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Winchester Area Newcomers Club


Winchester Area Newcomers Club

General Meeting

Guest Speakers



Our General Meeting with a speaker is held every month from September through May.






Anna Lehman

Program Coordinator for the Godfrey Miller Center

28 South Loudoun St.

Winchester, VA


Highlights from the Presentation


The mission of the the Godfrey Miller center is to serve adults of the community by providing benevolent services, fellowship programs and community events in the historic home and the Woltz pavilion.


To fulfill this mission the center has a rich smorgasbord of activities! Some examples:

Games: canasta, bridge, pinochle, ,mahjong 

Classes: art, strength & conditioning exercise, bible study, computer workshops, technology help sessions

Fun: weekly luncheons, tea parties, craft workshops

…and so much more. Anna spoke enthusiastically about programs the center currently offers and that she is always happy to receive new program ideas!

The Godfrey Miller House has a fascinating history stretching back to 1785. For a full history of how Godfrey Miller's private home was given to Grace Lutheran Church as a home for elderly ladies, and then became a fellowship center for older adults,  and a complete list of activities check out their website at


Kristen Laise, Executive Director, Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia,

Highlights from the Presentation

Kristen presented us with a powerpoint presentation that included a brief history of Belle Grove Plantation but it mainly focused on the results of the Slave Dwelling Project and the research tools used in the effort to identify all the individual slaves owned by the Hite family.

When Jost Hite married Nellie Madison, the sister of James Madison,  in 1783, the couple received almost 500 acres of land in Frederick County. Their manor house still stands and Belle Grove Plantation is now a National Historical Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark, and a historic property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 


It is estimated that between 1783 and 1851 the Hite family owned 276 slaves, and one of the Belle Grove projects is to identify each individual slave and construct their family trees using the Hite family papers, wills, court documents, and census records, just to name a few.


Kristen spoke about the archeological dig in the area where the old slave quarters stood that has yielded over 60,000 artifacts. New technology helps researchers interpret such finds, the most fascinating one that Kristen mentioned was seeds. At some point in time on the site, there was a fire that inadvertently led to the preservation of seeds. These seeds can now be analyzed on a level that reveals what kind of seeds they were and thus giving historians specific  information about what crops were grown at the time. 


Of particular interest to members in the audience this morning was Kristen’s description of the Stitch-A-Name Quilt Project sponsored by Belle Grove and the Winchester Embroidery Guild. Each quilt block will have the embroidered name of a slave, including family relationships if possible. Over 270 slave men, women and children will be remembered on this quilt! 


Kristen pointed out the many ways to volunteer at Belle Grove Plantation, including gardening, docent work and volunteering in the museum shop. She also listed a plethora of events and activities open to the public.


The Belle Grove Plantation website ( is incredibly rich with information. To read in detail about the powerful,  fascinating and textured stories that can now be told about individual slaves and their families and life on the plantation, check out in particular:


For a Virtual Tour :


Sharen E. Gromling

President of the Shenandoah Apple Festival

Highlights from the Presentation

Sharen has been a volunteer for the Shenandoah Apple Festival for 43 years, and is now in her second year as President.


After all these years of service, Sharen is still enthusiastic about volunteering because she believes that the Winchester community spirit is very special! The Shenandoah Apple Festival has been a tradition since 1924 and for which we, the community, open our doors and welcome everyone to come and celebrate. Sharen loves the fact that for 10 days Winchester transforms itself into a land of pink and green, a brief moment in which time is suspended for young and old to enjoy fun, pageantry, and parades.


This year there will be over 50 events! The full event calendar can be viewed at


Sharen spoke about the rich history of the festival attendees. The list of celebrities that have served in various capacities is impressive. The list includes Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, just to name a few! Check out the whole list here:


Past Queens have included 2 President’s daughters; Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lucy in 1964, and Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan in 1975.


The Queen for this year is Isabella Astin, daughter of actor Sean Astin (Samwise Gangee of “The Lord of the Rings”). Isabella is his youngest daughter, the older two were Queen in 2014 and 2018. The whole Astin family is coming in from California for the event.


The Apple Blossom Festival has added some new events this year. To name a few, an Esport Tournament, Pickleball Tournament, Wheelchair Race added to the 10K, Teen Dance and a Fiesta Latina which will be free to the public. 


It takes 2000 volunteers to organize and run the Apple Blossom Festival. The Festival is expensive to fund. It costs about $2 million with $100,000 used to cover celebrities. A great deal of the revenue comes from 2 events, the 10 day Carnival in Ward Plaza and the 2 day Wine Festival. Rain is always a factor, and over the years many events have been moved to indoor venues.


Many events require tickets. In the past, tickets were sold in several locations in Winchester,  but  are now only available on-line. The events that usually sell out quickly are the Friday luncheons and this year, probably the Contemporary Christian Concert that closes out the Festival.


Sharen highlighted a new partnership with Sherando High School. The art class has published an Apple Blossom Festival children’s coloring book. All the proceeds will go back to the art department.


The Apple Blossom Festival is truly a community event and it  has something for everyone!. 



Dr. John Toliver

Retired USDA Forest Service Research Scientist & Associate Professor of Forestry at Louisiana State University, U.S. Army Vietnam era Veteran, Avid Naturalist, Conservationist.


Highlights from the Presentation


Dr. Toliver  moved to Lake Frederick in 2018. The development around the lake is private property, but Dr. Toliver and other members of the Lake Frederick community built a 7.4 mile trail around the Lake. This trail is open to the public because it was built on a 100 foot buffer zone owned by the Virginia State Department of Wildlife Resources.


Dr. Toliver mentioned a Washington Post story about the history of Lake Frederick. He did not focus on the historical development of Lake Frederick so  it is well worth reading the Post article so you can appreciate how much we owe the volunteers that created the hiking trail and the right to public access to the Lake.


Dr. Toliver spoke enthusiastically about what the 117 acres of Lake Frederick offers us now. The hiking trail itself was completed in 2020 and is now a major feature, with a Bait Shop, dam, fishing pier, boat and kayak rentals, and fishing, all to be enjoyed by the public. The Lake supports numerous fish, including bass, crappie, and sunfish. Dr. Toliver  is always willing to organize a tour along the trail to “read” the landscape, a fascinating way of interpreting the land and understanding its past uses, especially since it includes part of the Wheatland Plantation which reaches back into the 1700’s. In fact, the Wheatland manor house is still standing.


Dr. Toliver is also president of the  “Friends of Lake Frederick”  organization, a  501 (c)(3) whose mission is to keep the Lake waters clean and healthy, keep the buffer zones clean and natural and maintain the nature trail. 


The Trail itself is 7.4  miles long and it begins and ends at the boat ramp. The trail has mile markers  which are very useful if you need emergency help. It is important to know that there is no place to get off the trail. All the access points you will see lead to private property.  The trail itself is marked with blue markers and you will have stepped onto private property when you see  yellow markers. The trail  progresses from an easy hike, to a more medium hike, to difficult. If you start down the trail you should think about your return trip unless you are ready for the entire 7.4 miles!


You  are required to pay $7/per person to use the trail or the Lake, and you will find a sign at the boat ramp with a QR code for your convenience. You can pay using your cell!  This money goes to the State of Virginia.


However, Dr. Toliver pointed out that if you are 65 or older, and buy a life-time fishing license for $25, you are good to go with paying the other fee! This money goes to the Department of Wildlife Resources and comes directly back to Lake Frederick.


Dolly Vachon, Board member and 1st Vice President, Winchester Little Theatre

Highlights from the Presentation

Dolly and her husband Donald moved to Winchester 28 years ago from New York’s Hudson River Valley. 


Since then, Dolly has become a volunteer with Winchester Medical Center’s Hurst House, the Arts Chorale of Winchester Shenandoah Arts, & the Winchester Little Theater. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Arts Chorale and is 1st Vice President of the Winchester Little Theatre’s Board of Directors. 

Dolly gave us a wonderfully spirited  presentation about her volunteer work with the Winchester Little Theatre (WLT). Years ago, she overheard a conversation about the WLT between 2 WLT box-office ladies in a locker room. She was so impressed that she immediately volunteered to help! Her enthusiasm has not waned and her love of the WLT is inspiring!

Dolly recalled how, as a new intern, she was jaw droppingly awed by the unbelievable talent and level of detail she witnessed in the sets, props and costumes,  and the excellence of the acting. All this work was done by volunteers.

Dolly loved her volunteer job so much that when asked she joined the WLT  Board of Directors, and in 2014 became the Director of Development. This was just about the time that the theater building itself was declared unsafe. WLT had bought the old Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Station back in the 1970’s and even then the building had suffered from years of neglect. However, after  a 2-year renovation WLT  was able to open their theater doors in 1975. By 2014, however, no amount of foundation repair or steel cables could fix the ongoing structural problems. The engineer told Dolly at the time that the building would not survive another ice storm!

The WLT was, and still is, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and except for one part-time manager, everything they do is done by volunteers.  So, it took the wider Winchester community at large to pitch in and help save the WLT building. It is a historic landmark and the remarkable outpouring of the community allowed the WTL to restore the building and turn it into what you see today!

The WLT website below is very easy to navigate and you can read about all the upcoming performances  and explore ticket options.

Dolly specifically pointed out  the affordability of WLT tickets and the great flexibility built into the season subscription package,  which is a bargain at  only $95!  She also advised buying tickets early because some shows are sold out long before the performances.

If you are interested in a little Winchester history, and the WLT venue back in the early days at the old Bark Mill Theater, check out the link below:










Guest Speakers



Tonia Sweeney

Director of Volunteers for Blue Ridge Hospice


Mike Robinson

Local author of “Winchester Tales.”


Elizabeth Albert

Managing Director

Shenandoah Theater Summer Music Program


Sabra Veach

President of the Winchester Lions Club



Karen Rice

Director of Continuing Education & Lifelong Learning

Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV


Stacy McFarland & Jill Johnson

American Red Cross

Dr. Donna Michel

Winchester Medical Center “Walk with a Doc Program”