August Magazine

Page 1

All Aboard!

Volume 18 · Issue 8 August 2023

WHAT’S INSIDE: Riverside Student Garden A Jewelry Journey Fantastical Frogs The King Bees

I Do, 70 Years Later · The Boys of Summer





Look No Further

1215 Cranberry Trail #12, Linville, NC $1,950,0000. Exclusively offered by Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.

BROKERAGE | RELOCATION | NEW DEVELOPMENT MORTGAGE | INSURANCE | FINE ART CONSIGNMENT Sotheby’s International Realty® and the Sotheby’s International Realty logo are registered service marks used with permission. Each office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity. | 828.898.5022

C O N T E N T S Blues in the Blue Ridge By Jan Todd


"Most people think about the music industry as a fun, good time. And it is. It's a celebration. But behind it is something very important to us. We want to entertain and have a good time, but we also want to share what was shared with us " - Rob Baskerville

All Aboard! By Peter Morris


“Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night's sleep, and strangers' monologues framed like Russian short stories.” - Paul Theroux

Riverside Elementary Garden By Tim Gardner


“Our students, staff, and community members continue to enjoy planting and growing various fruits and vegetables. This vision has become a reality through the tremendous leadership and support of school principal, Ms. Whitney Baird.” – Dr. Dan Brigman

The Boys of Summer By David Rogers


"This is an opportunity to continue playing in the summer, make new friends, branch out and improve my skills. It is a great new chapter of my life." - Tristan Salinas

A Jewelry Journey By Harley Nefe


“I remember it clearly. It started in 2015. I was just getting clean. I was about six months clean, and I had a pocket full of money, and I felt bored.” - Jessica Russell

Fantastical Frogs By Sarah Mathis


In addition to being asymptomatic carriers of the chytrid fungus, American bullfrogs are immune to pickerel frog poison, resistant to copperhead and cottonmouth snake venom, and unaffected by exposure to road salt.

A Love Story Spanning 70 Years By Sherrie Norris

72 4


August 202 3

“We had talked about getting married, but decided to wait until I got out. Five days after I was discharged, we said ‘I do.’ ” - Clint Cornett

August 202 3




A Publication Of High Country Press Publications Publisher / Editor Sam Garrett Design Ashley Poore Advertising Director Michelle Harrell Contributing Writers Tim Gardner Sam Garrett providing a toast to a lifelong friend Jared Mackey while celebrating Jared’s 50th birthday in Denver, Colorado in the backyard of the Glendale Hermitage. Photo by Mike Pritchard

Countless Summer Events Continue


t’s August, which means the countdown until the new school year has officially begun. The return of college students to the High Country is just around the corner, and the departure of many summer residents is coming near. Despite the summer days flying by, there are still a countless number of events continuing for everyone to enjoy. Various venues across the area are still showcasing their lineups of live music. The past month included many annual events spotlighting unique talent such as Christmas in July in West Jefferson and the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest in Sugar Grove. In recognition of local bands that make the music scene in the High Country so exceptional, Jan Todd spotlights The King Bees, who have been bringing the Blues to the Blue Ridge for over 36 years. Also talking about history – Peter Morris presents the timeline of Tweetsie Railroad, a popular attraction for both locals and visitors alike. Between the historic steam locomotive, live interactive shows, kid-friendly amusement rides, and more, there is always a lot to explore at the Wild West theme park. However, it wouldn’t be summer in the High Country without the beloved Boone Bigfoots bringing baseball games to fans in the region. David Rogers writes about the student athletes who are from different college teams around the country, but come together to provide competitive baseball and fun fan entertainment for all of the High Country to enjoy between semesters. Of course, leading into the new academic year, it only makes sense to highlight Avery County’s Riverside Elementary School, which has a revolutionary student gardening program. Tim Gardner features the people behind the program that has a mission of increasing food security amongst students, families, and the community at large. And that is what High Country Magazine is all about – celebrating the many different events, businesses, and individuals who make the community so special. Whether it’s new storefronts holding their grand openings like Sassy Curated Consignment & Gifts in Foscoe or longtime media personalities like Bill Fisher observing their last day on the air, we are here to honor the past, commemorate achievements, and look forward to the future while inspiring integrity, curiosity, and wonder. As always, we are very appreciative for the support of our advertisers who make this publication possible, and we thank our readers who continue to ask for High Country Magazine by name! Thank you!


Peter Morris Harley Nefe Sherrie Norris David Rogers Jan Todd Cover Photographer Peter Morris Contributing Photographer Shirley Hollars High Country Magazine is produced by the staff and contributors of High Country Press Publications, which serves Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties of North Carolina.

HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE P.O. Box 152, Boone, NC 28607 828-264-2262 Copyright © 2023, All rights reserved


Engineer David Bradley prepares to depart with Engine 12. Photo by Peter Morris.

Sam Garrett - Publisher 6

Sarah Mathis

August 202 3



West Jefferson Holds 35th Annual Christmas in July Festival STORY BY HARLEY NEFE


The Special Occasion Band takes the stage at Christmas in July. Photo by Harley Nefe

ith the warm summer sun meeting the cool mountain breeze, residents and tourists alike experienced a beautiful weekend when gathering on the streets of downtown West Jefferson to enjoy the annual Christmas in July Festival on June 30 and July 1. Mayor of West Jefferson Tom Hartman kicked off festivities on stage – “Welcome, everyone! Visitors, merchants, tourists … I welcome you to the 35th annual Christmas in July Festival.” Celebrating its 35th year, the popular Ashe County event commemorates the local Christmas tree industry and mountain heritage with arts, crafts, and entertainers. Always held the first weekend in July, the fun family-friendly experience has been taking place since 1987. With live music, food vendors, arts and crafts booths, street performers, and activities, there is always a lot for guests to explore. “The Christmas in July Festival is a partnership between many, many different entities,” described Kitty Honeycutt, Executive Director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. After veterans in the audience were honored, Ashe Early College rising freshman Graydon Shepherd performed the national anthem at the opening ceremony Friday evening. “I’ll have to tell you a little about him; he’s so remarkable,” Honeycutt shared. “His music career started briefly with the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program, but he then went on to take private lessons with national banjo and guitar picking 8


August 202 3

champion Steve Lewis. He continues those lessons now. When he’s not playing guitar, he’s playing basketball, playing baseball, or his favorite – he’s on the river fishing.” The sounds of country, bluegrass, folk, beach, swing, and classic rock could then be heard as musical groups including Steve Lewis, Josh Scott, Eric Hardin & Randy Greer; Liam Purcell & Cane Mill Rd.; Special Occasion Band; Jeff Little Trio; Tim Elliot; Wayne Henderson; and Lucky Strikes Band graced the stage throughout the festival. The smells of common festival favorites like corn dogs, hot dogs, BBQ – and funnel cakes – among many other delicious offerings drifted in the air due to the various vendors found in the food court. The Ashe Farmers’ Market featuring its many different vendors plus additional handmade arts and crafts vendors from across the region lined the streets with booths offering a vast array of products. Even the shops, galleries, and restaurants located downtown awaited discovery by the thousands of people attending the event. Through face painting, stilt walking, magic showing – and even Santa visiting – community members came together to celebrate what makes downtown West Jefferson so special in a festive, yet patriotic manner. For more information about the annual event, please visit https://www.christmasinjulyfestival. com/. t



Sassy Curated Consignment & Gifts Celebrates Grand Opening STORY BY HARLEY NEFE

from woodwork, sculptures, metal work, stained glass, and more, there is lots to explore. “There is so much to see at the shop!” Sassy said. “Please just take your time, grab a bag of popcorn, take a look around. We carefully select our merchandise with a keen eye for quality to enhance your shopping experience.” Sassy Curated Consignment & Gifts is both a reflection of Sassy’s lifelong experiences as a renowned hostess and the sense of “home” she creates within its comfortable ambiance. Having lived in Alabama, Texas, Maryland and now North Carolina, Sassy brings a wide range of social and cultural diversity to the selections she offers. Sassy claims the store intrigues even the most Lisa “Sassy” Gorum stands outside of her storefront in Foscoe. Photo by Josh Floyd. discerning customers in the High Country. The shop he High Country has gained a new addition to its eclectic wraps its visitors in a warm and inviting atmosphere that inspires variety of retail offerings, as Sassy Curated Consignment creative ideas and reinforces choices that might not otherwise be comfortable for some. & Gifts celebrated its grand opening on July 14. By being inviting, entertaining, fun, and constantly changing, Located in Foscoe, the consignment shop is the newest Sassy said she wants the shop to be the “go to” source for new endeavor of Lisa Gorum, better known as Sassy. ideas, gifts and design choices. Sassy is a proud Southern Belle, having been born and raised Overall, Sassy described this business venture as an incredible in Montgomery, Alabama. So much of who she is comes from opportunity that has always been a dream of hers. her cherished childhood memories. Life was great growing up in “I moved here in August 2021,” she shared. “It’s been almost the Deep South, she shared. To this day, she is most proud of her two years, and I’ve made incredible friends. They are so supportive southern heritage and being the mother of three and grandmother and encouraging, and they made this all possible.” to six – who she credits the name “Sassy” to. The business also celebrated its ribbon cutting ceremony on Sassy has experience as an artist, Amazon best selling children’s July 20. book author, and now – a proud business owner. Having studied “We are very excited and over the moon to be open!” Sassy interior design at the University of Alabama, Sassy is thrilled to shared. “I hope y’all will come out to help us celebrate!” bring a discerning eye to curating a selection of gifts, home decor, Sassy Curated Consignment & Gifts is located at 8830 NC and furnishings. Hwy 105 South in Boone. Hours of operation will be Tuesday “'My consignment shop is a high-end home décor consignment through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Sunday and shop,” Sassy described. “I also offer fun retail gifts from various Monday. For more information about the business, please visit wholesale accounts that I have opened in order to add to our the website or follow it on inventory.” Facebook and Instagram. t A variety of artisans are showcasing their talents at the store –




August 202 3



Hundreds Attend Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest in Sugar Grove STORY BY HARLEY NEFE


rthel Lane “Doc” Watson could often be found playing benefit concerts in and around Watauga County in order to raise money for local families and organizations. In honor of his efforts, Doc Watson Appreciation Day was established to celebrate the award-winning musician’s many contributions to the High Country community. One of these contributions included raising money to help restore the Historic Cove Creek School in Sugar Grove, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places as it is also home to the Doc and Merle Watson Folk Art Museum. Since 1998, the first Doc Watson Appreciation Day has been held at the grounds of the Historic Cove Creek School. 25 years later, people still gather at the location to promote the legacy of Doc Watson and his impact on the community The annual event drew a large crowd on July 15. Photo courtesy of the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest. and the music world. On July 15, hundreds of people came together to attend the received, and people love the flavor.” festivities, now known as the Doc & Rosa Lee Watson MusicFest. There were many art vendors as well present showcasing their The MusicFest is a family-oriented event celebrating the music crafts like clothing, jewelry, and pottery. Festival goers could find and lives of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson. an assortment of merchandise available including t-shirts, hats, With a mostly sunny sky and a fresh mountain air breeze, and posters. attendees were able to enjoy an all-day event consisting of music, “My family has been involved with merchandise here for food, and crafts from around 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. 20 years now,” festival volunteer Josh McMillan said. “My Presented by Cove Creek Preservation & Development, the grandmother was on the board when they first started.” festival featured a diverse musical lineup including appearances McMillan continued, “It’s been better this year than some every hour from bands such as the Swingbillies of Boonetown, years past.” Brooks Forsyth, Shay Martin Lovette Trio, The Burnett Sisters While some people were regulars to the event, others were Band, Wayne Henderson & Friends, Bill and the Belles, Liam experiencing the day’s activities for the first time. Purcell & Cane Mill Road, Jack Lawrence and Charles Welch, “This is my first year selling tie dye,” shared Kristen Bell of The Grascals, The Kruger Brothers, Dan Tyminski Band, and Appalachian Tie Dye. “I’m a stay-at-home mom, and my son Scythian. wanted a tie dye t-shirt, and it all started from there. Business has Guests brought their lawn chairs and blankets to listen to the been really good. It’s the most foot traffic I have seen at a festival.” music scene, and folks could be found dancing to the sounds, When asked what brought her to the festival, Bell shared, “I socializing with friends, and overall, having a wonderful time. love Doc Watson!” Delicious treats including freshly squeezed lemonade, state Doc Watson was instrumental in helping to preserve Western fair donuts, refreshing italian ice, and more could be found in the Watauga County history, and many years later, his legacy is still hands of many attendees. being celebrated by bringing the community together one fun“Business has been nonstop,” described local resident Steve filled festival at a time.. t Little, who was providing the lemonade. “It’s been very well 12


August 202 3

Carolina Gal All in a Name

By Jan Todd The Penland family in 1944 — who had a tradition of naming a baby one thing and calling the child something else entirely. Jan Todd’s grandfather, pictured bottom right, was christened Charles Lemuel Penland — but his older sisters insisted on calling him “Billy Boy.” He went by “Bill” his entire life.


grew up in a time where Scott, John, Karen, Laura and Lisa were some of the most common names in the country. In the South, nicknames like Bubba, Butch or Scooter often surfaced, and I knew a few of those. I once had a friend from Up North who made a sales call at a construction site in the South. He walked up to a couple of guys and asked, “Who makes the decisions on purchasing supplies for this job?” “Bofus,” one of the guys replied. My friend then asked to speak to Bofus. Confusion ensued until it dawned on my friend there was no such person named Bofus. The guy simply meant “Both of us.” Double names were a big deal in the South at one time. I read somewhere calling people by two names was a Scottish or Irish tradition, paring a first or middle name with a family name. Double names made their way into movies and songs. Mary Jane, Mary June, Mary Ann, Mary Beth. Bobby Joe and Billy Bob. Fannie Mae and Ellie Mae.Leigh Ann, Ruth Ann and Ba-ba-ba-ba- Barbara Ann. In my family history, names and 14


nicknames were often convoluted. My grandfather was one of nine children. The first two were girls, and my greatgrandfather was so certain the third would be a boy that he picked out the name “Jack” before the baby was born. It turned out to be another girl, whom they named Bertha Mae — but she was called Jackie all of her life, even though she could’ve jumped on the turnip wagon with Fannie and Ellie. When my grandfather arrived as baby number four, he was christened Charles Lemuel Penland, but one of his older sisters insisted on calling him “Billy Boy.” He never shook the nickname, which was eventually shortened to “Bill.” He did lobby for one of my siblings to be named “Charlie” after his “real name” — and even called my younger sister “Charlie” for a couple of years. It didn’t stick. My father wasn’t as lenient on other family members renaming his kids. My grandmother also came from an enormous family, a total of eleven children. By the time they got to the eighth one or so, they just started calling ‘em by initials — J.P. and H.L. With that many kids,

August 202 3

names were just hard to remember. When it came time to name our own children, we settled on the classics, Rachel and James — who we called Jimmy. During high school, he attempted to make himself sound “more mature,” and on the first day of class when the teacher called out “Jimmy Todd,” he replied, “Actually, it’s just Jim.” The entire class cracked up and some of his friends yelled, “No it’s not, no it’s not. It’s JIMMY.” He could have probably made the transition when he went to college, but by then he was resigned to his innate Jimmy-ness and that was that. When I was growing up, I took a lot of ribbing because my last name was Smiley — which meant I was not allowed to be in a bad mood. While working as a cashier when I was a teenager, I once had a customer who signed her name “M. Jolly.” I told her my own last name and remarked she must have endured similar teasing as I had. “Oh, I bet I was teased more,” she replied. “My first name is Molly.” Yep, she wins. t

Boone’s Premier Tile Showroom

Over 30 Years of Flooring Experience!

Owners Trudy and David Shell

STore HourS: Monday - Friday: 8:30am to 5pm Saturday: By Appointment 1852 H w y. 105, Bo one • 828-265- 0472 • w w w.Mo un t a inT il eNC .c o m

The King Bees

Bringing the Blues to the Blue Ridge STORY BY JAN TODD


The King Bees have a large and loyal fan base in the High Country. Here, the band plays a set at the inaugural Boonerang Festival in 2022, held in Boone. Photo by Jan Todd.

rom Deep South juke joints to international venues to outdoor stages here in the High Country, the King Bees have been belting the blues for 36 — or maybe 37 — years. “I’m no good with dates,” said Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni, lead singer of the renowned band she began with her husband, Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville in the mid-1980s. The two have traveled the world sharing their American roots music, recording and touring in European capitals and across the United States, playing with blues icons, and appearing at New York’s famed Lincoln Center — but they always come back to Ashe County and the mountains they call home. “I think we started in 1986, but we weren’t all that good the first year,” Rob chimed in. “So let’s just call it 36 years of good music.” The King Bees have a loyal fan base, 16


drawn in by Penny’s signature soulful sound and Rob’s showmanship and sheer talent on the guitar and keyboards. Yet neither Penny nor Rob intended a career in music when they were young. Penny grew up in Connecticut and came to the Carolinas to pursue her master’s degree in clinical psychology at East Carolina University. In the late 1970s, she scored an internship at New River Mental Health in Ashe County and was hired there full time just two weeks after arriving. “It was interesting, being a young single person in such a rural setting, but I loved my clients and my work,” Penny said. After eight years as a therapist, Penny was ready for a change and decided to enroll at Appalachian State University to earn a teaching certificate. She planned to teach high school English and have her

August 202 3

Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni, lead singer of The King Bees.

Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville of The King Bees.

summers free to travel. Meeting Rob changed everything. “I was wandering around campus and encountered Rob, playing the bass guitar in a band,” she recalled. The two struck up a conversation after the set, and Penny mentioned how much she loved the Hammond organ — a keyboard instrument used in jazz, blues, and rock music. “I was hooked,” Rob said. “Penny was someone I could talk music with.” Penny came from a musical family. Her brothers were in garage bands, and Penny had trained vocally, had sung opera, and played the guitar and drums. “I grew up in the time of the Beatles, and Ringo Starr was my hero,” Penny laughed. Rob graduated from App State in 1985 with a degree in anthropology. He started playing in rock and blues-based bands while attending his Greensboro high school and continued while in college. Not long after they met, Penny and Rob decided to form their own band. Rob, who wanted to switch over to lead guitar, showed Penny the basics on the bass guitar. “She mastered that in about five minutes. Then we decided she should sing — even though bass players rarely sing — and that took her another five minutes to learn, so we were rolling,” Rob quipped. “We had a band and started playing around Boone.”

She mastered that in about five minutes. Then we decided she should sing — even though bass players rarely sing — and that took her another five minutes to learn, so we were rolling. We had a band and started playing around Boone.

During the 2021 New River Blues Festival, the “Blues Emperor” Donald Ceasar plays the rub board, accompanied by Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni. Photo by Frederica Georgia.

The King Bees played at Grandfather Vineyards in Banner Elk in June. Pictured from left are lead guitarist Rob ““Hound Dog” Baskerville, Jimmy “The Groove” Gillon on drums, and Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni on bass guitar. Photo by Jan Todd.


Digging to the Roots of the Rhythms Rob said when he plays the music of other artists, he likes to reinterpret it to make it personal to him, rather than just trying to duplicate how the original artist plays. “Better yet, I like to find out who wrote the song, learn about the real roots of the music and how it evolved. I guess it’s the anthropology archaeologist in me,” he said. Rob proposed the two take to the road and try to meet and learn from some of their blues heroes. They headed down into Alabama and Mississippi

South Carolina’s Lady of R&B, Wanda Johnson, performs at the 2021 New River Blues Festival. Photo by Frederica Georgia. August 202 3



Crowds enjoy the music at the New River Blues Festival.

Most people think about the music industry as a fun, good time. And it is. It is a celebration. But behind it is something very important to us. We want to entertain and have a good time, but we also want to share what was shared with us.

- ROB BASKERVILLE Penny Zamagni shares her signature soulful sound with the audience at the first Boonerang festival, held in Boone in 2022. Photo by Jan Todd.



August 202 3

and knocked on the doors of some of their favorite musicians. “Some were initially suspicious — thinking we were there to steal their music,” Rob shared. “But once we’d meet these people, we’d start to share stories.” “We showed them we were there with respect, just wanting to learn to honor the heritage of their music,” Penny added. “Once they understood, they were thrilled.” “I think it meant something we had come to them,” Rob said. “They wanted their stories told — and wanted to keep the traditions alive. So when we do a gig, we pay homage to these musicians. We’ll talk about how we learned techniques from ‘soand-so’, tell the audience a little

about the artist and then play their song.” Rob said some of the stories shared by the musicians were hard — experiences he couldn’t even imagine. Blues were born during an unpleasant era in our nation’s history, Rob said, during times of racial discrimination, segregation, and poverty. “Through their stories, it all became very real to us,” Rob said. “Blues is real music made by real people who went through strife — and came out on the other side with joy. It is full of life lessons.” “Most people think about the music industry as a fun, good time,” he continued. “And it is. It is a celebration. But behind it is something very important to us. We want to entertain and have a good time, but we also want to share what was shared with us.

Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville entertains the crowd at Grandfather Vineyard by playing slides on the guitar with a glass of wine. Photo by Jan Todd

We love to open the doors of people’s minds through music — crossing over cultural lines, political lines, racial lines. Music is magical that way. It unites people.”

Down by the River The uniting power of music was the idea that launched the annual New River Blues Festival, now in its 21st year. The festival is held in a meadow by the river across from the River House Inn in Ashe County each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, showcasing world class blues musicians. This year the festival, scheduled 1pm – 6pm on September 3, will feature the “Blues Emperor” Donald Ceasar from the Creole and Cajun country of Louisiana. He is known for his

Start each day with a nutritious breakfast

Teach children good hygiene habits

Develop a sleep routine

Exercise as a family

AppFamily Medicine

Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (newborn to 18 years old)


Baker Center for Primary Care

Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (newborn to 18 years old)

828-737-7711 Davant Medical Clinic Children 6 and older


Bobby BlackHat plays the harmonica next to Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni during the 2021 New Rivers Blues Festival. Bobby BlackHat is scheduled to perform at the 2023 festival in September. Photo by Frederica Georgia. August 202 3



21st Annual New River Blues Festival Sunday, September 3, 2023, 1-6pm Across from River House Inn, 1896 Old Field Creek Rd., Grassy Creek, NC


mountain meadow, a sparkling river, and world-class music! Enjoy the North Carolina mountains’ only celebration of authentic blues music, hosted by The King Bees, Ashe County’s own internationally acclaimed blues band. Featuring legendary artists including Alabama Blues Queen DieDra Ruff, the Blues Emperor Donald Ceasar, Bobby BlackHat, Jeffrey Scott, and more.

For advance tickets and more information visit


When you get serious about wanting superior, knowledgeable service in buying or selling real estate in our beautiful High Country, then contact Banner Elk’s oldest brokerage firm. Put 36 years experience in our local real estate market to work for you!

We are committed to professional service.

John D. Davis, III Owner/Broker




PO Box 336, 161 Silver Springs Dr. Banner Elk, NC 28604 20


high spirited dance steps and versatile talent playing the rub board, harmonica, keyboard, and drums. Bobby BlackHat, Virginia’s “Blues Ambassador” will also take the stage with his blend of Chicago, Memphis, Piedmont, and Delta style blues. “When he walks in, you know,” Rob said. “He wears a red suit, a black hat, and really puts on a great show.” DieDra Ruff, known as the “Alabama Blues Queen” is scheduled to perform with her silky smooth vocals. Jeffrey Scott will bring his Piedmont acoustic style blues from his home in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. As the nephew of famed bluesman Jimmy “The Groove” Gillon has played drums with The King Bees John Jackson, Jeffrey carries for several years. He is pictured here at a recent gig at Grandfather on his family’s traditions, Vineyards in Banner Elk. Photo by Jan Todd playing the music that is “in his blood.” festival that brings together people of many “We may have another surprise guest different backgrounds, finding common or two,” Rob promised. ground through the music. “Everyone Penny described the vibe of the gathers by the river and listens to the music, August 202 3

Sandra Hall (center), known as “The Empress of the Blues,” is accompanied by The King Bees during the 2014 New River Blues Festival. Photo submitted

dancing with joy. Many people have made friends over the years and only see each other at the festival. It is like a big reunion,” she said. At this year’s festival, The King Bees will debut their latest project — Blue Ridge Blues. “It is like nothing anyone has ever done,” Penny said. “Here in the mountains, we’re surrounded by people who play bluegrass. When we meet new people and they ask what kind of music we play, I’ll answer ‘Blues’ and they act like they’re waiting for the second syllable,”

laughed Penny. The King Bees are incorporating some of the bluegrass musicians into their new release. “Blues is universal,” Rob explained. “Rockabilly, bluegrass, and Hank Williams-style country music all have roots with Black musicians. So we are bringing these different styles into the blues realm and incorporating different musicians to play with us and add the spice and icing on the cake to produce a certain sound.” “It’ll have the mandolin and banjo and a very

August 202 3



I’ll never forget waking up in Rome the first time we played in Europe, realizing it was my guitar that brought me there.

- ROB BASKERVILLE interesting mix of people — including some ‘Affrilachian’ musicians like Big Ron Hunter and the late Howie Colbert,” Penny added.

Career Highlights Reflecting on their career — producing award-winning albums, performing on large festival stages across Europe and the U.S., opening for and playing alongside many legendary blues greats including Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Carey Bell, Dr. John, Buddy Guy, James Brown, and Leon Russell — Rob and Penny shared some of the highlights of their almost four decades together. “Playing on B.B. King’s 80th Birthday Tour (in 2006) was definitely one of those moments I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming,” said Penny. “And playing with Bo Diddley in the mid 1990s.” As a young girl, Penny got to meet the late Bo Diddley backstage after seeing him in concert. Sharing the spotlight with her favorite blues musician since childhood was an “amazing” experience, she said. Rob credits Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bo Diddley for showing him some signature licks on the guitar, and Rob showcases his masterful talent during King Bees performances by playing his guitar behind his back, twirling the instrument around, and strumming with whatever objects he may find out in the audience — from beer bottles to walking canes. “I’ll never forget waking up in Rome the first time we played in Europe, realizing it was my guitar that brought me there,” Rob reminisced. Humbling moments stick with Rob as well. “There were times when we played juke joints in Arkansas and Mississippi, right where blues were born,” he said. “Sometimes we were the only white people in the place. Those were epiphany moments — being at ground zero and being accepted as musicians.” t 22


August 202 3

August 202 3



All Aboard!

History of a Beloved Train STORY BY PETER MORRIS

Engineer David Bradley prepares to depart with Engine 12. Photo by Peter Morris.


remember when the only way a person could get to Boone was to be born there.” These words of a homespun philosophy were credited to an anonymous speaker at a railroad convention over a century distant, although the quote is debatable among avid railfans who enjoy fond remembrances. “Hear that train a’commin through the valleys and up the mountain side?” Locals and visitors to the High Country of Western North Carolina have been able to answer in the affirmative since 1957, when the Tweetsie Railroad amusement park opened between Boone and Blowing Rock, and its high pitched horn signaled a limited 30-minute ride through the park.

But the word “Tweetsie” wasn’t always associated with family fun and entertainment. Old locomotive No. 12, also known as the Tweetsie train, was given life back in 1917 by Philadelphia’s Baldwin Locomotive Works of New Jersey, one of 13 narrow-gauge East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad’s (ET&WNC) steam locomotives. The Tweetsie name, however, was coined by regional mountaineers when the train made its way from Johnson City, Tennessee to Boone, North Carolina – its shrill whistle signaling its arrival through distant valleys and around mountaintops. A second handle was given for the railroad during the Great

Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night's sleep, and strangers' monologues framed like Russian short stories.



August 202 3

Depression, referring to the abject poverty in much of the region served by the ET&WNC: "Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes." The railroad employees often replied with "Every Trip with No Complaints" or "Exquisite Trains and What Nice Conductors!" Back then, in what might be called regional railroading’s glory days, the Tweetsie train brought passengers to the mountains and hauled lumber and iron ore out, aiding the growth of agriculture in the previously remote Blue Ridge Mountains. The entire railroad operation was established in 1882 to connect Johnson City, Tennessee to Cranberry, North Carolina and other destinations. The history of rail transportation in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina is complex. So many trains, so many routes, so many passengers who loved riding the steam locomotives and enjoying the mountainous visuals! So many trains then, yet only one now – Tweetsie.

What I liked was the train ride. It took an hour and that was enough for me to be able to lean backwards against the seat with closed eyes, feel the joints in the rails come up and thump through my body and sometimes peer out of the windows and see windswept heathland and imagine I was on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

- PER PETTERSON Old locomotive No. 12, also known as the Tweetsie train, was given life back in 1917. Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad.

East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad System Map (1940). August 202 3



Tweetsie Railroad amusement park opened between Boone and Blowing Rock in 1957. Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad.

When you are waiting for a train, don't keep perpetually looking to see if it is coming. The time of its arrival is the business of the conductor, not yours. It will not come any sooner for all your nervous glances and your impatient pacing, and you will save strength if you keep quiet


Engine 12 stops to rest at the water tank. Photo by Peter Morris & Shirley Hollars.



August 202 3

“When the ET&WNC closed in 1950, all the equipment was cut up for scrap except for locomotive No. 12 and two passenger cars. These were purchased in late 1952 by three railfans to form the Shenandoah Central tourist railroad in Penn Laird, Virginia, near Harrisonburg,” explained Johnny Graybeal, an acknowledged expert on Tweetsie Railroad’s history and author of seven books, all dealing with railroading. “It operated for two summers until Hurricane Hazel washed out the tracks in late 1954. Put up for sale, the equipment was almost purchased by cowboy legend Gene Autry, but transportation costs (to move it from Boone to Hollywood, California for use in films) caused him to back out of the deal. High Country local Grover Robbins then purchased the equipment in 1955, and the Tweetsie Railroad attraction opened in July 1957.” During the 60-plus years after the opening of Tweetsie Railroad, it has proven a valuable way-stop for rail enthusiasts young and old, providing special celebrations including Day Out with Thomas (the train), the Tweetsie Ghost Train, Railroad Heritage Weekend, and seasonal Fourth of July and Christmas celebrations. According to Graybeal, “The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad was founded in 1866 as a broad gauge (5-foot) railroad to run from Johnson, Tennessee’s depot to Cranberry, North Carolina. Finally completed in 1882 as a narrow gauge railroad (3-feet between the rails), the line to Boone

Mechanics work on the trains in the maintenance shop. Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad.

from Cranberry was washed-out in the great Flood of 1940. Competition from trucks put the rest of the narrow gauge section out of business in 1950, but the section between Johnson City and Elizabethton, Tennessee continued to operate as a standard gauge line until 2005. One mile of the original ET&WNC in Johnson City continues to run as the East Tennessee Railway, doing

switching for industries.” Tweetsie’s journey to the High Country and the establishment of the Tweetsie Railroad attraction, which would become North Carolina’s first theme park, sparked a new entertainment offering for local families and visitors from throughout the United States. Prior to its inaugural run, the locomotive was fully restored on-

Appalachia Cleaning Co.


­ ­

August 202 3



A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.

- THEODORE ROOSEVELT site, where the attraction continues to maintain and provide meticulous upkeep for the train as well as other amusement park locomotives from several different attractions across the Southeast United States, including Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens, Six Flags Over Georgia, and the Dollywood Express. The Tweetsie amusement complex can be credited with opening the High Country area to tourism and positioning Boone for the incredible growth it has experienced in the last 100 years. “The Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio was built through the mountains from Johnson City, TN to Marion, NC as part of a larger system. It still operates on a limited basis as a part of the CSX system. Many railroads came close to Boone but did not quite get there. The Carolina & North-Western reached the community of Edgemont, in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, but never succeeded in building up-and-over the mountain to reach the Watauga River Valley,” continued Graybeal. “The

Benjamin Livingston, a conductor at Tweetsie Railroad. Photo by Peter Morris & Shirley Hollars.

Entrance to Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock. Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad. 28


August 202 3

I traveled to Tweetsie Railroad because I had a hole in my childhood. I had two days to stitch in a memory, my rite of wholesome kitsch, that my New England parents denied me.


Every now and then the train cars need a touch of color. Photo by Peter Morris & Shirley Hollars.

A train wheel is set ablaze in the machine shop. Photo by Peter Morris & Shirley Hollars.

Watauga & Yadkin River Railroad made it all the way to Darby, below Bamboo Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and to the Watauga County line, but then ran out of money. The Virginia-Carolina Railway made it all the way from Abingdon, Virginia to Todd, North Carolina, again to the Watauga County line, but never built on to Boone.” To see the actual Tweetsie locomotive is to fall in love with its longevity and history. You can walk up to it, chat a spell with its engineer and conductor, touch it, smell its soothing coal-fired smoke as it rises upward on High Country winds, check out its wheels and, of course, hop a ride! While 2023 might be a tad different from its route a hundred years ago, it’s none-the-less an invigorating experience. As the attraction wonderfully states, Tweetsie Railroad is a blast from the past! Enjoy! t The Tweetsie train is listed through the United States Department of the Interior's Register of Historic Places, with the locomotives only alteration having been the upgraded insignia, switching from that of the ET&WNC to Tweetsie Railroad. August 202 3



Riverside Elementary’s

Revolutionary Student Gardening STORY BY TIM GARDNER

"The Kiss of the Sun for Pardon, The Song of the Birds for Mirth, One is Nearer God's Heart in a Garden, Than Anywhere Else on Earth."

- Dorothy Frances Gurney


tudents at Riverside Elementary School, located in the Ingalls Community in the southern section of Avery County, learn from a featured part of its curriculum that is one of the most innovative and needed programs any school could offer. Riverside Elementary School’s mission of increasing food security amongst students, families, and the community at large is achieved through its gardening and outdoor learning program, a volunteer-based activity centered around growing fresh produce and donating it to those in need. Food scarcity across America and around the globe is a real problem for people of all ages. In fact, many children get the majority of their meals from school. Most students in the Avery County School System rely on free or reduced priced lunches. And school meals may be the only meal some students in schools across America get to eat each weekday. School age children are sometimes the ones in a family who suffer from food insecurity most, but they can often be instrumental in the solution. In the High Country, various programs, in addition to the one covered here, are available to help young people learn the skills they need to secure their own food.

became the school's chief official in 2020. Baird listed the primary goals of the program as: teaching students how to grow and preserve their own food, recognizing our culture and agrarian heritage, educating students and their families, building community partnerships, and getting students outside to create meaningful and hands-on instruction. She commented, "I am a native Avery Countian, and I grew up in Newland. My family grew up around the agriculture industry, and I grew up around gardening and planting a variety of plants

A Blueprint for Other Programs to Emulate The program at Riverside Elementary School is truly revolutionary. Its staff and a long list of community partners founded the program to teach students how to grow and preserve their own food, learn about the region's agrarian heritage, and help minimize food scarcity in the county. Whitney Baird, Riverside's principal and the Elementary Curriculum Director for the school district, wanted to further prioritize this program as soon as she 30


August 202 3

Riverside students sending off their champion pumpkin to the Avery Agriculture & Horticulture Fair in the fall of 2022 where they won first place. Photo submitted.

The Riverside Elementary School garden is in full bloom with all kinds of vegetables. Photos courtesy of Riverside Elementary School.

including vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees. I love gardening about as much as any endeavor in which I've been involved, including at Riverside. And everyone who has been involved with our gardening and outdoor learning program in any capacity wants our students to appreciate and utilize our garden resources. Its long-term results are a much better food supply for students and their families. I believe when you educate students, you also educate their families." Dr. Dan Brigman, Avery County Schools Superintendent, gave the program an ultra-high rating: “We are very excited about the progress being made with the gardening program at Riverside Elementary School. Our students, staff, and community members continue to enjoy planting and growing various fruits and vegetables. This vision has become a reality through the tremendous leadership and support

of school principal, Ms. Whitney Baird.” “In addition, we are thankful for the generosity and support from all who have donated to the program in any measure, as well as the students and parents of Riverside Elementary School. This project is a true example of outstanding community support to benefit the current and future student populations.”

Celebrating Four Years of Success Riverside’s Gardening and Outdoor Learning Program was founded in 2019 when Dr. Jamie Johnson was the school’s principal. That's when stakeholders were identified, grants and funds were obtained, county partnerships were formed, needed supplies were bought, and 14 raised garden beds and a 12 foot by 20 foot greenhouse

Student Marlye Laws shows off a marigold flower grown in the Riverside Gardens. Photo submitted.

I love gardening about as much as any endeavor in which I've been involved, including at Riverside. And everyone who has been involved with our gardening and outdoor learning program in any capacity wants our students to appreciate and utilize our garden resources. Its long-term results are a much better food supply for students and their families. I believe when you educate students, you also educate their families.

- WHITNEY BAIRD August 202 3



Our students, staff, and community members continue to enjoy planting and growing various fruits and vegetables. This vision has become a reality through the tremendous leadership and support of school principal, Ms. Whitney Baird.


Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman and Riverside Elementary Principal Whitney Baird admire some plants to be further grown by students at the school. Photo submitted.

Avery County Extension Service Agricultural and NC Natural Resources agent Bill Hoffman shows Riverside student Kyra Calderon the proper way to water where vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds have been planted. Photo submitted. 32


August 202 3

were built on school grounds. Baird said the program’s existence is from what she termed “tremendous assistance and generosity provided by many businesses, organizations, and individuals who have donated dollars and materials, as well as volunteering time and labor to help the program come to fruition and continue to expand.” Those include: Avery County Cooperative Extension Service, High Country Charitable Foundation, Avery County Board of Commissioners, Avery County Board of Education, Skyline/ Skybest Communications, the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk Foundation, Wheels Contracting, Derek and Erin Buchanan, Mike Nelson Paving, Lees-McRae College students, Camp Linn Haven, Quartz Corporation, and Riverside Parents and Teachers Organization staff. Baird added that Riverside’s Gardening and Outdoor Learning Program has also received a coronavirus grant, as well as a GO Grant and a GO Outdoor Grant to help with its funding. But as the principal declared, the true stars of the program are the approximately 150 Riverside students in prekindergarten through fifth grade who have participated in the gardening program during its two school years of outside learning classes.

Marigold flowers can also be found in the student's garden. Photo courtesy of Riverside Elementary School.

Things to do:

ote - 828.265.0004 Call inPrecision for a quote - 828.265.0 Second grade students, Silas Thomas and Elijah Laws, work with Bill Hoffman to plant carrots, beets, and radishes


one of their raised beds. Photo submitted.

“Of course, the program is all about our students,” Baird noted. “They are the ones eager to learn all about growing vegetables and fruits. They put their hands 1302 Blowing Rock Rd. in the dirt and dig holes in it to put seeds Boone, NC 28607 and plants, water what they planted and keep the plants weeded out as they grow to desired sizes. Then a few months later, the students harvest the vegetables and fruits urce for Printing and Signs they planted as they realize not only the

n Printing & Signs

t Service in Boone and Wilkesboro

a quote - 828.265.0004 satisfaction,Call but thePrecision excitement thatfor comes from growing their own food, which they can also share with their families and others.” Germination, the process by which an organism grows from a seed or spore, began for students in Kelly Goforth Byrd’s classes. She is the school’s instructor responsible for greenhouse growing and is a founder of Riverside’s gardening and

Precision Printing & Signs 1613 Industrial Drive Wilkesboro, NC 28697

(828) 265-0004 PRINTING AND SIGNS Design / Mailing Digital / Large Format

Owned and Operated by PJ and Liz Ollis

r order today! 5-0004 Fax: (828) 265-0174

-5060 Fax: (336) 990-5063 Products / Service / Design Hats • Pens • Shirts • Cups • Bags

. . . . .

(336) 990-9480 Packing Moving Cleaning After the Move UHAUL Rentals Auto Transport

Owned and Operated by PJ and Liz Ollis and Josh Arrowood and Rachel Harless

1613 Industrial Drive CallWilkesboro, us with your order tod NC 28697 August 202 3



Hats • Pens • Sh

With the help of our local Agricultural Extension Office we have started some planting classes this past school year. With these classes, our students have learned which vegetables would be best to plant near each other. They have also learned about what types of soil are best to plant in, and how the location of where the seed is planted can affect how soon a seed will sprout, or if the seed doesn't sprout.

- KELLY GOFORTH BYRD outdoor learning program. “I am so excited to have been a part in the whole process of bringing this (gardening and outdoor learning) project to Riverside Elementary,” Byrd stated. “As a classroom teacher, the hands-on experience gained from planting, caring for, and growing a wide variety of plants is very beneficial for our students and our community.” Students worked with the Extension Service Agricultural and Natural Resources agent Bill Hoffman and former Extension Service Agent and 4-H Development Officer Bobbie Willard for planting classes. Byrd described the greenhouse growing process in detail: “Part of our third grade curriculum is to understand how plants survive in their environment. As a result, our students have learned a few lessons over the past year. We planted a variety of seeds and placed them under grow lights in my classroom. Students were able to watch the plants as they began to sprout and grow under their care. They were then able to see how different types of plants



August 202 3

have different leaves, along with learning to identify the parts of a plant. When the plants had grown enough to be transplanted to our garden beds, we all then saw how environmental conditions had an effect on the plants. Students found that if we plant too early in the season, some plants cannot withstand the cooler temperatures, while other plants continue to grow and produce vegetables. This was a great lesson for our students to use in life if they decide to plant their own gardens at home.” Byrd continued with her comments about the growing process: “With the help of our local Agricultural Extension Office we have started some planting classes this past school year. With these classes, our students have learned which vegetables would be best to plant near each other. They have also learned about what types of soil are best to plant in, and how the location of where the seed is planted can affect how soon a seed will sprout, or if the seed doesn't sprout. I personally love the outdoors and this is such a wonderful way to help encourage our students to step outside and connect with nature.”

Future Goals of the Program


aird said that several more grants were recently awarded to the school for the program and that their proceeds will be used for construction of an outdoor classroom facility and a barn with fencing.

She also noted several other goals that the Riverside faculty, students, parents,

and herself want for the program, including: •

Holding a farmers’ market ran by students

Creating a watering and harvesting schedule throughout the summer

Establishing a kindergarten through second grade after school club

Starting a stakeholder group for members in the community to help progress and maintain the Riverside Outdoor Learning Initiative

Developing partnerships with Avery High School students in agriculture and horticulture classes and members of the Future Farmers Club to teach Riverside students

Developing partnerships with Avery High School carpentry students to help build the next phases in Riverside’s gardening and livestock facilities, including a fence around the entire agricultural area and chicken coops for the baby chickens the second graders have already been raising

Continuing partnerships with Avery County Cooperative Extension Office, with monthly planting classes starting in March each year

Designing and building a barn to house a few small farm animals such as goats, rabbits, pigs, and chickens

Building a brick or cement path to walk around each area of the agricultural project and around the fruit trees (inside the new fence)

Adding an outdoor pavilion area which could serve as an outdoor classroom

Creating a produce stand where students can sell the crops they grew to families in the car rider line

Adding additional apple trees to the orchard and transplant other fruit trees/ bushes near the apple trees and benches

Adding plaques and signs around the raised beds, greenhouse, and apple tree areas that are dedicated to all donors of the program

August 202 3



Located in the heart of Banner Elk’s Theater District



August 202 3

The crops grown by Riverside students so far include: broccoli, carrots, spinach, radishes, kale, lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini squash, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, pole beans, red onions, yellow onions, green onions, sun flowers, pumpkins, basil, and dill. In fact, one of the pumpkins grown by Riverside students was entered in the Avery County Agricultural & Horticulture Fair, where it won first place as the largest pumpkin. This past spring, more garden beds were installed at Riverside for blueberry bushes, and space was set aside to plant apple trees. Additionally, experiments were conducted with students also growing a few varieties of flowers, most notably marigolds. The Avery Cooperative Extension Service has provided Riverside’s Gardening and Outdoor Learning Program a curriculum, media materials, and outdoor instruction from its agents. Avery County Extension Service Director Jerry Moody has also been active in many facets of Riverside’s Gardening and Outdoor Learning Program, and he shared the following statement about it: “I think what is happening at Riverside with this program is wonderful and so needed. I’m most happy for the opportunity for myself, and especially for Bill and Bobbi, who have been most instrumental in the program in teaching the students all about how to grow vegetables, fruits, and even flowers. I know they are appreciative to get to share their expertise. Hopefully, those students will remember the lessons they have learned and further hone their interest in gardening. The students are learning to appreciate what encompasses growing vegetables, fruits, and flowers. And perhaps they will develop such a passion for it that it will continue into their adulthoods and be replicated.” “I really enjoy seeing the students eager to participate in planting a garden,” added Hoffman, who works with Avery County’s Extension Service through North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Cooperative Extension. The 4-H Program is based on experiential or hands-on learning opportunities for youth that are then paired with caring adults. Based on feedback from the schools, parents, and youth, the Avery County 4-H Program developed the idea of starting a Homesteader Club for children that would incorporate various self-sufficient or basic life skills. Many Riverside students are particularly active in the 4-H Homesteader Club, an

I think what is happening at Riverside with this program is wonderful and so needed. I’m most happy for the opportunity for myself, and especially for Bill and Bobbi, who have been most instrumental in the program in teaching the students all about how to grow vegetables, fruits, and even flowers.

- JERRY MOODY after-school program in which they learn additional skills such as food preservation, composting, producing milk products like cheese and butter, basic outdoor survival skills like first aid, inoculating mushroom logs, fishing, caring for livestock and other animals and in various other fields. 4-H Development Officer Willard remarked: “The list of life skills is endless! In a nutshell … youth are learning about living a self-sufficient lifestyle, being a responsible citizen, how to balance work and play, living closer to nature, and things of those sorts. Long-term, youth are gaining a true sense of self-worth, pride, security, and environmental consciousness. It's also a real joy to observe youth and families bonding on a shared project or topic such as gardening. The Riverside Gardening and Outdoor Learning and the 4-H Homesteader programs are adaptable models that we hope to have in all other schools in Avery County.”

Bill Hoffman and Riverside third grade students Elana Garrett, Lily Griggs, and Lottie Calhoun planting a variety of greens in their raised beds. Photo submitted.

Phoebe Fisher, fifth grade teacher at Riverside echoed similar comments about the program and the needs it serves: “I love that the outdoor initiative at Riverside can help our community. My grandfather, Jack Buchanan, was the first principal at Riverside Lisa Bell’s fourth grade students discuss various gardening Elementary where our current practices with Bill Hoffman. Photo submitted. school is located, and his vision was to help the community, be there for how to be sufficient in this regard, we are families, and love the community well. getting to the root of the issue. Not only I am so thankful to be involved in the is it fun for the students to grow food in continuation of Riverside’s vision for the our raised beds, from planting to watering, it is a life skill that is invaluable. I am so community.” “It is vital that we teach our children thankful to have such an amazing work how to grow not only their own food, family at Riverside, each of whom holds but how to grow enough to help the the same values at such high importance. community members who are in need of The long term results are the true vision such help. The issue of food insecurity that Riverside has always stood for.” “All the work in our program has highly impacts students and children, so if we can teach students at a young age been through a total team effort,” Baird

Second graders Elijah Laws, Hendrix Franklin, and Mason Thomas fill up buckets and planting bags with potting soil to plant pumpkins and cabbage plants. Photo submitted.

Bill Hoffman and Riverside kindergarten students use PVC pipes to make a trench to plant a variety of seeds in their raised beds with Bill Hoffman. Photo submitted.

August 202 3




more quality. more compassion. more support. TO THE HIGH COUNTRY...

In 2021, the state granted AMOREM’s request to build a hospice patient care unit for residents of Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. Please consider a tax deductible donation to make this a reality. Donate today or learn more at, 828.754.0101 or scan here!

“Our gift is an act of love.” —Family of the late Will Pierce


As part of the program, students learn how to grow and preserve their own food. Photo submitted.

proclaimed. “It has been a great collaboration from our community, parents, staff, and donors to make this initiative happen. It may have started out as a dream, but dreams come true, and our program’s operation is proof. Myself and everyone else involved in it continues to be amazed at the support and dedication so many put into it. Aligning individual expectations and goals into a shared vision is the foundation to our gardening and outdoor learning program. And I’m so thankful for, and grateful to, everyone who has helped play a factor in it.” More information about Riverside’s Gardening and Outdoor learning Program may be obtained on its Facebook page (ACSRiversideElementarySchool) and on the Avery County School’s website ( Those interested in volunteering, donating building materials, or making financial gifts to the Riverside Outdoor Learning Fund, should call the school at (828) 737-5600. t





828.754.0101  1.844.4AMOREM





August 202 3

It has been a great collaboration from our community, parents, staff, and donors to make this initiative happen. It may have started out as a dream, but dreams come true, and our program’s operation is proof.




ince it was first codified in the middle of the 19th century, the uniquely American game of baseball has largely survived the winds of change. Technology brought instant replay to TV monitors, digitized strike zones, and aluminum bats, but the bases


are still roughly 90 feet apart, and the pitcher’s mound is 60 feet from home plate. Nine players still make up a team, and the pungent smell of linseed oil still makes the leather glove more pliable after hanging in the closet all winter. Artificial intelligence may soon replace umpires in calling balls and strikes, but the players’ respective missions remain the same: throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, and tag a runner out. The crack of a bat in a


August 202 3

corner of the city park still brings curious smiles to passersby who stop to watch a kid run to first base while another chases the ball rolling to the right field fence. The throw from the outfield is more of a desperate heave, skying into the air before falling into the outstretched glove of an infielder, the tag just missing as the batter-turnedsliding-runner arches around impossibly to grab second base, the umpire spreading his arms wide while yelling “safe!” Big league scouts still scour rural sandlots, hoping to discover hidden talent, listening

intently for the decisive smack of a ball being delivered into a catcher’s mitt, a sound that just might foreshadow discovery of the next Whitey Ford, Nolan Ryan, and Randy Johnson of yesteryear, or maybe the next Aroldis Chapman of the present day. Speed and power command each decisive moment in baseball, reflexes pitted against reflexes. The faces playing baseball may change from year to year or even decade to decade, but the game remains largely the The team's mission is to provide competitive baseball and fun fan entertainment for all the High Country to enjoy. Photo courtesy of The Boone Bigfoots.

The Boone Bigfoots’ star outfielder, Nadir Lewis, rips into the ball vs. HP-Thomasville. Photo by David Rogers.

same. When we grow too old to take the field for a man’s game demanding a lot of the boys in us to play it, we sit in the stands and remember our glory days on the diamond. We are fascinated. We applaud. We rejoice at the walk-off grand slam home run or the ninth inning slide into home plate to win the game. Young and old, we marvel at the accomplishments wrought by the boys of summer. The High Country is blessed to have organized summertime ball being played not just by our kids competing in recreation leagues but at an even higher level by the Boone Bigfoots, featuring student athletes who take the field during the school year on college and university teams around the country. The Bigfoots, named after the mythical creature said to haunt the Appalachian Mountains, compete in the Coastal Plain League, a Southern equivalent to the Cape Cod League made famous in the 2001 movie, “Summer Catch,” starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jessica Biel. The CPL teams have unusual names, similar to the Bigfoots, reflecting the local area: the Macon Bacon, Asheboro Zookeepers, the Forest City Owls, the Wilmington Sharks, the Florence Flamingos, the Wilson Tobs (think, “tobacco”), and more.

Like the other teams, the Bigfoots’ coaches and managers recruit players from different schools. Because of the milder summer temperatures in the High Country and the beautiful App State facilities, it is an easy sell. The Boone roster includes a couple of Appalachian State athletes (Braxton Church, Dante Chirico, Zach Lewis) and at least one, Tristan Salinas, who just graduated Watauga High School and will soon be headed to play at another NCAA Division I school, University of South Carolina. Several NCAA Division I schools are represented, but still others compete during the school year as some of the better players at Division II and even Division III levels. Transylvania, Mars Hill, High Point, USC Beaufort, North Carolina Wesleyan, Presbyterian, LenoirRhyne, UNC Pembroke, Long Island, and Western Carolina are among the less well-known names, all with good baseball programs. The Ivy League is also represented — those schools generally regarded as among the most academically challenging, with a couple of players from Princeton University. After competing in a lower division summer college league the last two seasons, the Bigfoots graduated to the higher

Shortstop Carlos Amezquita rounds 3rd base and heads for home to score vs. the Forest City Owls. Photo by David Rogers.

Bigfoots shortstop Jalen Vasquez powers through a pitch vs. the High Point-Thomasville HiToms. Photo by David Rogers August 202 3



I have always loved playing travel ball during the summer and last year was my last year playing on the team I had been with for 13 years. This is an opportunity to continue playing in the summer, make new friends, branch out and improve my skills. It is a great new chapter of my life.

- TRISTAN SALINAS Appalachian State righthander Dante Chirico also pitched for the Boone Bigfoots during the 2023 summer season. Photo by David Rogers.

Andrew McDermott races home to score in a win against the Holly Springs Salamanders. Photo by David Rogers.



August 202 3

level CPL in 2023. Team organizer Bob Wilson, whose professional career as a television and film producer spanned at least three decades in California, revealed in a recent interview that he loves baseball at the collegiate level, was impressed with the facilities at Appalachian State, and made officials at the university an offer they couldn’t refuse. “In the CPL, we are the only team organized as a nonprofit organization. In my professional career as a film producer, I have been blessed, financially, so I committed 100 percent of our net proceeds to the App State fund to support student athletes in exchange for the opportunity to use Smith Stadium and Beaver Field as the Bigfoots’ home venue,” Wilson explained. There are common themes among the players interviewed: the ability to concentrate on playing baseball and getting comfortable in a more competitive environment. “I am very grateful for the opportunity provided me by Coach (Randall) Ortiz and Bob (Wilson),” said recent Watauga High School graduate Tristan Salinas, who will be playing for the University of South Carolina in 2024. “One of my coaches at South Carolina put it best. He said it is like driving a car. When you first get your license, you are comfortable at 30-40 miles per hour, then you get faster as you get better. Playing ball in the SEC you are facing pitchers throwing 80-90 miles per hour, perhaps even faster. This is a good chance for me to get used to that middle ground, maybe 75-85 miles per

Outfielder Walter Munday, center, gets some team love after returning to the dugout after a run-scoring double. Photo by David Rogers.

hour, before I get onto the bigger stage in Columbia.” “I have always loved playing travel ball during the summer, and last year was my last year playing on the team I had been with for 13 years,” Salinas added. “This is an opportunity to continue playing in the summer, make new friends, branch out, and improve my skills. It is a great new chapter of my life.” Right-handed pitcher Luke Patton is one of those NCAA Division III players, attending Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. “After my freshman year this past season, my coach told me that playing for the Bigfoots would be a great opportunity to play with and against even better talent. And that is exactly what I am finding. Coming here, there are guys from big time programs, even Power 5 programs like Duke University and South Carolina, all baseball programs that are well known, like George Mason,” Patton said. “This is a great experience. In D3, there are things that you can get away with, but down here, at this higher level, even small mistakes are exposed during a game. You have to be better prepared.” “It is a little different playing summer college ball without having to worry about

Appalachian State and Bigfoots catcher Braxton Church (16) has been a key addition to the Bigfoots’ 2023 roster. Here, he powers a double at the expense of the Tri-City Chili Peppers. Photo by David Rogers. August 202 3



A second year player with the Bigfoots, righthanded pitcher and utility player Tyson Bass rips a triple down the left field line in early June. Photo by David Rogers.

Infielder Jalen Vasquez slides into 3rd base ahead of the throw for a triple. Photo by David Rogers.

academic studies,” Patton continued. “You are waking up in the morning, and all you have to do is play baseball. It is a great feeling knowing that you don’t have to go home and study.” After a June 4 win by the Bigfoots over the Asheboro Zookeepers, Caden Wagner analyzed his big hit, a home run in the seventh inning that helped propel the Bigfoots’ comeback victory. “A couple of pitches earlier he was throwing off-speed on the outer half of the plate, so I was thinking to myself to try and stay in the middle of the field or try to catch a gap, don’t try to do too much. As it turned out, I After my freshman year this past season, my connected with the ball just right,” Wagner coach told me that playing for the Bigfoots would be a recalled of his rocket that sailed over the 385-foot sign in left center. great opportunity to play with and against even better Wagner hails from Parker, Colorado, talent. And that is exactly what I am finding. Coming and attends school at the University of Northern Colorado, an NCAA Division I here, there are guys from big time programs, even school competing in the Summit League Power 5 programs like Duke University and South against good baseball schools like Oral Roberts, North Dakota State, South Carolina, all baseball programs that are well known, Dakota State, and Nebraska-Omaha. like George Mason. This is a great experience. “I played in the CPL last summer with Martinsville and Coach Randall Ortiz, our


Right Photo: Juan Carlos Navarro (#42) knocks it out of Smith Stadium vs. the Forest City Owls. Photo by David Rogers. 44


August 202 3

August 202 3



Bob Wilson:

the man and his mission B ob Wilson moved to the High Country from California roughly six years ago. As he winds down a long, successful career serving in the film and television industry as a producer, he is falling back in love with a lifelong passion: baseball. But even more than that, he is using the game to teach business, professional, and life lessons to young people just emerging into adulthood. “Cobra Kai is most likely my last show,” he said of his current hit TV show, a sequel to The Karate Kid. In 2021, Cobra Kai was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in the comedy TV category. “I am a baseball guy. Once I moved here, I came up here to App State to watch a baseball game and saw this beautiful field and stadium. I kept coming back, eventually saying to myself, ‘I need to do something here in the summer. I need baseball here in the summer, and this place is too beautiful to remain quiet in the summer months.’” Even nearing retirement, Wilson can’t take the Hollywood showman out of his persona. “I had been at Smith Stadium to watch games about five times when App State’s head baseball coach, Kermit Smith, walked out of his office one day, said he had seen me around and wondered if he could help me in any way,” Wilson recalled. “I replied that this place, Smith Stadium, would be a great place to field a summer baseball team. He said, ‘Sure. Who are you, and what are your intentions?’” Wilson chuckled in his recollection of the encounter. It isn’t every day that someone broaches what may at first sound like an outlandish idea — much less someone with the resources and resourcefulness to see it through. “After I told him that I only had good intentions, that conversation led to an introduction to athletic director Doug Gillin. I explained to Doug that I had been very blessed in my professional career and that I did not want to do this for the money, but for the players and the heartbeat of the High Country, which I see in App State, and because I love baseball,” Wilson said.

Let’s Make a Deal So, Wilson organized and capitalized a 501(c)3 company. He also soon realized there were other great opportunities and benefits related to the endeavor other than putting a good baseball product on the field. “Each year, we give App State students real world 46


August 202 3

experience in business operations while putting the best baseball product in this stadium as fast as we can,” Wilson said. “The other message that I wanted to communicate to the ball players on the field is how their respective lives would be changing within a relatively short period of time. They would soon be needing to do something else besides baseball.” Wilson’s personal mission, he says, is wanting the players to walk away from the game by having the best baseball experience they ever had. “I remain close to almost every player from our first two years, and I think most would say it was their best baseball experience. We had a ton of fun,” Wilson said. As successful as the first two years were, Wilson knew there was more to be gained for the players, as well as for the university and his operational staff. “I wanted the level of competition to get better, so we joined the CPL this year. With that, there were some things that had to change because now we are not only playing at a higher level, but we are only a couple of steps removed from professional baseball.” Does that mean Wilson has to corral his showman instincts? “Well, we have to find a balance between the nonathletic entertainment and playing great baseball as the entertainment focus.” Carving out summer market share has not been easy. “Those first two years have required a lot of work by me, our staff, and our players. Most of the people in Boone had no idea there was a baseball team here. You would come to an App State game, and there might be 50 people in the stands. Over the last year, especially, I’ve noticed that the interest level has grown. There are much bigger crowds at the App State games, and we are getting 400 to 600 for Bigfoot games every single night,” Wilson said. Wilson draws parallels to his career in film and television. “Whether it is a $50 million budget or this much smaller budget, you are still making something,” Wilson noted. “It comes down to hard work, and that is what the first year was: hard work. Now the challenges are the result of change. Because we are hiring students, there is a lot of turnover from year to year.” “And I am not talking about the baseball players, but the students in administrative roles. We are still running a business, and they have to be trained, educated. You are

I am a baseball guy. Once I moved here, I came up here to App State to watch a baseball game and saw this beautiful field and stadium. I kept coming back, eventually saying to myself, ‘I need to do something here in the summer. I need baseball here in the summer and this place is too beautiful to remain quiet in the summer months.

- BOB WILSON running a franchise. For instance, we go on the road to play games. The bus has to be here, it has to be reliable, and it has to be here on time. Someone has to make that happen,” Wilson said. But there are many administrative tasks besides arranging transportation. “There is promotion, taking tickets, arranging for security, concessions, umpires, scorekeepers, public address announcers, statisticians, video people, advertising and marketing. It is not as simple as just putting nine guys on the field. It is as complex of a business as you want to make it. And from year to year, it is a different team in the back office, and you are throwing students into roles that they have never been in before.” Wilson is quick to point out that the Bigfoots, compared to other CPL franchises, is in a unique situation. “Those other organizations are larger, with a full-time general manager. They are 12-month businesses, with other teams they are fielding, like travel teams for younger

players. We are basically a 12-week business and the only one in CPL that is organized as a non-profit. Eventually, if we can generate enough revenue, perhaps we can hire a full-time GM and expand our operations, too. The goal is to have a full-time person that we can pay a living wage.” In the meantime, Wilson and his staff are working hard. “You can’t just expect the fans to show up,” Wilson said. “You have to get out in the community. You have to go down to King Street. You have work through social media. You have to work blasts through the alumni and the student body. You have to do these things. On the days that we don’t send players down to King Street to walk and greet people, I notice a 20 percent drop in attendance. “There are 900 seats in the grandstands and another two or three hundred in the special seating and along the right field line,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to fill them up with a great baseball product and an entertaining fan experience.” t

August 202 3



The Boone Bigfoots celebrate a teammate’s game-winning hit. Photo by David Rogers.

coach here at the Bigfoots this year. My summer last year was cut a little bit short in order to have some back surgery, so I wanted to come back out here and play a full summer for Coach Ortiz,” Wagner said. “We have fun. Summer ball in the CPL allows you to play pretty free and easy vs. playing college ball where you have to worry about academics, too,” said Wagner, a business and finance major in school. “Every summer, I come out here with a plan, knowing what I need to work on as an individual, and then I get to take that back to the university and our school ball. That is the

biggest thing, just being able to focus on what you need to work on. You play baseball every day and put your focus there.” Nick DiPietrantonio is one of two Ivy League players from Princeton University playing for the Bigfoots in 2023. Like Wagner, he also clubbed a big home run on June 4 against the Zookeepers that served as a catalyst for the Boone team’s comeback win. “I played in the CPL last summer with Martinsville, too, so I am a little bit familiar with North Carolina but have not been here for an extended period of time. My hometown is Manalapan,

We have fun. Summer ball in the CPL allows you to play pretty free and easy versus playing college ball where you have to worry about academics, too.Every summer, I come out here with a plan, knowing what I need to work on as an individual and then I get to take that back to the university and our school ball. That is the biggest thing, just able to focus on what you need to work on. You play baseball every day and put your focus there.


Solid contact? There’s very little doubt that Nikko Andre was ‘dialed in’ when he connected for this hit in the Bigfoots home opener vs the Carolina Disco Turkeys. Photo by David Rogers. 48


August 202 3

New Jersey. I really like playing in this summer league because every day you wake up and get to make every decision based on baseball. We play ball almost every night and everything revolves around the competition. We get to hone-in on what we are trying to accomplish. I don’t have to worry about all the pre-med stuff during the summer!” said the future healthcare professional. “In school, there is a lot of balancing. Here, it is all about baseball.” Catcher Braxton Church didn’t have much time to kick back and relax after his Appalachian State team went deep into the Sun Belt Conference tournament before losing to Southern Miss in the semifinals. Not only does he get to play home games in the familiar environment of Smith Stadium, but his family frequently gets to see him play since his hometown is Wilkesboro. “This is awesome, being close to home and still getting to stay in Boone for the summer,” Church said. “This is like college ball, of course. There are guys from all over who can sling it, and everybody competes. Having Hayden Cross as the Bigfoots’ assistant coach is terrific because I have learned a lot from playing behind him here, for App State, since he was the older catcher ahead of me. Now I am learning even more with him as my coach.” Hayden Cross, once Church’s teammate but now officially his mentor, is taking the next step on a potential career by assuming a coaching role with the Bigfoots. “I am pretty much done playing baseball,” Cross said. “I am out of college eligibility, but I get to spend another summer in baseball as a coach. I eventually want to get into coaching, so this is a great opportunity. This is good

Zach Weaver trots the bases after his two home runs vs the HiToms. Photo by David Rogers. August 202 3



baseball. There are guys from really good college programs.” Although Cross had a final “look” recently from the Chicago Cubs, he said he is not banking on getting drafted. “My degree is in education,” he said. “So, I would like to coach and teach at either the high school or college level. As a high school teacher, it would probably be in math.” The guy charged with tying it all together for the Bigfoots in 2023 is head coach Randall Ortiz, an alum of Catawba Valley Community College and Wichita State University as a player. He is also beginning his fifth year with CVCC as a coach. “In high school, I was a lot smaller than I am now,” said the man with the stocky build of a catcher. “So, in high school, I began as a shortstop. Then halfway through my freshman Coastal Plain League action is fast. Here a Forest City Owls player barely beats a pickoff throw to Bigfoots year they made me the catcher after the regular first baseman J C Navarro. Photo by David Rogers. guy got injured, and I never looked back.” Given their view of the game from behind the head coach for the Boone Bigfoots.” home plate with the entire baseball arena in front of them, athletes Ortiz echoed the common theme heard from among the who played the game as a catcher have a special perspective as players. they transition into coaching. “Summer baseball in the CPL is good,” Ortiz said. “You have “I am definitely excited by this opportunity,” said Ortiz, his the players’ attention pretty much 100 percent. They aren’t having face breaking into a big smile. “Last year, I was in the CPL with to worry about homework for their academic studies. To add to the Martinsville team as a coach. I knew that eventually I wanted that, I think we have a special group of players here this year. We to be a head coach. I didn’t know how soon my chance would have only been here for three weeks, but it has been awesome so come, but it has been what I wanted. The opportunity here in far. The guys all get along with each other, and they can focus on Boone opened up, and one of my friends from college got me baseball, not worrying about school.” connected with Bob Wilson. The first time I visited here and saw When it comes to summer jobs, it doesn’t get much better the field and facilities, I knew this was where I wanted to be — than it is for the boys of summer. t All of the home games are held at Appalachian State University's Beaver Field at Jim and Bettie Smith Stadium in Boone. Photo courtesy of The Boone Bigfoots.



August 202 3

August 202 3



Wire Wrapped: Jessica Russell’s Jewelry Journey STORY BY HARLEY NEFE


here are many arts and craft festivals that take place across the High Country, especially in the summer, and at these events, there are various vendors who are excited to share their creations with others. Anything from drawing, pottery, tie dye, woodwork, jewelry, and more gives consumers lots to explore and appreciate. Ashe County resident Jessica Russell is just one local artist in the area; however, her products are more than just materialistic items – each piece holds a slice of history and a part of her personal story. “I remember how this started,” Russell reflected. “I remember it clearly. It started in 2015. I was just getting clean. I was about six months clean, and I had a pocket full of money, and I felt bored.” “It was raining outside,” she further described. “I was laying in my bed just wondering what to do, scrolling through Facebook. Then I saw my mom’s friend, who is like a family friend that I have known my whole life, post something that said, ‘We’re having jewelry wire wrapping classes today at 1. All are welcome to join. $30.’” “And I said, ‘Oh, why not?’” At the time, Jessica didn’t realize just how much attending the class would transform her life, but it did. “I went there, and I fell in love,” she said. “I made something pretty, and I still have the piece.” Since that opportunity, Jessica began connecting with other artists online, where she was inspired to continue exploring the craft of wire wrapping. “I was like, ‘I want to learn that, that, and that,’” Russell shared. “It has taken a long time, but there was so much to learn, and because of that – it makes it fun.” “When she first started showing me the pieces that she made, which was a few years ago, they were pretty nice,” said Tanisha Clark, Jessica’s best friend. “She has given me some pieces throughout the years. She is very 52


August 202 3

creative and talented. She’ll use her imagination and just make pieces from the top of her mind – different styles and what not. She went from creating something that was kind of childlike to something that is literally a true work of art – very professional and beautiful.” Having the ability to advance her skills and learn new techniques and designs motivated Jessica to pursue this passion. “Her artwork – I always said she could make a career out of this,” said Raymond Bloniarz, Jessica’s stepdad. “She started off kind of simple, and she has gotten to the

Jessica Russell showcases her wire-wrapped jewelry. Photo by Ashley Poore.

Jessica can wrap a variety of stones to resemble different shapes, like pumpkins. Photo by Ashley Poore.

Bloniarz shared. “I she shared. “My uncle is know it still a woodworker; he makes hurts her, but cellos and fiddles. Mom she’s getting could draw, and Dad was through it.” The intricate Tree of Life design is a popular request. “She works a musician. My dad was Photo by Ashley Poore. really proud that I was artsy hard,” Andrew point where she has done some exotic because they were artsy. My mom, dad, described. “She has lived through and aunt were all so proud of my jewelry.” things. I’m really impressed.” an extremely difficult Russell continued, “My mother was One of Jessica’s regular customers, life, and in the last few very supportive and proud. I wasn’t even Dana Andrew, shared, “The first stones years with the death of that great then when she was alive, but I bought – they were pretty, but her skill her parents and uncle. She’s she wore them all, and she bragged about level has quickly gone past any other wire coping with it gracefully.” them all. She wanted them all, and if I wrapper that I know. I know some other didn’t give them to her, she would give me Jessica also has experience attending wire wrappers, but they have been doing it other jewelry-making classes such as this angry, pouty face.” for 30 years.” beaded work; however, nothing compares “I lost all my family at once,” Russell Jessica, on the other hand, has only to her appreciation for wire wrapping. explained. “I still think about them a lot. been dabbling in her craft for around eight “It’s always in the back of my head, and It’s only been two years since Mom is gone, years. I love it so much,” Russell explained. and it will be three years in October that “It’s like she’s been doing it for many “I just realized why I love it so much,” my dad has left. All that happened at once, years,” Clark said. “She literally made one she continued. “Going through therapy and it was a lot.” in a few minutes when she was trying to and taking EDMR – I’m doing that same Wire wrapping became Jessica’s way of teach me one time. She was showing me all left, right brain thing when I’m creating coping with her life’s hardships. of her techniques. I couldn’t do anything “Her life has been tough – losing her jewelry. If I’m sitting here, and I start to that she was doing – literally. It’s like she’s father and her mother in a short time,” think about my problems, I get depressed. been doing it for decades.” “A lot of thought goes into it, but some of them I can do Her artwork – I always said she could make a career out of with my eyes closed,” Russell explained. “It’s muscle this. She started off kind of simple, and she has gotten to the point memory.” where she has done some exotic things. I’m really impressed. Jessica further said she comes from an artistic family. - RAYMOND BLONIARZ “Art runs in the family,” August 202 3



My jewelry has a way of saving me. Being a recovering addict, you’ll always have a monkey on your back, and there’s not a troubled time that goes by where you don’t think about using. But when you have something that you really love doing, and you could risk losing it if you were to step back, that’s worth protecting. I’ve worked so hard to get here.


Pendants can come in all different sizes. Photo by Ashley Poore.

Depending on how the light hits them, each piece will look different. Photo by Ashley Poore.

Earrings have been the latest addition. Photo by Ashley Poore. 54


But when I’m making jewelry, and I’m thinking about the same things, I don’t feel that way. It’s therapeutic.” “My jewelry has a way of saving me,” Russell described. “Being a recovering addict, you’ll always have a monkey on your back, and there’s not a troubled time that goes by where you don’t think about using. But when you have something that you really love doing, and you could risk losing it if you were to step back, that’s worth protecting. I’ve worked so hard to get here.” When Jessica first began her craft, she wasn’t familiar with the different types of stones. However, by networking online with other artists and vendors, she learned. “Now, I know thousands,” she said. “It’s just second nature to me.” When it comes to selecting stones to use in her jewelry, Jessica likes to find unique pieces – ones that she has never seen before. “The ones where the longer you look at them, the more details you see,” she described. Each rock is its own piece of art, and they hold different meanings for everyone. “Everything is unique; no piece is identical,” Russell explained. “They can be similar, but in some ways they will always be different. They each have character – it represents humanity.”

Jessica holds her beloved stones. Photo by Ashley Poore. August 202 3

August 202 3



Each pendant is its own unique piece of artwork. Photo by Ashley Poore.

“My art is different because I love my stones so much,” she continued. “I have a collection, and I have thousands of them, and I just want to show off the pretties. I don’t want to cover the stones. It’s not about my wire work; my wire work helps, but I love rocks. I like them because they are millions of years old. I like the history.” Jessica’s appreciation for rocks and their age represents her respecting her past. “I went from being bullied by abusive parents, teachers, and the crowd I was hanging out with,” Russell shared. “There was domestic violence and all this other stuff. I have overcome a lot, and it’s only up from here.” Jessica’s stepdad also testified about the transformation he has witnessed in her life. “She has matured quite a bit since I first met her over 25 years ago,” Bloniarz shared. “When you’re in your twenties, you have this party attitude. She’s grown out of that type of behavior; I think we all do. When you get to a certain age, that part of your life is hard to keep up with. She has straightened out her life. She has had some low points, and I have to give her credit for that. She has come a long way since I first met her. She has worked hard to get to where she is today.” 56


August 202 3

Jessica Russell and her stepdad, Raymond Bloniarz. Photo courtesy of Jessica Russell.

I would describe her work as very unique. It’s so beautiful. Just the way she wraps them – it doesn’t even look like it’s wrapped wire. It looks like one complete piece. They are like pieces of architecture. She makes them look so effortless. She comes up with her own designs, and she brings them to life.

- TANISHA CLARK “People are paying not really for the rock, but for the years it has taken me to get to this point,” Russell said. “My pieces are just something I love to do.” Jessica is constantly working to develop and improve her craft. She’s not afraid to experiment and try new designs, especially when she receives particular requests from clients. Her latest idea has been to create earrings. “I’m really proud of them,” she said. “I’m always told that people can see the love that I put into each piece.” Jessica can wire wrap a variety of shapes including hearts, squares, ovals, tear drops, and more. “The way I wrap pieces is always intentional,” she shared. Tanisha said that her favorite pieces of jewelry come from Jessica. “My number one favorite pendant piece is a cat,” Clark said. “Her wire wrapping kind of looks like a cat when you look at it.” Clark continued, “I would describe her work as very unique. It’s so beautiful. Just the way she wraps them – it doesn’t even look like it’s wrapped wire. It looks like one complete piece. They are like pieces of architecture. She makes them look so effortless. She comes up with her own designs, and she brings them to life. Jessica is a talented, imaginative person, and she’s a very hard worker and almost a perfectionist.” Jessica makes sure that she is happy with each of her designs before she allows them to go to their new homes. “I’ll look back at my past work, and I know that I made it, and clients love it, but now, I’ll think, ‘That’s a mess,’” Russell described. “I’ll be doing something, and I’ll show my clients, and then I’ll want to do them over, because I can’t send them off like that. I’ll remake them if there is something wrong.”

Jessica and her best friend, Tanisha Clark. Photo courtesy of Jessica Russell.

Jessica has a wide assortment of pieces that are available for purchase. Photos by Ashley Poore. August 202 3





August 202 3

No two pieces of jewelry are alike. Photo by Ashley Poore.

“She will reach out and send me her ‘best’ ripple effect and word-of-mouth. People pieces, but when I look at them, they are all notice.” Her small business can be found on wonderful,” Clark explained. Facebook by the name of Fox Spirit “I don’t even know how to describe her Hand-Crafted Jewelry. advanced work,” Andrew said. “It’s stunning. “After my mom died, I went to the The elegance of her work is what catches beach, and I rented a room. While I my eye, and the speed in which she learned was sitting outside, a fox ran in front to do it. She can go from being extremely intricate to extremely basic. She has never of me, I took it as a sign and decided disappointed me. She’s a go-getter. She’s a on the name for my business,” Russell good person, and she deserves every accolade explained. Jessica said she sees the fox as her she can get. I love her art, and I continue to spirit animal. buy way too many. I probably have 25 pieces, “We are both gingers, and they are playful and I give them away as gifts.” and funny and mysterious,” she described. Some of Andrew’s favorites include opals, sapphires, and diamonds. “I wear them often,” she said. I don’t even know how to describe her advanced work. Jessica sells her work online using social media platforms. It’s stunning. The elegance of her work is what catches my “It just seems like over the last few eye, and the speed in which she learned to do it. She can years her work has exploded and has become very popular with people, and go from being extremely intricate to extremely basic. She I am really proud of her,” Bloniarz said. has never disappointed me. She’s a go-getter. She’s a good “I know my jewelry isn’t for everyone, but I have 900 people in my person, and she deserves every accolade she can get. group on Facebook that really like my stuff,” Russell said. “People invite their - DANA ANDREW family and friends to the page – it’s a August 202 3



Each piece is wrapped in a way to showcase the stone's beauty. Photo by Ashley Poore.

“When it comes to people, Jessica is giving,” Bloniarz said. “She’s always trying to help people out one way or another. She’s always accepting of people. She’s open minded, and she doesn’t judge. She can be pretty fiery when she needs to be. She stands up for herself, and she doesn’t let people walk all over her. She has a goofy side, too. I’m very proud and thankful for her.” Clark also described Jessica’s personality: “She just likes to make people smile. That’s all she does for me. All she wants to do is make me smile. She’s a great person. She’s a beautiful person inside and out. She’s a beautiful person who just wants to make other people happy. Just seeing her happy makes me happy.” Looking towards the future, Jessica shared that she just wants to continue doing what she loves with her pliers and wires. “When I reach retirement age, I want to sell everything except for my rocks and my cat,” she said. “I want to get a camper, and then just travel the United States making jewelry.” Clark shared, “Watching Jessica grow throughout the years and seeing the positive changes she has made and strides she has taken, has been like watching a piece of art take form. Much like the jewelry she creates, it has been a very inspiring process. She has grown tremendously and essentially recreated herself. She is

Watching Jessica grow throughout the years and seeing the positive changes she has made and strides she has taken, has been like watching a piece of art take form. Much like the jewelry she creates, it has been a very inspiring process. She has grown tremendously and essentially recreated herself.

- TANISHA CLARK Left photo: The Tree of Life design takes many pieces of wire to create. Photo by Ashley Poore. 60


August 202 3

Overall, Jessica aims to spread happiness to others. Photo by Ashley Poore.

a true representation of one of her signature pieces, The Tree of Life. She was able to shed the old and be born anew. Her growth reflects in the beautiful pieces she creates. I am very proud of the person she is and proud that she is my friend.” t

August 202 3




Frogs of the



ou would be hard pressed to find a creature more fascinating than the humble frog. Squeezing through tight places, breathing through their skin, and using their eyes to help swallow food are only a few of the amazing abilities frogs make use of in their daily lives. The High Country is no stranger to fantastical frogs. Our dusky mountain chorus is sung by several different amphibians that you’ll find absolutely ribbiting.

The Bullfrog Invasion If you’ve ever had frog legs, a deep-fried delicacy popularized in Louisiana due to heavy French influence in the region, then you’ve already become intimately acquainted with the American bullfrog. Originally from the Eastern United States, the American bullfrog has been introduced to several European, Asian, and South American countries as an inexpensive source of protein, and each of these countries has since declared the frog an invasive species. Now you may be wondering what kind of damage these little jumpers could possibly inflict. The truth is, most frogs will eat anything they can fit into their mouths. That’s fine when it comes to smaller frogs like the leopard frog or the green frog, but American bullfrogs can grow up to eight inches long and weigh up to three pounds. At this size, the list of potential bullfrog prey includes birds, bats, bugs, mice, frogs, newts, lizards, snakes, and turtles. Their numbers are kept in check in the Eastern U.S. by their natural predators, the snapping turtle and the heron, but when they make their way into new territory they end up either bullying other animals out of their food source or eating them outright. Additionally, American bullfrogs are carriers of the deadly chytrid fungus, which they themselves are immune to. Of the 500 amphibian species impacted by the chytrid fungus, up to 90 have been driven to extinction. The issue has become so dire that scientists in California have begun manually administering a vaccine to affected frog populations by bathing them in a chytrid byproduct, thus strengthening their immune response against future infections. Right photo: Juvenile American toad spotted on Greenway Trail. Photo by Sarah Mathis. 62


August 202 3

August 202 3



FUN FROG FACT: In addition to being asymptomatic carriers of the chytrid fungus, American bullfrogs are immune to pickerel frog poison, resistant to copperhead and cottonmouth snake venom, and unaffected by exposure to road salt.

The American Bullfrog can be found all across North Carolina, from the mountains all the way to the coast. Photo by Kevin Stohlgren

The shaded region represents the range of the American Bullfrog in North Carolina. Courtesy of

Strategies have been implemented around the world to curb the invasion of the American bullfrog. They are resilient to chemicals many other frogs would find deadly, so pesticides yield little success. To some, it seems the only way to stop them is to eat them. The Oregon based Institute for Applied Ecology is set to host their annual Invasive Species Cook-Off on August 26, a culinary event Since being introduced to Europe, Asia, and South America, these countries now consider the American Bullfrog an invasive species. Photo by Todd Pierson.

Clawson-Burnley Wetlands. Photo by Sarah Mathis 64


August 202 3

Wood frogs can be found in the western part of North Carolina. Photo by Todd Pierson

designed to reduce invasive populations by using them as ingredients. Unfortunately, American bullfrogs tend to breed faster than our Oregonian friends can eat; female bullfrogs can lay up to 12000 eggs after mating. That’s well over double the number of eggs their close relative the green frog can lay. With fleets of tadpoles taking Western waterways by storm and no natural predators to ward them off, it’s no wonder the bullfrog population always seems to bounce back.

Living/Dead Frog It’s unusual to see any cold-blooded animal give preferential treatment to the snowy regions, but the warm, Southern state of North Carolina doesn’t have a lot of wood frogs. They can only be found in the Western tip of our state — the High Country. Wood frogs are far more likely to be spotted in the Northern United States, Canada, and Alaska. In fact, wood frogs are the only amphibians capable of living within the Arctic Circle! If you can imagine yourself naked with only a wet blanket for protection in the dead of an Alaskan winter, you can understand a fraction of what this little frog goes through each year. They don’t even have the natural body heat and relatively impermeable skin we tend

A large froglet spotted in Boone Creek. Photo by Sarah Mathis.

to take for granted to protect themselves from the chill. Wood frogs survive in these deadly conditions by allowing the less important portions of their bodies to freeze solid while preserving the insides of their cells and internal organs with glucose and, to a lesser extent, urea. Both of these chemicals are solids that dissolve in water — You can think of them like sugar and salt. When these solids dissolve, it Plants growing in an open culvert where frogs are known to becomes harder for the congregate during heavy rains. Photo by Sarah Mathis. resulting solution to undergo phase changes, hence why wood the cold because the freeze doesn’t reach frogs are able to choose which body parts that deep, but the trade off to this far they allow to freeze; they flood their simpler maneuver is that they have to wait most important organs with a build-up until the top of the river thaws completely of chemicals that would kill a human before they can emerge from hibernation being, develop the worst case of frost-bite and breed. Wood frogs, on the other hand, imaginable, and emerge each spring, fresh need only wait until their body thaws. They mate in the temporary pools formed as a daisy and ready to mate. In fact, the only reason they go to by the first minor snow melts of spring. No one knows what signals the wood all this trouble to begin with is for the mating advantage. Other cold-weather frog to come to life with the change of the frogs hibernate by burying themselves seasons. During hibernation, their brains under the mud at the bottom of a river or shut down, they do not breathe, and their stream. These frogs are never bothered by hearts do not beat. For all intents and August 202 3



FUN FROG FACT: The main difference between frogs and toads are the habitats they prefer. Toads spend most of their time on land while frogs prefer not to stray too far from their pond. Toads are actually a subcategory of frogs, meaning all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads.

When the wood frog goes into hibernation their brain, heart, and lungs shut down until warmer weather promps the organs to begin working again. Photo by Todd Pierson

A creek adjoining Linville Falls. Photo by Sarah Mathis

The shaded region represents the range of the Wood Frog in North Carolina. Courtesy of

purposes, they’re dead. But each year, around the same time, the wood frog’s organs begin to reanimate one by one. The heart begins to beat, sending sluggish blood into the extremities. The lungs inflate, careful not to crack the remaining ice that permeates their bodies. Their brains, once again, come alive, and they wake from their impossible feat like a child stumbling out of a dream. Frogs of all species are an interesting medical case study because their bodies so closely resemble us humans. Like us, they have a heart, a pair of lungs, a stomach complete with large and small intestines, and the list goes on from there. It is anticipated that by studying wood frogs, scientists will figure out methods of 66


August 202 3


The Salty Frog

he Asian crab-eating frog, as the name implies, can handle brief exposure to salt water for the purpose of eating crabs. This is a rarity among amphibians because, in addition to admitting oxygen molecules, a frog’s permeable skin also allows a whole lot of other things to enter their system unchecked. They’re kind of like slugs; pour salt on them, and they croak, if you’ll excuse a crude pun. It’s a skill that probably took them tens of thousands of years to evolve, a luxury of time our High Country frogs don’t have. In largely paved-over areas like Boone and Blowing Rock, icy winters bring salt — approximately 500 tons of salt applied to roads, stairs, and sidewalks across Watauga County in a day. Road salt is an inexpensive solution to ice related incidents like car accidents and falls, but we pay the difference in full with contaminated drinking water, injured plants and animals, and acidic corrosion to both public and private property. A study by Southern Connecticut State University Professor Steven Brady found that road salt causes edema in wood frogs, a condition that causes the body to retain water in an attempt to balance out and process salt. Wood frogs with edema experience severe bloating; they have the translucent look of a water balloon filled to bursting. While edema is not inherently fatal, the symptoms make it all the more difficult for frogs to hunt, mate, and escape from predators. If wood frog populations dwindled, it wouldn’t be the end of life as we know it. Their food chain would experience some hiccups, but humans would remain largely unaffected. However, it is my personal belief that all animals, by virtue of being alive, deserve protection from human pollutants. We have the technology to change the environment to suit our needs. It’s only fair that we make those decisions with all creatures in mind, regardless of whether we

stand to benefit from their continued existence. Having said that, you don’t need to be an animal lover to appreciate the value of these frogs. Their ability to withstand conditions that would be deadly to humans make them an invaluable resource in the field of medical research.

A salty parking lot in Boone. Photo by Sarah Mathis

Appalachian State University has expressed interest in reducing winter salt usage for the sake of sustainability, but doing so walks a fine line between protecting the environment and prioritizing the safety of students. Reducing salt usage to the point where it would have any measurable impact on the health of Boone Creek would be a massive liability in the event that someone slips and falls on campus. Continuing to use the same amount of salt poses no liability because, unfortunately, frogs cannot seek legal recourse. There are alternatives to road salt like sand, sugar beet juice, calcium magnesium acetate, and more that don’t have such harsh impacts on the environment, but the cost of these materials vary and, of course, old habits die hard. Winter ice is an annual safety hazard that must be addressed, but there is never a need to use scorched earth tactics on our own land. It is my fondest desire that our community will make the changes necessary to treat our plants and animals with respect. t August 202 3





August 202 3

While the pickerel frog isn't fatal to humans, they are poisonous to other frogs. Photo by Todd Pierson

freezing human organs for transplant without damaging them, making the important procedure all the more accessible. Heart attack victims and people with diabetes also stand to benefit from the study of our local freeze-tolerant frogs — studying the mechanisms by which these frogs survive months on end without a pulse and cope with increased production of glucose may one day teach us humans to do the same.

The Poison Frog The pickerel frog is easily the most eyecatching of the frogs we’ve discussed thus far — their lithe bodies range in color from faun to gold to gray with an intricate pattern

The shaded region represents the range of the Pickerel Frog in North Carolina. Courtesy of Left photo: A juvenile American toad. Photo by Sarah Mathis

Entertaining Music Series

2022 Season Hayes Auditorium, Broyhill Theatre

All performances begin at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Broadway Baritone: William Michals in Concert with Friends June 19

Symphony of the Mountains June 26

Forever Simon and Garfunkel July 3

Sail On, The Beach Boys Tribute July 10

Chris Ruggiero July 17

How Sweet It Is! July 24

A Band Called Honalee July 31

Orlando Transit Authority Honors Chicago August 7

Purchase tickets at

For season ticket information, call 828.898.8748 or email August 202 3



Clawson-Burnley Wetlands. Photo by Sarah Mathis

FUN FROG FACT: The pine barrens tree frog was named North Carolina’s state frog in 2013. It was chosen for its distinctive appearance and difficulty to spot in the wild. The pine barrens tree frog can only be found in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the Sandhills of the Carolinas, and the Florida Panhandle. of squares arranged in two dark columns along their backs. A splash of orangey-yellow adorns the underside of their legs, seen only in glimpses as they execute a graceful leap into the water. Everything about them, from the upward tilt of their head to the careful fold of their legs, radiates regality. The pickerel frog is, indeed, beautiful to behold, but deadly to touch . . . If you’re another frog, that is. Humans can handle a pickerel frog just fine and walk away with a minor rash, likely causing the frog itself more harm as its permeable skin absorbs the residue of our daily lives. Pickerel frogs secrete a poison that coats their entire body when they feel threatened. This is enough to keep most other frogs from even touching them since all amphibians have somewhat 70


August 202 3

The pickerel frog can be found in almost every part of North Carolina. Photo by Todd Pierson

sensitive skin, but predators like reptiles and mammals are a different story; they have to eat the frog before the poison will take effect. Most predators know to steer clear of the pickerel frog through instinct, parental guidance, or plain old trial and error, but if all else fails, they’ll notice the taste and spit the frog out before it can do much damage. However, depending on the size of the animal, one lick could be fatal — take heed if you have dogs or cats. While pickerel frogs are nowhere near as intimidating as the poison dart frogs of the tropics, but they’ve earned their spot on this list for being one of a kind in this region — they’re one of very few poisonous frogs to reside in the United States, and the only poisonous frog native to the High Country. t

Appalachia Cleaning Co.


­ ­

August 202 3



A Love Story Spanning 70 Years A


love story that began over seven decades ago in the Mountain Dale community of western Watauga County has not always been the stuff fairy tales are made of, but it’s been pretty close. When, as youngsters, Clint Cornett and Ruth Presnell vowed to love each other for life, they meant what they said. This year, having recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, the couple could write a book or two on love and marriage, but they say none of it would have been possible had they not followed the “Good Book,” tried to live right, work hard, and raise their family in accordance with the Bible. Known far and wide and highly respected by all, the Cornetts are forming a legacy for which they will always be remembered. They’ve had a good life, they agree, and as they live out their golden years together, they’re thankful for each other and the many blessings they’ve received. Clint was 22 and Ruth was 20 when they were married on April 28, 1953, at the home of Preacher Ronda Earp in Vilas. Just a few days later, they moved to Toledo, Ohio, making the trip with Clint’s cousin. “I had a ’41 Buick before I went into the service, but I had given it to my dad. He was preachin’ and didn’t have a car to get around in, and I knew I wouldn’t be needing it.” They lived in a two-room apartment, and Clint worked in the automobile industry for over a year, before moving back home in time for the birth of their first child, Dale, in July 1954. Their other children — Diane, Martin, and Dawn — soon followed, including another son who died during childbirth. “I always say we have four children here and one in heaven,” Ruth said. They have nine grandchildren, 20 greatgrandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. When Clint and Ruth returned to Watauga County, they purchased his grandfather’s old homeplace and settled into a routine, of sorts. 72


August 202 3

Always with a smile and a hug for each other, Clint and Ruth Cornett say that putting God first is the reason they’ve made it this far in life. Photo submitted.

Ruth Presnell and her handsome soldier, Clint Cornett, before they were married. Photo submitted.

Clint was always interested in singing and music. “We’d sung all our life,” he said, “and shape notes was a great way to learn new songs.” He became the leader of the Mountain Dale Baptist Church choir, where he had earlier been introduced to shape notes. Clint and his father first learned to read shape notes by singing old songs they already knew that were written out in that style. Clint’s father had a large chart that explained the rudiments of shape note singing that he carried all around the county and region. “It’s pretty simple when you get into it,” Clint said. Clint eventually became known as an expert in shape note singing. He’s helped lead “singing schools,” has helped coordinate special gospel singing events, has written and had published several songs, and has been featured in various documentaries, including “Blue Ridge Shape Notes: Singing a New Song in an Old Way,” a project of the Watauga County Arts Council. Having offered presentations on the shape note singing to classes at App State through the years, and at various church and community functions, Clint was interviewed and included in the thesis of an Appalachian State University student, whose subject was traditional music and church choirs. Clint’s participation, for 23 years-plus, in the annual TriCities Music Camp in Kingsport, Tennessee, has been a highlight of his life, he said. Having served on the board of directors from the beginning, he has been a huge part of the school’s success, as has Ruth, who accompanied him for many years, and helped cook for the camp participants. He has never missed the two-week summer camp, the last two weeks of each July, except during the pandemic in 2020. Most of his family, at one time or another, has been involved with the music camps, joining hundreds of others from across the southeast. Some of the Cornett children and grandchildren have also developed a love and talent for music and are helping to carry on the family tradition. “He’s done a lot of different things in the music world, but never for his own glory,” said his daughter, Diane. “He’s the most humble man I’ve ever met.”

He’s done a lot of different things in the music world, but never for his own glory. He’s the most humble man I’ve ever met.

- DIANE CORNETT DEAL And he always gives credit for any of his success to the kind, hardworking woman who has been by his side through it all.

Through The Years The oldest of nine children born April 28, 1931, to “Preacher Clyde” and Blanche Phillips Cornett, Clint was raised in the same area where he and Ruth have spent most of their life together. The Cornett family roots run deep in the Mountain Dale community, an area settled by their ancestors in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Clint and his siblings learned from the best, as their father was not only a preacher, but also a skilled carpenter who did a little bit of everything to support his family. He had a passion for music and gospel singing, which Clint inherited, and with other family members, they formed the Cornett Family Quartet. Clint is blessed, he said, that all of his siblings are still living, except for one brother. And all but one sister lives nearby in Watauga County.

Considered an expert in shape note singing, Clint Cornett explains during one of his presentations the “’rudiments” of the time-honored musical tradition. Photo submitted

August 202 3



We had talked about getting married, but decided to wait until I got out. Five days after I was discharged, we said ‘I do.’

- CLINT CORNETT Clint attended Bethel School before dropping out at 17 and heading to Pennsylvania with a cousin to work on a mushroom farm. He was drafted into the army in the fall of ’50, during the Korean conflict, and was fortunate enough to be assigned state-side and even helped guard the White House in Washington, D.C. Returning home after an honorable discharge, Clint married Ruth Alice Presnell, daughter of Link and Anne Younce Presnell, from nearby Laurel Branch Road. They had known each other from school and had “courted heavy,” before he went into the service. “We had talked about getting married, but decided to wait until I got out,” Clint said. “Five days after I was discharged, we said ‘I do.’” Ruth had grown up on a family farm; her family grew tobacco, as well as huge gardens every year, and maintained a strawberry patch. Her mother was a great cook, a trait Ruth also acquired, her family confirmed. Clint was a salesman “and could sell ice to the Eskimos,” said daughter, Diane.



August 202 3

Still young and in love on their 25th anniversary, Clint and Ruth had no idea that was just one of many milestones yet to come. Photo submitted.

Clint and Ruth reflect upon their years together — Ruth saying that he was always a good provider, and in turn, he says of Ruth, “She’s always been a good wife and mother to our children.” Ruth had never been far from home until they moved to Ohio, and she worked very little outside the home. “I worked at a restaurant for a short while and at Woolworths when we were up there.” Otherwise, she said, she has always loved being a housewife, staying at home until the kids were raised; afterward, she helped take care of an elderly lady in her home. At one time, Ruth thought she should do more to help her husband make a living; she asked her brother-in-law to bring her an application for work at IRC in Boone, and he did. “One evening I came home and saw it laying on the table and asked her what it was,” Clint recalled. “She said she thought she would get a job to help out. I told her I appreciated her wanting to do that, but she already had a good job taking care of our family. I just tore that paper up and nothing else was said.” But, a hard worker she was, whether in the home or in the fields and gardens. Clint started working in a little country store when they first came back here. Then, he got a job “off the mountain” with Hickory

Wholesale, then Johnson Supply and later, Thomas and Howard. “For 33 years, I traveled around Watauga, Avery, and Ashe counties, from one end to the other and beyond, servicing health and beauty supplies. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. But, I did my due, for all those years, leaving home before daylight and coming back after dark.” Before he retired, Clint knew he would need something to do, so in 1979, he began growing Christmas trees; what started out as a sideline has become a part of life for most of the family, especially for Diane and Dale, who are among the county’s most productive growers today. The Cornett family has grown thousands of trees over vast acreage throughout the county, and especially surrounding the family home

in Mountain Dale. Both Clint and Diane have been named Christmas Tree Grower of the Year in Watauga County on separate occasions. Not one to stay idle, Clint also drove a school bus for Bethel for 11 years, starting out as a substitute driver when convinced he should obtain his CDLs. “I really enjoyed it, for the most part, but I knew it was time to go when I did.” He’s got to stay busy, though, he said. “I’d rather grub stakes with a dull mattock than to loaf. And I’ve always tried to teach my kids to do an honest day’s work. I figure if you don’t work, you don’t eat. A lot of kids, nowadays, don’t know what it’s like to have to grow up working.” Ruth said her dad might not have had any boys, just three girls, “but I know what it’s like to be on the other end of a cross-cut saw.”

Few couples are ever so blessed as to reach their 70th year together, but it’s something this couple does not take for granted. Photo submitted.

Todd Bush Photography Serving the High Country with Premier Scenic, and Commercial Imagery for over 25yrs Scenic photos available at Banner Elk Artists Gallery in the historic BE elementary school near the heart of town


banner elk nc August 202 3



There is nothing that brings greater joy to Clint and Ruth Cornett than time spent with their large family, and this was a special day, indeed, with everyone gathered in celebration of five generations. Photo submitted.

What Really Matters had this to say: “They have loved us The most important part of life, the Cornetts said, has been serving the Lord and raising their family together. They’ve been faithful members of the church next door to their home for nearly as long as they’ve been married – attending every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services. They have served their church family in numerous capacities — in addition to choir director, Clint has been church clerk, Sunday School teacher, deacon, and they both have helped as needed. They’ve been just as faithful as neighbors and friends and loving parents to their children. “It’s not always been easy,” Ruth said. “We’ve all had hardships – what family doesn’t? That’s part of life.” Daughter Diane, who served in the office of Watauga County Clerk of Court for many years, and most recently as the elected clerk before retirement,

unconditionally. No matter what we did, what we said, or how we acted, they were always there to pick us up. They didn’t pamper us, but they supported us and helped us get on the right track, when needed.” Those family hardships have included the deaths and serious illnesses of many loved ones. “Mother and Daddy have both had cancer, and thankfully, they both have survived. We’re very fortunate to still have them at this time in our lives, and we are so thankful that they have lived to see their 70th anniversary. They have been such great examples of what love is all about.” Today, Ruth, at 90, still does her housework and loves nothing more than to cook and feed her loved ones a hearty meal. “She’s the best hostess you would ever want to meet, like Martha in the Bible,” Diane added. “The favorite place

Hand-in-hand they go on their way to church one Sunday morning, as they have done for the last 70 years. Photo submitted.

We’ve always got along good, and had a lot in common from the start. We’ve not always agreed on everything, but we had enough sense to sit down and talk about it. And, we’ve never thought about leaving each other. I told her if she ever did (leave), she would need to tell me where she was going, so I could follow her.



August 202 3

for all of our family is around the kitchen table. That’s where we all automatically gravitate to when we come to the house.” At 92, Clint still drives; he takes care of their yard work, still makes wreaths at Christmas, and does most anything he wants to do. He’s always the first to welcome new neighbors into the church and/or community and reaches out to help anyone in need. He’s got a “place of prayer” on the mountain peak above their home where he has spent a lot of time, he said, “Where me and the Good Lord have worked out many a problem.” Ruth said they don’t like to be away from each other for very long — and that they are so close, and know each other so well, that one can start a sentence, and the other will finish it. “We’ve always got along good, and had a lot in common from the start,” Clint added. “We’ve not always agreed on everything, but we had enough sense to sit down and talk about it. And, we’ve never thought about leaving each other. I told her if she ever did (leave), she would need to tell me where she was going, so I could follow her.” When asked what advice they would give to younger married couples, they

Ruth pats her husband on the knee and looked at each other and smiled. “To be content with wherever God said, “He sent me that card in 1950 from puts you, and with whatever He gives Pennsylvania, and I’ve kept it ever since.” Some things are just worth keeping — you,” Ruth said. “You don’t have to have all and no one knows that better than Clint those material things to have a good life. and Ruth Cornett. t Most of all, though, always put God first, and everything else will fall into place.” And, about that 70th anniversary? On Saturday, April 22 of this year, the couple was honored at Calvary Baptist Church Fellowship Hall; the large attendance of family, friends and associates was a testament to a wonderful marriage and a life well-lived. “We really enjoyed that day,” Ruth said with a smile. “There were a lot of people who came to see us, and some came from a long way off.” A love that has endured the test of time can be said of this couple, and as Clint brings out a well-preserved card, it’s easy to see that the love has grown even sweeter through the years. A Valentine’s Day card that Clint sent Ruth in 1950 from Pennsylvania It reads: “To my sweetheart on has been preserved and treated with care through the years, just as has their love for each other. Photo submitted. Valentine’s Day.” With a smile,

August 202 3
















Abode . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

Ensemble Stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Alchemy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Forum at Lees-McRae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

AMOREM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

Green Park Inn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

Appalachia Cleaning Co. . . . . . . . . . . . 27, 71

Greystone Eye . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

Appalachian Regional Health . . . . . . . . . . . 19

Hartley Hauling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

The Appalachian Theatre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 07

High Country at the Movies . . . . . . . . . . . . 13, 78

Banner Elk Realty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

High Country Sporting Clay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

The Bee and the Boxwood . . . Inside Back Cover

Jeff’s Plumbing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74

Blowing Rock Frameworks & Gallery . . . . . 09

Magic Bound . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Blue Ridge Realty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back Cover

McCoy’s Minerals Inc. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture . . . . . . . 21

Mountain Tile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

Boone Bagelry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

New River Building Supply . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Booneshine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Precision Printing & Signs . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Carlton Gallery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

Premier Sotheby's . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 02

Carolina West Wireless . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Soul Benefactor @ Grandfather Vineyard . . 51

Chetola Resort . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 03

Stonewall’s Restaurant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 05

Consignment Cottage Warehouse . . . . . . . . 29

Sugar Mountain TDA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01

Dianne Davant & Associates.. Inside Front Cover

Todd Bush Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

Dino’s Den Moving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Village Jewelers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

Doc’s Rocks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Windwood Home Furniture . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

Doe Ridge Pottery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

High Country Magazine is distributed year round in Ashe, Avery, and Watauga counties at no cost to readers. This is possible because of the investment made by our advertisers. We are thankful to them and hope you will support their businesses and organizations.

August 202 3



Bill Fisher Signs Off: Last Day on the Air For Beloved Radio Personality STORY BY SHERRIE NORRIS

US Congresswoman Virginia Foxx surprised Bill Fisher at the radio station with a plaque of appreciation for his many years of service to the High Country. Photo submitted.


f there’s one voice that most everyone recognizes around the High Country, it’s that of longtime media personality, Bill Fisher. After many years of keeping us informed of all that’s happening, “Fish” as he is most commonly known, has decided to step away from the airway, ready to turn off the dial to a lifetime in the spotlight. Sadly enough for fans of local radio, Fish is the last of the long-term “’voices” that have kept the local airway alive through the years. His plan to retire follows behind those others in recent years, who, as part of the local radio family, moved away from the microphone and left behind countless fans who miss their daily contributions to radio. Fish was not only heard, but also “seen” for a while as part of the Mountain Television Network, a small Boone-based television station that served the area well for a few years. As word began to circulate recently of Fish’s departure, accolades began pouring in, not the least of which included a visit to the radio station from Rep. Virginia Foxx with a plaque with words she had earlier read on the floor and entered into the Congressional Record on his behalf. 80


August 202 3

Following a lengthy career in local media, the informative, entertaining, and funloving radio personality, Bill “Fish” Fisher is giving up his day job for an evergrowing honey-do list. Photo submitted.

Fish shared with High Country Press, “That makes me feel special — I guess I really am history!” Former radio guru, Mike Kelly, shared with High Country Press: “Fish is a great guy. He’s been a good friend and he helped me a lot through the years with advice and things his experience in the business had taught him. He was a blessing to me and so many others and he is someone I have always deeply respected. He was a friend to the High Country, but all of us were —including Tom Lanier, Andy Glass, Tommy Culver, John Roten, Ashley Wilson, and all of the on-air people we had over the years. Our goal was to keep the area informed, to be a part of that community, and Bill was a huge part of that.” Another former co-worker and longtime friend, Page Sauder, had this to say: “My time working on the air with Fish is one of the most memorable times in my life. Spending every morning laughing together was so much fun, and a great way to start the day. Through those years we became great friends, with a friendship that has lasted well beyond the years we worked together. He is most-definitely on my short-list as one of my favorite people.” t