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Doctor's office marks 50 years caring for Weyers Cave

Dr. Wayne Weaver hold photographs documenting the construction of his family practice in Weyers Cave, which opened in 1974.
Randi B. Hagi
Dr. Wayne Weaver hold photographs documenting the construction of his family practice in Weyers Cave, which opened in 1974.

A small family practice has served patients in one Augusta County community for 50 years and counting. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The town of Weyers Cave sits amid rolling farmland, near the bends of the North and Middle Rivers and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town's entrance sign welcomes visitors to the "birthplace of the FFA." Local high school students formed the first chartered chapter of the organization's predecessor, the Future Farmers of Virginia, in 1927.

Cropland, pastures, and poultry operations surround the town of Weyers Cave. Beyond them lie the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Randi B. Hagi
Cropland, pastures, and poultry operations surround the town of Weyers Cave. Beyond them lie the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In 1974, Dr. Wayne Weaver opened the Weyers Cave Family Health Center on the corner of routes 256 and 276. He came from an agricultural background himself – the third of 10 children in an Ohio Amish family.

WAYNE WEAVER: The real education came from newspapers. … I had five years of education in an Amish parochial school. … The teachers only had an eighth grade education … and the basic math and reading and basic English and things, were I think, sort of up to snuff.

Like most of his peers, Weaver left school after eighth grade to work on the family farm. He recounts many of these stories in his memoir, "Dust Between my Toes" – raising barns, trapping muskrats, and making panhaas and apple butter. Weaver got married and started a family, farmed, and ran an exterior painting business – until a fire destroyed his equipment. Weaver's insurance agent, a Mennonite minister, convinced him to take the GED test the same week that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Based on Weaver's results, Eastern Mennonite College accepted him as a conditional student. He went on to graduate from the UVa School of Medicine.

WEAVER: Work ethic and honesty obviously played a big role. … I didn't find college very difficult, really, but medical school … that was a different ball of wax!

LaVina and Wayne Weaver have retired back to Augusta County.
Randi B. Hagi
LaVina and Wayne Weaver have retired back to Augusta County.

He had supported his family through college by selling Ohio hay to Virginia farmers, and Virginia peaches back in Ohio.

WEAVER: I sold hay around Weyers Cave before the road to Grottoes was open! … That was an obstacle course in itself.

Those connections led the Weyers Cave Ruritan Club to approach Weaver about establishing a clinic. A father-and-son pair with a successful trucking business – H.L. and Cletus Houff – helped recruit Weaver and pay for the clinic's construction.

From left, Weaver, Cletus Houff, and H.L. Houff celebrate the clinic's opening in 1974.
Randi B. Hagi
From left, Weaver, Cletus Houff, and H.L. Houff celebrate the clinic's opening in 1974.

DWIGHT HOUFF: I remember, very vividly, Dr. Weaver and his family kind of camped out at my homeplace on the hill here at Mt. Sidney … prior to getting their own home and getting settled in.

Dwight Houff, Cletus's son, was in his early 30s when they built the clinic. He doesn't recall any specific conversations with his father about why he supported the clinic.

HOUFF: I just know for a fact that he was interested in not only supporting him but helping him get it going. That was just the very nature of the way things worked a lot of times, in this small community. My father didn't discuss a lot of those kinds of things – he was kind of a take-charge guy, and let's do it!

Through the practice, Weaver saw how the nature and history of the community unfolded in everyday life. One year, during a drought, two neighbors had identical finger amputation accidents from scraping a tiny bit of silage into an auger. In an average growing year, they would have ignored that scrap. Another patient was born on top of the Blue Ridge. After his parents were killed in a train accident, he lived in the mountains with his brother until the government forced them out to build the Shenandoah National Park.

Weaver remembers another man –

WEAVER: He was in his late 80s. He remembered his uncle telling him about the war – he was nine years old during the Civil War. … He lived on the same farm, and he told him he used to take their cattle and horses, and one other neighbor, they combined their stuff when they knew there was going to be a battle somewhere, or troops were coming through. They would take their cattle and horses and leave.

The practice continues serving patients today as part of the Carilion Clinic network.
Randi B. Hagi
The practice continues serving patients today as part of the Carilion Clinic network.

Dr. Samuel Showalter, who grew up in Cootes Store in Rockingham County, joined the practice in 1976. In the early days, he and Weaver also led a substance abuse treatment center in the valley.

SAMUEL SHOWALTER: It didn't take too long to realize how much good that program was doing, and how much change in people's lives could happen with a treatment program. So I went from not enjoying it to really enjoying it!

The center was owned by Arlington Hospital, so they got a lot of patients from D.C. and Northern Virginia.

SHOWALTER: I remember one gentleman, particularly, who was very intoxicated. I was almost not sure he was alive! And I stimulated him a little bit and asked, "do you know where you are?" He kind of roused up and said, "yeah man, turkey capital of the world!" [laughs]

Samuel Showalter practiced medicine at the clinic from 1976-2004.
Randi B. Hagi
Dr. Samuel Showalter practiced medicine at the clinic from 1976-2004.

Weaver left the practice in 1991 and went into medical missions after his first wife died. Showalter oversaw the clinic's merger with the Carilion Clinic network around 1996. The doctors noted that technology – especially diagnostic imaging – changed dramatically over their careers.

SHOWALTER: I used to spend a lot more time doing physical examinations. … We tend to rely nowadays more on CAT scans and MRIs and lab studies that we didn't have in those days.

While technology progresses, roads are built, and populations ebb and flow, in many ways the ethos of small towns remains constant.

HOUFF: A lot of us have been here all our lives. … It's just kind of in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, and we're proud and people work hard to kind of keep it safe and keep us taken care of.

And a new generation of doctors and nurses at the clinic carry on that work.

Weaver examines medical equipment he took on house calls to elderly patients.
Randi B. Hagi
Weaver examines medical equipment he took on house calls to elderly patients.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.