January 2023 Magazine

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January 2023 Laurie Gill’s 40 Years of Literacy · 10 Years of Sunset & Vine Blues Songstress Testers Diary Family Commitment Carroll Garland Business Acumen Community & Wellness (And Goats) NOWMONTHLY! WHAT’S INSIDE
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Sunset and Vine

“Before I came into the wine world, I was intimidated to buy wine from a wine shop. I’m just a regular person with regular tastes, and I know most people are like that.” - Sharon Crisman

Laurie Gill: Days in the Life of a Teacher

“I like to do words in my sight-word booklet. And when we play games, my favorite is when Ms. Gill makes me laugh. She said I was going to be on her lap soon if I squished any closer.” - Edie Allison - 1st Grader

Testers Dairy Farm

“We really enjoy working outside and admiring God’s creation. We enjoy everything about the cows, from their personalities, to the trust they bestow in us, to simply watching them eat. We find joy in working with family.” - Jessica Lawrence Miller

Avery Community Yoga

“I can’t speak enough about the support from Banner Elk and the Chamber of Commerce. There’s a soft, supportive strength that comes from the Town. We get together as business owners, and ask, ‘How can we help your business?’ We put in good words for each other” - Jenna Stone

Artist Heidi Holton

“Jorma was the first person to tell me I had the talent to make it in the music business. He told me he thought I had a good voice when so many people had made fun of me before.” - Heidi Holton

Carroll Garland

“So many people in this community are wealthy because Carroll Garland believed in them and loaned them whatever they needed to get started. Not only were they able to pay the loan back, but they were able to be successful in their own right and eventually give back to the community.” - Franklin Graham

CONTENTS 16 24 30 42 56 68

There’s So Much Good in Our Community!

2023 is here! The new year is the perfect time to sit back and reflect on the growth of the past twelve months. January 1, 2023 officially marked one year since I have served as publisher for High Country Press Publications, and what a ride it has been!

We have learned about the history of Boone through the town’s 150th anniversary. We have attended many events like music concerts, farmers’ markets, art festivals, football games, theater performances, holiday parades, and so much more. We have talked to various businesses, nonprofits, organizations, and groups who continue to do great work for others around the region. We have met lots of new faces this year who are an inspiration to us all because of their life experiences. And we will continue to do these things and meet the expectations of producing the highest quality magazine in the High Country.

With the new year upon us, we also look forward to the many opportunities the months ahead will bring. We are excited to be able to increase our High Country Magazine publication from 6 issues to 12 issues a year, as it allows us to share more of what makes the High Country so unique. Through fascinating interviews, captivating stories, and breathtaking photography, we are honored to celebrate the community.

However, we would not be able to publish the content that we do without you. Between advertisers who support us, people who share their passions with us, and dedicated readers who encourage us, it truly is a community effort, and we are grateful. We appreciate everyone sharing High Country Magazine, and asking for it by name!

Thank you!

A Public Ation o f

High Country Press Publications

Publisher Sam Garrett editor Ken Ketchie

design Ashley Poore

contributing Writers

David Coulson

Peter Morris Harley Nefe Sherrie Norris Jan Todd cover Photogr APher Michelle Lyerly Photography

contributing Photogr APhers Todd Bush

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.


P.O. Box 152, Boone, NC 28607 828-264-2262

Copyright © 2023, All rights reserved


Watauga High School Athletes for Good collected over 1,300 pounds of food to donate to Casting Bread, a local food pantry, to increase food security in the High Country. Student athletes, along with Donna Wellborn (WHS English teacher and Athletes for Good faculty sponsor) and Sam Garrett (Casting Bread Executive Director and High Country Press Plublisher), worked together to load a van (and truck) full of donations for those in need.
Sam Garrett - Publisher
Jenna Stone, owner of Avery Community Yoga. Photo taken by Michelle Lyerly.
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mountain echoes

Boone Resident Ashley Winecoff Wins Second Place at World Skate Games 2022

During her second time representing Team USA, Ashley Winecoff won second place in Women’s Downhill Racing at the World Skate Games 2022, which was held in Argentina back in November.

Winecoff is from Huntersville, North Carolina, which is just south of Charlotte, but she has called Boone her home for the past nine years since attending Appalachian State University. She graduated in 2018.

“It’s not easy to leave, especially with all the hills,” Winecoff described. “I love the nature here.”

Winecoff’s skateboarding journey began during winter break of her freshman year of college when she picked up an old cruiser board. She spent every day after that practicing and exploring her hometown until she invested in a longboard. When returning to school, she discovered that there were many people who also enjoyed the thrills of the steep terrain.

“I just got a board and started cruising around and meeting people who liked downhill longboarding,” Winecoff said. “It caught my attention, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.”

She started watching videos on YouTube and following groups to learn more about the sport.

“An organization called NCDH (North Carolina Down Hill) posted a race in West Jefferson, and I had never heard about racing where everybody wears leather suits and helmets and all that gear,” Winecoff reflected. “I showed up so I could check it out, and I wasn’t expecting to see 70 dudes in leather suits skating down the mountain, but it was really cool. It was then that I decided – I’m going to do this.”

Winecoff continued, “There’s a huge scene in North Carolina. There’s probably between 100-200 people who live here that downhill skate, and I started showing up to sessions with locals, and they shared gear and advice.”

She learned about events through word of mouth as well as on social media platforms.

“Event organizers want people to show up, so they will advertise and send out invitations,” Winecoff said.

After attending local events, Winecoff began expanding her horizons by going to events around the country. She has been to many states including Ohio, Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, California and Washington.

To prepare for races, Winecoff does a lot of yoga.

“It’s more of a mindset really than anything else,” she said. “It’s very easy to get into your head when you are skating, and you need to be very calm. It’s almost a

meditative thing.”

To qualify to go to the World Skate Games, Winecoff attended qualifying events where she ranked second in the U.S. behind Emily Pross, who has been the champion for many years in a row.

The first time Winecoff represented Team USA was in 2019 when the event was held in Barcelona.

“I ended up in ninth place out of 28 in 2019, and this year there were 32 racers,” Winecoff said.

As far as future races, Winecoff already has plans to attend an event in California in April.

“But my big trip this coming year is going to be going to Europe for the summer because every weekend, there will be a different event in a different country,” Winecoff said. “That has always been a dream.”

However, the most impactful part of the experience for her is the friends she has met over the years.

“The community surrounding it is very unique and definitely a huge part of why I continue to do it,” Winecoff shared. “I have a very solid group of friends that I see pretty much at every event that I go to. One way or another, we will end up traveling together. Traveling with the squad is definitely part of the appeal. It’s a family reunion.” t

Ashley Winecoff stands on the podium in second place with Emily Pross, who received first place and Lisa Peters, who received third place. Photo courtesy of World Skate Games 2022 Ashley Winecoff can be seen between Emily Pross (front) and Lisa Peters (back). Photo taken by Tyler Topping.

mountain echoes

2022 WYN Festival of Trees was a “WYN win”

Beginning in mid-November, brightly decorated Christmas trees and wreaths began appearing across the High Country as part of the eighth annual Western Youth Network (WYN) annual Festival of Trees. Displayed in area restaurants, retail shops, hotels, medical offices and recreation centers, more than 100 trees and wreaths were available for bidders to purchase through an online auction.

Through the auction proceeds, sponsorships and donations, the festival raised over $100,000 for WYN — funds which will sustain the organization’s after school activities, summer camp, mentoring program and other initiatives to address childhood adversity and enable youth of the community to reach their full potential.

The festival included a self-guided tour of trees, a wreath-making workshop, a hot chocolate social at the Watauga Recreation Center, a “Share the Spirit” breakfast at Chetola’s Timberlake Restaurant and a $20k-in-one-day challenge which ended during the Festival Finale held at Ransom Pub and Event Venue in Boone on December 1.

and organizations who come together in varying ways to make the event so fun and successful. It feels like the entire community is rallying around us and supporting us.”

Warren mentioned WYN is growing in response to increased demand for its services, and the timing of the event was helpful in funding that growth.

The 2022 Festival expanded to more locations, including several new participating partners in Ashe and Avery Counties. The dispersion of the decorated trees into the community — a move prompted by the pandemic in 2020 — opened up opportunities for designers to participate in their own locations or other high-traffic areas. “It has been a huge win for WYN since people who may have never heard of us are now familiar because the businesses they visit hosted trees,” Warren said.

for many of them — who have returned year after year — the festival has become part of their holiday tradition. The event provides a creative way to give and support the local youth, and provides sponsors and designers positive publicity as well.”

The Leslie Eason Real Estate Team with Keller Williams Realty was the Presenting Sponsor for the Festival.

In addition to raising money for the non-profit organization, building awareness about WYN is a key goal of the Festival. Over the years, the Festival has introduced people to the mission of WYN and has resulted in new mentors for the children, new volunteers and new donors who have become regular investors in the organization’s programs. t

“I love the community energy and momentum around this event each year,” said Jennifer Warren, executive director of WYN. “There are so many individuals

Jenny Koehn, chair of the Festival committee, added, “The Festival has evolved over the years and we appreciate how every designer, sponsor and donor has helped the event become the success that it is today. Our supporters are the heart of the event, and

This tree, beautifully designed by staff at Professor Finnegan’s Old Time Photos at Mystery Hill, was one of the more than 40 trees on display across the High Country during the Western Youth Network (WYN) Festival of Trees. The tree package included gift certificates to a number of area attractions and restaurants, promoting tourism and business within the community while raising money for WYN. Photo submitted. Lizzie Lowe (left), assisted by Jesse Sebastian, led the WYN Festival of Trees wreath making workshop, sponsored by Mountain Lumber Company. Participants designed more than 50 wreaths which were auctioned to raise money for WYN. Photo submitted.
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Carolina Gal

The question usually comes up when you first meet someone: Where are you from?

For some, the answer is easy. “I grew up in Boone,” or, “I’m from Florida.” You might even get an extended answer from multigenerational locals, “My family has lived here since the late 1700s.” But for folks like me, the answer is a bit more complex.

I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and was still in diapers when my family moved to Georgia. A couple of years later, we moved to Virginia, then North Carolina, then Tennessee. My dad was an engineer for a textile company, so in his early career — way before computers, cell phones and Zoom — we were shuffled from place to place as he fine-tuned operations in various factories.

At this point, I’ve lived in eight different southeastern states, with no “hometown” to claim. Really, though, a hometown is more than just a zip code. Sure, you may know the roads like the back of your hand, and you may have sat in the same pew at church for most of your life. But what really defines your hometown is the people: your family, your lifelong friends, your fourth-grade teacher that you say hello to at the grocery store.

I can’t even name my teachers from elementary school, and most of my go-to friends have only been in my life for five or six years — but I can say my “people” are from the Carolinas. No matter where I’ve been in life, I remember regular visits up the mountain to my maternal grandfather’s home in Asheville, where the floors creaked, the cellar was scary, and laughter filled the house.

They were a Scotch-Irish clan of people, fiercely loyal to family and full of fascinating stories. They gathered every year

for a Christmas meal, serving turkey and occasionally a side of squirrel, and there was always a candy jar on the sideboard with treats for the kids. They cared for one another from birth through death.

My maternal grandmother’s and my father’s family were from South Carolina, scattered all over the state from the Low Country to the Piedmont. They were farmers, factory workers, teachers and preachers.

I grew up eating vegetables from our garden (often fried), a roast or baked chicken every Sunday, and grits for breakfast. We went to North Myrtle Beach with extended family for a week every summer (with box fans to keep us cool in the non-airconditioned beach house!) Sometimes while we were there, we’d go to the Pavilion to ride the Ferris wheel — but my dad resisted “going to the fair” and we’d only get to go if my mom gave him the pokey lip.

No matter where I lived, I always came home to the Carolinas. I graduated from Appalachian State in the mid-1980s, married a fellow Mountaineer from Yadkinville, and we’ve lived in the Carolinas ever since — though our zip code changed a few times. We Boonerang’d back to the High Country about eight years ago, and settled right in.

By far, Boone is my favorite of all the places I’ve lived. Memories from college merge with new experiences, and we often have the opportunity to see people from our past as they come up to the High Country for a visit. I feel a connection with the people here — and with the mountains. It just feels like home. t

“Carolina Gal” Jan Todd and her husband, Tony, enjoying a winter day in Boone. Photo by Jan Todd

Sunset and Vine


walked into Sunset and Vine wine shop in Blowing Rock. One of the shop’s associates, Amy Lea, asked if she could help the customer.

“My book club meets tonight. We read ‘The Paris Library,’ so I want to take a bottle of French wine. Something under $20,” the customer replied.

“Red or white?” Lea asked.

“Let’s go with red,” the customer answered.

Lea led her over to a rack and pulled out a bottle of Domaine de la Cotes du Rhone. “This is one of my favorites,” Lea told the customer. She added, “French wines can be confusing to buy, because the label indicates the region, instead of the type of grape. This one is a blend, with mostly Grenache and Syrah.”

Lea then walked the customer over to a framed map of France, one

of several posters on display, depicting major wine regions. She pointed out the area along the Rhone River, from central France heading toward the Mediterranean Sea. “This is where the grapes were grown for the wine,” she said.

The customer purchased the bottle and left, satisfied.

Sharon Crisman, owner of Sunset and Vine, said Lea’s sales method perfectly represented her vision for her business.

“I want the shop to be comfortable, easy going and not stuffy,” Crisman explained. “Before I came into the wine world, I was intimidated to buy wine from a wine shop. I’m just a regular person with regular tastes, and I know most people are like that. They just want

to share a bottle with friends and have fun — with a wine that tastes good and isn’t terribly expensive.”

It is important to Crisman that her customers feel wine in the shop is accessible. “We want the shop to be a place people can come in, experiment with new wines and enjoy themselves without worrying about what to say or about using the right wine vocabulary,” she said.

105 Sunset Drive, Blowing Rock

While Sunset and Vine does stock many fine wines for aficionados, the majority of sales are bottles priced under $25. “We try to find bottles that are very tasty for the price,” Crisman said. “We offer wine by the glass and flights for tasting so people can try new selections. We change the tasting menu every few days, and most of the wines offered are priced under $20 for a bottle.”

On a busy weekend, it is common to find Sunset and Vine filled to the brim with customers, seated at tables, lounging on the leather couches and relaxing on the wide front porch, all chatting over a glass of grape.

“This is a place where people meet each other. They come in for a tasting and strike up a conversation, or come in for a seminar or event. I’ve watched friendships form and grow, which has been really special,” Crisman shared.

Crisman came to Blowing Rock ten years ago, when she moved to the area from eastern North Carolina to be close to her family in Hickory. She grew up in a “little place called Cat Square,” she said, “where they have a great Christmas parade.” She earned a marketing degree from Western

Sharon Crisman, a marketing professional, purchased Christopher’s Wine and Cheese in 2013. She said she didn’t know anything about wine at the time, but has enjoyed learning the industry, developing her own taste for wine, and forming friendships with customers over the years. She renamed the shop to Sunset & Vine in 2017, moved to a new building and expanded the business. Photo by Jan Todd Sharon Crisman celebrates 10 years of business in 2023

Carolina University, and an MBA from East Carolina University.

She began her career with Hearst Corporation in Charlotte, then moved to Greenville where she continued working in marketing for about 15 years. When she decided to relocate to the High Country, Crisman said she was looking for a position in marketing and saw Christopher’s Wine & Cheese shop was for sale in Blowing Rock.

“I drank wine, but I can’t say I had a love or interest for it,” Crisman said. “I’d go to the grocery store and buy an inexpensive Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. If it was $10, that would be too much for me.”

Still, the thought of buying the wine shop intrigued her. “I thought I could either do what I’d always done and work in a traditional marketing job — or I could stick my neck out and try something new. I figured I could handle the business and marketing side, and just learn about wine,” she shared.

When she purchased the shop, Crisman said she was introduced to a world she had never known. The previous owner of the shop stayed on for a month to help her learn the business, and she pored over the internet, books and articles to understand the various aspects of the industry.

“Every time a customer came in and asked me something I didn’t know — which was often in those early days — I would look it up, because I didn’t want to not know the

next time,” Crisman said. “I was constantly reading and talking to distributors and winemakers, asking them questions.”

She discovered a love for the industry and for wine. “Once you get into it, you want to learn more,” she said. “You can start to see differences and taste differences in the wines, and it is really interesting.”

Her father was a farmer, and Crisman said she found the agriculture element in wine — the soil components, rain levels, microclimates, timing of frosts — fascinating.

“My dad raised apples, peaches and pears, so I could understand the differences in a crop year and some of the variations that growers deal with. You can taste it in the final product,” she said.

Since moving to its current location in 2017, Sunset & Vine has a spacious inventory area for wine and gifts, plus room for customers to relax and enjoy one another’s company along with a glass of wine. Photo by Jan Todd
This is a place where people meet each other. They come in for a tasting and strike up a conversation, or come in for a seminar or event. I’ve watched friendships form and grow, which has been really special
“ “

Crisman kept the original shop’s name for four years, then decide to rebrand it to make it her own. She held a contest to determine the new name, and one of her regular customers, Ellen Bray, came up with Sunset & Vine — a playful tribute to the iconic Los Angeles intersection, while perfectly describing the wine shop’s location and business on Blowing Rock’s Sunset Drive. Another customer added the tag line, “Wine with Altitude.”

In early 2017, Crisman purchased a new building down the street and expanded her business into a much larger space. She enlarged the tasting area, incorporating more tables as well as comfortable couches and chairs, added to the wine inventory and brought in more gift items to

Sunset & Vine in Blowing Rock is known for its welcoming atmosphere. Customers are invited in to sample wine by the glass, flight or bottle, and relax in the shop on the comfy couches, bistro tables or porch. Photo by Jan Todd Sharon Chrisman, owner of Sunset & Vine in Blowing Rock, discusses a purchase with a customer. Photo by Jan Todd Sunset & Vine, a wine shop in Blowing Rock, is owned by Sharon Crisman. She purchased Christopher’s Wine and Cheese in 2013 and operated it under the original name for four years, before rebranding the store and relocating to a new building. Photo by Jan Todd

sell. The shop also has an event space in the back, which seats up to 40 people.

Regularly scheduled seminars and tastings are held in the event room once or twice a month, and Crisman rents out the space for private events such as club meetings, parties and catered dinners.

The monthly seminars, usually hosted by distributors, winemakers or winery representatives, provide customers the opportunity to taste and learn. Some of the tastings incorporate themes, such as wines for Thanksgiving, blend your own wine, or masked wines in which customers try to identify the grapes or origins.

“The seminars are lots of fun, very boisterous,” Crisman said. “They are a place for people to have a good time and learn a little about wine.”

Sunset & Vine carries a selection of t-shirts and caps plus wine-themed gift items and gadgets. Photo by Jan Todd
A display of rose wine at Sunset & Vine beckons customers to browse and learn about the different selections. Rose has grown in popularity in recent years, said Sharon Chrisman, owner of the shop. People particularly like to “drink pink” in warmer months. In the background, maps on the wall depict major wine regions — an educational element that helps make the wine industry approachable in the shop. Photo by Jan Todd A large portion of Sunset & Vine is devoted to tables, chairs and couches — inviting customers to sit a spell. Various wines are offered on a daily basis for customers to order by the glass or to taste several with a flight. An everchanging menu allows customers to try new wines and develop new favorites. Photo by Jan Todd

Crisman said her tastes have evolved since purchasing the shop. “The first wine I thought was something really special was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright grapefruit flavor. I thought it was the best wine ever! But now my tastes have shifted again. I used to prefer big fruity wines, but now lean toward the Old World wines that are earthier, more muted in flavor,” she said.

“Old World” and “New World” describe wines from different regions of the world. Countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal (Old World) were early influences in the wine world — producing the grapes, winemakers, traditions and techniques that defined the industry.

Old World wines typically have lighter body, lower alcohol content and a less fruity flavor than their New World counterparts. Countries in the Americas, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are considered “New World” in wine traditions, where winemakers put new spins on customary procedures — either

to adapt to different growing conditions or simply to be creative.

“I appreciate every varietal, though there are particular ones I prefer,” Crisman said. “It’s just the palate of the day. The taste of the wine is enhanced by what you’re eating, but also by who you’re with, where you are. It is all about the experience and what’s going on, how you feel at the time. Wine is a very social tool, an expression of the moment.”

Crisman loves interacting with her clientele. “We get to know one another. We learn what they like, and we are able to give recommendations for new wines to try. It’s like a puzzle, trying to figure out what a customer prefers and the best wine match for an occasion, or what we can give them that is different,” she said.

“I have the best customers,” Crisman said. “They’re like family. We socialize after work and they have helped me out on so many occasions, jumping in to clear tables when we’re swamped or doing whatever needs to be done.”

When she relocated the shop, Crisman said a group of customers showed up to lend a helping hand. “I had planned to close down for three days to move everything and set up. But all these people showed up that morning, started moving inventory and stocking shelves, and we were open that afternoon. It still warms my heart to think about it,” she said.

Out-of-town visitors also frequent the shop, and Crisman enjoys getting to know them and their tastes in wine. “I know they’re going to come by whenever they are in the area,” she said. “Folks walk in and say, ‘I just got to town, and this is my first stop.’”

Sunset and Vine is located at 150 Sunset Drive, Blowing Rock. Open seven days a week. t

An event space in the back of Sunset & Vine seats up to 40 people, and is used for seminars, tastings and other shop events. The space is also rented out for private parties, meetings and special occasions. Photo by Jan Todd

Laurie Gill Days in the Life of a Teacher

The High Country of Western North Carolina is blessed to have some of the nation’s greatest teaching professionals, in no small part because it’s just a great place to live, work, and raise a family, as most instructors will readily affirm. While local teaching positions are eagerly sought after, it’s evident that many applicants are willing to move from far away locations to enjoy the benefits of mountain living.

Laurie Gill is one of those individuals who’s made the transition. Tall and thin with free-flowing hair, she sits at a desk with four young students learning “things of a reading nature.” She quietly encourages the children, in kindergarten through 3rd grade, in the elementary use of words to enhance their reading abilities. The scene is set for a small classroom experience.

Surrounding the table in her office, she’s watched over by a host of unique collectibles all, no doubt, instilled to arouse curiosity among her students. On one wall, hanging beside a small shark jaw filled with tiny teeth, is a dried Vesper Bat, a culinary delight in Indonesia. It’s one of two, so to speak, which flit about her first floor office.

Then, there is the display box of giant Asian horned beetles, among numerous other insects large and small. And a cast of a long and twisting horn of an Alpine Ibex. And a huge, chipped tooth from a Megalodon shark from the Pleistocene Epoch. And…well, you get the idea.

Laurie Gill, the Literacy Intervention Specialist at Blowing Rock School, is unique as both an individual and instructor. Packing her doctorate from the National College of Education in Illinois, along with husband Tom Gill, who holds a doctorate from the University of Virginia, she moved to Boone in 2009. Prior to her current position at Blowing Rock School, she worked at both Green Valley School and Bethel School in Watauga County.

Laurie Gill reads in the library with students Orazio Portante, Alyssa Cook, and Evie Moose.

Both Laurie and Tom, now divorced, headed various reading programs within the county, with Tom serving as reading professor at Appalachian State University prior to his retirement.

Laurie now lives near downtown Boone in a “salmon-colored-pink” house she shares with her younger brother, a “good soul,” she says. The cottage, erected in 1924, was purchased when she and Tom first moved to Boone.

“I’m starting my eighth year at Blowing Rock as its Literary Intervention Specialist,” explained Gill. “It’s a great school situated in a village atmosphere that provides a lot of community support. Each year, I work with up to 40 kindergartners through 3rd grade students who find reading challenging. Most of my teaching is with small groups,” she added, “but I occasionally work with students oneon-one.”

While Gill doesn’t have a traditional classroom full of students, she nonethe-less works with her dozens of young children in various areas including, as one might suppose, the Blowing Rock School’s library, where books on all levels are perused by her classes to expand their personal appreciation of reading.

Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) as well. I do believe our Teacher Sharded Library is now state-of-the-art.”

“A long-term project Mr. Sukow (Blowing Rock principal Pat-rick Sukow) has helped with is the creation of our Teacher Shared Library, which includes library sets of the same titles for teachers to use to differentiate reading instruction in their class-rooms,” Gill says. “Our library has grown a lot over the years by our winning several grants from the Blowing Rock Community Foundation, the Clabough Foundation, Dollar General, and Tanger Kids, to name just a few.”

“We purchase books on discount, and then a strong cadre of parent volunteers processes each title to reinforce the bindings so the books will last as long as possible. Funding gaps have been filled by allocations from Mr. Sukow and our

Learning the joys of sitting immersed in a good book, either in first learning experiences in children’s storybooks or a hoped-for love of great literature when older, reading is fundamental to an enriched life; it’s what Gill’s work is all about. Noting that she has found a home in her current position, Gill said that, “I love the leadership and faculty at Blowing Rock. It’s kind of a sprawling labyrinthine campus, with the central building dating back to 1901, and it has been added to over time,” she continued. “Despite the sprawl, the faculty and staff are close. I believe the pandemic brought us closer. We have great family support and a strong PTO.”

According to Gill, “My seven years at Blowing Rock has felt like a long-running experiment in some ways. I’ve been able to see the

“ “
1st Grade student, Colton Hubner, building a “sight vocabulary,” dotting the words he knows. 1st Grader, Briley Rattler, working with her “sight vocabulary.”

impact when there was money to purchase books specially designed to help struggling readers. My training in phonics has led me to create materials not just for my own teaching but also to scale-up and provide classroom teachers with more reading materials as fast as I and my team of volunteers can produce them.”

Sight-Word books are sets of 25 little books which help children understand fifty of the most frequently used words in print. Geared to students between four and six-years-old, they are eight-to-ten page booklets which feature “popcorn words,” or those words which cannot always be sounded out. The booklets, published by Scholastic Teaching Resources, build on each other

with such titles as I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words, See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, and Once Upon an Alphabet.

The fact is that reading is an absolute basic of a good education, as more and more educational institutions are rapidly understanding.

“Meeting this range of readers where they are is a huge task. That’s why it’s so important that the Watauga County School system has at least one reading specialist at each of its schools, something that’s not universal in our state,” elaborated Gill. “One way my work manifests itself is in my Sight-Word instruction. Instead of flashing word cards I wish my students knew, I present them with a graduated list of high

Laurie Gill works with a group of readers in the classroom. A phonics “short vowel slider” tool that is used in the classroom. I LIKE TO DO WORDS IN MY SIGHT-WORD BOOKLET. AND WHEN WE PLAY GAMES, MY FAVORITE IS WHEN MS. GILL MAKES ME LAUGH. SHE SAID I WAS GOING TO BE ON HER LAP SOON IF I SQUISHED ANY CLOSER.
“ “

frequency words and have them tell me which ones they’re learning from reading-for-meaning. This puts them in the driver’s seat.”

“Students need to read on their assessed instructional reading level, not in material that’s over their heads,” noted Gill. “There is and always will be a wide range of reading levels in any one grade. In fact, this range widens as you go up the grades. A fifth grade teacher may have students who read on a first grade level all the way up to eighth grade level.”

One interesting summation of the importance of school reading programs was forwarded in a doctoral thesis by UNC Charlotte graduate Tara Watkins Galloway.

“Compelling findings indicate that students who fail to read early fall farther behind, creating a literacy gap that widens as the students get older. Research suggests that students with poor early reading skills are likely to have poor reading later. In a longtime study,” she continued, “it was found an

Laurie Gill goes to the library with her 2nd Grade students Viviana Nelson, Evie Moose, and Chloe Stough.
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88% probability that a child who is a poor reader in first grade will be a poor reader at the end of fourth grade. Furthermore, when students fail to meet grade level expectations by third grade, they are likely to continue struggling to catch up with the standards.”

Continued Gill, “Since about 1980, the consensus in the reading field has been early literacy intervention. The evidence shows that the earlier we identify and instruct children who are challenged to learn to read, the more likely we can catch them up,” she explained. “Given the number of students who need extra reading help and the severity of some children’s

reading problems, it must be a team effort. Classroom teachers and I must work together.”

Assisting Gill in her reading programs at Blowing Rock School are Carrie Ingram, reading teacher, and Amber Dollyhigh, speech teacher, among others.

“Just the other day, a 4th grade teacher reached out and asked me to help her inspire parents to read out loud to their children at home, with a 5th grade teacher saying that her students were ‘wolfing down’ titles at their levels in her small group,” noted Gill. “In my 2nd grade class, three children are, for some reason, routinely checking out 1020 books for reading at home.”

Gill is quick to point out that the parents of her students, the PTO, and even anonymous donors make sure that Blowing Rock School’s shelves are lined with books and other literary devices.

“Speaking specifically to literacy learning, children need to learn by, as my husband used to say, ‘being on a bike where they reach the pedals.’ Children take more readily to print experience success reading every day. Students need to read on their assessed

Laurie Gill teaches reading students in the Blowing Rock Library. 1st Grade student, Calla Whiteside, says hello to her teacher.
“ “

‘instructional reading level’, not in material that’s over their heads. There is and always will be a wide range of reading levels in any one grade. In fact, this range widens as you go up the grades.”

Summing up her work in overseeing reading instruction at Blowing Rock, Gill added, “The evidence shows that the earlier we identify and instruct children who are challenged to learn to read, the more likely we can catch them up. Given the number of students who need extra reading help and the severity of some children’s reading problems, we educators have to work together to meet their educational needs.”

Laurie Gill is one of Blowing Rock School’s dozens of quality educators and support staff who not only appreciate their special place of employment and its village-like surroundings but also have love and a deep affection for the young students in their care. The bottom line is that, unlike more formal elementary

centers of learning off the mountain, Blowing Rock School conveys a “one large family atmosphere” where educators, students, their families, and the entire mountain community work for the betterment of all. t

This poster found in Blowing Rock School says it all! Laurie Gill can often be found walking the halls with her students. SHE READ FOR 75 MINUTES THE OTHER NIGHT; SHE ESPECIALLY LIKES TO READ OUT LOUD.

Family Tradition Continues At Tester’s Dairy Farm

— Watauga County’s Only Grade-A Dairy Farm

Tester Dairy Farm in Zionville has been around for several generations and today is the only Grade A Dairy Farm in the area, sending out a tanker full of milk every other day.

Current owners of the business, Jessica Lawrence Miller and her husband Daniel Miller, are carrying on a long-held family tradition in Jessica’s family with renewed interest, youthful energy — and a lot of hard work.

The young couple, individually and as a hardworking duo, has long been known for their work ethics and love for the land and its animals. Some may even say they are both “old souls” with traits rarely seen in young folks these days.

Both Jessica and Daniel are multi-talented and skilled

individuals who worked on the farm for Jessica’s grandparents for several years while still holding down full-time jobs. Just last year, however, they both decided to quit their public jobs and go into the farm business full time. With “great support” from their families, Jessica and Daniel, along with her grandfather, Tom Tester, do the majority of the work on the farm, even though they admit that most of their family members have been “roped into helping at some point or another.” They also have several neighbors and friends they know they can call on, if needed.

“My grandpa, Tom Tester, helps me with every milking and helps out any way he can,” Jessica said. “My normal work load includes milking, herd health, raising calves and


heifers, accounting, ordering parts and running errands. Daniel is responsible for repairs and maintenance, feeding, fieldwork, and anything involving a tractor or a piece of equipment. Many times, our work overlaps, as certain jobs require more than one person. And, we also have a firewood business together.”

Jessica and Daniel agree that for a married couple working together every day, they do pretty well as a team. “Our interests are completely different, so what one of us doesn’t really care to do, the other one really enjoys,” Jessica said.


It’s an honor and a privilege for them to be able to keep the tradition alive, they admit.

Jessica’s great-grandparents came to work on the farm in the 1940s.

“At that time, it belonged to Odes and Nora Wilson and had formerly been in Nora’s family, who were Masts,” she explained. “In 1960, the farm was auctioned into various parcels, and my grandpa’s brother purchased what is our farm today.”

In 1968, Jessica’s maternal grandparents, Tom and Margaret Tester, bought the farm from Tom’s brother and operated it as a dairy until January 2021, when they turned the farm over to Jessica and Daniel.

So, as fourth generation dairy farmers, the young couple is maintaining a long-time family interest as owners of the farm business, while renting the land they farm.

And, yes, the Millers takes great pride in operating the county’s only current licensed dairy.

“For years, Watauga County had several dairy farms,” Jessica explained. “Over time, the number dwindled, due mainly to low milk prices, increasing prices of equipment and land, as well as older generations aging out without younger generations wanting to continue.”

Dairy farming is a hard way to make a living, the Millers agree, “And it doesn’t include a lot of very attractive benefits. Most people aren’t looking for jobs with no vacation or sick days, with great responsibilities, sometimes high stress, hard work, and depending on the price of milk, maybe no profit.”

The Tester Dairy Farm is part of the dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America. “This provides us with a secure market for our milk, as the DFA agrees to market all of our milk,” Jessica explained. But, she adds, it is not without challenges — balancing supply with demand in a highly perishable product that is continually

Jessica with her dad James Lawrence standing in front of corn crop in 1998. Jessica’s grandmother, Margaret Tester, and Jessica’s older sister with “Pepper” the dog around 1991, pictured in front of the same hay roller they still use, 31 years later.

harvested, and due to seasonality, sometimes inconsistent in quantity.”

And, because they sell to DFA, they know the milk will be picked up every other day.

Having paved the way, Tom Tester was always a part of a cooperative, Jessica said. “Over the years, cooperatives changed, some merged with others. He was a part of Dairy Farmers of America, so we just transferred that membership.”

The milk is sold by weight, she explained. “I am often asked how many gallons of milk we sell a day, which catches me off-guard because I don’t keep up with gallons, but rather pounds of milk. Our cows average 50 pounds of milk a day: translated, if all of the cows were milking, that would be about 220 gallons of milk a day. Our milk is picked up every other day and goes to Ashe County Cheese or Dairy Fresh in Winston Salem.”

As a Grade A dairy, it is safe to say that the farm must follow strict state and federal health department requirements and is inspected four times a year.

“Every time the milk is picked up, the driver also checks the temperature and pulls samples of the milk,” Jessica said. “These samples check for antibiotics, bacteria, somatic cell count (an important indicator of milk quality, which impacts shelf life and flavor), butterfat, protein, the freeze point (to make sure water hasn’t been added), alfatoxins, and coliforms, to name a few.”

When a milk truck gets to the milk plant, she continued, a sample is pulled. “If that sample tests positive for antibiotics, then the whole load is dumped. They then check each farm’s samples to find where the antibiotics came from, and that farm is responsible for paying for the whole load.”

At the same time, the samples taken at each pick-up, allows the Millers to gain price incentives offered by the cooperative for milk quality.

When asked if the process requires specialized feeding/ precautions, Jessica responded: “There are many different ways to operate and manage a dairy farm — and how you feed

the cows is no different. I enjoy the fact that during the grassgrowing season our cows go to and from pasture every day. We supplement their grazing with a 20-percent dairy concentrate while the cows are milking, and also corn silage and hay. During the winter months, grazing is taken out of the equation and other feed quantities are adjusted.”

The Tester Farm currently has 38 cows, which consists of 25 Holsteins, and 13 Holstein-jersey crossed cows.

“Holsteins are the most well-known dairy breed,” Jessica described. “They are large-framed, black and white, and

Jessica’s Grandpa,Tom Tester, then a young man in the 1960s, enjoys life on the farm, pictured here with one of his cows and her calf. Jessica is shown wiping down a cow after soaking in a peroxide solution to kill any bacteria before milking. Her grandpa is washing a cow’s feet. Jessica, pictured right, hooking a cow up to the modern-day milker. Her grandpa Tom, at left, washes a cow’s feet prepping her to be milked.

produce more milk than other dairy breeds. I often tell people they are Chick-fil-A cows. Jerseys are small framed, typically light brown, have a black nose, and big black eyes. Jersey milk is rich in butterfat. The Holsteinjersey crosses we have are small to medium framed and mostly black. We refer to them as our goats because they will climb on a hill and graze while the Holsteins are laying in the shade.”

The farm usually has approximately 25-30 calves and heifers at any given time. During the grazing months, most of the calves and heifers are moved to rented pastures.”

The two questions Jessica said she is asked most often are, can she tell them apart and do they have names? The answer is yes to both.

“I can tell you who a cow is from 300 yards away and her whole life history. Some of our cows include Daisy, Rosebud, Junior, Polkadot, Mouse, Elsie and Socks.”

Running a dairy farm is not the easiest job in the world, the couple agreed, but “modern” implements surely help.

“We have a double four-swing herringbone milking parlor that was installed in 1972. What that basically means is that we stand in a pit and the cows are elevated at about waist height. There are four cows on each side of the pit and there are four milking units. This allows four cows to be milked at once and the ability to prepare another four cows for milking at the same time.”

The milk is never touched by their hands, Jessica said, but rather, it goes directly from the cow into a stainless steel pipeline system, and then into a stainless steel milk cooler, where it is cooled to 36 degrees within 30 minutes.

“The bare minimum amount of time involved in the work that has to be done — 365 days a year including all holidays, sick days, family deaths etc. — is about five hours a day,” Jessica shared. “This includes milking, cleaning before and after milking, feeding calves and heifers, feeding and moving

This truck comes every other day to pick up the farm’s supply of milk. A view from inside the milk cooler as the milk is transferred into the truck. The milk cooler with the transfer hose hooked to it as milk is picked up. From the back of the milk truck, you can see the transfer hose and pump, as well as the cooler in which milk samples from each farm are stored. A well-known company that has a lot of confidence in the milk supplied by this local dairy.

the milk cows to and from pasture.”

They try to do “the bare minimum” on Sundays, they said, but on the other six days of the week, it’s not uncommon to put in 12 hours or more each day.

What else do they do on the farm?

“Besides milking and tending to the cattle, we grow 15 acres of corn for silage and put up at least 25 acres of hay. We repair all of our equipment and occasionally work on equipment for others. We also sell firewood.”


One of Jessica’s first memories of farm work was following a tobacco setter on foot, watching for any plants that might have been missed. “My older sister got to ride on the setter and I was jealous,” she said. “Our favorite thing to do as kids on the farm was ride the four-wheeler to get the cows up every night.”

The daughters of James and Jackie Lawrence, Jessica and her two sisters showed little to no interest in farming as children.

“Even though I am the middle child, I was always bigger and more athletic, which often led to me doing the heavy lifting and farm work,” she recalled. “I always enjoyed being physically active, whether it be through running, clogging or basketball.”

The dedication required to play basketball at the high school level, she added, prepared her for dairy farming by teaching her perseverance, endurance and discipline.

Jessica was a member of the Future Farmers of America club during her junior and senior years of high school.

“My junior year, we had an amazing teacher that I consider

Daniel and Jessica Miller take a break in their corn field. Daniel Miller with the couple’s niece Gracie shown in the tractor with silage chopper. Chopping corn for silage on the farm to feed the cows. Daisy the cow waits to be milked.
Jessica’s Grandpa Tom finishing up milking a cow as great-granddaughter, Ariana, watches. Calf Jolene enjoys a sunny fall day.

one of my most influential role models,” she described. “I was a part of the livestock judging, forestry and parliamentary procedure teams. Each FFA member has a supervised agriculture experience, which gives students real life experiences working in agriculture. For my SAE, I started raising bottle calves from my grandparents’ dairy.”

We asked her if she ever really considered farming becoming her livelihood — and when did she know for sure that it’s what she wanted to do?

“I started becoming interested in agriculture around age 12. I was voted most likely to become a farmer in eighth grade, but I really didn’t put a lot of thought into it until I was 16.”

She made up her mind, she said, when she was a high school senior that she was going to be a dairy farmer — “And I became passionate about the dairy industry.”

She started following her grandpa around everywhere, and learning everything she could.

“I bought my first cows in 2010 and became involved in the daily operations of the farm.”

In the meantime, however, Jessica worked at New River Building Supply while in high school, at Modern Toyota as a service writer for a couple years and most recently, at Mast Store as a sales associate for 11 years.

Daniel was raised with his brother, A.J., by their “Paw,” Arlie Watson, on the other end of the county.

Arlie ran a country store and service station at the forks of Castle Ford, Ridge, and Tom Jackson roads. At a very young age, Daniel and A.J. were both following in their “Paw’s” footsteps by not only learning to run the store, but also learning to repair and maintain equipment and vehicles. Arlie put up several acres of hay as the boys were growing up and had them operating tractors; by the time Daniel was 8 years old, he was driving trucks in the field, even before he could reach the pedals.

After high school, Daniel earned a degree in automotive technology from Central Piedmont Community College and worked as a technician at Modern Toyota for a couple years. He then worked at Tweetsie Railroad in the train shop for eight years — doing machine work, train and ride maintenance and operating the locomotives. And then, he became a full time farmer.

Jessica and Daniel met on their first day of high school. “We had auto tech together and sat down beside each other that very first day of class. We both were in Skills USA.”

Working well together even then, the duo placed third at the National Automotive Technology Competition in New York City in 2009, their senior year.

They dated for 8½ years and have now been married 8½ years.


When asked about the sacrifices they’ve had to make to get to where they are now, there was no hesitation in response.

“The most obvious sacrifices would be things such as trips, vacations — and sleep. Sacrifice also comes when it’s your birthday, but then it’s time to chop corn for silage. When you’ve

A couple of cows at the milk barn with Tater Hill froze in the distance on a cold winter day, probably early 1990s. Tom Tester and his dependable Ford tractor getting the job done in the early 1990s. “Red” gets a little extra attention from Daniel at feeding time in the field. Jessica gives “Red” a neck rub.
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Tom Tester and his brother Clint standing in tobacco crop, late 1940’s.

been planning to go out to eat for a week, but a cow is in labor, you don’t go out to eat. Or when you have a migraine — the cows still have to be milked. Sacrifice is something farmers know all too well.”

On the flip side, we asked about the greatest joys and satisfactions that they experience as farmers?

“We really enjoy working outside and admiring God’s creation. We enjoy everything about the cows, from their

personalities, to the trust they bestow in us, to simply watching them eat. We find joy in working with family.”

Lately, Jessica said, it has become very special to involve her nieces in the farm and spend time with them.

What are some of the greatest challenges they face as dairy farmers, or farmers, in general?

“The greatest challenge for us as dairy farmers is being a small operation in our location. Larger farms are able to make more milk for less money. For instance, it is easier for our cooperative to pick up a tanker load of milk at one farm versus driving around to 12 different farms on winding mountain roads to get the same amount of milk. Being in the mountains not only makes it hard to find farmland to grow crops, but also makes it hard to access feed and materials from other sources.”

What effect has the current economy had on their business?

“Almost all of our ‘inputs’ have increased, some significantly. Fortunately, milk prices have increased to help compensate.”

When asked about greatest inspirations and influences in life and farming, Jessica responded “It is hard to say who has been my greatest inspirations, as I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful influential people in my life. I was born with all four grandparents, four greatgrandparents, and a great-great-grandpa. I also had a bonus set of grandparents growing up, and both of their mothers were still living. Then, after Daniel and I got together, both of his grandfathers.”

Being surrounded by adults that all took a part in agriculture at some point or another definitely had a profound impact on Jessica’s life, she added. “One of these people was Stella Lawrence, she was my bonus great-grandmother. She was a single mother who worked hard to provide for and raise her son. She worked on a local dairy and had a jersey milk cow of her own that she sold milk from. She loved her milk cow and talked about her often. I can still remember her weed-eating until I was 6-8 years old, that would’ve made her 84-86.. Her work ethic,

Jessica on the “mule” transporting calf Callie to a new pasture. Jessica Miller and her grandpa Tom Tester taking a break from “packing” corn silage.

resilience, and common interests definitely had an impact on my career choice.”

The greatest influence would have to be her grandpa, Tom. “For the last 12 years, we have spent several hours almost every day together. I couldn’t measure the things I learned from him, the ‘given things,’ such as how to do something, to the ‘more important things’ like always putting the cows first — and dedication.”

Daniel says his greatest influence in life was his Paw Arlie. “He taught me how to repair things, use tractors and equipment, and how to trade. He taught me about an older way of life and culture most kids don’t get to learn.”

He also says his uncle, Dale Watson, was another very influential person in his life. “Dale was a logger and I worked for him several years logging, and in his firewood business.”

Daniel had other uncles and aunts, grandparents, too, and regulars at the store that were a big influence on his upbringing, as well.

(Sadly, Arlie, Dale and the boy’s mother, Anita, all passed away within a short time of each other last year.)

Do they have other interests and hobbies off the farm?

The couple attends Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Zionville.

Jessica loves geography, and especially anything with a local connection. “I could spend hours looking at maps and enjoy discovering new places. In my free time, I can always be found listening to older country and bluegrass music.”

In Daniel’s “free time,” he enjoys repairing, maintaining, and trading on Ford tractors from the mid 1970s-late 1990s, logging, sawmilling and metal working.

And rarely are they without “something” to do down on Tester’s Farm, where life is good for this fourth generation. t

Jessica with a group of heifers and a glass of milk, honoring World Milk Day.

Let’s Play in the Snow

Avery Community Yoga: Community is where the heart is

With ringing in the new year, there is a lot of focus on resolutions – especially when it comes to wellness and its eight dimensions: financial, vocational, intellectual, social, environmental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. And there is a locally owned Avery County yoga studio that believes in the holistic and multidimensional approach to wellness and strives to provide an inclusive safe space for people of all ages.

Avery Community Yoga, which is owned by Jenna Stone, prides itself on providing affordable yoga classes and special events that highlight creativity, health, and connection through yoga.

“I originally opened the studio with the intention to build wellness and incorporate that into Avery County,” Jenna shared. “We are the only yoga studio here. There’s yoga offered at our local YMCA and wellness center here, but I wanted a more authentic yoga offering. We serve senior citizens; we serve adults; we serve children. That sets us apart from other studios.”

Avery Community Yoga has been gaining popularity since it opened right before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was several months shy of Covid, so it’s really a miracle that we are still here,” Jenna said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. I just entered my 40s, and I’m really narrowing down with the intention of what it is I want to do and why. If it’s helping, and it’s bringing me peace and other people peace, I’m doing it. It’s very rewarding, and I’m just seeing the benefits.”

However, Jenna credits the studio’s success to community efforts.

“I was just moving through the motions when I began this, but I rented a Town of Banner Elk space. The building that I’m in is a Town building,” she explained. “Rick Owen, who is the Town Manager, and his wife Nancy Owen – they have been so kind to me. They really want us here. And during Covid, especially when we couldn’t operate at all, I was terrified. I spent all this money renovating the space and opening it up, and then the world shut down, and nobody could come in and exercise. Honestly,

how I think I got my following is that the community felt our intention, and they wanted us to be here. There was somehow a connection and a relationship between this business and what we offer. People donated to me to keep it going. It’s been

Jenna Stone welcomes everyone to Avery Community Yoga to engage with the many offerings available. Photo by Michelle Lyerly

a community effort from the beginning.”

The focus has always revolved around the community, so much that the memorable tagline, which expresses the greater purpose and mission for Avery Community Yoga, is “Community is where the heart is.”

Avery Community Yoga is uniquely housed in downtown Banner Elk in the community cultural arts center at the Historic Banner Elk School. However, the studio’s classes, events, workshops, meditations, lessons, retreats, and fundraisers extend its reach all around the area.

Jenna’s journey with yoga began when she watched a Rodney Yee video when she was in college.

“It immediately connected with me,” Jenna described. “His voice, the way he was asking me to breathe and think – it almost reminded me of some physical therapy I had when I was a child, as I was a tennis player. It was so amazing to connect my mind and my body together. I’m a very physical person. I’ve always been inside of my body, and to get everything aligned and balanced – ever since I did one of his videos, I started going to yoga studios after that.”

More than just attending yoga studios, Jenna began bringing yoga to others and sharing the practice.

“I was offering yoga as a schoolteacher my first year I started teaching school,” she said. “I did it with the students, and then the principal asked me to teach the teachers after school. I wasn’t certified, but I was just always doing yoga and always using the breath techniques with my students and continuously moving into this path of this is the way I want to live. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s effortless now.”

Jenna used to be an elementary school teacher in Henderson, North Carolina, before she knew she wanted to move back to the High Country. As a Lees-McRae College alumna and a rock climber, she desired to come back to the mountains to raise her family.

“When I resigned from that job, the principal and I had a big heart-to-heart and alligator tears when I told her I was going to move back up here,” Jenna shared. “When I left her office, the last thing she said to me was, ‘I hope you open a yoga studio one day; you’ve built such strong leadership skills here.’”

Honestly, how I think I got my following is that the community felt our intention, and they wanted us to be here. There was somehow a connection and a relationship between this business and what we offer.

Above all, Jenna Stone hopes people who visit Avery Community Yoga have fun. The experiences bring friendship and family, where everyone makes connections and builds a community. Photo by Michelle Lyerly Avery Community Yoga offers a variety of services. Different yoga classes include Yin, Flow, Gentle, and Restorative. Photo by Michele Lyerly

“And it was fate,” Jenna continued. “I did message her 15 years later, and I was like, ‘I’ll never forget what you said to me. You saw the leadership skills in me,’ because I never saw myself as a leader. I think it was inside of me, and she saw it, and she was like, ‘This is your passion.’”

Before opening her studio, Jenna started teaching yoga at the YMCA when her children were young because there was childcare available there. She would drop off her children and then go teach. As a certified elementary school teacher and having 10 years of experience in the education field, Jenna took everything she had done and poured it into her passion.

“Ever since I opened the studio, I’ve been very involved with Avery County Schools,” she said. “I still take substitute positions there, and my children are in the public school system. I’m a huge advocate for public education and homeschool education. I would really like to help bring this mindset to the schools – to get up from the desks and do work on the floor and just all around, creating wellness in Avery County.”

For Jenna, mindfulness is showing up truthfully with intention and authenticity and being able to show up unattached.

“It’s worked wonders with me,” she shared. “I am not perfect, and I’m hot-headed and anxious,

Jenna practices yoga poses in the studio and shares her knowledge with others. Photos by Michelle Lyerly

and I struggle so much. So, I really don’t know what I would do without it or who I would be. Just like everybody else, I’m constantly practicing. I’m constantly coming back to the practice.”

Apart from schools, Avery Community Yoga is also involved with churches.

“I’m very spiritual, and yoga helps me stay in touch with that,” Jenna said. “I like the idea of bridging yoga with whatever you practice spiritually and your mindset and way of living. It doesn’t have to interfere with spirituality. There can be this controversy, but I really want to bring yoga to schools and businesses.”

Avery Community Yoga likes to partner with local businesses in various ways like holding fundraisers.

“We team up with local restaurants, and we support them,” Jenna explained. “In the month of February for Valentine’s Day, you can get a discount at LP on Main. If you go there, you get a discount with us, and vice versa. If you come to class, you get a discount there.”

Avery Community Yoga also works closely with Beech Mountain Resort. If someone brings in their ski pass, they can also receive a discount at the studio.

“I can’t speak enough about the support from Banner Elk and the Chamber of Commerce,” Jenna said. “There’s a soft, supportive strength that comes from the Town. We get together as business owners, and ask, ‘How can we help your business?’ We put in good words for each other. When someone walks into the consignment show to buy a piece of furniture,

Alena Nickos leads a sound healing journey. She also sings mantras and guides clients through breath work. Photo by Michelle Lyerly
I can’t speak enough about the support from Banner Elk and the Chamber of Commerce. There’s a soft, supportive strength that comes from the Town. We get together as business owners, and ask, ‘How can we help your business?’
We put in good words for each other.

they are like, ‘Did you know that there is a yoga studio here?’ When people ask, ‘What is there to do around here?’ Places like Edge of the World respond and say, ‘Take a yoga class!’ We’re in our own little bubble over here, but we’re growing in a progressive way.”

Another program through Avery Community Yoga is its Kids Karma Club.

“We have children’s workshops once a month, and we focus on something different each month,” Jenna explained. “Recently, we brought in used clothing, and we took them to Anne’s Kids, which is a local nonprofit where they put a closet in public schools. At any time, no matter your economic status, if you need something, you can walk to this closet and get what you need. They normalize it –shoes, tampons, toilet paper, a hat, coat – and we talked to the kids about it. We had a great turnout for the one we did for Anne’s Kids.”

However, one of the most popular offerings from Avery Community Yoga is summer goat yoga classes. Avery Community Yoga partners with Apple Hill Farm to connect the public with a farm experience and sweet baby goats to play with. Taking place at the mountaintop farm, the classes act as a peaceful way to unwind by practicing poses in the pasture.

“Being with the animals relaxes the parasympathetic nervous system, and it’s really good for the animals,”

With Kids Camp and various workshops, Jenna shares that kids’ functions are close to their hearts. There is something for everyone at Avery Community Yoga. All ages participate in the programs.

Goat Yoga with ACY at

Taking place at the mountaintop farm, goat yoga classes act as a peaceful way to unwind by practicing poses in the pasture. One of the most popular offerings from Avery Community Yoga is summer goat yoga classes. Avery Community Yoga partners with Apple Hill Farm to connect the public with a farm experience and sweet baby goats to play with.

Jenna described. “Instead of farm tours where people are reaching through fences or standing on top of animals, we’re on the ground, and we’re on the same level. It’s been very powerful, and we have a waitlist for our goat yoga. It’s popular, but it’s helpful, which is why I’m doing it. It’s benefiting people and animals.”

Goat yoga is so popular that it’s actually the reason why many people know of Avery Community Yoga.

“I’ve been asking people, ‘How did you find us?’ and interestingly enough, when you type things to do in Banner Elk, North Carolina, the very first thing that pops up is goat yoga,” Jenna shared. “I haven’t done anything on the web to do that, but it’s great because I admire the woman who owns Apple Hill Farm. She is a force of strength and is so intentional with what she’s doing. Just to be teamed up with her as two female business owners in a man’s world, it’s inspiring.”

Besides goat yoga, Avery Community Yoga offers a variety of services. Different yoga classes include Yin, Flow, Gentle, and Restorative.

Yin yoga is a slow, soothing, and meditative style of yoga in which most poses are floor based and held for longer periods of time. It targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, deep fascia, bones, and joints of the body that are normally not exercised very much in a more active style of yoga or other exercise regimen.

“It’s very powerful,” Jenna described. “It’s also very accessible for everyone. People of all levels usually gravitate to that.”

Flow yoga guides clients dynamically from one posture directly into another, initiated by breath. In Flow yoga, each movement is sequenced to build a mindful practice that benefits the whole body and specific area of the body.

Summer 2022 staff of Avery Community Yoga gather together. Members are close and supportive of each other in wellness and in life by promoting each other’s offerings.

Photo by Michelle Lyerly Alena Nickos, who is a mentor to Jenna Stone, leads Sound Journey events at Avery Community Yoga. The vibrations, sounds, and peaceful instruments relax the nervous system. Photo by Michelle Lyerly

“Flow classes are for movement, strength, and flexibility,” Jenna said. “It’s like a moving meditation when you move from one pose to the next. This is great for those who want a little cardiovascular.”

Gentle yoga is a gentle style of yoga practice that is performed at a slower pace, with modified positions, and usually includes extended time for meditation, yogic breath work, and relaxation.

“Gentle is perfect for a healing body or for a senior citizen or someone who is post-surgery or someone who is pregnant,” Jenna described.

Restorative classes guide clients into relaxing poses designed to create a relaxation response in the mind and body.

“It’s purely relaxation,” Jenna said. “It’s to calm your nervous system. You are comfortable and relaxed, and you may fall asleep.”

However, all of the types of yoga touch on mental and spiritual peace and aim to ease one’s mind.

“All of them produce the same experience where you come out ready to go – fresh,” Jenna shared.

Apart from yoga, there are also contemporary dance offerings as well as belly dancing.

When asked what she hopes people get out of Avery Community Yoga’s programs, Jenna said fun.

“It’s friendship. It’s a family,” she explained. “People are moving here and coming to the studio and making friends, especially with the children. We have kids who are coming from both sides of the county and meeting. It’s a community. They are making connections, and it’s a safe, neutral space.”

There is something for everyone at Avery Community Yoga. All ages participate in the programs.

“We have someone in their 90s who comes to class, and our Kids Karma Camp is ages 5 and up,” Jenna said. “We had a mom come to class with her brand-new baby in a stroller, and people would step off their mats to rock the baby when she would cry.”

And Avery Community Yoga’s presence is only growing.

“I reach out to people, and I get out into the community. I am an extrovert, so that’s been pretty easy for me.” Jenna described. “People come to me, too. Typically, when someone really wants to offer something, they come to you, and I want the people who are serving in our space to want to be there and to want to serve. What we are doing is a service. Most of the teachers aren’t there for the money; they are there because they really want to teach. What you give is what you receive. We have really built a community there, and it’s a strong flow, and I really like teaching.”

Jenna further shared that one of her favorite moments is when people come to beginning workshops together and grow. She likes seeing them walk into the space that is surrounded by mirrors for the first time.

“When people are really nervous, they will email me, and I will tell them to take a few private lessons to get

Apart from yoga, there are also contemporary dance offerings as well as belly dancing for people to enjoy participating in. Many friends dance around the studio as part of a belly dance workshop.

comfortable,” Jenna said. “I have sisters coming together and couples coming together and several clients who come with their whole family. Instead of going to therapy together, they are coming to yoga to bond. They are coming in and breathing and moving together.”

Avery Community Yoga also offers retreats, where clients can have yoga instructors come to them.

“What’s interesting during the pandemic was that people were coming here to get away, so our retreats picked up,” Jenna explained. “People booked Airbnbs and had us come there or at their mountain homes. When you go to someone’s Airbnb or when people who are so intimate come to you, it changes the dynamic. It’s different from a group class. We’re almost the vulnerable ones, but we get all kinds of emails and requests. ‘Can the goats come to our Airbnb?’ No, they are breastfeeding and can’t leave the farm. But it’s been great to network by reaching out to massage therapists and catering companies for example. Everybody is making money and networking. It’s a slow growth, but we doubled our clients this summer. It’s overwhelming and exciting.”

For more information about Avery Community Yoga, people are encouraged to visit their website at averycommunityyoga. com or find them on Instagram. Scheduling and booking can also be done by contacting

through email at averycommunityyoga@gmail.com or by calling 828-414-1011. t

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The studio for Avery Community Yoga is uniquely housed in downtown Banner Elk in the community cultural arts center at the Historic Banner Elk School. Photo by Michelle Lyerly

Let’s Play in the Snow

The Lady Sings (And Plays) The Blues Heidi Holton

It was a brisk spring evening on April 27 when she sauntered through the door of Appalachian Mountain Brewery. With long, dark locks dangling down her back and even darker eyes, Heidi Holton was carrying a beige, travel guitar case with her prized possession, a Gibson J-45 guitar under lock and key.

The regulars who attended AMB’s Open Mic Night each week were always curious about newcomers, but there was something different about this woman. There was an air of confidence and an engaging personality that commanded attention.

The conversation in the room quickly turned to Holton.

“Do you know this girl?” one of my friends asked.

I shook my head, “No, I’ve never seen her before.”

But I was determined to find out.

Heidi Holton quickly unleashed a friendly smile and her fun-loving persona lit up the room as I introduced myself.

The more she told me about herself, the more intrigued I became.

I asked her if she had a time slot to play that night?

“No, I called in this afternoon, but they had everything filled,” she explained.

It only took me a few seconds to make her an offer.

“You can have some of my time,” I declared. “I want to hear you sing!”

A few minutes later, this stunning disciple of the Delta Blues walked on to the stage, sat down gently and took over the place.

Holton launched into the classic Blind Willie McTell song Statesboro Blues, The crowd’s collective jaw dropped open as she shredded on this blues standard and showed off her distinct, resonant voice.

But if that wasn’t enough, Holton’s next song blew the roof off the place.

It was a tune off her soon-to-released, third solo album. Titled “I Am A Snake,’ it

told the story of a housewife tricked into a steamy affair by a less-than-honorable handyman, making the rounds in the neighborhood.

Sung from the wife’s perspective, this up-tempo piece explores justifying one’s questionable decisions in the throes of passion.

Inside the packed house, Holton was the talk of musicians and customers alike for weeks.

“Is Heidi going to be here tonight?” was often the first thing I was asked on Wednesday night.

The amazing skills of this blues woman weren’t finished yet, however.

Following her on stage were several members of the Adam Church Band, Church, guitarist Jordan Lamb and mandolin and trumpet player Blake Bostain, for an artist showcase.

Watching nearby, Holton sprung into action when Church broke a guitar string during one of

One of the first things I do when I go to a new town is scout out open mics. It’s a great way to get a feel for the local music scene and I’ve made some life-long friends that way.
Passion combined with artistry and incredible technique makes Heidi Holton’s sound memorable and unique. Left Photo: Heidi Holton brings a package of soulful vocals and unforgettable artistry to her performance of the blues.
The prize possession of this sensitive artist is her Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar. Photo by Nathan Baerreis The second Heidi Holton album, Why Mama Cries, broke new ground for a performer steeped in both the tradition and the future of the blues Photo by Nathan Baerreis Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains has had a huge influence on the music of Holton. Photo by Nathan Baerreis

his songs. Holton dashed for her guitar case and swapped out guitars for Church while he was still singing and then changed the broken string before his next piece.

We learned that Holton isn’t just a dynamic performer, but she can double as a guitar tech in a pinch.

“One of the first things I do when I go to a new town is scout out open mics,” Holton said. “It’s a great way to get a feel for the local music scene and I’ve made some life-long friends that way.”

Holton quickly discovered AMB’s Open Mic Night when she moved to Boone around Thanksgiving of 2021, fresh off a year of isolation in central Alaska, living in a cabin near the Iditarod Trail. The small structure didn’t have running water and the snowpack piled up over the roof.

While the world was battling Covid, Holton was taking a year to rest, reflect and teach yoga classes. It was a startling change for an artist who performed 150200 days a year and someone who had toured in Italy, England, Scotland and Canada, besides the United States. But the longer she went without performing, the more she craved getting back on stage.

Boone became Holton’s reentry into the more modern world when she was offered a job as a program director at the Art of Living Center. Having toured extensively since she was 15 years old, Holton was ready to begin performing again, but there were a couple of snags.

The winter months isolated her again at the Art of Living ashram where she had an apartment and the demands of her new job made it hard for her to find time to play.

“I found out about the open mic when I first got here, but between my job and the snow, I didn’t have time to come.”

After this disciple of alternate tunings and awesome slide technique made her

debut, Holton became a fan favorite.

She made several more appearances at AMB, including an artist showcase in late June. She also began some limited touring again in places like Mooresvile, Black Mountain and Burnsville.

Holton received the opportunity to check off a bucket list item on June 6 when she was invited to perform on the popular television/radio series Woodsongs. Distributed nationally to a PBS television audience, streamed live each week on YouTube and listened to in 147 countries, Woodsongs has featured some of the most recognizable roots-music artists on the planet.

Jorma was the first person to tell me I had the talent to make it in the music business. He told me he thought I had a good voice when so many people had made fun of me before.

One of key elements to help a musical artist to rise above the crowd is the ability to write compelling lyrics. And when it comes to penning words with music, Heidi Holton definitely captivates an audience.

Holton is a songwriting storyteller, composing somewhat dark, mysterious words that draw the listener into a world of deep emotions. Her songs, based on people she has encountered, things she has witnessed and memories from her adventures through the years, move you into an emotional space and leave you trying to figure out the deeper meaning of her poetry.

This intellectual songstress shrouds her verse in clever metaphors and challenges the listener to uncover their hidden secrets.

Holton began writing poetry as a child and has continued the practice over the years, perfecting her craft along the way.

“My favorite song is usually the last one I’ve written,” Holton said.

She has also been inspired by classic blues artists and spends time researching the history of the songs she loves.

As a performer dedicated to the blues “I don’t write happy songs very often.”

One exception was a song from her Why Mama Cries album that she wrote for her niece called Just Like You. It tells of the exuberance of childhood.

Sometimes when Holton pens even the saddest of songs, she does it with tongue-in-cheek humor. Enter Oh, Louise, a tune that she tells was inspired by a chance encounter with her ex-finance’s “baby mama.”

“I was a runaway bride,” Holton explained. “I called the wedding off on Christmas Day, about two weeks before I was going to walk down the aisle.”

One of the lines of the song is “I was just this close to walking in your shoes.”

One of her best songs is her ode to leaving New Orleans to return to North Carolina. It is named for the street she lived in the Crescent City, Piety Street.

It tells of a broken romance with the descriptive backdrop of this complex, paradoxical town and has become quite popular with audiences.


Wishful Thinking On Piety Street

I Feed You Honey From The Jar And Light Pink Candles To Keep You Sweet But That’s Not The Way You Are You’re A Blighted Building With A Claw-Foot Bath In The Wicked Heat Of June I Can Feel Glass Shatter Underneath Your Laugh I Don’t Want To Live With You

For Fifteen Years I Dreamed In Red Sinking To The Knee In Carolina Clay Wake Up Girl, Get Out Of Bed Pack Your Bags And Leave If You Don’t Want To Stay

I’ve Searched Desert Islands And Abandoned Ships Since I Was Seventeen I Kissed Them Hard On Down-Turned Lips And Tasted Gasoline I Burned Your City And Churned The Ash For Exceptions To The Rule I Pulled The Pretty From Your Piles Of Trash Now I’m Tired Of Being A Fool For Fifteen Years I Dreamed In Red Sinking In Carolina Clay Crying Wake Up Girl, Get Out Of Bed Pack Your Bags Leave If You Don’t Want To Stay

Take Your Troubles Downtown Why Not Give Them To The Lord Then Drive Through Mississippi With Your Pedal To The Floor You’re Worth 500 Miles And You Don’t Need This Burden Anymore

Dragging My Shadow Down Piety Street Wilted By The Sun Like Angel Trumpets That Were Once As Sweet As Ice Cream Melting On My Tongue

For Fifteen Years I Dreamed In Red Sinking To The Knee In Carolina Clay Crying Wake Up Girl, Get Out of Bed Pack Your Bags Leave If You Don’t Want To Stay

Copywrite by Heidi Holton

Photo by Nathan Baerreis

“I was really nervous,” said Holton, who originally thought the event was being taped in Lexington, N.C., instead of six-and-a-half-hours away at the historic Lyric Theater in Lexington, Kentucky. “I didn’t have time to prepare. I didn’t have that much time to even practice.”

Playing on the bill with dobro guitarist/singer/songwriter Abbie Gardner and a 14-year-old dobro prodigy named Amelia Brown (who learned to play her instrument during the Covid shutdown, of all things), the ambiance of this beautiful venue and the fact she was playing one of the most significant gigs of her life before such a large audience turned Holton’s doubts into the most stunning of performances.

She also showed another side of her character when she was the first person to congratulate Brown after her national debut, hugging the youngster and reinforcing what had been a significant experience for the teenager.

It made Holton think back to the discouraging words from naysayers when she was a young performer.

It took a few years for important people in the music industry to discover this musical enchantress, but once they did, some significant heavyweights lined up in her corner.

Holton was born and raised in the oldest city in America, St. Augustine, Florida. She began learning piano at four or five years old and was soon performing small recitals. But the piano didn’t fulfill her musical dreams.

“It was very rigid,” Holton said of learning to read music and practice other people’s music. “I never really enjoyed playing a keyboard. There was a different feel from the start with the guitar.”

Holton’s exploration of her dad’s prodigious vinyl record collection at age 14 changed her musical direction.

Heidi and a group performs at Stones Cafe in Vignola.

“I discovered this band called Hot Tuna and fell in love with Jorma Kaukonen’s blues guitar-playing,” Holton said.

Her family bought her a used guitar a short time later and she set off learning to play an instrument that captivated her.

Within a year, she was playing her first gig, sneaking into a local bar as a 15-year-old.

Despite her obvious talent, Holton had to overcome plenty of criticism from people who said she couldn’t sing or play well enough to make it as a musician.

She also suffered from vision problems as a kid and eventually had to undergo a double cornea replacement. Those surgeries and contact lens have corrected her vision

Heidi performing at Festa della Castagna in Tuscany. Heidi Holton won a new audience of fans on her tour of England and Scotland in 2019.

and allowed her independence.

After graduating from high school, Holton studied philosophy (a subject very evident in her songwriting) at UNC-Wilmington, graduating with honors. It was time for this free spirit to explore the world. She spent several years playing punk and heavy metal with groups in places like Athens, Georgia and New Orleans, collecting stories and adventures along the way.

But a period of self-evaluation and the breakup of a romantic relationship led her to decide she needed to take her guitar-playing more seriously. That period is reflected in one of the poignant songs from her third CD, Piety Street.

At the age of 25, she learned that Kaukonen gave guitar lessons at his Fur Place Ranch complex in Ohio. Holton quickly booked herself for the next session and was off on her motorcycle, with acoustic guitar strapped on the back to meet Kakonen.

“Jorma was the first person to tell me I had the talent to make it in the music business,” Holton said. “He told me he thought I had a good voice when so many people had made fun of me before.”

It was an epic moment of confidence building for Holton.

“Jorma convinced me to just go for it.” Holton said. “I’d never had anyone really encourage me.”

Holton draws her musical inspiration from a deep reservoir of sources. Photo by Nathan Baerreis Heidi with a group of friends at Jump Cafe in Forlí.

It didn’t take long for Holton to also become like an adopted family member to Kaukonen and his wife, Vanessa, who years later encouraged her move to Boone.

Another key relationship was formed when Holton met the foremost woman of American country blues and a sixtime winner of the Blues Music Awards, Rory Block.

After Holton’s artistic success with her first album, the 2015 project Mockingbird Blues, Block agreed to produce Heidi’s second release, Why Mama Cries, in 2018.

The second album showed Holton gaining confidence as a performer and a songwriter and leading to a successful North American tour with Block.

The single Haunt Your Own Houses broke onto various blues charts and received air play in numerous countries around the world.

That also led Holton to gain the opportunity to tour in Europe.

Holton and Block collaborated on another album in 2019 that has a tentative title of Let Me Bleed. This CD was set for release in 2020 before Covid derailed much of the music industry.

Holton is trying to secure a record deal for her third album and if the five songs from it she has been performing live, such as I Am A Snake and Piety Street, are any indication, this will lead to even more acclaim, success and attention for this blossoming artist.

And most of all, she is looking forward to returning to the stage on a regular basis in 2023.

“I am a serious person, but I love to have fun,” Holton said. “Hopefully, the things that I love will become part of pop culture.” t

Heidi Holton shows off her skills on slide guitar. Photo by Nathan Baerreis

Let’s Play in the Snow

Carroll Garland

Gentleman Banker, Tree Farmer And A Friend To Many

Carroll Garland is no stranger to the High Country, or anywhere for miles around. Many know him as a fair businessman and a man of his word — one who has never let retirement slow him down. Many remember him as a star football player and later, a gentleman banker who encouraged young entrepreneurs to believe in themselves while doing all he could to help them succeed.

All who know Garland can attest to the fact that he’s “a good man,” one with a big heart — and one who enjoys life to the full, with perhaps a little mischief thrown in for good measure.

It doesn’t take long for even strangers to warm up to the sharp-witted Garland, who at first glance might appear as a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact individual. While there’s little question about “who’s in charge” when he’s around, there’s usually a quick word or two, often with a chuckle, to dispel any misgivings about the fun and compassionate gentleman that he is.

Retired from the banking business since 2006, Garland has filled his time with family enterprises, including his Christmas tree business, Hawk Mountain Tree Farm, and “hanging out” in the summer with his adult children, Sonya and Carroll Alan, around their landscaping business, Hawk Mountain Garden Center, or during the winter months at their Highland House Ski Shop, in the Tynecastle area of Banner Elk, which his late wife, Gayle opened in 1977.

He enjoys quality time with his family and close friends, and especially his grandsons, Ryan and Lance Loveless, Wade and Wyatt Garland.

These special people in his life have helped fill the void left by the untimely death of his wife, Gayle, on Sept. 11, 2013, which, he admitted, was the hardest thing he’s ever endured. She was his longtime sweetheart and the love of his life until her death to lymphoma. They were married 49 years.

In recent years, he became reacquainted with Norma Ellis, a life-long friend of his sister who also had lost her husband to an early death; together, they are forging a new path as life partners. Ellis has only good things to say about Garland, as most people do. “He’s a wonderful, fun, loving man and I’m enjoying our time together.” Garland’s children love Norma and they all are making the most of this new chapter of life and their “blended families.”

Turning Back the Pages of Time

Garland, who makes his home in the Foscoe community of Watauga County, was born in the Mitchell County seat of Bakersville on December 13, 1943, to parents, Frank and Jolene Hampton Garland. He grew up with two siblings on a dairy farm, located where the current Mitchell High School is today; his older brother, Calvin, lives in Atlanta, Ga., and their younger sister, Susan Garland Saunders, lives in Madisonville, Tenn.

Carroll Garland is as solid as the rock on which he sits at Yellowstone National Park.

Their father worked in the sawmills and had sawmill camps in Kentucky, to which the family traveled during the summer. Garland remembers, as a youngster, carrying water to the men who were logging “up near Neon, Kentucky.”

When Garland and his family went back there to visit eight years ago, 58 years had passed since he, at 12, had last been there, but he was able to find the exact location where the camp had been. It was indeed a special time for him, as he reminisced about those days.

He also recalled how his mother cooked for the men at the logging camps and worked as a nurse and a “lunchroom lady” back home.

His fondest memories of childhood include taking their work horses to drink water from the creek.

Carroll admits that he might not have been an outstanding student in school, but he was a force to be reckoned with on the football field.

He was a tackle, #77 on the Bowman High School football team. And, there might have been a few times when he was thrown out of the game for throwing an occasional elbow or fighting.

He made forever friends in high school, some of whom he still enjoys meeting up with today for reunions and getaways.

The hardest lesson he learned in school? Having to work when his friends were having fun.

Garland #77, a force to be reckoned with on and off the field at Bowman High School in Bakersville. Garland, bottom left, with team mates and good friends including Ronnie Boone top left, and Jerry Duncan top right . Back in the day, Carroll Garland and two great friends, Charlie Wallace (left) and Burton Woody (right) In Nashville, share one of many good times together.

After high school, Garland went to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee to play football, but quit after three months, ironically, to go to work. His first job was with the CibaGeigy factory in Charlotte, before he moved back to Spruce Pine and started working as a teller with Northwestern Bank.

Garland had already gotten a glimpse of his future wife, Gayle Biddix, when she was playing basketball for Harris High School against his Bowman High School. He thought she was a “damn good basketball player.” After they graduated, they bumped into each other one night in Spruce Pine and started dating; they were married on May 19, 1964.

The couple started their life together in the Estatoe community of Mitchell County; over two years later, on November 16, 1966, they welcomed their first child, daughter Sonya Ann.

When Sonya was just six months old, Garland was transferred to Boone with Northwestern Bank — where his banking career really took off — and for which he is best known by folks in the High Country. The family welcomed son, Carroll Alan, born in Boone on March 23, 1969.

Garland worked under the supervision of Alfred Adams at Northwestern Bank, a man from whom he learned a lot, he said, a great mentor to him in those early days. It came as no surprise to anyone that Garland was

named Adams’ successor when he retired.

Garland worked with Northwestern Bank for 26 ½ years; Northwestern Bank was bought out by First Union bank, which Carroll worked for 18 months.

“Every bank that wasn’t already in Boone was calling to try and get dad to be their city executive, so they could move into Boone,” said Sonya. Finally, he went with Southern National Bank, which became BB&T; he finished his banking career there, after 20 years.

Garland said he loved banking and meeting people. He loved being able to help people by giving them an opportunity. Among his favorite projects was helping with the development of Beech Mountain, working with Carolina Caribbean Corporation, and the development of Hound Ears and Elk River with the Robbins brothers. Working with Samaritan’s Purse was a favorite, as well.

Hard Work, Honesty and Friends for Life

Garland’s biggest influences in life included his father, Frank, who taught him to work hard and always be honest, traits he easily adopted as his philosophy in life. And according to his children, he raised them with the same beliefs. Sonya and Carroll Alan have made him proud by having great

Carroll and Gayle Garland never missed a ballgame during which their grandsons were playing, no matter the sport. A young couple just starting out in life, Carroll and Gayle Garland enjoyed many years together before her untimely death.
Every bank that wasn’t already in Boone was calling to try and get dad to be their city executive, so they could move into Boone,
January 2023 HIGH COUNTRY MAGAZINE 71 Todd Bush Photography bushphoto.com 828-898-8088 banner elk nc 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

work ethics; he is happy that they work so well together — whether in the ski shop or with him in the Christmas trees. He is most proud of his four grandsons and that they, too, have inherited those same characteristics.

And, as mentioned before, Garland said that Alfred Adams had a great impact upon him, having taught him basic

business practices that proved to have positive long-term impacts.

Garland has had many friends in his life. One of his best friends was the late Charlie Wallace, his co-worker throughout his 46-year banking career and business partner in cattle and Christmas trees. Wallace lost his battle to ALS seven years ago; his picture stays above Garland’s sun visor in his pickup truck as a fond reminder of their friendship.

Another of his lifelong friends is Jerry Duncan, with whom he grew up in Bakersville, played football at Bowman High School, worked at Northwestern Bank — and they still go to the beach golfing together.

Duncan shared with us: “Carroll and I were in school together from the first grade through graduation. We both went to Western Carolina, but Carroll didn’t cotton to college life too much. One semester was good enough for him – three was good enough for me. Carroll came back home and went to work for Northwestern Bank in Spruce Pine and from there, he transferred to Boone

Good friends and fun times on the porch: From back left: John Hicks, James Burleson, Garland, Gene Ledford and front Jerry Duncan. After both became widowed way too early, Carroll Garland and Norma Ellis are forging a new path together. Siblings Susan Garland Peake Saunders, Calvin Garland and Carroll Garland always enjoy special times together.

to work for Mr. Alfred Adams. He thought the world of Alfred Adams and vice versa.”

It wasn’t long after that, Duncan said, that he, too, got a job with Northwestern Bank and transferred to North Wilkesboro, where he worked “for a good number of years.” He stayed close to Garland, he said, but admitted their high school days hold more memories than anything else.

“We were as close as brothers could be and still are, as far as that goes,” he described. “We’ve spent a lot of time together through the years, traveling and playing golf.”

He remembers Garland as a good student, but “somewhat mischievous, and could pull some good pranks.”

Duncan continued: “We were in Bowman High School before they consolidated, and our school had a coalfired heating system. Carroll and another buddy or two would often get in trouble and their punishment during lunch hour was to go shovel coal into the hopper to heat the high school. I thought he’d get tired of that after a while.”

The boys had a lot of good times, Duncan recalled. “We played football together. The most of a game Carroll got to play was about three quarters. He couldn’t make it through a whole ball game without getting riled up. He might throw dirt in an opponent’s eyes or do something to get escorted off the field and onto the sidelines.”

Calling those years “a joyful time,” Duncan said Garland and his dad, Frank,

helped fill an emptiness in his life as a youngster.

“My dad died when I was about 3 1/2 years old. Carroll’s dad was a mighty fine fellow who treated me about as well as he did Carroll. I’d have lunch with the Garlands about every Sunday and I never left (that I ever remember) that

A Bowman High Class reunion wouldn’t be the same without Carroll Garland and his friends for life.

Frank wouldn’t ask Carroll how much money he needed. Carroll would say he didn’t need any, and then Frank would ask if I needed money. Our family kinda struggled along and I was really fortunate to have Carroll as a friend for that many years. And I was fortunate to have his dad kinda watching over me. Carroll is one of a kind. His dad was one of a kind — and he’s just like his dad in many ways. He will be straight with you and will never tell you anything that’s just not exactly right. He’s always been that kind of a fellow. He was a pretty good size, compared to some of the other boys in school, and just by looking at him, you would think he was a bully, but he was more like a big old teddy bear with a heart as big as the outdoors. To this day, If he hears of someone in need, like one of our classmates, he’s the first one to call and get us together and say, ‘We’ve got to help them out.’ He’ll do anything for anybody, but he’s not one to draw attention to himself. He’ll never tell me about this magazine article you’re doing. I’ll have to find it on my own.”

At the same time, however, Duncan added, “He can be quite a character. He’ll keep you laughing. And there’s more I could say, but you probably couldn’t print it.”

Another of Garland’s best friends and fellow bankers was James Burleson who passed away last year. Dianne Burleson, James’ widow, of Newland, had this to share:

“Carroll and James worked at Northwestern Bank together. Carroll moved to Boone and James to Newland. They were also in the Christmas tree business. Sonya and Carroll Alan and our children, Steve and Sherry, were close in age and we did most everything together for many years, including work and play. Vacations we had with them are still wonderful memories we share. The Garland family is truly our family. Great work ethics were shared. They are a fun and loving family to us and so many others. Carroll is a very generous man. I am honored to be his friend of many, many years.”

A huge part of Garland’s life has been spent not only with his children, but also his grandchildren, along with his daughterin-law of 26 years, Paige Huffman Garland. From attending every ballgame the boys ever played, to giving them golf lessons, to joining them on amusement park rides, bird hunting, riding four-wheelers, fly fishing the Yellowstone River, to helping pick out their first trucks, Garland has been there. Seeing these boys grow into successful young men has been his greatest pleasure, he said.

Recalling the years she and her brother were growing up, Sonya said they couldn’t

Appropriately staged, Dianne and Sherry Burleson have a little fun with Garland during one of their many family trips together. They are pictured here in Virginia City, Montana, where gold was discovered in 1863.
We were as close as brothers could be and still are, as far as that goes. We’ve spent a lot of time together through the years, traveling and playing golf

have asked for more caring, dedicated parents.

“They were always there for us, no matter what. Our friends were always welcomed in our home. We were always

taught that everyone was equal – we never knew anything about race or social division.”

As the brother-sister duo has grown older, they are now enjoying doing business together, and with their dad, from whose example they have learned so much. At the same time, Sonya adds with a laugh, “We let him think he’s the boss, but Carroll Alan and I have to keep him grounded.”

When asked his thoughts on the current state of affairs in our country, Garland didn’t hesitate. “It’s a bit of a mess right now and seems to be going backwards, rather than forward.” But, he added. “There are lots of positive things going on the United States and I feel that it’s still the greatest country in the world.”

Having served on multiple boards of directors throughout his career, we thought it only fitting to ask if he had ever considered running for a public office. His answer was a resounding, “Hell no!”

Given the opportunity to change something about his life, what would it be? “Not a thing. I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have had in his life and I’m grateful for all of my blessings.”

The life of Carroll Garland might seem easy to some – a retired banker and successful businessman with a wonderful family. But none of it came easy, we’ve learned. He worked hard, he lived by the Golden Rule — treating others like he wants to be treated. Sounds like a good path to follow.

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With his grandsons at Christmas. From left: Wade Garland, Lance Loveless, Garland, Ryan Loveless, Wyatt Garland and special family member, Miguel Perez.


Carroll Alan works as farm manager for their dad’s wholesale Christmas tree business,Hawk Mountain Tree Farm, which was started as a partnership with friends in 1977; currently with over 1500 acres on several parcels spread mainly in east Tennessee, the farm produces some of the finest Fraser firs found anywhere that eventually find their way all over the country. Sonya’s son, Ryan, serves as his grandfather’s office manager.

Carroll Alan and Sonya are partners in the landscaping and wholesale nursery business, which, since 1996, has been considered one of the area’s premiere custom landscaping design and installation businesses.

Additionally, the sister and brother team owns and operates Highland House Ski Rentals, which gives them little to no time to rest after the tree harvest ends. When asked if their dad helps, Sonya said with a chuckle, “Yeah, he has a recliner in the shop.”

The Garland family each admit they couldn’t do any of it without each other — and without the help of their Hispanic workers and other longtime employees, several of whom have been with them for 20 or 30-plus years.

The camaraderie between the Garlands and their employees is something special, as we witnessed during the

recent Christmas

in Neva, Tenn. The trees had been cut and brought into one of several loading docks, headed for upstate New York at the time. Everyone knew his role and did it well, as “Big Daddy” or “Big D” as Garland is known among the crew, watched the process, sternly it seemed at a distance. But, as one drew closer, it was easy to see the smile on his face as he was surrounded by

Tree harvest on their sprawling farm Down on the farm in Neva, Tenn., nearing the end of the 2022 Christmas tree harvest. From left: Juan Rodriguez, Tom Cogar, Carroll Alan Garland, Carroll Garland, Sonya Garland, Sergio Paniagua and Dale Ellis. A family that works together stays together as Sonya, Carroll and Carroll Alan Garland prove, day after day.


When asked who in history he most admires, Garland quickly responded: “Billy Graham.” “Coming from a small town in North Carolina, Billy Graham shared his wisdom and love of God throughout the world and has helped people worldwide with his gentle and unwavering words,” Garland said.

Having developed a meaningful relationship with the Graham family through the years, Garland and his family were invited to Graham’s 95th birthday party at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville in November 2013. It was an honor and privilege to celebrate Graham’s life and be among the notable guests, they said, which included Kathie Lee Gifford, Greta van Susteren, Michael W. Smith, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, to name a few.

When we at High Country Magazine reached out to the Graham family, they were more than happy to share their thoughts about their friend, Carroll Garland.


“When I first came to Boone, Carroll was at Northwestern Bank, and that’s who we had banked with in Montreat/ Black Mountain where I came from. Keep in mind that I was just getting out of school and I wanted to buy a Volkswagon and needed to borrow money. I went down to talk to Carroll, told him what I needed and he said, ‘No problem, let me call someone in here to work up the papers.’ Within about 30 to 40 minutes I walked out the door with the money.

When we started Samaritan’s Purse, we came out here to build our first building, but at the time, we only about one-third of the money we needed. I went to Carroll, asking if I could get some kind of a loan we could work off of to finish the building. Again, his answer was ‘No problem.’ A couple days later, there he was with what we needed. I don’t think we even had to use the loan, but it was there for us and we appreciated that so much. He was taking a chance on me – he didn’t know if we could do it, or not.”

Graham continued, “So many people in this community are wealthy because Carroll Garland believed in them and loaned them whatever they needed to get started. Not only were they able to pay the loan back, but they were able to be successful in their own right and eventually give back to the community.”

In conclusion, Graham added, “We just don’t have bankers like that anymore. Carroll knew people, he was part of the community and often did business with a hand shake. We really appreciate him for believing in us and helping us get started in our early days.”

Graham doesn’t get to see Garland often these days, but he will always remember the kindness he showed to him and his family.

“We had BB&T here visiting one day, and I told them that I appreciated the fact that this community had Carroll Garland for so long. A lot of times when a banker comes in, they don’t get to stay long before being transferred out, but when they stay and spend their lifetime there, they become part of the community. You don’t’ always have that kind of relationship with a banker like we’ve had with Carroll.”



“I had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. Garland personally when I was in high school. I can’t think of a question I had or a favor I needed that he didn’t help me with or say yes to. My first interaction with him was when I made a ‘slight error’ in purchasing my first pick-up truck. He thought I was 18 yearsold, but if I remember correctly, I was only 17. I had negotiated my interest rate with him until he was red in the face. Everything was going through the process at the bank just wonderfully until one day, I went to cash in a check, and he waved me down from the office. He finally discovered I was 17 and told me I would need my mom to come to the bank to sign my loan so I could get approved to buy that truck. Shortly after that, I started to work for Mr. Garland loading Christmas Trees. I realized this banker was not just a banker, but a man of hard work and expected that from me, also. Mr. Garland has never been anything but generous to me and my family and to his community.”

Having spoken to Graham in late November, he added, “As Christmas is upon us, I can assure you that you will find me at his Charlotte tree lot, still pestering him today.”


While there’s little question about “who’s in charge” when he’s around, there’s usually a quick word or two, often with a chuckle, to dispel any misgivings about the fun and compassionate gentleman that Carroll Garland truly is.

those he loves and who love and admire him.

Each of his workers had a story and most were eager to share, mainly about how they appreciated Garland’s faith in them, how they are treated like family by the Garlands, and how they knew as long as they did what was expected of them, there would be no problems. One said emphatically, “He’ll give you every opportunity, but what you do with it is up to you. If you don’t hold up your end, well, that’s just too bad.”

We learned in that tree field that Garland is a humble man, always meets others on their level — and never assumes that his position in life is superior to that of anyone else.

Sergio Paniagua who has worked for the Garlands for 22 years told us that he wouldn’t have a home without Garland’s help. And we heard how a phone call to Paniagua’s children on Christmas Eve was from Santa, despite the caller ID indicating it was Garland on the other end. “He didn’t have to do that, but that’s just the way he is. He’s a great person. He’s more than just a boss to me. He has helped me a lot without me even asking. I owe a lot to that man.”

Juan Rodriguez has been on board since 2002 and said about Garland, “He’s the best man I could ever work for. He treats me like family. I have my family here now

from Mexico and this family is good to us all. They take care of me and I help take care of them.”

Dale Ellis has worked for the Garlands for 30 years and remembers being in the third grade when the Garlands came to Watauga County. “They’re some of the best people I’ve ever known,” he said. “I started working in the ski shop when I was 14. They’ve always treated me well. I’d go off and work on my own a little while through the years, but I’d always come back.

West Virginia native Tom Coger has worked for the Garlands “about 40 years,” he said, “Big D/Big Daddy has been like a daddy to me. He expects a lot of you, but if you work hard and do what he asks you to do, you won’t have any problem. They are good people and we have a lot of fun.”

And the stories they shared were endless — or could’ve been, if there hadn’t been a truck to load. t



Abode ................................... 35

Alchemy ................................. 39

Appalachia Cleaning Co. .............. 71

Appalachian Regional Health ............65

Appalachian Theater ......................15

Banner Elk Realty ........................ 27

Bee and the Boxwood ...... Inside Back Cover

Blowing Rock Estate Jewelry ............ 62

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

Boonerang ................................ 63

Booneshine ............................... 29

Carolina West Wireless .................... 74

Chetola Resort ........................... 02

Consignment Cottage Warehouse ........ 78

Dianne Davant & Associates.. Inside Front Cover

Dino’s Den Moving ................. 37

Doc’s Rocks .............................. 21

Doe Ridge Pottery ....................... 59

Eleven80 Eatery ....... .......... 28, 59

Grandfather Vineyard ..... ................ 23

Graystone Eye ........... ............... 73

Green Park Inn ........................... 19

Hartley Hauling ........................75

Jeff’s Plumbing ........................51

McCoy’s Minerals Inc. .................... 21

Mountain Land ........ .............. 53

Mountain Tile .......... .............. 09

New River Building Supply ............ 05

Precision Printing & Signs ............ 37

Rose Boutique Etc. .....................11

Stonewall’s Restaurant ................ 07

Sugar Mountain Resort ............... 03

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

Tatum Galleries & Interiors ............ 13

Todd Bush Photography 71

Village Jewelers ....... .............. 27

Windwood Home Furniture ............. 04

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Remembering Judge Alexander Lyerly

From 1980 when elected as judge in North Carolina’s 24th Judicial District, until his retirement in 2014 as Chief District Judge, Lyerly was known and respected by not only his colleagues within the judicial system, but also by many who had to face him inside the courtroom. He was known for numerous special traits as a judge and a friend, but all who knew him could attest to the fact that he was always fair and honest and treated others with dignity and respect.

Among countless accolades throughout his career, Lyerly received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine upon his retirement in 2014; he was named to the Avery County Hall of Fame in 2017. A portrait of Lylery, hanging in the Avery County Courthouse in Newland since 2018, will serve as a reminder of one who made a lasting impact upon the High Country which he served and loved.

Judge Lyerly was a member of both the North Carolina and Texas State Bars, the American Bar Association, and previously the International Bar Association; the National Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the American Judicature Society and The American Judges Association. In his early days, he was one of the first magistrates in NC certified as a specialist in juvenile law. In one of many roles across the state, Lyerly served on the NC Judicial Standards Committee and on numerous boards for causes near and dear to his heart, namely the Crossnore Home for Children. And with a deep love for his family’s strong heritage, Lyerly was actively involved with The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, an event that he greatly anticipated from year to year.

Among those mourning the loss of Lyerly includes Theresa L. King of Newland. “I am so grateful to have had this man as my boss for 20 years and more importantly, my dear friend for 38 years. His time and dedication to the State of North Carolina, and the people of Avery, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga and Yancey Counties, will never be forgotten. He touched so many lives.”

King spoke of the guidance and advice Lyerly bestowed upon her, and expressed her gratitude for Lyerly being such a wonderful friend and mentor. “It was my privilege to know him and work for him.”

Jesse Pope, President and Executive Director at Grandfather Mountain, had this to say, “My thoughts and

prayers go out to Brenda Lyerly for the loss of her husband, Judge Lyerly. He was such an incredibly kind soul that did so much for so many. My heart aches losing such a wonderful person in our mountain community.” Pope also expressed his admiration for Lyerly’s wife, Brenda, for her “loyalty and love for Alec that was always so apparent.”

Recently retired Watauga County Clerk of Court, Diane Cornett Deal, shared, “I could not have had a better friend through the years than Judge Alex Lyerly. I was so blessed to have had the privilege of working with him. He will be missed.” t

In 2015, Retired Judge Alexander Lyerly posed with his newly unveiled portrait inside the Avery County Courthouse. Judge Lyerly passed away December 13, 2022. Photo by Shannon Clark Photography.
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