Rotary Club of Oyster Point’s Oyster Bash: Changing lives one oyster at a time

Rotary Club of Oyster Point members and other key players in The Oyster Bash. Pictured left to right, back row: Andy Beale, Tradition Brewing owner; Wayne Futrell, Ed Maroney; middle row: Tom Herbert, Heather Bowles; front row: Traci Snyder, Diane Umstead of Smart Beginnings, Sarah Saville, Sonny Short, Leslie Bryant, Eric Wildemann and Nelson Kelley. (Photo by Cathy Welch)

What began as a membership social for Rotary Club of Oyster Point (RCOPNN) has been a fundraiser benefiting local nonprofits, held at Mariners’ Museum for the past five years. In its sixth year on October 12, the venue moves to Newport News’ hometown Tradition Brewing Company.

“The Oyster Roast dates back to our beginning in 1984,” says Ed Maroney, RCOPNN’s treasurer, webmaster, past president and event coordinator.

“We turned the Oyster Roast into a fundraiser,” says Nelson Kelley, who was president of the club at the time. “Also, Smart Beginnings [primary Oyster Roast benefactor] is not something everybody knows of.”

“Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula (SBVP) is a nonprofit helping Peninsula children from the prenatal stage to age five to be socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually prepared for kindergarten,” development director Traci Snyder says. “Our tagline is Ready for School, Ready for Life.”

“Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed the first five years of life,” Diane Umstead, SBVP executive director says. “It’s critical that we help raise the quality of early childhood education and offer families the tools to be successful parents. The earlier we do that, the longer lasting the effects will be.”

In its third year of sponsoring RCOPNN, Tradition Brewing Company begins a new level of partnership as venue for the Oyster Bash.

“We’re bringing it to Oyster Point which might attract more people,” Maroney says.

Tradition Brewing began with head brewer Dan Powell’s home brews.

“A couple of buddies started drinking his home brew and decided to make it a business,” says Andy Beale, one of the buddies and now an owner.

Tradition brews 100 percent of its craft beer onsite.

“Tradition wants to focus on being a community asset,” Beale explains. “When we get an opportunity to help a nonprofit create awareness for its mission, it’s always a big thing for us.”

The Oyster Bash will offer attendees as much of Tradition’s beer as they can drink, select wine and at least 50 bushels of oysters with other menu options.

“Crab Shack owner Bobby Wharton hires oystermen for us who also attend the event,” Maroney says. “He serves them steamed, fried, roasted and raw on the half shell.”

Wharton also makes a terrific Brunswick stew.

“Last year we had several food vendors: James River Country Club, Circa 1918, Smoke BBQ, Hampton’s Crabtown and Indulge Bakery,” Maroney says. “We supplied them with oysters and they came up with a signature dish.”

The same vendors and more are invited this year. Entertainment will be by Jahman Brahman, a North Carolina-based group.

“I’m excited about this band,” Maroney says. “They remind me of a Dave Mathews jam band with a little bit of a reggae feel.”

Tickets are on sale for The Oyster Bash. There will be a VIP hour for an additional small fee, a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle with potential winnings up to $1,300.

“The Oyster Bash is our signature event,” Rotarian Eric Wildemann says. “Items donated by local businesses include drinks, food and power tools. Rotarian Jay Hatton buys cases of wine, and we receive gift packages from local restaurants and sometimes vacations.”

The event supports more than 20 organizations, Rotarian Leslie Bryant says.

The October 12 fundraiser at Tradition is the largest annual event that raises resources for families benefiting from SBVP services that serve the entire community like RCOPNN.

“That’s an amazing commitment not only by the Rotary Club, but also this community,” Umstead says. “SBVP is a backbone organization for early childhood programs in this area. You touch SBVP, you touch multiple programs working on behalf of local children and families.”

Sarah Saville, president-elect, grant chair and former Oyster Bash coordinator, joined RCOPNN in 2013 after graduating from law school.

“It was a great fit. A short time later, Nelson asked me to be on the board,” Saville says. “That’s when I had the opportunity to go to Mewat, India, to distribute polio vaccines.”

“It was truly inspiring, being so new to the organization and becoming committed so quickly,” Maroney says of Saville’s actions. “This is the story I tell the most.”

“It transformed my Rotary experience,” Saville says. “It brought all these children’s faces to what we were doing. Rotary has strengthened my connection with the community.”

“We have a strong club and our members are very committed,” Maroney says. “I thank all my fellow Rotarians, our sponsors, our vendors and our attendees who have all helped make this event such a success over the last five years. All I can ask is that you keep helping us, so we can continue to help others in need.”

Auction items and volunteers are still needed for The Oyster Bash.
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About Cathy Welch 74 Articles
Cathy Welch is a Hampton Roads-based writer, photographer and book editor. She says her life is an eclectic mix of career and FAMILY. She earned our Bachelors degree in business administration at Christopher Newport University, minoring in Spanish. Her career has been full- and part-time as an administrator, an engineering assistant, a bookseller, a merchandiser, a naval photography layout assistant, an office manager, a grant writer and a human resource manager, all giving her experiences that feed her writing. She fosters pups and does what she can to bless those who are in need, whether human or canine. She can be reached at 757-870-0768 or at

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