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Volunteers are honored as festival grand marshals

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Cathy and Ronnie Russell
by Larry S. Chowning

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation has named Ronnie and Cathy Russell of Water View as the grand marshals of the 52nd annual Urbanna Oyster Festival set for Friday and Saturday, November 6-7.

The Russells are longtime residents of Middlesex County and charter members of the Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department (UMVFD) and Auxiliary.

Ronnie is manager of Corbin Hall Farm and was 12 years old when, in 1959, his parents and grandparents took over management of the large farm from the farm owners, the late Rufus Harrell and his wife Louise.

That year, there were four all-white elementary schools in the county and Ronnie went to Church View School.  “I came from a school of 600 in Norfolk County, and Church View had 40 kids in the entire school,” said Ronnie. “It was a big change in my life. The only way I could get to school was to drive a tractor out to the main road to catch the school bus.”

Cathy was 4 months old when she came to Middlesex. She was adopted by Herbert and Catherine Cauthorne and lived just down the road from Corbin Hall Farm. She also went to Church View School and that’s where she met Ronnie.

They dated through Middlesex High School and after graduation Ronnie went into the National Guard and Cathy went to Smithdeal-Massey Business School in Richmond, where she received an associate degree in business.

Three years after high school, Ronnie and Cathy got married and moved onto Corbin Hall Farm. 

In 1968, a group of men and women from Water View felt a need to start a fire department and women’s auxiliary in the upper part of Middlesex. Cathy and Ronnie were not married then, but were charter members of the organizations. 

Ronnie is one of the last UMVFD charter members still living. He has held every office in the fire department and is currently chaplain.

Cathy has been treasurer of the auxiliary for so many years that she has lost count.

Cathy has been in the trenches when it has come to raising funds to keep the fire department financially viable. The annual oyster and ham dinner sponsored by the firemen and auxiliary draws people from all over the county and beyond. She has worked the dinner every year since it started.

“The dinner started before we had a firehouse in Water View, so we held it in Urbanna at their firehouse,” said Cathy. “It has become a very important part of our fire company’s life.”

Ronnie is a deacon at Hermitage Baptist Church and as part of his ministry he regularly visits the elderly in nursing homes. The couple has a daughter, Shannon, and when she was growing up Ronnie was active with her in the Middlesex 4-H program.

Ronnie has also been an active Middlesex Farm Bureau member and served as president of the Virginia Soybean Association. He was appointed by three Virginia governors to the Virginia Soybean Checkoff Board, a state organization that raises funds through soybeans for the advancement of agriculture in the state.

In 1988, Ronnie won the Dupont Young Leader Award. Each year, Dupont chooses one leader involved in agriculture from 26 states for this award. That year, he attended the National Soybean Conference in Denver, Colorado, and has attended the annual conference ever since.

Cathy is the Medicaid eligibility worker for long-term care for Middlesex County Social Services. She also worked for the Bank of Middlesex for many years.

Charles Bristow of the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation said the Russells were selected because of their dedication to the fire company and their steadfast commitment to the entire county.
“Cathy and Ronnie are good people who have worked hard for the community, and we want to honor them for the example they have set for us all,” said Bristow.

posted 10.09.2009

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