Seven new inductees join the Wall of Excellence

Published 5:08 am Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The fifth annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony featured a strong emphasis on family as seven new inductees joined the wall’s line of honorees.

The dinner and ceremony took place Nov. 6 at Cypress Cove Country Club in Franklin.

As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.

“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a recent Wall of Excellence press release stated. Names and pictures of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS. 

Because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a 2020 induction dinner and ceremony from taking place, the Nov. 6 event recognized both the 2020 inductee, the Camp family, and the 2021 inductees, which included Donielle E. Babb, Earl Bynum Jr., James A. Holemon Jr., Louis P. “Packy” Jervey Jr., Samuel B. Jones Sr. and Mark Richard.

The Camp family was represented in the printed event program by the three brothers, Robert Judson Camp, Paul Douglas Camp and James Leonidas Camp.

Inducted under the category of special honorary achievement, the family was introduced by Nancy Parrish.

“As the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Board was reviewing our nominees for the year 2020 back during the summer, it was suggested that we dedicate the year 2020 entirely to the Camp family for their outstanding service to the community, and the entire board concurred,” she said. “After all, 2020 — what more appropriate year to honor a family who has had such great vision for this city.”

Three pages of the event program were dedicated to summarizing the Camp family’s enormous impact on Franklin and the surrounding community, and Parrish relayed many of those details in her introduction.

The three brothers started the lumber business Camp Manufacturing Company in 1887, and the family opened a paper mill in 1937 which later merged with Union Bag in 1956 to become Union Camp Corporation. 

The Camps’ business endeavors supported thousands of jobs in the area, and the mill created thousands of jobs.

Other family members created jobs at Franklin Concrete Products, S.W. Rawls Inc. and more.

The Camp family started the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, started what led to Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. and led efforts and helped fund the Franklin Flood Fund, raising $5 million in private support.

Doing an incredible amount to enrich the community, the Camp family gave land and led funding for Southampton Memorial Hospital; gave land and led funding for the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA; gave land to develop The Village at Woods Edge; convinced the state to put the community college in Franklin rather than Suffolk and gave land and major funding for what became Paul D. Camp Community College and the Regional Workforce Development Center; gave land and major funding for the new library, the Ruth Camp Campbell Memorial Library; gave land and major funding for the Texie Camp Marks Children’s Center; provided major funding for the Willie Camp Younts Emergency Services Building; provided land for Franklin High School; and much more.

The Camp family also provided thousands of college scholarships to area students, and the family started several foundations that are still providing support to the community today. These foundations have current assets of more than $127 million and have contributed nearly $100 million in the area and other areas of the country just in the last 26 years.

“I would submit to you that there’s not a person in this room tonight whose quality of life has not been enhanced by the generous contribution that this amazing family has made over the years, and for that I’m eternally grateful,” Parrish said.

On behalf of the Camp family, Patricia P. Rawls, a fourth-generation Camp family member, accepted the plaque commemorating induction onto the Wall of Excellence.

In her acceptance speech, she noted that the Camps wanted to give back to the community that had been so generous to them, and so they gave back in time, in treasure and by example.

“This is the community that they loved and never wanted to forget and always called their home,” she said. “I’m honored and humbled to be here tonight representing the members of the Camp family. I graciously accept this award on behalf of the generations of Camps that came before me, and no, they have never forgotten their roots, for their roots are still here, growing in the city of Franklin.”

To start off the 2021 class of inductees, Donielle Babb was inducted under the category of outstanding athlete, and he was introduced by both Jim Jervey and Dennis Sumblin.

Babb, who graduated from FHS in 2006, helped take the varsity football team to many victories, setting several personal records along the way. He also helped lead the Broncos to their first Class A state football championship in 2004. Then in 2005, he led them to a perfect 10-0 regular season.

Renowned for his toughness on the field, he was a decorated running back and linebacker who Jervey said was tagged with the nickname “Hitman” in little league football.

“His smile is infectious, his heart is gold, (and) he is as humble a human being as you’ll ever meet,” Jervey said.

Sumblin noted that Babb is arguably one of the best running backs to have ever played football at Franklin or Hayden high school.

During his acceptance speech, Babb said the biggest thing for him has always been family, and throughout his remarks, he highlighted different members of his family, biological and otherwise, including teammates and coaches.

“A lot of the players on the team were actually my family, so we took care of each other as family,” he said. “You never know who’s going to become your family. Now, with being inducted into this, y’all become my family, and I appreciate that.”

Earl Bynum Jr. was inducted onto the wall under the category of outstanding cultural/performing arts.

“This is the first year we’ve ever had anyone in that category,” host Brian Hedgepeth said. “We actually have two this year.”

Bynum’s mother, Geneva Bynum, introduced him.

He is an international recording artist, producer, radio host, music consultant and executive director of music. The event program continued by noting that he directed the Mount Unity Choir to a streak of accolades while harvesting some of music’s highest honors. Some of those honors include a 13-track CD/DVD that debuted on Billboard Current Top 40 Gospels Album Chart at No. 8 and boasted a Top 30 Gospel radio hit. 

His mother noted that, among his many other accolades, he is a Dove Award and Grammy Award nominee.

“Earl realizes, of course, that this was not done on his own but with God and people like you,” she said.

In his speech, Earl Bynum offered uplifting advice to those in attendance, and he also spoke about how staff in the Franklin school system helped him get his start in choir work, specifically highlighting Mona Sumblin.

“Family is everything, and I learned a long time ago being in the music industry, things shift so often and you find out that family is not always blood — family is who you create,” he said. “So don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and gather folk who believe in you as much as you believe in yourself, because all of us need someone on our side to push us. But while they’re pushing you, push them as well. So tonight, thank you all for this.”

James Holemon Jr. was inducted onto the wall under the category of outstanding athlete, and he was introduced by his brother, Darik Brown.

“My brother, man, I just want to start off by saying I thought I was special… until I met him,” Brown said. “So, growing up, it was a challenge. I used to beat him all the time in every sport that we played until I couldn’t beat him anymore, and he started winning every game.”

As the event program stated, Holemon graduated from FHS in 2002. Brown helped highlight how Holemon earned accolades at the district, regional and state levels in football, where he played wide receiver and defensive back. Included in his accolades was the title of Tri-Rivers District Offensive Player of the Year.

Holemon also stood out at the district, regional and state levels in basketball, where he was named Region A Player of the Year in 2002.

“What a blessing and opportunity to be here today,” Holemon said. “I give all the praise and honor to God for not only my high school accomplishments but for the amazing 37 years of life that I’ve had.

“My approach then and now has always been the same: Let’s make the most of each opportunity and continuously try to improve.”

He highlighted lessons he learned from a variety of family members that have helped him succeed, and he also did the same with regard to coaches.

Louis Jervey Jr. was posthumously inducted onto the wall under the category of outstanding service.

As the event program notes, while he was neither born nor raised in Franklin, when he decided to take a job with Manry-Rawls Corporation, move to Franklin and make it his home, he dedicated himself to helping improve the quality of life for the people who lived in the city. He served on many councils and advisory boards over the years, including the Franklin City School Board, the Bank of Franklin Board of Directors and YMCA Board of Directors.

He was active in the insurance business, and in 1988, the Insurance Association of Virginia named him Outstanding Agent of the Year.

Jervey was also active in church, civic and community affairs. He coached little league football for 20 years and YBA basketball, touching the lives of many young people.

Accepting the induction on Jervey’s behalf was his wife, Ann Jervey, who spoke about the way he lived his life and the things that were important to him.

“He and I were devoted and enthusiastic supporters of the Franklin city schools,” she said. “Our five boys graduated from Franklin High School as did two daughters-in-law and two of our grandchildren.”

At the end of her speech, Ann Jervey said, “To sum up, his faith, his family, his friends and the way he treated people could be seen in every facet of his life. I think he showed all of us by example that the way a man lives and behaves toward others matters more than anything else.”

Samuel Jones Sr. was inducted onto the wall under the category of outstanding service, and he was introduced by Mona Sumblin.

Jones became a teacher early in his career but was then drafted into the U.S. Army, as noted in the event program. He became a decorated member of the military but decided not to make a career of the military and returned to Virginia in 1970 and resumed his career in public education with Franklin City Public Schools.

He served as a teacher at the elementary and high school levels before later moving up to the administrator level. He has been an administrator outside Franklin, but within the city’s school system, he served as principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

During his time leading FHS, the school received prestigious awards from the Virginia Department of Education, one for program implementations to combat drug use by students and another for educational excellence on behalf of students and teachers.

“Mr. Jones was a principal’s principal,” Sumblin said. “Every one of his assistant principals, including Mr. (Travis) Felts here, have gone on to become principals of their own schools and more. Many of them still look to him for mentoring today.”

She said that as the leader of FHS, he was dubbed “O Great One” by an adoring and supportive faculty and staff.

“You notice I keep referring to him as Mr. Jones,” she said. “As a lifetime friend, he wants us to call him Sam, but the level of respect that we had — and still have — for him just won’t allow us to bring ourselves to address him by his first name.”

During his speech, Jones acknowledged family and friends that helped him be successful in life and in education. He also acknowledged that in light of his extensive history in the Franklin school system, he had been the topic of a variety of stories and memories expressed previously by former students and colleagues, and he expressed a genuine sense of humor about what was said.

He also made a special point to thank the Wall of Excellence Board for selecting him to be inducted out of the large field of candidates.

“This is something that I will always treasure as long as I live,” he said. Injecting some humor into his speech before getting serious again, he added, “Even though some things have been said regarding Sam Jones, as I often reflect back on the many years of my educational service, believe it or not, I have many fond memories, and I hope that my tenure of service as a teacher and administrator have been a positive impact upon the lives of students, parents, school staff, the community and our educational system.”

Lastly, Mark Richard was inducted onto the wall under the category of outstanding cultural/performing arts, and he was introduced by Nancy Parrish.

“Last is certainly not least,” Parrish said.

He graduated from FHS in 1974, as noted in the event program. During that time he became one of the youngest radio announcers in the country, working after school at WYSR beginning at the age of 13.

Richard is known now as an author, screenwriter and TV producer, living in Los Angeles. Among other books, he wrote the national bestselling memoir “House of Prayer No. 2.” 

Parrish said, “The primary setting for the story is in Franklin, Virginia, and it is described as a remarkable portrait of a writer’s struggle with his faith, the evolution of his art, and the recognizing of one’s singularity in the face of painful disability.”

Richard has written for TV shows including “The Man in the High Castle,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Criminal Minds,” “Chicago Hope” and “Party of Five.” 

He was recently executive producer and showrunner on “The Good Lord Bird,” a limited series for Showtime that was shot in Virginia.

In the world of feature films, he wrote the screenplay for the film “Stop-Loss.”

His short stories and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, the Paris Review and The Oxford American.

During his speech, Richard regaled those in attendance with stories from his childhood growing up in Franklin and the people in the city who helped him along the way, including his family.

“I credit all these people that I’ve mentioned tonight and all the people that have had this (Wall of Excellence) honor bestowed upon them for showing a little boy on crutches from Franklin that the world is a large and wonderful place that you can inhabit and in which you can thrive, and it’s just over the horizon,” he said. “Go there, and God bless.”