Erik Johnston and Bill Gatewood

Ashland resident Bill Gatewood, right, has been honored as the 2019 Virginia Main Street Volunteer of the Year. The recognition took place during Downtown Intersections, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Main Street Program in Lynchburg. Erik Johnston, left, is the director of the DHCD.

(Editor’s note: The following was submitted by Lorie Foley, president of the Ashland Main Street Association. She nominated Bill Gatewood for Volunteer of the Virginia Main Street Association. He was honored last week during the meeting in Lynchburg.)

Bill Gatewood is no stranger to Ashland Main Street Association, as he has been a Board member since 2012. He served as president for two fiscal years (FY17 and FY18).

Why Bill Gatewood for “Volunteer of the Year?”

Bill Gatewood is an exceptional volunteer for Main Street. He is a leader and a doer. His expertise in safety, grounds and security is an immeasurable value for our Board and our event committees.

We are nominating Bill for his volunteer work on two Signature Ashland Main Street events: Ashland Train Day (Nov. 3, 2018) and Light Up the Tracks (Dec. 1-31, 2018).

Ashland Train Day 2018

Bill is the heart and soul of Ashland Train Day held annually in November. What started as a small event hosted by our public library in 2004 has turned into a major event for our town.

As Train Day rapidly grew in popularity, the library asked Ashland Main Street to take over. That is when Bill jumped in. The 15th running of Ashland Train Day (on Nov. 3, 2018) was Bill’s 11th year as chairperson.

As chair, Bill coordinated the placement of railroad model groups and clubs into local business venues. He spent many hours communicating with these groups to ensure that they have a smooth and successful time on Ashland Train Day.

He oversaw all aspects of Train Day to include: food vendors; entertainment; porta potties; trash pick-up; kiddie trains; Kid Zone; signage; publicity; marketing; trolleys; volunteers; and safety.

Bill served as a liaison with the Ashland Police Department regarding the closure of a major road through town and the accompanying safety measures for our guests. Since Ashland Train Day is held on the tracks, it is both wonderful and nerve-wracking for our police department. Thanks to Bill’s many years of experience, our guests felt safe near the active double tracks running through the middle of our town.

It is not possible to figure out the volunteer hours that Bill put into Ashland Train Day. As a people-person, he takes the time to communicate personally with everyone involved – from volunteers to business owners to vendors. From the planning phases to clean up on event day (Bill put on gloves and dumped trash cans), we estimate that Bill spent 400-plus hours preparing and working the 2018 Train Day.

Is it estimated by our police department and clicker counts at the Train Depot (our Welcome Center) and the Ashland Library, that we had more than 10,000 guests at the 2018 Ashland Train Day. This is a record-breaking number of guests.

As a result of Bill’s generous time and efforts, our businesses, restaurants and retailers enjoyed a healthy spike in profits on Ashland Train Day 2018.

Light Up the Tracks 2018

With a sponsorship from Dominion Energy in 2018, Ashland Main Street was able to grow “Light Up the Tracks” by hiring a media firm, developing a new website and creating a calendar of events encouraging visitors to come see the lights.

Gatewood played an integral role in the success of Light Up the Tracks this past December. His wealth of knowledge, connections and experience handling events in Ashland was immeasurable.

Ashland Main Street hosted several weekend events, including a Grand Illumination ceremony the first weekend of December. Bill handled the grounds logistics, including security; parking; and safety with the Ashland Police Department.

We partnered with Ashland Street Parties that same evening to host a chili cook-off with live music at The Depot, one of our new event venue spaces in Downtown Ashland. Bill’s leadership ensured a safe and smooth event for the 500-plus guests who attended.

Our finale event for Light Up the Tracks was the Ashland Santa Visit at the newly renovated Ashland Theatre. Our children were treated with a visit from Rudolph (Gatewood!) on stage with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Over 200 guests enjoyed the Ashland Santa event.

Wait! There’s More!

Bill not only dons a “Rudolph” character costume, he also becomes the “Ashland Easter Bunny” every spring – an Ashland Main Street partnership with Randolph-Macon College.

He volunteers for other annual events in town, including: Ashland Strawberry Faire; Olde Time Holiday Parade (hosted by Ashland Kiwanis); Ashland Railroad Run; and Patrick Henry Half Marathon.

Gatewood’s impact on our Downtown district is immense. He is our hero because he is organized, dependable and always cheerful. Ashland Main Street is fortunate to have Bill Gatewood on our Promotions team.

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