Column – Three who left their mark on the community

Published 6:43 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

Communities are the sum total of the contributions made by those who inhabit them. To be honest, there are those who take more than they give, but fortunately, Isle of Wight and Surry have had more givers than takers during the past half-century.

Both counties have been made better for the lives of numerous residents, and three of them recently died.


John Treier

When it comes to selfless community service, members of volunteer rescue squads sit at the very pinnacle. The Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad was created 54 years ago, in 1968. John Treier, who died in late August, wasn’t a charter member, but he came very close, joining the squad soon after that and serving for a remarkable 45 years.

The Rescue Squad was always a primary source of news in the community and The Smithfield Times tried to cover the squad the best we could. Whether it was squad training, fund-raising or manpower, the squad’s needs were the community’s needs. And for most of my years with the paper, covering the squad meant following the career of John Treier. He was longtime captain and alternately president of the organization.

As early as 1978, he was teaching CPR to anyone in the community interested in what was then a relatively new lifesaving technique. He was a member of the squad’s first Advanced Life Support team, a critical development in the care the squad could provide to county residents.

Back when the squad was formed, members largely were employees or owners of local businesses who could drop what they were doing and respond to a rescue call. Within a few years, however, that changed as more and more squad members worked in jobs that were either out of town or simply couldn’t be left. Duty shifts became a necessity, and in time, some paid personnel had to be added.

John Treier helped the squad through much of that transition from an all-volunteer organization to the beginnings of paid staff.

There are few callings greater than serving one’s fellow citizens in their greatest times of need. Whether it’s a heart attack, an automobile accident or multiple other personal disasters, the rescue squad has always been on the front line of aiding the community, and for nearly a half-century, John Treier was right there. His service to Isle of Wight was simply incalculable.


Alvin Wilson

Alvin Wilson, who died in September, was a person of multiple interests and talents — musician, entrepreneurial barber and, first and last, educator of young people. He rarely traveled far from his roots on Mill Swamp Road in Isle of Wight, working much of his life in Surry County, as school band director, administrator and ultimately assistant superintendent of the county system.

One of his proudest accomplishments was in music. While he was directing music at L.P. Jackson Middle School in Dendron in the 1970s, he organized a jazz band. Jazz was new to high school music programs back then, but Wilson saw in jazz an avenue wide open for exploration by students.

The L.P. Jackson jazz ensemble, under his guidance, actually produced a locally popular jazz CD. Wilson saw the effort as a means of fostering budding music careers and potential college scholarships.

He retired from service in Surry and spent a few years in North Carolina as an assistant principal, but came back home to his barbershop and his love of education.

Wilson made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Isle of Wight School Board, losing to Tina Hill, who served briefly before resigning to move to Georgia, where her husband had taken a job. Wilson ran a second time to fill the vacancy created by her resignation and won the seat that he subsequently held until his retirement not long before his death.

Fellow School Board member Denise Tynes credited Wilson with always putting the county’s students first during his time on the School Board.

That can well have been said of his entire life, both in Isle of Wight and Surry counties. Generations of young people in both counties were positively touched by his work.


Tommy Darden

Some people contribute positively simply through the work they perform, the traditions they preserve and their personality. That describes Tommy Darden, county native, farmer, deer hunter, owner of Darden’s Country Store and all-around good guy, who died in September.

Under the leadership of Tommy and his wife, Dee Dee, Darden’s Store has become a symbol of rural life in Isle of Wight County. The couple doggedly kept the store going long after country stores throughout the area had closed.

Entering Darden’s Store is like stepping into a time machine. Tommy’s place in the corner next to the cash register is vacant, but a Darden family member or employee will offer the same warm greeting he did for years.

Tommy was also an expert in curing country hams, which became the store’s trademark. He has passed that craft down to his son, and his family assures us they will continue not only operating the store but curing delicious country hams for years to come.

A ham sandwich from Darden’s Store is special. You can get one on white bread with mayonnaise — the way it’s supposed to be made — and sit at a stool in the front of the store to eat it and drink a soda if you like.

Tommy will be missed, but thankfully his legacy — a tiny glimpse of rural commerce — will continue.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is