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Time to toast host of the roasts

White Oak Equipment founder Frank McCarty (in front of corporate headquarters) has had an annual oyster roast fundraiser for 29 years. The Citizen of the Year rushes to share his spotlight with his fellow roast volunteers. / Photo by Griffin Moores

White Oak Equipment founder Frank McCarty (in front of corporate headquarters) has had an annual oyster roast fundraiser for 29 years. The Citizen of the Year rushes to share his spotlight with his fellow roast volunteers. / Photo by Griffin Moores

When Frank McCarty was growing up in the Northern Neck’s Lancaster County, his grandfather had a shucking house where folks could get some of the best oysters in the Chesapeake Bay region.

It’s a connection that, when combined with his personal mix of caring and faith, eventually helped create one of the region’s largest charitable fundraisers.

To date, the event held each spring at the business he founded, White Oak Equipment in southern Stafford County, has raised nearly $750,000 over the past 29 years, an annual godsend to local residents with compelling needs.

The event the 78-year-old Stafford resident selflessly refuses to take sole credit for is just one of many reasons the longtime area businessman has been chosen as the The Free Lance–Star’s Citizen of the Year for 2013.

McCarty was chosen from a number of local residents nominated by the public for providing outstanding humanitarian service to the community. He joins winners from other regions as finalists for the 2014 Virginia Press Association Virginian of the Year.

Fredericksburg resident Doris Buffett, whose Sunshine Lady Foundation has given millions to projects in the region and elsewhere, was a previous winner of the contest, which strives to honor Virginians who make a difference at the grass-roots level.

McCarty, who grew up on his parent’s farm in the Ottoman community of Lancaster County, came to Fredericksburg in 1962 to manage a plant for Piedmont Fertilizer. It was there, McCarty recalled in a recent interview, that he decided one year to have an oyster roast for the men’s group at his church.

“I had access to oysters back home and it made a nice event,” said McCarty, who would go on to found the equipment sales and rental business in White Oak.

That continued for a while until McCarty said he received a message from God.

“I was getting ready to go to church and the thought came to me—Why not use the oyster roast to raise money for one of our members who was dealing with cancer?” he said. “I went and talked to our pastor and he liked the idea. It became our first oyster roast.”

Since then, 28 other recipients have benefited from the fundraiser. McCarty, the White Oak staff and volunteers work hard each year to clean up the office and shop area so they can be transformed into a spot to host the oyster roast.

McCarty, a hearty soul who loves to laugh, proudly points out that all of the funds donated by those who attend the event—which typically draws a crowd of 1,500 to 1,700—go to the yearly recipient of the fundraiser.

He said the second sign to him of a divine hand in this charitable institution now done in concert with Fairview Baptist Church is what happened several years into the event.

“For the first several years of the event, I financed it all myself,” McCarty said. “But at one point, business took a downturn and I was sorry to decide that I just couldn’t afford it anymore.”

With a heavy heart, he resigned himself to tell members of his church after that year’s oyster roast wrapped up. But before he could, he feels God intervened.

First, one business associate called, and then another and another, each of them saying they’d like to become a sponsor.

Before long, a whole host of businessmen had joined McCarty in sponsoring the event, something that ensured it could continue.

McCarty is quick to say that the roast certainly isn’t just his, that there’s a whole host of volunteers and backers who have put in decades, many doing as much or more than he to keep the event going.

But the roast isn’t the only way he’s impacted the community.

He’s received major awards for community service from the local United Way and the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary. He now serves on the Salvation Army board of directors.

He’s also been a business leader, was a founding member of Friendship Baptist Church and was selected to represent Virginia on a “people-to-people” trip to Russia.

Art Blankenship of Spotsylvania County, who nominated McCarty for Citizen of the Year, explained why.

“Mr. McCarty’s character, leadership, community service and generosity truly embodies the qualities of Citizen of the Year,” he wrote in the nomination.

“His contribution to the welfare of others and investments in peoples’ lives will continue to pay dividends to our community.”

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415