Pauline and LeRoy Menefee of Culpeper Commons Apartments got an unexpected boost last May.

The apartment complex awarded them a $100 Visa gift card as a reward for winning a balcony-decorating contest to honor first responders.

“I couldn’t believe we won,” said Pauline Menefee in an interview Wednesday. “The whole experience sure brought a smile to my face.”

In an effort to boost spirits and inspire smiles, property managers at Culpeper Commons decided a balcony-decorating contest was just the thing.

“With the social distancing and the fear of the virus and so many out of work, every day was starting to feel pretty heavy,” said Property Manager Lesley Brown.

Assistant Property Manager Carolyn Grayson and Brown thought the contest could be a way to help everyone connect, and still abide by the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Normally we interact a lot with our residents, but it seemed like everyone was so isolated in all this,” Brown said. “So many are home in their apartments, and all the kids love to make things—it’s something they could do and be creative.”

Out of 142 units, about 20 put up decorations, Brown said.

“We were so happy people seemed to like it, we got a lot of compliments and interaction on Facebook,” she said. “Some just put up some lights and a poster, others were very intricate.”

Brown and Grayson invited Town Councilmen Frank Reaves and Jamie Clancy, and Capt. Tim Chilton from the Culpeper Police Department to the complex to judge the contest.

“We were so grateful they were willing to come,” Brown said. “They were very complimentary of our balconies. It was not obvious at all who would be the winner.”

After deliberating for some time the judges settled on Pauline Menefee’s creation, and she and her husband were presented with the gift certificate. Her design had a patriotic theme, with a poster bearing the words, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” surrounded by pictures of first responders.

“It was very nice, Lesley is so sweet,” Menefee said, expressing gratitude for the gift card.

After learning she had multiple sclerosis in 2014 Menefee said she had to retire from her job driving a bus for Orange County Schools, a service she had provided for 16 years. Menefee was a 30-year resident of Orange County.

“I was getting up at 5:20 a.m. every day to get out to Unionville, which was my route,” she said. “I really wanted to stay true to them, it was hard to leave.”

Menefee said she and her husband were sweethearts back in 1976, but her parents objected to their mixed-race relationship, and they reluctantly broke it off.

The two reconnected 14 years ago. “As soon as we met again we knew we still loved each other,” Menefee said. They were married soon after that, and Menefee moved from Orange to Culpeper.

LeRoy was born and raised in Culpeper. “It’s his hometown of 73 years and he loves it, and everyone loves him—they all smile when they see him,” Pauline said.

The couple moved to Culpeper Commons about six years ago to a ground floor apartment, making it easier for Pauline Menefee with her MS diagnosis.

“We love living here, they’ve been very good to us,” she said. “I love living in Culpeper with everything close by.”

Of the contest, the former bus driver said much of her inspiration was due to time she spent working as a teacher’s assistant in Orange County.

“When you get around teachers, they’re pretty creative people and it rubs off a little,” she said. “So my imagination got into it and I used some of what I learned to make my decorations.”

She was glad to see how many others in the complex also participated in the contest, and commented how much more cheerful the place was with all the decorations.

“I wanted to recognize first responders, they go out of their way to help us and protect us,” she said. “I think when we’re going through this crazy time we need all the smiles we can get.”

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