By Sally Voth
The first annual meeting of the newly minted Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce was also an opportunity to honor the good works of some county residents.
Several of the town chambers that had disbanded to form the new county chamber announced awards presented to residents and businesses at the Jan. 9 meeting at the Edinburg Mill.
One of those was a Mt. Jackson man credited with saving nine lives.
Mike Ashley, now a member of the county chamber's board of directors, said the Mt. Jackson Chamber of Commerce had given out its awards in June, but had one more to give out. The chamber recognized Mt. Jackson Public Works Supervisor Randy Lonas as the citizen of the year.
Not only does Lonas volunteer for numerous organizations, he's a proven lifesaver, according to Ashley.
Lonas was bashful about his heroics in a Wednesday afternoon phone interview.
He explained his role in rescuing eight people in a November 2007 house fire at 5735 Main St. in Mt. Jackson.
"It was the day after Thanksgiving," Lonas said. "I was out making my rounds, saw the house was on fire and got them out. I knocked on the door. They answered and I got the three out downstairs, and then I tried to go upstairs where the fire was at because there was four up there, and I couldn't get through to them. Me and the police chief got them out a window at the back of the house."
Angela Gray, then 19, and her 18-year-old brother, Michael, were among the people in the burning home.
"If it wasn't for him, I'd probably been dead," she said at the time.
Lonas and then-Police Chief Rick Hassler helped four of the occupants to a roof and then to the ground. Michael Gray ended up being airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
Hassler said after the fire that, "if it were not for the quick response and actions of Randy Lonas, it would have been a whole lot worse.
"We probably would have lost [Michael Gray], and might have lost a lot more," Hassler said.
"It boils down to Randy. His observation, his quick response, his alerting the people. I can't say enough about him," he said.
More recently, Lonas successfully resuscitated a man.
Lonas said he was driving home one evening when he saw a man he knew sitting on the road with his family. The man had had a bad reaction to medication.
"He coded, and we brought him back," said Lonas, who added he did fire and rescue work for 13 years.
He said he was "kind of shocked" by the chamber's recognition.
"There's a lot more people out there that deserve it more than I do," Lonas said. "I was just doing what I know. I don't need no award for it."
Several other people and organizations were recognized at the county chamber meeting.
In Edinburg, the recently shuttered family hardware store, C.E. Thompson & Sons, was named business of the year. It had been a town institution for 58 years.
"C.E. Thompson's & Sons have always been a generous contributor of time, resources and money for a number of community projects and organizations," said Justin Wightman, who was also appointed to the county board.
Edinburg Mayor-Town Manager Dan Harshman, who has led renovation efforts at the mill, was declared person of the year, and the Edinburg Heritage Foundation the organization of the year.
In Woodstock, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital/Valley Health received the organization award, Emmanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Nathan Robinson received the citizen award, and Dellinger Funeral Home was given the business award.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com