Whether it’s turkeys or community goodwill, Herman Mason’s family just keeps on producing.
Since its creation more than a decade ago, the Herman and Janet Mason Fund has made an immeasurable impact in the Shenandoah Valley, following in the footsteps of the lives led by its namesakes.
Among the fund’s major benefactors is Sentara RMH, which has received gifts over the years benefiting areas such as the Hahn Cancer Center and the RMH Foundation’s Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation.
“Contributions from the Mason Fund have been both lifesaving and life changing,” says Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation. “From Herman and his son Jimmy’s service on the RMH Board to the family’s continuing financial gifts, it’s not an exaggeration to say that their generosity has affected countless lives. Our community is no doubt a healthier place due to their kindness.”
Two of Herman Mason’s children, Rockingham County residents Jimmy Mason and Eleanor Campbell, manage the family’s fund, which was created through the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg & Rockingham County. A philanthropic leader in the area, the Community Foundation actively engages in fundraising, donor services, and grant and scholarship programs.
The Mason family fund contributes annually to Sentara RMH, among many other community organizations—including volunteer fire and rescue departments, the Cat’s Cradle animal rescue group, and other worthy causes—and often provides additional special monetary gifts.
“My dad was always generous with his giving,” says Jimmy Mason. “When he became fortunate enough to give back to the community, he did. We’re part of the community, and helping the hospital make these kinds of improvements ultimately helps keep local patients from having to travel for the care they need.”
Herman Mason is considered one of the founding fathers of the nation’s poultry industry, according to his 2007 obituary. In 1969, he was instrumental in combining five poultry companies to form Wampler Foods Inc., the nation’s first fully integrated turkey company. Later he helped merge Wampler Foods with Horace W. Longacre Inc., before adding Rockingham Poultry Marketing Cooperative’s chicken company to create WLR Foods Inc.
During his career, Mason served the poultry industry in many significant roles, including as president of the National Turkey Federation, the Virginia State Turkey Association and the Virginia Poultry Federation. Among his long list of awards and honors is the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award he received from the National Turkey Federation in 2000.
As the federation’s president, Mason had the honor of presenting the White House Thanksgiving turkey to President Ronald Reagan and Senator John Warner in 1987. Mason established the family fund shortly before his death.
Mason raised his children on an 80-acre turkey farm in Timberville. Jimmy would also carve out a successful career in the poultry industry, rising to president of Wampler-Longacre when Herman left the company in 1997. Jimmy later held the role of president of the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, an initiative he helped create.
Campbell, meanwhile, enjoyed a long career as a secretary and bookkeeper at Pleasant View Elementary School. She was still closely connected to Wampler-Longacre, however, since her husband served as the company’s purchasing manager. A third Mason sibling, Colleen O’Roark, lives out of state.
The children have carried on the tradition of their father’s generosity without fail.
“My dad was always very charitable-minded,” Campbell notes. “When my dad’s mother was very ill, he paid for a private nurse to care for her, even though he really couldn’t afford one at the time. I never forgot that.”
Impact Felt by Many
It’s important to highlight the Mason family’s legacy of giving, according to Sherrill Glanzer, special gifts director at the RMH Foundation. Doing so, she says, can inspire others to realize how acts of giving can make such a difference in the lives of others.
“They are lovely people,” Glanzer adds. “The Mason family has impacted the care our patients receive in so many ways.”
The Masons’ years of contributions to Sentara RMH are highlighted by two initiatives in particular. One such effort has been supporting nursing scholarships through the Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation.
Established in 2015, the institute serves to advance Sentara RMH’s tradition of nursing excellence, in part by providing scholarships. To date, nearly 200 scholarships totaling $683,000 have been awarded to nurses who are working at the hospital and simultaneously obtaining their bachelor’s degrees in nursing.
Academic achievement is one of the institute’s four focal points. A growing body of evidence over the last 15 years has demonstrated that to improve patient outcomes and reduce patient mortality, registered nurses should be educated at the baccalaureate level.
“There’s a big need for people to become registered nurses,” Campbell says. “Whatever we can do to help is very important to us.”
A second noteworthy effort benefiting Sentara RMH involves the Mason family’s contributions toward the purchase of a new linear accelerator, which provides lifesaving radiation therapy treatments to cancer patients, for the Hahn Cancer Center. Sentara RMH currently has two linear accelerators and is replacing its oldest model with a newer one to further improve the quality of care provided.
With the newest linear accelerator, patients will have access to the advanced care they need locally, instead of having to travel out of the area for treatment. The new model is expected to be operational by the end of 2019.
“The new accelerator is an amazing machine,” Mason says. “It will be a great thing to have here in this community.”
Mason has firsthand experience with the inconvenience of having to travel for medical care. Opting for elective heart surgery in 2010, he had to go to Richmond for treatment, since the procedure was too complicated for the resources local surgeons had available to them at the time.
“These days, Sentara RMH’s capabilities are much more advanced than they used to be,” Mason says. “The hospital has a great cardiac department now, so patients don’t have to go looking around to get the treatments they need.”
Likewise, with the addition of the new linear accelerator, cancer care treatment available to the community at the Hahn Cancer Center will be significantly improved.
“Helping to ensure that Sentara RMH has the best possible treatment options for patients in our community is very important to our family,” Campbell says. “We’re honored to be able to give back to the community in this meaningful way.”