In the summer of 1952, the first residents of Holmes Run Acres, armed with typewriters, a mimeograph machine and plenty of creative energy, published their newly built community’s first newsletter.
The Holmes Runner began as a few stapled pages, mainly information on the neighborhood’s fledgling civic association that published it, but it soon expanded to include features, illustrations and advice columns. Today, the Runner is a full-color journal with articles, essays, artwork, poetry and professional photographs. Longtime resident Keith Gardiner described it as “still full of community lore and wisdom.”
Bound by their common real estate, residents of “the Acres” neighborhood — placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2006 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 — have built and recorded their community’s history for more than 60 years. The Runner has connected neighbors as they created Fairfax County’s first community-owned pool, shared advice on renovating their mid-century homes and stayed up to date on neighborhood goings-on.
“To me, the Runner is a historical record of the times played out through our neighborhood,” said science writer/editor and Runner co-editor Mary Beth Gardiner. “When it started, it was our essential mode of communication, there was no other way to communicate. It was more like a newsletter with essential information. Now, though it still has news, it’s more about capturing the personality and creativity of the neighborhood.”
The Runner, which is hand-delivered free to association members and once annually to non-member residents, gradually has evolved from a nine-times-a-year publication to a quarterly magazine as alternate modes of communications have grown. Nearly all Runner issues, some with more than 60 pages, have a theme and a resident-created cover. Gardiner said the Runner does not take editorial positions, but it has published personal opinions on local and national issues. “The old newsletters from the 1960s where residents discussed racial issues and took a stand on integration really stand out,” said Gardiner. “It got pretty political.”
Several Holmes Run Acres couples recently participated in an exciting experiment. We were guests in the home of a Negro family as part of the Educational Home Visit Program of the Interreligious Committee on Race Relations . . . . For most of the white guests, the evening was the first opportunity we had ever had to visit Negroes of similar educational and economic backgrounds in their own homes. We found the experience so stimulating and enlightening that we have been urging it on others ever since . . . . The program has a limited objective . . . . No reciprocity is expected.
— Letter to the Editor,
The Holmes Runner, January 1964
Day after day the newspapers carry obituaries of young men killed in Vietnam. America needs young people who have the energy, dedication and skills to get us safely out of the twentieth century before we destroy it for them. We cannot sit still and watch the “hope for the future” go literally up in a puff of smoke.
— Letter to the Editor,
The Holmes Runner, March 1971
More recently the association’s e-mail list has replaced the Runner as the venue for resident discourse on controversial issues; the Runner has not received letters to the editor for many years. “We’ve had discussions about the Runner’s role, whether it should be a news magazine or a creative magazine,” said Runner writer and civic association historian Vivian Douglas Smith. “It has ended up being really a combination of both, and that is what makes it so different.”
Interest in the Runner waned in the 1990s and then grew in recent years, but Runner editors still must actively solicit material, Gardiner said. “We’re trying to get more young people to contribute, to include more art and poetry. It takes a lot of cheerleading to keep up with submissions.”
As I watched the screen,
in utter shock,
the reality of what I was seeing,
stabbed me in my heart
— From “United, We Will Not Fall”
by Nushin Aliabadi,
The Holmes Runner holiday issue, 2001
Every day Mother Nature gives proof
Of her majesty (cool and aloof)
We continued to thrill
Until we got the bill
For the tree that fell down on our roof!
— “Higher Power” by Gloria Nappo, The Holmes Runner, fall 2012
Runner co-editor and technical writer Haleh Peterson said she believes the Runner has lasted so long because “there are so many interesting people who write for it.”
The first Runner editor, journalist Frances Spatz Leighton, later published numerous memoirs, including “My Life With Jacqueline Kennedy.” Original resident and community activist Sarah Lahr wrote essays or articles for virtually every Runner issue until she died in 2011; the association published a collection of her well-liked stories in 2002.
The Runner’s popularity led the association to publish several other “best of” compilation booklets, including “The Grainethumb” gardening articles by resident George Graine, Runner cartoons and illustrations, poetry and nature-themed writings such as “The Attack of the Killer Squirrels.”
Since 1976, the association also has issued three volumes of Acres history. Mia Gardiner, a former Runner editor and the editor of two of the histories, said Runner articles were a resource for many chapters in the history publications.
Copies of the Runner are archived in the Virginia Room of the City of Fairfax Regional Library, and they are among the oldest community newsletters there, according to Information Assistant Judith Federico. “These newsletters definitely have historical value,” she said. “They give us an idea of how the area has changed over the years.”
Smith sometimes reminds Acres residents of those changes by reading old Runner articles at association board meetings. “They laughed when they heard the complaints made about people hanging their clothes in carports instead of in their back yards” before dryers, she said. “And, we saw that some issues going back to the 1950s, like dogs and traffic on Gallows Road, are still issues today.” Smith said she shares old Runner stories “because they give us a sense of history, that we’re part of a neighborhood.”
The Runner’s fall 2012 issue, commemorating its 60th anniversary, is 44 pages long. It includes interviews with resident artists, the gardening column, minutes of board meetings, photos, poetry, a neighborhood news column and features on subjects ranging from the installation of a flashing crosswalk beacon near the local school to the installation of bluebird houses in the neighborhood park.
True to tradition, its cover is of a painting by a resident.
“I hope we never face the end of the Runner,” Gardiner said.
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.