GEORGETOWN, Del. — Delmarva Chicken Association presented awards to three people – Virgil Shockley, Dean Walston, and Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes – whose support, work and advocacy have been crucial to the success of Delmarva’s $5 billion chicken community. The chicken industry on Delmarva supports more than 1,330 family farms and more than 18,300 chicken company employees, along with hundreds of allied businesses.
The awards were presented during the third annual Booster BBQ, an event for DCA members and invited guests at the Delaware State Fairgrounds. More than 700 DCA members and others in the chicken community attended the event, which featured barbecued chicken prepared and served by Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company and Harrington Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary, ice cream from Vanderwende’s, door prizes, more than 40 vendors, lawn games and more.
The 2023 recipient of the J. Frank Gordy Delmarva Distinguished Citizen Award is Virgil Shockley, a Snow Hill, Md. chicken grower who has consistently, relentlessly advocated at the highest levels in Maryland politics for chicken growers, farmers, and Eastern Shore communities. Born in 1953, Shockley has more than 50 years of farming experience, and he is a longtime member of Delmarva Chicken Association and the Worcester County Farm Bureau. In 1998, Shockley was elected to serve the first of four terms as a Worcester County Commissioner; during his time in office, he also served on the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore, and he spearheaded initiatives to bring high-speed Internet access to underserved areas of the Shore through the Maryland Broadband Cooperative and other public-private efforts. Shockley also advocated for growers and farmers during the development of Maryland’s Phosphorus Management Tool as a representative on the committee that studied the PMT. He’s one of six investors in Burnish Beer Company, a craft brewery which opened in October 2021. He and his wife, Jeanne, live on their family farm and continue to raise chickens there for Tyson Foods.
“In my 16 years as a county commissioner, I never took no for an answer… If poultry is going to remain productive on the Shore, you’re going to need a new generation of people who are willing to fight,” Shockley said in an interview with DCA. “I’m getting to an age where I’m trying to retire. At my age, my days in the fight are almost over, so it’s gratifying to be appreciated – but truly unexpected.”
Dean Walston received the Edward H. Ralph Medal of Achievement. Walston recently retired from his role as Director of Operations at the Perdue Farms processing plant in Milford, Del. A Wicomico County, Md. native, he received a BS in Poultry Science and Food Science from North Carolina State University and has held various positions in live production and processing for Perdue on Delmarva, rising up through the ranks from flock supervisor. For the capstone of his Perdue career, Walston led operations at the Milford facility, one of the biggest organic chicken processing facilities in the U.S. Walston was also DCA’s 2017 president; under his leadership, DCA embarked on a long-term strategic planning process.
“I know several of the past recipients of this award. I’ve worked with them in industry and interacted with them in DCA. So it means a lot. I’m honored to be part of that group,” Walston said. “I’m grateful that there were many mentors that helped me move through my career in the industry and at Perdue. I’m also proud of a lot of the individuals over my career that I had a chance to support, guide, direct, and mentor who have moved on into leadership roles… I’ve said many times in the poultry industry that chickens get us from A to B, but the people are really the key. In this facility there are seven to 10 different nationalities that work here, seven to 10 different languages. That diversity, I think, is the backbone of what we accomplish here.”
Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, received the DCA Medal of Achievement. First elected to represent District 37A in the legislature in 2014, Del. Sample-Hughes has advocated for the entire chicken community in Annapolis. In the just-ended session, she supported and testified on behalf of legislation that would lower electricity taxes for many Maryland family farmers raising chicken. Among her many leadership roles in public service, she is chair of the Maryland and Delaware region of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, and serves on the Rural Maryland Council and the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.
“When I was elected in 2015, the priority for me was to build the relationships with my colleagues across the entire state,” Del. Sample-Hughes said. “Some of the legislation around poultry was very contentious. In working with the industry and educating colleagues and pushing back on areas where it needed to be pushed back on, it changed the trajectory of the industry. I’ve seen over time that colleagues have visited the Eastern Shore, made it a point to learn more about the chicken houses, learning about the waste to energy opportunities in that space. That relationship and that education that has occurred over these past nine years has been paramount… I’m grateful that the chicken industry sees me as a friend and sees me as an advocate.”
–Delmarva Chicken Association