As Lieutenant of the Department Game & Inland Fisheries, Jess Edward Sager played a role in the development of a number of recreational projects, including a boat landing, which was posthumously named in his honor last week.
Sager used his position as a platform to make life easier for area residents. It comes as no surprise that his name hold meaning for a multitude of folks in the Shenandoah Valley, as he permanently left a mark on the town of Grottoes.
Sager remains the talk of the town — the focus that generated a record head-count at the Jan. 13 town hall meeting — despite his passing Dec. 17, 2013, after a near two decade battle with a brain tumor.
“People have talked about how inspiring he was and how he touched their lives,” said Connie Richardson, Sager’s sister. “He really had the ability to naturally lift your spirits.”
Doing so was a privilege for Sager, whom Richardson said would “give the shirt off of his back” to help someone in need. It was a characteristic he had always possessed, even in his final years.
“It wasn’t to impress anybody,” she says. “It was in his nature.”
Sager had been a lifelong resident of Virginia, spending most of his days in the Valley area after his four-year tenure working as a military policeman and K-9 handler in the U.S. Army. Following his discharge, the Turner Ashby High School graduate took a job with the Elkton Police Department, where he worked under Charles K. Lawhorne, who eventually became the Chief of Police at the Grottoes Police Department.
“Jess was a … he was a real top-notch guy,” said the now-retired Lawhorne, who paused as he carefully chose the words to describe his friend of 35 years. “When Jess died, a part of me died with him.”
Lawhorne pointed out that Sager was always a true professional.
“We drifted down different [professional] paths, but we remained really good friends through the years,” he said.
Sager eventually earned the title Lieutenant of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, a position in which he was involved in implementing a number of community projects; he was directly responsible for designating 1.5 miles of the South River — stretching from Grand Caverns to Mountain View Park — to be stocked with live trout that was provided by the state.
Sager also teamed up with Lawhorne to implement a Kids Fish Day, now an annual, day-long, family-friendly event full of recreational activities for local children.
The two men provided fishing poles, bait and tackle boxes; Sager’s earlier efforts guaranteed the river teemed with trout for the event held at Mountain View Park.
“He talked about taking kids out and helping them fish all the time,” recalled Richardson. “The joy in his voice when he would talk about this little girl who felt that first mysterious tug and helping them catch their first fish, he did it all out of love.”
A short time later, Sager developed the idea of establishing a boat dock at the park, in order to ensure that locals would have boating access. As Lawhorne indicates, Sager was “instrumental in the planning and design” of the landing, which was funded entirely by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“He never told [the family] that he wanted to [create] a boat landing or stock the river,” explained Richardson. “I had no idea my brother was doing this stuff until [Town Superintendent] Charlie [Stickley] told me.
“He never bragged about anything, he was just a generous soul.”
Jess E. Sager’s Landing
Ten days after Sager’s passing, Lawhorne contacted town officials and suggested the dock be named for his late friend in honor of the late man’s contributions to the town. Grottoes Town Manager Jeff Nicely knew immediately the idea shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“Jess had done so much for the town, this was just a small token of our appreciation,” said Nicely. “We want his family to know that he will never be forgotten by the Town of Grottoes.”
At 7 p.m. Jan. 13, the Grottoes Town Hall was brimming with local residents — both young and old, friend and colleague — paying respects to Sager; it was during that meeting the town council unanimously voted to name the dock Jess E. Sager’s Landing, officially.
Lawhorne said that he was “ecstatic” after the town council voted in favor of the resolution. His longtime friend’s accomplishments are now definitively displayed in the park that Sager helped transform.
Richardson, who was presented with a plaque boasting the resolution, stood before the large crowd, accepted the plaque in her brother’s honor, and gave a speech thanking the town of Grottoes and Lawhorne.
“You were his boss, you were his mentor, and you were his friend,” Richardson told Lawhorne, as she fought back tears. “He loved you and he never stopped talking about you.”
She went on to say that, while it took hands to physically construct the landing, it was really built by spirit.
“All of this was done out of my brother’s love, pure love.”
Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.