access to the remains said Army Master Sgt. Glynn L. Honts, Casualty Affairs officer and 298th Signal Company Station chief. It wasn't until 1991 that the Army finally began receiving word on some of its missing, and it took over two decades for DNA testing at the military's Pacific lab in Hawaii to determine that Hare was among the remains.
The Army never gives up searching for its fallen and missing, Honts said.
"The Army is actively involved in every conflict with every prisoner of war to find them," he said. "That is part of our ethos -- never to leave a fallen comrade."
"We will search until we find them."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org