Yates, Rivers recognized as Dinwiddie ‘Hometown Heroes’

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 8, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

Pair joins distinguished list of local ‘Hometown Heroes’

DINWIDDIE – In what has become a tradition in Dinwiddie County, late last month, a pair of community icons were joined by friends and family at the county government complex as retired Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office deputy George Rivers and longtime Dinwiddie educator Sharon Yates were both named “Hometown Heroes.”

It was standing room only inside the Dinwiddie County Government Center boardroom as over 100 people turned out to honor Rivers and Yates during February’s Hometown Heroes celebration, which recognizes former or current resident of Dinwiddie who have made “significant contributions in one or more of the areas of government, law enforcement, public safety, education, faith community, business, agriculture and/or the advancement of civil rights.”

Both Yates and Rivers sat in the front row, alongside Congressman Donald McEachin, who offered congressional recognition certificates to the pair during last month’s ceremony and has become a regular fixture of the annual recognition.

Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors Vice-Chairman Brenda Ebron-Bonner, who advocated for the “Hometown Heroes” recognition program early in her time as supervisor, had the honor of introducing the pair to the community by sharing a biographical look into the pair of Dinwiddie locals.

Yates was born in September of 1949 in Dinwiddie County and she is the youngest of eight children.

“Sharon and her siblings came from humble beginnings. When she was young, her parents were sharecroppers and grew tobacco, peanuts and soybeans. Later, Mr. Bonner worked for Brown & Williamson, and Mrs. Bonner worked for Central State Hospital and performed domestic work in the community,” the vice-chair shared.

She would go on to attend DeWitt Elementary School, a school for African American children; and then progressed to Southside High School. In 1965, when she was in the 10th grade, Sharon was encouraged, along with 99 of her Southside High School students to transfer, and thereby integrate, Dinwiddie High School through the Freedom of Choice initiative.

Sharon Yates smiles as she speaks before over 100 people at last month’s Hometown Heroes celebration. She was one of two people, along with George Rivers, who were honored last month. (Michael Campbell)

“This was a difficult choice for Sharon, as she left many friends and teachers that she loved, such as her lifelong friend Marion Jones Ampy,” Vice-Chair Bonner shared. “While a pivotal point in Dinwiddie County’s history, this transition was far from glamorous. Sharon and her Freedom of Choice peers were ridiculed beyond that to which any human being, especially children, should be subject. Despite this, Sharon Bonner was determined to excel and became the only African American in the class of 1968 to be inducted into Dinwiddie High School’s National Honor Society.”

From Dinwiddie, she would continue her education at Virginia State University in neighboring Chesterfield County and go on to marry her high school sweetheart John Yates.

“While in college, Mrs. Yates worked domestically in the community and her first, official, job was as a switchboard operator with C&P Telephone Company,” Bonner said. “She recalls not liking this job at all because there was just too much going on at once on the board. While in college, Mrs. Yates also worked at Central State Hospital, Three Sisters Dress Shop, Thalheimer’s, J.C. Penney’s and Brown & Williamson Tobacco. Each of these employment experiences helped prepare her for a career working with diverse groups of students and parents.”

During her time as an undergraduate at VSU, the Yates would welcome two children into the world, Monique and Dominick before graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1974.

“Mrs. Yates says it was Mrs. Evelyn Abrams, her high school English teacher, who inspired her to pursue a degree in English and career in education,” Bonner remarked, recounting her journey back to Dinwiddie schools, this time as a teacher.

“While teaching at Dinwiddie County Jr. High School, Mrs. Yates taught pre- vocational, remedial, mainstreamed special education, college-bound, and gifted students,” the vice-chair detailed. “Through this work she discovered a true passion for working with students struggling to overcome challenges. She wrote and taught the first alternative program curriculum in Dinwiddie County. Later when Mr. Jimmy Spence became the Alternative Coordinator, he referred to Mrs. Yates as the ‘Mother of Alternative Education.’”

She would eventually return to Virginia State and complete 30 course hours toward a doctoral degree, through this process, she earned a certification in supervision and administration. After nearly two decades in the classroom, Yates would go on to accept an assistant principal position at Dinwiddie High School, becoming the first female assistant principal at the high school level in Dinwiddie County.

In 1997, she would elevate to the position of director of secondary instruction and staff development for Dinwiddie County Public Schools before retiring from the school division in 2016 after 41 years.

Though she is retired, Yates, a member of Mouth Level Baptist Church, remains active, having represented the county on the Appomattox Regional Library System Board of Directors, served on the Dinwiddie County Board of Equalization, and is a current member of the Dinwiddie County Industrial Development Authority.

Following smiles and hugs from friends and family, Yates thanked those involved with the special recognition.

“To the board of supervisors, I would like to thank you all for this honor and taking the time to recognize those that you refer to as hometown heroes,” she said. “To my family, I have the best family in the world because, for 41 years, they allowed me to do the things that I have done. Their patience and support and sharing me, especially my two children, with thousands of children that I love dearly and would come home talking about, thank you so much.”

The second recipient of this year’s “Hometown Heroes” honor was George Rivers, a fixture of the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office for three decades.

Born to Harvey and Dorothy Rivers in November of 1948, he was the oldest of three children, attending Mount Level Elementary and Southside Elementary Schools in Dinwiddie County. He began his high school career at Southside High School and transferred to Dinwiddie High School in 1965 as part of the Freedom of Choice initiative.

George Rivers addresses attendees at last month’s Hometown Heroes event where the longtime deputy was recognized for his contributions to Dinwiddie County. Thanks to technology, his daughter Dorothy was able to watch her father’s recognition as the county used FaceTime so she could watch from Texas. (Michael Campbell)

Following his graduation from Dinwiddie High in 1967, Rivers left Virginia and attended Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana, where he studied for a year before returning home to care for his mother.

“George’s father was a boiler engineer on Fort Lee so when he returned home, George tended the family farm,” vice-chair Bonner shared. “When Sheriff Charles Mitchell needed a deputy, he approached George. This was during tobacco season and there was no way George could leave the farm, so he respectfully declined the offer.”

In 1978, Sheriff Mitchell would return to the farm, offering Rivers the position of jailor with the sheriff’s office, accepting the position.

“In 1986, after serving as a jailor for 8 years, Mr. Rivers graduated from the Crater Criminal Justice Academy and became a road deputy,” she said. “It was this same year that George’s mother passed, and he met Miss Magnolia Tucker. Magnolia was the daughter of a friend of his mother’s and they met when Mrs. Rivers passed,” with the pair getting married the following year.

“Together they raised a son, Harvey Jones and a daughter Dorothy Rivers. Mr. Rivers’ step-son, Harvey, is a teacher in Petersburg and their daughter Dorothy Rivers Faltz works for Geico, and lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and two children Kingston and Mya.”

In 1992, Deputy Rivers would become one of Dinwiddie County’s first DARE officers, teaching the DARE program’s curriculum through Dinwiddie’s elementary schools. Once the program wrapped, Class Action became the focus. This course was taught at the high school level and educated students on the legal process from start to finish.

Ten years later in 2002, Rivers achieved the rank of Master Deputy while continuing to lead high school students through Class Action and served as a member of the Dinwiddie Youth Commission.

“He mentored sixth grade students through the Challenge 2000 program and made presentation to local churches about the law, drugs and safety,” vice-chair Bonner detailed. “Master Deputy Rivers was instrumental in establishing the County’s first-ever Bicycle Patrol, which is still active today. He helped to establish and organize Neighborhood Watch and National Night Out activities in the County.”

In 2005, Rivers would then be promoted to lieutenant and placed in charge of security at the Dinwiddie Courthouse, a role he served in until his retirement in 2016 after 30 years of service to Dinwiddie County.

During his remarks, which, thanks to the power to technology, his daughter Dorothy was able to watch via FaceTime, Rivers was humbled by the special recognition.

“Thank you board of supervisors for even thinking about people that have contributed to Dinwiddie County, especially for picking me,” he said. “As with anything I do, I try to give the best that I can and make sure whatever I do is positive and can help someone. That is what I have always done through the programs I have presented to the public.”

Both Yates and Rivers join an esteemed list of Dinwiddie locals who have been honored through the “Hometown Heroes” program.

In 2019, Elizabeth Mabry Tucker and Ralph Daniel Ruffin, Sr. joined the distinguished list of past honorees. The year prior, Hattie Walker , Harold Walker, Legert Hamilton, Ruby Evans were recognized and in 2017, Doretha Moody, Dr. Marguerita Ragsdale and Thomas Hooker were added to a growing list of Dinwiddie community institutions, including Jesse Blackwell, Jr. Pauline Bonner, Ed Bracey, Yvonne Myrick, Geraldine Spicely, Elnora Perry, Rev. Herbert Anderson, Gloria Jones and former Sheriff Samuel Shands.

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