The nametag hanging on his volunteer vest read: “Charlie, Cafe Concierge.” The older gentleman greeted diners as they entered the Sentara RMH Mountain View Cafe and often took their trays when they finished, clearing and wiping the tables.
The man was Charles Wampler Jr., a former leader in the poultry industry and lifelong Valley resident. Volunteering in the cafeteria was one of the many ways he worked to serve the hospital for more than four decades.
“We liked to say that he went from the board room to the dining room,” says Wampler’s daughter, Barbara Melby, of Mauzy.
Born in 1915, Wampler served his community with all his heart throughout his life. He died on Jan. 15, 2017, at the age of 101.
Wampler’s generous giving of time, talent and treasure continues to have an impact on the hospital and on the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County communities. In the late 1980s, for instance, Wampler co-chaired the fundraising campaign to build the area’s first comprehensive cancer center.
“That campaign was supported generously throughout the community, in no small part because of Charlie’s leadership,” says Cory Davies, RMH Foundation executive director. “He spent significant time soliciting donations and also made a generous gift personally.”
A Lifetime of Community Involvement
Born in Dayton on Sunny Slope Farm, where he lived all his life, Wampler attended Bridgewater College and Rutgers University. In 1937 he began working for Wampler Feed and Seed Co. as a field man, and later became president and general manager of Wampler-Longacre. He also served as chairman of the board of directors of WLR Foods, retiring in 1998 as its chairman emeritus.
As for community activities, in 1949 he helped start the Rockingham County Fair, serving as its president and general manager for 25 years. He also served as vice president of the Virginia State Fair, and later as president of the Virginia Association of Fairs. From 1954 to 1966, he represented Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Wampler was also rector of the board at James Madison University, where he helped to establish the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. He served on the Board of Visitors at Virginia Tech, and was chairman of the Virginia State Board of Agriculture and Commerce. He helped start the local United Way in 1949 and continued working on its fundraising campaigns for many years.
“He was involved in the community his whole life,” says Melby. “He couldn’t say no, and did most of what people asked of him—and he liked doing it. He had such a love of the area.”
Engaged With Health Care
Wampler’s involvement with Sentara RMH began in the mid-1970s when he joined the board of the newly formed RMH Foundation, which oversees fundraising for the hospital and the spending of donated funds. From then on, he was involved as a donor or volunteer leader—and often both—in some of the hospital’s most significant projects.
Wampler was totally invested in everything he did, body, soul and spirit.
“He was humble, compassionate and kind, and always held what was right for our patients as the one and only priority,” Davies says. “His principled leadership compelled this organization to a higher level of service and ultimately resulted in better health care for our community.”
When it came time for Wampler to scale back on his board positions, he wasn’t sure what he could still do to contribute.
“Someone said: ‘You love the hospital—why not volunteer?’” recalls Melby. “But he didn’t think he’d be able to show people to their rooms in the hospital—he was sure he’d get lost.”
Wampler talked to Merv Webb, then vice president of the RMH Foundation, about his predicament. Webb suggested he work as a greeter in the dining room.
“He couldn’t have picked a better job,” says Melby.
In later life, when Wampler became unable to do the physical part of the dining room work, he sat near the door and greeted diners as they arrived.
“People used to say: ‘You don’t get past Charlie,’” says Melby. “If you walked by him without saying hello, he’d shout at you.”
Wampler went to his concierge job at the hospital every day. If he didn’t feel well, he made himself go anyway. Remarkably, he kept going to work until just two weeks before he died.
Adds Melby: “He loved doing that more than anything else he’d ever done.”