Dayton man known for singing, dancing in the street was far more than people thought

“Street legend” Virgil Sheppard died March 25. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday. (Photo: WHIO.com)

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“Street legend” Virgil Sheppard died March 25. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday. (Photo: WHIO.com)

Anthony Smith says his little brother Virgil Sheppard was like Lionel Richie's "Easy Like Sunday Morning," Virgil's favorite song.

“If you listen to that record you can kind of pick up and hear his living in it,” said Smith, a GM retiree. “He was a carefree-life person, easing through life. He had an easy and free life.”

Sheppard, who was known as "Radio" or simply as "Virgil," didn't go unnoticed.

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For years and years, the recovering crack cocaine addict and schizophrenic could be seen singing and dancing at street corners on Dayton’s west side.

“Everybody did not give him love,” Smith said. “There are some people who criticized and hated and said, look at that crazy man, look at that homeless man.”

Those who bothered to look beyond the antics would see Virgil’s heart, Smith said.

“He always had a kind word for people, embracing and telling the kids to stay in school. He never wanted to say ‘embrace what I am doing,’” he said of his brother. “If they ever took the time to stop and talk to him, they wouldn’t (see) him as an embarrassment. They’d realized they were talking to an intelligent and free-spirited man.”

As it turns out, a lot of people did get to know Virgil, who is now being called a “street legend.”

Smith and his family say they are blown away by the overwhelming support they have received since the 62-year-old Alabama native died March 25 from congestive heart failure.

A celebration will be held remembering Virgil 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the corner of Third and Broadway streets, one of his most frequent spots.

There will be music and a dance contest.

Virgil’s funeral is being organized for 11 a.m. Saturday, April 14, at Philips Temple Church, 3620 Shiloh Springs Road in Trotwood.

Mark Baker, Dayton Public School’s athletic director, said that he’s heard story after story about how he solved problems and encouraged kids.

“They loved him. At the end the of the day, they saw through the dancing and entertaining,” Baker said. “They saw that he was a kind man, that he was wise man.”

Baker said Virgil, one of seven children born to his family, used his life as a testimony.

“According to him, God delivered him from (crack addiction) 19 to 20 years ago,” Baker said. “He was a man that God used to bring love and peace in the community. He could defuse things that the average person was not able to.”

Baker said he hopes his uncle’s death shines a light on mental illness as a subject that should be talked about.

It is also about not judging a book by its cover.

“At the end of the day, God uses who he wants to use,” Baker said. “It’s unexpected. How a perceived homeless man, a perceived crazy man, could bring together so many people.”

Though he did not use social media , numerous online videos feature Virgil and the message he had for people.

One Facebook view posted Monday has more than 27,000 views.

“People would stop their cars and watch him dance,” Baker said.

Smith said that he did not always like how his brother lived his life.

Virgil came to Dayton as a teenager to be with his siblings who already lived in the area. He’d have little jobs here and there, but his brother said he ran into trouble with the law and fell into drugs for about 20 years before quitting.

“I wanted him to embrace what I had at the home, but that wasn’t something that was important to him,” Smith said.

“Loving him as a brother, I had to accept him the way he was.”

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