Marlene and R.B. Henderson of Saltville have each been commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel, the highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for ambassadors of goodwill and fellowship around the world.

Two more Smyth County residents have been recognized by the governor of Kentucky with that state’s highest civilian award, the Commission of Kentucky Colonel.

R.B. and Marlene Henderson of Saltville were both recently notified of the honor. Marlene, clerk/treasurer for the town of Chilhowie, and R.B., public works director for the town of Saltville, were each presented framed certificates from their respective town councils.

The Hendersons join a number of other Smyth County residents presented with the honor, including school board member Bill Veselik, former Superintendent of Schools Michael Robinson, Commonwealth’s Attorney Roy Evans, and Sugar Grove resident Curtis Frank Pugh.

The Kentucky title of honor is bestowed on an individual in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. The recipient does not have to be a resident or native of Kentucky.

R.B. (short for Roy Braxton Jr.) and Marlene were both born and raised in Saltville. Marlene attended R.B. Worthy High School, while R.B. went to Patrick Henry High School. They have been married 37 years and have a daughter, Megan, who is a Registered Nurse in Bristol, and a dog named Coco.

A laid-back couple, the Hendersons enjoy their work, their church -- Madam Russell United Methodist, and their communities.

R.B. worked for himself as a contractor for more than 20 years before joining the town of Saltville as public works director five years ago. He holds degrees in environmental and civil technologies from Wytheville Community College.

Marlene has served the town of Chilhowie for 38 years, as secretary to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, deputy clerk, deputy clerk/treasurer and clerk/treasurer. She became a Certified Municipal Clerk in 1994 and a Master Municipal Clerk in 2006. She is a Certified Planning Commissioner through the Land Use Education program with comprehensive training for planning commissioners, zoning board of appeals and staff. She has also served on the Smyth County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Parent Advisory Board for Head Start as a community liaison.

Marlene belongs to a charity crochet group on Facebook and enjoys putting her crochet skills to use making items such as hats for babies in the hospital, lap robes for veterans in nursing homes, arm coverings, and afghan squares to raise money for spay/neuter programs for cats.

“I love to crochet,” she said, and makes lots of items for family and friends. “I had an aunt that taught me how. Granny squares are my favorite. I make granny square afghans. I make kitchen angels out of dish towels and potholder hangings. I like any kind of crafting. Anytime somebody wants to make something, I’m game.”

Marlene made the town’s Christmas ornament that was inspired by the centennial mural and sent to the governor’s mansion in 2015.

What the Hendersons most enjoy doing together is traveling for R.B.’s service with the Virginia Masons, having joined in 1985 and recently serving as Grand Commander of Knights Templar in Virginia.

“One of the highlights of my career was to serve last year,” R.B. said. “I traveled to many areas for my position, as far as New York and Florida. It’s the biggest honor.”

R.B. said he was proud to have served at a time that three other Masons from Southwest Virginia were serving: Gary Wallace Taylor of Wytheville, Grand Master of Masons in Virginia (2017-18); Daniel H. Surface of Marion, Grand High Priest, Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Virginia (2016-17); and Joe Gilbert Broce of Blacksburg, Grand Governor of York Right Sovereign College of America.

As Grand Commander, R.B. said he was on the board of the Masonic Home of Virginia in Richmond. He is proud of the many services that Masons support, including religious outreach, charitable work with Alzheimer’s patients, supporting research grants for hospitals, scholarships, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and blood donation programs.

According to the Grand Lodge of Virginia Masonic Charity website, “The values of Freemasonry are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Freemasons are taught to practice charity and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole – both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.”

“You know you’re with a good group of people,” R.B. said of the Masons. “It makes a good man a better man.”

Both feel honored by the commission of Kentucky Colonel.

“It was very unexpected and I don’t feel deserving of it, but I am very honored,” R.B. said.

“I was surprised when I received the certificate in the mail, and very honored,” Marlene said. “It was a surprise to him also,” she added of R.B.’s certificate. “We had no idea. It’s interesting to see all the celebrity colonels, government leaders and others. I’m very excited about it.”

To obtain a Kentucky Colonel Commission, an applicant must be recommended by an individual who holds a Colonel Commission. Some famous Kentucky Colonels include Bob Hope, Betty White, Elvis Presley, George Bush, Ann Margaret, Jeff Gordon, Johnny Depp, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Dale Evans, Muhammad Ali, Norman Schwarzkopf, Tiger Woods, Dwight Yoakam, Mae West and Pope John Paul II.

According to kycolonels.org, “The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels does not appoint or commission Kentucky Colonels. That can only be done by the sitting Governor of the Commonwealth (currently The Honorable Matthew G. Bevin). Only the Governor knows the reason for bestowing the honor of a Colonel’s Commission on any particular individual.”

The title was formalized in 1813 though previously used informally to refer to people with honored reputations, often related to military service in the American Revolution.

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