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‘We were meant to find him’
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Love Shack rescue Max finds a new, loving home

CUMBERLAND — One of the Love Shack dogs has found his forever home, in a turn of events that his new family called “fate.” 

Max was one of the over 100 dogs seized from the Cabin Road property on April 5. 

The conditions weren’t suitable for that many dogs, and Max was brought to the Hampshire County Animal Shelter. 

Hampshire native, Cumberland resident and mom of 2 Erin Surber saw Max’s picture on the shelter’s Facebook page, and she said she was charmed immediately.

“He stood out as being the perfect dog for our family,” Surber recalled. “When we went to adopt (him), I had no idea he was from Love Shack.” 

That’s where the concept of “fate” came in. 

Surber said that when the dogs were being seized and folks were being updated through the news and through social media, she knew she wanted to help and maybe adopt one of the dogs. Going to the shelter to meet Max, Surber had no idea that Max was one of those dogs. 

“While the kids were playing with him, the volunteer said he was from the Love Shack,” Surber recounted. “I was sold right then and there, and knew that we were meant to find him.” 

Max was adopted on May 8, just about a month after he was taken from the horrors of the Cabin Road site, where many of the dogs lacked necessary medical care and several deceased dogs were simply bagged and tossed into a trash heap on the property called “The Pit.”

The 2-year-old pooch, whose breed Surber described as being “a mystery pup,” has turned out to be a perfect fit for his new family. Surber said she doesn’t know how long he was at Love Shack, but he is recovering from that experience in the arms of his new family in Cumberland.

“He’s super smart and I think very intuitive for a dog,” Surber explained. “When I’m feeling stressed, he just lays his head in my lap and looks up at me. It’s so sweet.”

She said when they first brought the rescue home, he was curious and clingy, needing constant assurance and stability. And, even though he clocks in at about 40 pounds, he thinks he’s a lap dog.

“He does seem like a worrier,” his mom added. “He’s apprehensive and a bit scared about meeting new people at first, but once he warms up, he’s good to go.”

Surber has 2 kids: a daughter, Reagan, who is 10, and her son Ryker, who is almost 8. She said Max is great with the kids. 

“I think their energy matches his,” she said. “We are a sports-oriented and active family, and Max is a very athletic dog.”

Sometimes, she said, he even goes on runs with her. 

Living with his new family in Cumberland (though soon they will be relocating back to Hampshire County) is certainly a far cry from the conditions at Love Shack. 

Surber said that she felt moved to help in some way after hearing about the dogs being recovered from the property.

“It was just the fact that all of these dogs were there in such an unfortunate situation,” she said. “I wanted to help in whatever way possible to give at least one of them a loving environment.” 

A life of service
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First, a war hero and then a champion for animals

David Gee was a Marine through and through. 

After he served his country as a tank commander in the Vietnam War, he served his adopted county, almost single-handedly creating Hampshire’s animal control operation.

Just a year after he retired from animal control and 5 months after his wife, Peggy, passed on, Col. David Gee died July 2 in Winchester Medical Center. He had just turned 80. 

He brought the same “yes sir, no sir” approach to his animal control duties that he learned during active duty in the Corps, said County Commissioner Bob Hott. 

“He wasn’t a real lovey-dovey, teddy bear-type guy, but he was who he was,” said retired County Commissioner Steve Slonaker. “When you cut through the rough exterior he was a good natured man too. 

“It was hard to detect from time to time.” 

Margie Shrewsbury, a longtime donor to the animal shelter, met Gee for the 1st time when they were paired to judge the county social studies fair. 

The colonel, she recalled, had 2 students in tears over a glaring error in their presentation on naval uniforms. 

But the 2nd time Shrewsbury met Gee, she saw a different man. He responded to her call about an injured pup that had been dropped near her house. 

“He was so gentle with that dog, putting him in the truck,” she said. “It was total turnaround.”

That was the nature of David Gee, Slonaker agreed.

“Col. Gee was a little rough around his edges — and he wouldn’t be offended by that,” Slonaker said. 

And then there’s this, Hott and Slonaker both noted: 

“The colonel had more executive sessions with the County Commissioners than anyone else,” Slonaker said. “People would get upset.”

Gee became the animal control officer, first on a volunteer basis and then part-time. 

Even as a full-time officer, he earned a salary only in the low $20,000 range. 

And when the county needed an animal control facility, he leased the Commission his farm on Critton Owl Hollow Road as a shelter for $1 a year.

The expanse of the farm combined with a pet adoption program kept euthanasia to a minimum and expenses low, Hott said. 

That farm was what drew Gee to Hampshire County in the 1st place. 

“He was looking for a farm,” Sheriff Nathan Sions said, “and found Hampshire County, and that’s where they settled.”

A farm in the country was a far cry from the battlefields of Vietnam. 

“Imagine yourself in a sealed-up 5-gallon bucket with people throwing rocks at it,” he once told Slonaker. That was tank combat. 

“He was in the middle of some pretty horrific fights in a horrific warzone,” Sions said.  

Gee was awarded a bronze star for his meritorious service. 

Sions surprised Col. Gee earlier this year when the new county animal shelter was named for Gee, presenting the colonel a framed portrait of Gee as a young Marine in uniform.

“There will be a lasting void in our hearts,” Sions said, “but we need to remember him by the legacy he leaves with us.” o

Back to school, back to normal
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County schools aim for a return to in-person learning

ROMNEY — The big goal for Hampshire County Schools come the end of August is simple: bring kids back to the buildings for a school year that’s as close to “normal” as possible. 

After being in and out of the buildings over the last year and a half, with kids and staff alike masked up and challenges surrounding virtual learning, superintendent Jeff Pancione said that it’s time for kids to go back. 

“Our plan is to return to normal, as close to (how it was) pre-Covid as possible,” Pancione explained. “It’ll entail us working with the health department and Nurse Dante, and our plans are to start without masks.”

He added that at both the elementary and middle school levels, students would start back in their pods for additional flexibility.

Pancione and curriculum director Patty Lipps cited a few reasons backing the county’s big decision to return to all in-person learning. 

“We’re making research and data-driven decisions,” Lipps said. “The data has shown that kids learn best face-to-face with a teacher.”

She also mentioned that with virtual learning, the schools’ mental health referrals were up. 

“Kids struggled with anxiety more,” she explained. 

Pancione praised teachers and staff for how they adapted to the whirlwind that has been the last year and a half, but stated that students need to be with other students.

“Our teachers and staff have done an outstanding job, being flexible and changing to adapt to everything,” he said. “For our kids’ mental, social, emotional and academic needs, we’ve got to be in the buildings.”

The schools will be returning to the pre-Covid model of virtual learning: there will be virtual options for electives or classes that may not have instructors within the schools, but it won’t be an option for parents to sign their child up for complete virtual learning at this time.

“Our plan is to return back to school, but remain flexible because we don’t know what’s coming,” Pancione said. 

Lipps said that Hampshire County is a little ahead of the curve, because they have already purchased 1-to-1 devices for students. Grades 3 through 12 will be equipped with Chromebooks, and Lipps said the schools will keep their online management platforms (Seesaw and Schoology) for nontraditional learning days. 

Pancione said he’s feeling positively about bringing students back into the classroom full time, especially riding the wave of the successful Summer Learning Academy, which wrapped up last week.

“We ran a very successful summer program with 500 kids. It was a good warm-up,” he said. “They participated without masks, in groups, they were moving and doing everything normal like pre-Covid, and we didn’t have any incidents of Covid.” o

Oates plugs into new space race
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Romney resident Dan Oates’ career-long involvement with NASA is joining the new private space race. 

Oates has a connection with 1 of the civilian astronauts aboard Sunday’s 1st space flight by Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity and 1 of the crew for next week’s flight of Blue Origin. 

Billionaire Richard Branson was aboard Sunday’s flight, becoming the 1st person in the world to fly into space aboard his own vessel. Next Tuesday’s flight is the 1st for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aboard his own craft. 

In 2019, while attending the Space Camp Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Oates met Beth Moses, an engineer on Sunday’s Virgin Galactic flight, and Wally Funk, who will fly on the Blue Origin with Bezos. 

“It was a pleasure spending time with each of these professionals,” Oates said. “Beth is the consummate engineer while Wally is an over-the-top personality whose history with flight is amazing.”

Moses has already flown into space, in February 2019.

A 3rd inductee at that 2019 gathering was Casey Harris, keyboardist of the rock band X-Ambassadors. In 2000 and 2001, Harris attended Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, a program Oates coordinated and the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind supported since it began in 1990. o

Planning starts for 3 new schools
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ROMNEY — God is in the details when it comes to designing the 3 new elementary schools here, and the devil is in the decisions: 

Cubbies versus lockers.

Hardwood gym floors versus a durable alternative. 

Traditional classroom settings versus “next generation” learning. 

These new schools will be around for decades, so every decision is a big one, and the county’ CEFP committee has their work cut out for them. 

Before the school bond passed last year, making the county’s dream of new schools a reality on the horizon, a committee was developed to create the 10-year plan for the schools required by the state. This plan, called the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, was put together by representatives all over the county: community members, parents, teachers and school staff. 

Now that the bond has passed, the wheels are rolling and the committee  has  a  new job: figure out what we want the schools to look like. 

Over the last few weeks, the committee has met with superintendent Jeff Pancione, as well as members of the school board and, of course, the team of architects, to discuss what the new schools will be like.

They even stopped by one of the Summer Learning Academy sites to get some feedback from students.

“The kids talked a lot about being able to learn outside, and bring nature in,” said Rob Pillar, designer with INSPIRE Learning Environment Planning. “There are lots of opportunities for that.” 

Outdoor learning spaces and natural light are 2 school design concepts that are becoming more and more popular.

“People engage with nature; they have a connection with nature,” Pillar said. “Natural daylight is proven to increase student achievement.” 

Pillar will be working with Patrick Rymer, McKinley Architecture’s director of architectural services, to design the 3 new elementary schools here, and while they provided specific recommendations for school safety and security, the rest is really up to Hampshire County. 

During one of the planning meetings, Pillar and Rymer taped up photos of schools their firms have designed, and asked committee members to point out elements they liked and elements they didn’t. 

The result? A broad picture painted of what the new schools might include.

Committee members liked open spaces, bright colors, areas where classes could collaborate and that looked inviting. Natural light was echoed across the board as a need, as well as spaces that just were fun and engaging. 

“We don’t want schools to be prisons,” Rymer pointed out.

Elements that were less appreciated were dull colors, carpeting, ceilings that were too high and aesthetic elements that serve no real purpose other than being decorative.

A big decision the committee made was about school libraries: instead of one dedicated space, the schools will likely have “distributed” libraries, with reading spaces throughout the school, “so kids are surrounded by opportunities to learn,” explained school board president Debbie Champ. 

While the school designs have a few requirements (for example, security regulations, space and budget constraints), the initial planning stages have begun for the county’s new schools, and it’s in the hands of the community.  

The next step will be for the designers to take the feedback they received from the CEFP committee and translate it into a rough design to present for additional discussion and continued discussion of what will work, what won’t and the details needed to pull it all together. o

Going down
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Biggest chunk of Blue Bridge falling soon

SPRINGFIELD — The old John Blue Bridge is coming down quickly. 

The Division of Highways said last Thursday that it expects the steel truss structure to be dismantled within 2 weeks.

Apparently, that’s being conservative. 

A contractor hauling debris told the Review Monday that the main portion of the bridge will be dropped by week’s end.  

The demolition has led to an advisory for people who use the river through the construction zone. 

DOH says debris could be falling during working hours. In addition, the channel for boaters and floaters is reduced and could be closed temporarily. 

Portage in the Blue’s Beach area could be altered as well, DOH said. 

Buoys will be in place to warn of hazards downstream, DOH said. Access to normal portage locations may be restricted, more dangerous or impossible. 

Affected activities include fishing; floating in canoes, kayaks or tubes; swimming; and boating. o