The Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes (VBFH) is a group of grateful local residents and business leaders from the Virginia Beach, VA community. Its members have come together over the years to dedicate their time and efforts with the goal of coordinating and hosting events. These events are designed to safely raise funds that are solely intended to benefit our military men, women and their families.

The Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes was officially established in 2011 and is proud to have teamed up with The Navy SEAL Foundation and the Navy SEAL Museum. Our combined efforts over the years have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist local military families. We understand that unfortunate events happened to the brave heroes who unselfishly defend our freedoms. Their sacrifices sometimes come at the cost of their very lives and this is a small way to honor them by contributing to their families’ well being.

Mike Reff
President & Chairman of the Board

A founding member, Mike Reff first moved to Virginia Beach in 1988 when he joined the Army at 17 years of age. He returned in 1999 with three children and plans to make a home. Mike brings his vast experience from sitting on the boards of other charities such as the American Red Cross and The Noblemen; a local non-profit for which, after six years of service, he is the 2015 outgoing Chairman of the Board.

When not volunteering, Mike works as a commercial insurance agent with Towne insurance. He also enjoys golf, gardening, and travel.

As President and Chairman, Mike leads VBFH as it continues to grow and provide help to the Naval Special Warfare community.

Sean Sawyer
Vice President & Director of Sponsorships & New Business Development

Sean was born and raised in Virginia Beach and has been a member of VBFH since its inception. When the CH-47 Chinook was shot down down on August 6, 2011, he was part of the all volunteer group the kicked ass to raise close to $60,000 for the inaugural Families of our Fallen Heroes event. “At the end of the day, I was smiling to myself and looking around at what we had accomplished with a small group (TEAM). It was probably one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had. I’d been part of several charities as Marketing Director for Richmond International Raceway, but was astonished with what we pulled off.” Since then, he has remained an integral part of the team as Director Sponsorships & New Business Development and chief trash picker upper… It’s a small/flat organization and the pay sucks, but the rewards are immeasurable. Sean specializes in VA home loans and taking care of military families through his job as a Mortgage Loan Officer with Tidewater Home Funding. Sean enjoys the beach, fishing and surfing with friends and family.

Laura Castner
Secretary/Treasurer & Director of Finance

Laura is a Virginia Beach resident and co-owner of Shorecom, a telecommunications contracting company that was founded in 1995. She has strong ties to the military with her grandfather, father, brother and brother-in-law all having had long-standing careers in the Navy. She became involved with fundraising events several years ago through a restaurant she co-owned that had a large military customer base.  They helped with numerous charitable events that benefited various military organizations. Laura became involved with Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes shortly after the tragedy of August 6, 2011.  Laura brings great energy and awesome ideas to all of our events.  Laura is always behind the scenes working hard keeping up with all the finances, sponsor packages, notices, emailing the board members and keeping our board meeting notes.  She always has a smile on her face, ready to volunteer to help anyway she can.

Woody Thompson
Director of Events

Woody is a proud Clemson University Alum who has enjoyed 34 years in the Restaurant/Bar Industry. Virginia Beach has been home since 1990. Having two sisters and their families is a blessing, but partnering in South Beach Grill has provided more family and friends than one could hope for. He thanks to them for his VBFH involvement and experience.

In his capacity as Vice Chairman, Woody truly is the glue that holds us all together. He tirelessly maintains order to our meetings and keeps us on track and ever mindful of what we need to do to reach our goals.

Byron Madden
Director of Operations

Byron grew up in a military family and knows firsthand the sacrifices of service members and their families.  When people learned his father was a Marine, Byron was often asked where they had been stationed.  Having tired of running through the numerous countries, states, cities and schools, he finally came up with an easy answer…”Camp You Name It”.

As with other Board Members, Byron became involved with the VBFH after the tragedy of August 6, 2011.  After the first event, Byron found the response of active duty and retired military personnel to be unreal. “I remember someone coming up to me thanking me and telling me how much it meant to know that there were civilians out there who cared.” Right then, he knew VBFH was the place for him.  Byron is in charge of the operations of our events and does an incredible job coordinating between numerous vendors as well as taking on the tedious task of complete set up and breakdown of everything required to make our events a huge success.

Caron Sanson
Director of Print & Media

Although Caron was not born in Virginia Beach, she has lived the vast majority of her life within a five-mile radius of Princess Anne High School. She was raised in a Navy family in this military community, and feels a powerful connection to the military and helping service members. In August, 2011, Caron jumped into the VBFH with both feet to design and print promotional and event signage for the initial fundraising event that was held.

Caron brings with her a lot of fundraising experience. Ever tried selling oranges, peanuts, candy and running a community-wide Bingo game for a high school band? She has! She also brings vast computer and printing knowledge she has learned while working for Media East, Inc.

Rhonda Gardner Derring
Director of Social Media

Rhonda is an office manager for a local builder, Seaside Builders, Inc.   Rhonda is also a long time native of Virginia Beach and has enjoyed fundraising for over 25 years for causes dear to her heart and found a permanent home with VBFH.  Rhonda has a lot of energy and enthusiasm that shows when she is volunteering, collecting auction items, speaking to sponsors and jumping in wherever needed.

She signed on from the very first event held by the Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes and has been helping anyway possible ever since.  Rhonda is on the Board of Directors and is heading the committee for Social Media for VBFH.

Rhonda has a passion for music and dancing.  The main event has so many great bands with variety of music that everyone can enjoy and dance to… including Rhonda.  She also really loves doing the South Beach Grill Golf Tournament benefiting VBFH as the fun nurse on the cart serving the players drinks and helping to decorate the themes for all the tents at the event.   Rhonda’s children Alex and Ross are always helping at all of the VBFH events!  Rhonda’s family also has a passion to help when it comes to caring for our fallen heroes and their families!

Charity Madden
Director of Entertainment 
& Community Affairs

A true native of Va. Beach, Virginia, Charity fell in love with the restaurant/ bar business while working her way through college. She earned a B.A. from Old Dominion University in Secondary Education, but could not stray from her true passion. She became the owner of South Beach Grill in 2006, after bartending there for 12 years. She prides herself in her friendly staff and the best live entertainment. Charity is responsible for booking and scheduling all entertainment for VBFH events. She has organized and participated in several fundraisers throughout the years to help those in need. She is inspired by our military, who give selflessly in order to help others and fight to defend this nation’s freedom. Charity believes in “paying it forward” and she is proud to be an American!

Jim Denning
Director of Hospitality & NSW Relations

Jim Denning was born in Patuxent River MD to USN Capt. Bill and Irene Denning (RET). After being stationed in Virginia Beach for 12 years, their family was transferred to Key West where his father took over Naval Operation as Commanding Officer of NAS Key West. While there, Jim played sports for Key West High, Club Teams, learned to dive, spearfish and play beach volleyball. After school, Jim moved back to Virginia Beach to continue his education. Jim worked for National City Bank and Citibank as an Account Executive. He decided to move to the hospitality industry managing for Professional Hospitality Resorts, and Rudee’s on the Inlet. Jim has found a new home presiding as a Manager of Chicks Oyster Bar on Shore Drive which has very strong ties to the Navy SEAL Community.

He is a proud Founding Board Member of the Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes which he and other board members established to build support for the local Naval Special Warfare Group and Seal Team Families. Jim uses his connections in the hospitality industry to bring in restaurant, bar and other related sponsors for VBFH events.

During his down time, he enjoys spending time with his seven year old daughter Ainsleigh at the beach, where he’s been an avid surfer and competitive beach volleyball player for more than 20 years.

Ryan Rogowski
Director of Logistics & Website Development

Ryan Rogowski was born and raised in Virginia Beach (a true local), he and is extremely familiar with the city and its local activities. Being in and out of the hospitality business his entire life, he brings his specialties to the Virginia Beach Fallen Heroes organization. He’s a proud founding board member of the VBFH organization. Using his years of hospitality experience and throwing amazing parties, Ryan helps coordinate the ‘adult beverage’ side of the events, as well as event logistics. He is also the “staff” photographer and website designer!  On his down time he enjoys spending time on the golf course, playing with his girls (they’re dogs!), and making bacon.


Rico Mann
Director of Marketing and Branding

A native of Norfolk, VA and resident of Virginia Beach for more than 10 years, Rico Mann comes to the VBFH Board of Directors with a wealth of experience in Communication Arts and Design, Financial Analysis and Planning, Sports Entertainment, and overall business management.
The son of a Norfolk Police Officer and Secretary 1 for the NPD (top admin in the department), and the cousin, grandson, and nephew to many active duty and retired Special Warfare Operators across all branches of the military, Rico has long been engrained with a deep appreciation for the sacrifices  of our nation’s military and 1st responders. This appreciation led him to become involved in VBFH after the 2nd annual event as a way to “give back”.

In his capacity as Director of Marketing and Branding, Rico is responsible for the design and creation of all visual media representing VBFH and for maintaining consistency in our branding across multiple platforms. It is his goal to not only present VBFH in the most polished and professional light, but to remind our sponsors, volunteers, and event attendees of the reason we do this; to remember the fallen, and to support their families.

He is the current designer and operations manager for Dave Millican and Reggie Parks Championship Belts and Awards. They design and/or create the championship belts for WWE, NJPW, TNA, ROH, Zero1, UFC, Bellator MMA, and virtually every major combat sports and/or sports entertainment company in the world. Other clients include Madonna, KISS, Spike TV’s Lip Sync Battle, Viacom, DirecTV, and etc….