The Rant y l h t Mon
SANFORD, NORTH CAROLINA
AFTER THE STORM
T H E A P R I L 1 6 , 2 0 1 1 T O R N A D O | T E N Y E A R S L AT E R
2 | April 2021
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The RantMonthly April 2021 | Sanford, North Carolina A product of LPH Media, LLC Vol. 3 | Issue 4
Editorial Gordon Anderson | email@example.com Billy Liggett | firstname.lastname@example.org Jonathan Owens | email@example.com Advertising Brandon Allred | firstname.lastname@example.org (919) 605-1479
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The Rant Monthly
SANFORD, NORTH CAROLINA
AFTER THE STORM
T H E A P R I L 1 6 , 2 0 1 1 T O R N A D O | T E N Y E A R S L AT E R
ABOUT THE COVER The Sanford tornado of April 16, 2011, was powerful. It was deadly. It was destructive. Two people were killed in Lee County, several more were injured and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or completely destroyed by the powerful storm. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the twister that left a 10-mile path of destruction in Lee County. Our cover is a shot of one of the homes leveled in the path — provided by the Hight family, whose home was also a loss. Read more inside, starting on Page 10.
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4 | April 2021
THE PODCAST Find these and all epsiodes of our podcast at rantnc.podbean.com or on Apple Podcasts Britton Buchanan
PAGE 4 THE NEXT MURAL
Singer, musician, songwriter shares news about new singles, new album
Margaret Murchison Radio legend talks about the new CCCC Black Lives Matter scholarship
Spencer Thomas Central Carolina Hospital CEO on health care and the COVID-19 pandemic
Believe it or not, Sanford is becoming the wedding capital of North Carolina. This spring, we’re doing a big write-up about local venues, and we’d love to talk to people who are getting married or got married here. Email billy@rantnc. com to be a part of our story!
Artist Chris Dalton’s next mural is taking shape at 503 Carthage St. in downtown Sanford (at the Lee County social services building). The 48-foot-long painting will honor Dr. Mary Margaret McLeod, Lee County’s first female pediatrician. McLeod practiced in Sanford from 1946 to 1987 and died in Sanford in 1999 at the age of 89. Photo: City of Sanford
FOUR PLACES CALLED ‘SANFORD’ According to Wikipedia, there are 12 cities, towns, villages and unincorporated areas in the United States named “Sanford” (and a Mount Sanford in Alaska). Below are four of our favorite non-Carolina Sanfords:
Not far from Orlando
State’s seventh largest city
Sanford, New York
On the Pennsylvania border
Once mentioned on Hee-Haw
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rantnc.com COLUMN | BILLY LIGGETT
Ten years ago, we chased a storm and a story
e laughed from the second-floor newsroom of the Sanford Herald at the tornado that hit Sanford on April 16, 2011 — a full decade ago.
center of our humble newsroom. We heard “Lowe’s” and “destroyed.” We heard quick messages about possible fatalities and numerous injuries. Then we heard the first siren. Then the second. The fifth.
We had been warned — there were already stories of devastation coming from Mississippi and Alabama, and multiple outlets said conditions were ripe for something similar in our city. But what we saw in downtown Sanford amounted to little more than a few wind gusts and some sideways rain.
Without really knowing or understanding what we were going to see there — and without any working cell phones or internet — four of us from the newsroom hopped into a vehicle and drove southbound on Horner in the direction of Lowe’s Home Improvement. When traffic hit a standstill about a half mile from the scene, we cut left through some parking lots, side roads and even private property to get to where we needed to be.
The only “damage” came in the form of a green trash can that rolled 20 feet along St. Clair Court before flopping on its side. Some “tornado,” right? It wasn’t long before we heard the first crackle of the police scanner from the
I’d covered big events before this. I was a reporter in Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina. I was in south Texas when Columbia exploded above Houston. But I’d never seen the chaos, confusion and up-close
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destruction that I saw when we drove up to Lowe’s that day. The building was twisted metal and matchsticks. Ambulances were arriving, first reponders were running all around us. Telephone poles were down, and wires were sparking in the puddled water. Cars were upside down and on their sides. Or smashed by debris. People were wandering out of buildings, shellshocked. The next few hours and even the next few weeks are a blur to me. So many stories of grief, luck, devastation, survival and service emerged. So many people were either affected or were stepping up to help others. I remember on the following day being allowed to tour homes that were hit hard in the St. Andrews community. I entered the home of one family who lost nearly everything. Their first floor was full of shattered glass, battered walls and water damage. The second floor had no roof. Bedrooms were
blown away. It was really amazing that more people didn’t perish in this storm. The tornado would dominate our jobs for the next two weeks and was a consistent story for much longer. I would leave The Herald just three months later to accept a new job (one I still have) and take an extended break from the world of journalism. Covering the 2011 tornado was exhausting for all of us, yet professionally satisfying. We felt like our work mattered — the stories we were telling and the information we were getting out to people who needed it. There are many whose experiences were far different from mine; many who are still feeling the effects of losing everything in the matter of minutes. We’re still talking about this storm 10 years later because of the largescale destruction and the lives it changed. We’re still talking because it was huge news. Some tornado, right?
2021 SUMMER CONSERVATORY
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6 | April 2021
LOCAL MAGAZINE RANKS CITY AS NATION’S FIFTH BEST MICROPOLITAN AREA Site Selection Magazine has named Sanford the fifth best micropolitan area in which to do business in the United States. Sanford was tied with Auburn, Indiana for fifth place in the rankings, behind Findlay, Ohio, Jefferson, Georgia, Cullman, Alabama, and Tiffin, Ohio. A micropolitan area is defined by the magazine as “having a population between 10,000 and 49,999.” Sanford’s population as of the last Census in 2010 was 28,518 (the 2020 Census numbers are expected later this year). From the article: Sanford, North Carolina, has seen a steady hum of projects in Lee County from companies such as GKN Driveline ($2 million, 15 jobs); Audentes Therapeutics ($109 million, 200 jobs); and Kalyani Group’s Bharat Forge, which is creating 460 jobs and investing nearly $171 million in a project first announced in 2019 that came to fruition in 2020. Kalyani Group is a $3 billion conglomerate, and this is its first U.S. facility, which will serve automotive clients. Each year, Site Selection Magazine releases a top 100 ranking of Micropolitan Areas based on “corporate projects landed.” A micropolitan community is defined as having a population between 10,000 and 49,999. Sanford ranked fifth in the United States, the highest ranked community in North Carolina. Collectively, the state of North Carolina placed fifth in “Most Top Micropolitan Areas” with nine.
Kelly had been consistent in responding to emails and questions from the public while not all other board members had done the same. “I feel like what has happened on this board is you want to go after some of the people on this board who called for an investigation on you, and it’s becoming a clown show for the whole county.”
School board launches investigation into private photo of board member circulated by local GOP The Lee County Board of Education voted on March 16 to launch an investigation into whether a photo of Democratic member Patrick Kelly engaged in sexual activity violated any of its ethics policies.
Cheri Vollbracht didn’t reference the call for an investigation into Kelly, but did say she was “very disturbed” by the February meeting’s public comment section, which she called “a pre-meditated, ad nauseum, self-serving Sherry Lynn Womack pep rally” and calling for changes to the board’s public comment policy.
The motion, made by Republican Christine Hilliard and seconded by Kelly himself, passed unanimously. The issue did not initially appear on the board’s published agenda, but was added at the meeting’s start. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Lee County GOP Chairman Jim Womack reiterated comments he made before the Lee County Board of Commissioners on the previous night, in which he called for Kelly’s resignation over the photo, which depicts legal activity between consenting adults in a private setting (The Rant has viewed the photo but will not publish it to respect the privacy of Kelly and a woman in the photo, who has not been identified publicly). Womack tied his call for an inquiry to a similar investigation conducted into his wife’s activities in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, claiming “inconsistency in how the board manages allegations of misconduct or board policy violations” and saying that Republican board member Sherry Lynn Womack had been “subjected to vicious public condemnation.” “She received no apology or logical explanation for being subjected to this abuse,” he said.
“The photo was intended to be private, and I would have preferred that it remained private. No one deserves to have their private life put on display like this.” — Patrick Kelly Womack — after the motion to investigate Kelly had been made and seconded — said she saw “no value in discussing the matter any further” in public. Later, at the meeting’s end, she seemed to reference the situation, noting “when you come out and you say an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, we will leave Lee County blind and toothless.” Kelly made no comment on the issue during the meeting. The other individuals who made public comments either supported Kelly or criticized the board for allowing many non county residents to speak in defense of Womack at its February meeting. “I’m highly disgusted that this is what it’s come to. What a man wants to do with a consenting person behind closed doors is his business,” said Neil Rosser, noting that
“Student comments should always be heard, I was disturbed by comments suggesting students should not have a voice,” she said. “Comments need to be limited to those who are Lee County residents.” Prior to the March 16 meeting, the photo was circulated via email — including to members of the school board — by a number of conservative activists, including John Zumwalt, a Moore County radio show host who challenged Republican state Rep. Jamie Boles of Whispering Pines in the 2016 GOP primary, and at least one of the Sanford men who was charged in connection with the January Capitol siege in Washington, D.C. Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith has also spoken out against Kelly, saying in a statement, “It is beyond me to comprehend how an individual with such a grotesque character flaw can even remain on a local school board, supervising the teaching of impressionable children.” Read comments from followers of The Rant and our view on this story on Pages 12-13.
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8 | April 2021
IMPRESSED WITH NEW LEADERSHIP AT HERALD There’s a misconception in Sanford that the two newspapers in town — The Rant and The Sanford Herald — are bitter enemies, forever expected to curse the others’ name and wish each other failure at every turn. This isn’t true. We all came from The Herald. And we’d love to see both succeed. That’s why the recent hiring of editor Mark Rogers has brought us joy and hope for our city’s oldest publication. Rogers has experience running community newspapers to Sanford, and the product has benefited greatly for it. This isn’t a knock on previous editors (well, perhaps it is). But not everybody has brought a commnity-first mindset to the position — an approach that balances the all-important responsibilities of challenging local leaders and celebrating those working to make this a better place to live.
OP/ED UNPOPULAR OPINIONS
olitics in Lee County hit a new low in March, when GOP chairman Jim Womack tried to invent a “scandal” out of a Democratic member of the local school board’s personal life.
We put scandal in quotation marks because it’s not clear to us that the issue even qualifies. But that wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of Womack, who on consecutive days in early March went before the Lee County Board of Commissioners and the Lee County Board of Education calling on Democrat Patrick Kelly to step down from the school board because Womack had found a picture of Kelly engaged in consensual, legal sexual activity behind closed doors.
Not everything is a crime story. And nobody buys a local paper for national news. Rogers gets that. Not everybody has. The Rant benefits when The Herald is a strong product. We’re not the same, nor do we have the resources to do what they do.
Republican Chairman Kirk Smith of the Lee County Board of Commissioners later echoed Womack with a letter to the school board (a letter he later had to apologize for sending in his capacity as chairman of the board, something that is against the rules).
So we’re cheering for continued success ... despite what you’ve heard.
Womack and Smith’s performative pearl-clutching routine would be laughable if it wasn’t designed to not only destroy a man’s political career, but also his personal reputation.
GET VACCINATED You see that small light up ahead? That’s called the end of the tunnel. We’re getting there. Lee County and North Carolina have added to the list of who can get vaccinated, and the county has done yeoman’s work in making the process as smooth and efficient as possible. Despite this, cases are spiking locally and nationally. Don’t get lax on this. Stayed masked up. Keep up the social distancing in public areas. And if you haven’t been vaccinated and want to be, now’s the time. We’re so close to the light — help us get there and bask in the glow.
But that’s it. That’s the scandal.
But before we get into that, first allow us to we repeat our call for a return to the non-partisan way our school board was elected prior to 2013. Partisan politics just don’t have any place in local education policy and really only serve to create situations like this. We don’t believe that people like Jim Womack and Kirk Smith would make a stink like this if they had, imagine for a second, knowledge about the personal sex life of any elected Republican. This is obviously about revenge. When a grassroots concern arose about Womack’s wife, Republican School Board member Sherry Womack, attending a Trump rally in Washington, D.C. on the day the nation’s Capitol came under siege and voluntarily identifying herself to the press as a member of the board, questions naturally arose. An investigation into her actions resulted in no finding of wrongdoing, but Womack explicitly linked the two situations in his remarks to both boards. Why not take him at his word?
Womack and Smith’s performative pearl-clutching routine would be laughable if it wasn’t designed to not only destroy a man’s political career, but also his personal reputation. Finally, descriptions of Kelly’s private life used in calls for his resignation are beyond the pale. The word “deviant” may mean diverting from the norm, but the weaponized context in which Womack, Smith and others have used it makes clear they’re not concerned so much as standing in judgment. Womack appeared on a Raleigh-area talk radio show in the wake of his appearances before the local boards and said he didn’t know a single person in Lee County who wouldn’t find the behavior in the photo “depraved.” Well we don’t, and there are countless more who made comments to that effect in online posts about this story. What many do find depraved are things like making written threats against county staff. Using slurs against the mentally handicapped to describe your political opponents. Getting caught in lies and blaming others. The list goes on of things most of our parents would have knocked us around for, undertaken openly by some of the same people now casting judgment on Kelly. It’s sad and it’s gross, and it’s all over a school board seat. We can do better, and we have to start now.
The Rant Monthly is published monthly by LPH Media LLC, 3096 South Horner Boulevard in Sanford, North Carolina. The Rant was founded as a weekly radio program in 2008 by Gordon Anderson, Billy Liggett and Jonathan Owens. After their program was unceremoniously banished from the airwaves by a petty local state representative, The Rant regrouped and became a web site specializing in local news in 2014. Today, The Rant Monthly has a circulation of 3,500 printed copies, and our website draws more than 1 million views yearly. Wash your hands.
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rantnc.com READER RESPONSE
WE’RE FACING A TEACHER SHORTAGE
SCHOOL BOARD REVENGE The Lee County Board of Education voted on March 16 to launch an investigation into whether a photo of Democratic member Patrick Kelly engaged in sexual activity violated any of the board’s ethics policies. The motion, made by Republican Christine Hilliard and seconded by Kelly himself, passed unanimously. The vote came a week after Lee County Republican Party Chairman Jim Womack shared the photo of Kelly engaged in a sexual act (bondage) with an unnamed woman and asked the board to conduct an investigation similar to the one it conducted on his wife, board member Sherry Lynn Womack, after she attended a President Trump rally in Washington, D.C., the morning before the Capitol siege on Jan. 6. Readers of The Rant have expressed anger at the sharing of the photo and the board’s decision to investigate Kelly. Below are some of the responses shared on social media and at rantnc.com: ________________ Unless the photo was published in USA Today, with Kelly identifying himself as a member of the Board of Education, I can’t imagine why this needs any investigation. Tammy Zorn ________________ So let me get this straight. People are wanting to investigate a man for the same conduct that they use in their own bed room, and photos were taken? So little ol’ Lee County doesn’t have the money to provide supplies for the children in class, but they have money to waste on crap like this? Adam Deskins ________________ This is absolutely horrific. I had Patrick as a teacher and know him as a friend/mentor, and he is a great person. None of this should have ever been public. Shame on everyone who contributed in circulating that photo. Kaila Melton ________________ It’s like Harper Valley PTA. [Sherry Lynn Womack] didn’t like being investigated, so she digs up scandals. I’m sure she’s busy now digging up what she can find on the others. This reveals more about her and her husband than about anyone else. Ron Coley
________________ Maybe I am crazy, but I am pretty sure circulating a nude or any other sexual picture via text or email of someone other than yourself is against the law. Brandy Baldwin ________________ It’s despicable to publicize private pictures of legal activities between consenting adults. Would you like your private bedroom activities published? Deplorable! Terri Payne ________________ Wow, this is like revenge porn. Mr. Womack and those circulating this photo should be held accountable. Mr. Womack and others sharing this photo are very wrong. There is a big difference between the actions of those at the Capitol riots — which actually killed and injured people — and actions of two consenting adults that harmed no other person. Cara Vitadamo ________________ So I’m just curious, does our School Board actually do anything school related anymore or do they just concern themselves with each other’s personal lives? I don’t see where this has any bearing on someone’s performance as a school board member. I don’t see where someone visited and protested had any bearing either. Fix our schools and keep the kids safe. Don’t worry about anyone else, just do the job you were elected for. Stay out of business that doesn’t pertain to your elected job. So tired of politics in this town. Sean Pechota ________________ Doesn’t the Lee County Board of Education have better things to worry about then what a person does in their private lives? The fact that they emailed this image should be enough to look into their actions as a board member. This is no one’s business, and shame on anyone who participated in their attempt to attack Mr.Kelly. Find something more important to do with your time, Lee County BOE, and stop trying to destroy people. Jennifer Williams
To the Editor: In order to teach in the Lee County School District, you must be licensed, which we all know. However, there are a large number of teachers who have not passed the licensure examination required for their initial license. Therefore, they were granted provisional licenses, which gave them three years to complete all of their requirements. In some cases, additional coursework was required along with passing their respective licensure examinations. Due to COVID-19, many of these teachers are not able to complete all of their requirements due to decreased course offerings and extremely limited testing dates available for both Pearson and Praxis. Therefore, the district has sent letters to beginning teachers who have been teaching for three years in our local schools, that if all requirements are not met by April 15, then their contracts will not be renewed. This is currently the law as established by North Carolina General Statutes. However, the LEA has the ability to recommend an extension of their initial license by one year. Under NCGS § 115C-270.20, Subsection 4A, describes the regulation in greater detail. The Wake County Public School System has already announced that all beginning teachers in their third year — who have completed all requirements for licensure except for the licensure exam — will continue to work under this provision for an additional year. We, as a community, are going to lose a lot of teachers because our local board will not support our teachers. Those affected have already received their letters from the district’s human resources office. These teachers met the challenge of teaching our children during the most adverse circumstances and the district is going to cast these teachers aside. Don Ward Sanford
CREDIT FRUSTRATION Billy Liggett’s column in last month’s edition expressed frustration with our nation’s credit rating system. Several readers agreed: ________________ Over the last several years, I’ve been more invested in my credit score — something my parents never taught me. I’ve learned the hard way. What we are doing differently, we are teaching our kids about credit. We’ve put our kids as authorized users on our credit cards and our oldest has amazing credit now. We have sat him down and explained it all to him and he knows what his credit score is and how it can affect his life. Melissa Caddick
lent” credit when I had a lot of credit card debt. Now as I inch closer to debt free, I find out what a sham it is to be debt free. My mother is the same way. She hasn’t financed anything in 20 years. She isn’t rich, but she owns her home and isn’t in debt to anyone. Her rating is lower than mine. It’s because to have a good score, you need to owe someone. Seems bass-ackwards to me. You become fiscally responsible, and we punish you by making it so you will never get a loan. Rebecca Yarnell ________________ A credit score just means you are good at borrowing a lot of money. Great article, Billy Liggett. Sigh ... the treadmill continues. Carl Bryan
________________ Timely article! I literally paid off all my credit cards but two and felt such a sense of accomplishment ... only to realize it knocked my score down by 40 points. I had “excel-
Have an opinion on this story, on this month’s cover story or on any story that appears in The Rant? Comment on our website, on our Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be heard.
10 | April 2021
T H E A P R I L 1 6 , 2 0 1 1 T O R N A D O | A D E C A D E L AT E R
AFTER THE STORM Memories from the most destructive storm in Sanford’s history and stories of a community coming together to help and rebuild after the devastation By Billy Liggett
ike Hollowell was helping a customer at the home decor desk inside Lowe’s Home Improvement in Sanford on April 16, 2011, when he looked up to see employees and customers sprinting toward the lumber section. Curious about the commotion — and aware that big storms were predicted in the area that day — Hollowell hurried to the entrance to see for himself what had people seeking cover. Across Horner Boulevard, barely a quarter of a mile from where he stood, a swirling blackness engulfed the nearby Tractor Supply Company building. Without hesitation, Hollowell acted.
The April 17, 2011, front page of The Sanford Herald, depicting the destruction of Lowe’s Home Improvement and hundreds of homes and businesses.
The store manager got on the radio with his two assistants and ordered everybody in the store to head toward the back, per safety protocols. As they ran, Hollowell looked up to see the roof on the giant warehouse start peeling back. The group reached safety just in time — the front right side of the store was obliterated, reduced to a pile of twisted metal and splintered wood. The rooms in the back remained mostly intact. More than 100 people were safe. Amazingly, nobody died in Hollowell’s store.
“I remember when it passed, there was this eerie silence. Before we started hearing the sirens,” Hollowell recalls. “I looked out to see if everyone was OK, and I remember seeing daylight where a roof was supposed to be. [Minutes later,] I saw one of my assistant managers standing on top of a pile of rubble throwing [rubble] to the side. A pick-up that was parked by the lumber side of the building to escape the storm was pinned. A man and his young daughter were inside, and she had crawled out to find help. There just happened to be an emergency
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rantnc.com response seminar going on at the [nearby] convention center, and those first responders were on the scene faster than the fire department. They got that gentleman out of the car.” “The tornado was terrible. But we had a lot of things going for us that day.” “Terrible” is an understatement. The massive quarter-mile wide EF-3 tornado that hit Sanford 10 years ago this month followed a 63-mile path, lasted for more than an hour and hit estimated maximum wind speeds of 160 miles per hour. Five people died in the storm — two in Lee County — and hundreds of homes and businesses in its path were badly damaged or completely destroyed. The Sanford-Raleigh tornado was one of 13 EF-3 tornadoes — and one of 178 twisters in all — to hit the Southeast region of the United States in the three days spanning April 14-16 in 2011. The event is considered today one of the largest recorded tornado outbreaks in U.S. history. However, the 38 deaths in the three-day span paled in comparison to the 324 people killed in the 2011 “Super Outbreak” that hit Alabama and Mississippi later that month. In Lee County alone, nearly 500 damaged buildings and structures added up to more than $57 million in total structural damage. The hardest hit areas included
the St. Andrews community — where some homes were completely taken off of their foundations — the business and industrial section around Horner Boulevard where Lowe’s, Tractor Supply, Static Control and other businesses sustained major damage, and to homes and farmland along N.C. 42. But it was the destruction at Lowe’s on that mid-April afternoon that became the iconic image from the storm. National news crews converged in the parking lot in the days that followed, and Hollowell found himself the center of attention for his actions that day. Ten years later, Hollowell is still with Lowe’s and is now store manager of the company’s North Raleigh location. Like many who experienced or responded to the storm, one thing that sticks with Hollowell to this day is how much worse things could have or even should have been. “I remember when we were running to the back, I thought to myself, ‘So I’m going to go out like this?’” he says. “The tornado was a direct hit on our store. But what saved a lot of people was that it hit us at an angle. From the front entrance, it went to the right, toward the lumber section [away from everybody]. We were in a solid building that is built to withstand a lot, but when you’re talking about an EF-3 and a head-on collision, anything can happen.”
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Former Sanford Lowe’s store manager Mike Hollowell took this photo of the damage at the entrance of Sanford store soon after an EF-3 tornado destroyed much of the building. Hollowell and his team got more than 100 people to safety when it hit.
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12 | April 2021
@therant905 Hollowell says he and his team followed safety protocols they learned during their training. After the chaos, he says everybody remained calm and began walking out of the store in a single-file line, much like you’re taught during fire drills in elementary school. He wasn’t 100 percent sure everybody was OK. He says he remembers looking at the garden center and toward the lumber section and wondering if anybody was in there. He knew all of his employees were accounted for, but it was impossible to know if every customer was safe. Nobody was seriously hurt inside Lowe’s that day. And by that evening, word of Hollowell and his staff’s heroics were getting around. Hollowell was inundated with media inquiries and interview requests over the next four days. It became more exhausting than the clean-up effort, and eventually, Hollowell asked Lowe’s public relations team to give him a break.
Mike Hollowell was store manager at the Sanford Lowe’s Improvement when the building was destroyed by a tornado on April 16, 2011. Hollowell and his team led more than 100 customers and employees to safety. Nobody in the store was seriously injured.
“I’d said the same thing at least 100 times,” he says. “Then I got this call about four or five days later from PR, and they said they had an important call for me.
They said they understood if I didn’t want to take it.” That call was from President Barack Obama. Hollowell took the call. “He said he wanted to commend me and my team and called us true heroes,” Hollwell says. “I told him it was a team effort, and he called me a leader and a hero again. So I thanked him, and that was it. It’s a moment that will always stick with me … something I can tell my kids or grandkids one day. The president called me. Not many people have that chance in their life.” Hollowell says the thing he remembers most about April 16, 2011, is how proud he was of his team at the Sanford Lowe’s Home Improvement. From the moment the storm hit, he says, his team was about helping others. And that mentality carried on well into the clean-up effort that lasted months. “I never saw one person thinking just about themselves,” he says. “Everybody … it was ‘How can I help someone.’ ‘Let’s make sure everybody is taken care of.’ The customers acted this way, too. We were all
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rantnc.com watching out for each other and getting each other to safety. It was a terrible event, but I came away with a good feeling about the people around me.”
THE SCATTERED PIECES OF OUR LIFE R.V. Hight lived through several hurricanes in his lifetime — he remembers the storm that hit his grandfather’s farm back in the 1950s — but in all his years in central North Carolina, he’d never seen a tornado. And despite warnings the previous day and that morning that Sanford was in the path of a dangerous storm system that spawned twisters in Mississippi and Alabama a day earlier, Hight went about his Saturday without worry. “I was getting ready to head out to Broadway for the Broadway Our Way Festival to judge a contest,” he recalls. “I remember a buddy of mine even warned me that it could get bad, and I told him, ‘Nah, we’ll be fine.’
“And then before you know it, it’s on you.” Hight, his wife Bernice, his daughter Holly and their cat had just seconds to get into their closet from the time they saw the tornado — which had reached EF-3 status with 140 mph winds — just yards away. It all came and went in less than a minute, and when the wind stopped beating at his door, Hight saw sunlight shining coming through from where his roof once was. The Hights’ home was one of several in the St. Andrews community destroyed in the storm. While his foundation remained standing — as well as most of his walls — his house was a total loss with holes in the roof, shattered glass and significant damage. His family would end up moving in with his in-laws before settling into a new home months later. Despite the loss, Hight considers himself more fortunate than some of his neighbors who lost everything. Ten years later, Hight — who was an editor and writer at The Sanford Herald before moving on to Central Carolina
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14 | April 2021
@therant905 Community College a few years after the storm — has shed all the negative from his experience and has instead focused on the many positives he experienced in the days and months that followed. “The thing that sticks out to me most and the thing I’ll always remember was the visits from family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers. All the cards and phone calls. All the food and support. All the support that came to us from people we either barely knew or didn’t know at all. Their generosity lives with us forever,” Hight says. He remembers that following Monday when the First Apostolic Church came through delivering sandwiches and drinks. The simple gesture touched Hight. “When you’re sorting through your life trying to salvage what can be saved, these gestures just touch your heart,” he says. “Someone even came by with a vacuum. How special is that?”
Several homes in the St. Andrews community in Sanford were completely destroyed by the EF-3 tornado on April 16, 2011. According to reports, the twister had reached speeds of 140 mph by the time it his the neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Holly Hight
Hight’s house was surrounded by downed and splintered pine trees, and his family learned early on that his homeowners insurance wouldn’t cover the removal
“All the support that came to us from people we didn’t know ... Their generosity will live with us forever.” of those trees. A day later, he saw the volunteers from Baptist Men in his yard removing those trees for pickup. His daughter Holly says she will always be grateful for what she has, because she knows now how quickly a life can change. “I think about the tornado every day when something doesn’t go my way, and I try to remember that feeling of loss and uncertainty,” she says. “It really has helped shape me into a better person in a weird way. “And I will always be grateful to the community support and the churches that brought food and supplies and helped remove debris. They kept us alive while we were picking up the scattered pieces of our life.”
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A DECADE-LONG RECOVERY Steve Thomas was in Aberdeen, headed back to his tobacco farm on Castleberry Road and had noted black clouds ahead and heard the tornado warning on the radio, but didn’t think much about it until his cell phone rang. “My son called me crying, saying everything was destroyed,” recalls Thomas, whose farm covers 350 acres. “We lost 40 barns, numerous tobacco combines, vehicles, tractors, sprayers. The Lord put his hand on my office, and that’s what saved my daddy and my son.” In all, the damage totaled a whopping $3.5 million, which far exceeded the $1.2 million in insurance Thomas carried at the time. “There’s so much that farmers have that you don’t have insurance for,” he said. “My shop was just full of so many parts, and when we needed to fix something we could just go in and get the part. After that we had to go buy them. So that was a trip to the store, a trip to town. We had to replace all that stock.”
Thomas was lucky enough to not lose any product — the plan that year had been to begin planting for the season the following Monday, and with the help of neighbors they were able to get cleaned up quick enough to only lose a week of the season. The farm received a visit from North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler days after the storm — Thomas’ farm was chosen because it represented the worst of the damage the state’s agriculture industry received that day. Troxler then said it was “absolutely amazing” the state and Lee County didn’t receive more fatalities than it did. Just last year, Thomas said his farm had finally repaid the debts he had to incur in order to recover from the damage. But even today, the threat of severe weather gives him pause it might not have before 2011. “It brings back memories,” he said. “On Saturday, I sat here while it was hailing and there were straight line winds probably 400 yards from us. Lemon Springs Road still isn’t open. And what happened down in Georgia — I know what those people are going through.”
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THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH WORSE Shane Seagroves knew better than most that Sanford was in the path of something dangerous on April 16, 2011. The director of emergency services since 2009, and before that, the deputy director of emergency management and fire marshal, it’s Seagroves’ job to monitor dangerous weather and supervise the coordinated efforts for first responders in Lee County.
could have been so much worse. So much worse.” Much like how COVID-19 has dominated Seagroves’ job in the past year, the Sanford tornado was his sole focus for months and was on his plate for the following two years. It was 2013 before Lee County got its final FEMA payment for recovery and debris management. Seagroves had to attend every county commissioner meeting in that two year period to provide updates.
But even he was astounded by the magnitude of the storm and the damage it did that day.
“It was a massive process,” he says. “It took forever, but also looking back, it went by in a blur.”
“The first place I went to when the storm passed was the corner of St. Andrews Church Road and Carson Drive — and you know how smells and sounds will trigger a memory? I’ll never forget the smell of the pine sap and insulation blown everywhere,” Seagroves says. “For those first 15 minutes, all I heard was smoke detectors chirping. And not one person was walking outside. I feared the worst. We were just so very blessed — we had fatalities that day, but the outcome
The remainder of that first week was
The first 24 hours was about emergency response — directing the fire department and other first responders to make sure the injured were taken care of and people were safe. Responsibility then shifted to working with the sheriff’s office and police department to secure homes and stores that were damaged from people attempting to loot or take advantage of victims. Arrests were made for looting in Lee County in that first week.
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TORNADO TIMELINE On April 16, 2011, an EF-3 tornado with maximum wind speeds of 160 miles per hour hit Sanford and made its way northeast toward Raleigh. A timeline below of its stay in Sanford: •
At 2:53 p.m., Supercell thunderstorm produces a tornado that touches down as an EF-0 in northeastern Moore County, west of Cameron. The twister intesifies to a EF-1 as it crosses U.S. 1 near Wildlife Road, blowing a single-wide trailer home off its foundation and damaging a home next door. The tornado intensifies rapidly to an EF-3 as it hits Lemon Springs Road, striking the St. Andrews area. Several homes in the area are destroyed, with roofs ripped off and homes taken off their foundations. The first of two deaths in Lee County occurs in a vehicle along Lemon Spring Road. Wind speeds have hit an estimated 140 miles per hour at this point.
The tornado enters the industrial site along Industrial Drive where multiple steel structures are destroyed, in addition to three large warehouses at the Static Control facility. Winds have strengthened and peaked at 160 mph.
The tornado hits Tractor Supply and heavily damages the building and cars around it. It then hops Horner Boulevard and makes a direct hit on the Lowe’s Home Improvement building.
The second death occurs in a mobile home along Poplar Springs Road as the tornado continues north.
The storm begins to weaken as it continues northeast along Avent Ferry Road, crossing into Chatham County just east of Harris Lake (narrowly avoiding a hit on the nuclear plant). It’s downgraded to an EF-0 by the time it reaches Holly Springs, but continues its path to Raleigh.
damage assessment. And the damage was extensive. More than 450 structures in Lee County were heavily damaged, and 116 of them were declared “destroyed.” Seventeen industrial facilities were crushed. Early estimates had structural damage in Lee County at $57 million. Total damage — including farmland — was more than $100 million, according to FEMA. FEMA set up temporary offices in Sanford, and the Red Cross went door to door in the affected communities to grade the damage on a 1 to 3 scale, with 3 being the highest (a Sanford Herald headline from that week declared the St. Andrews community “A Field of 3s”). “That’s the key piece to any disaster response, after making sure people are safe and taken care of,” Seagroves says. “We have to get an accurate number on damage. And it took a fairly large team to make that happen.” Lee County went through a three-step process to make sure sufficient help would be coming its way. First, it was a county state of emergency and disaster declara-
tion voted on by commissioners. Then the governor had to sign off on a declaration before the president could declare a disaster and free up federal funds. When it was all said and done, Seagroves says Lee County government as a whole learned from the experience and will be better prepared when/if the next natural disaster comes along. Ten years later, he says one of the biggest differences between today and 2011 is the National Weather Services’ ability to not only communicate warnings to the public, but to also be more accurate with those warnings. For example, Seagroves says, the warnings in 2011 were triggered only if a tornado or funnel cloud was spotted by a trained eye. Lee County only received its first warning when the massive storm reached the Carthage area, leaving far less time for preparation. Today, warnings can be triggered by radars detecting rotation in the clouds — software that Seagroves has in his office. Warnings today also don’t have to blanket the entire county. If a storm is spotted on
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rantnc.com the Lee/Chatham border today, that area will receive the alert and not necessarily the southern portion of the county.
forecasts get serious. We’re much better prepared than we were 10 years ago, and we learned a lot from that experience.”
An example of today’s improved warning system — tornado warnings went out in Lee County as recently as March 27, but each of them were on the fringes of the county and didn’t set off county-wide alerts. Better planning also led several Lee County government offices to shut down early on March 25 when “supercell” activity was forecast in the area, although ultimately, the weather remained relatively calm that day.
What sticks out most to Seagroves is the way the community came together in 2011 to help each other out during a time of great need.
Sanford Mayor Chet Mann says both the city and county are much better prepared today than they were 10 years ago. He said Sanford was lucky in many ways in 2011 — the storm happened during the day and it came on a Saturday when fewer people were at school or work. “The weather patterns aren’t changing,” he says. “We’re still getting these huge swings in weather, and if this spring is any indication, we need to stay prepared for the worst. I encourage people to sign up for alerts and pay attention when these
“I’ve gone to multiple states and taught classes on emergency planning, and I go over everything we learned from that storm in 2011,” Seagroves says. “But every time, I also brag about the way neighbors helped their neighbors. Our community came together in a way I’d never seen before, whether it was delivering food, helping with clean-up or putting together fundraisers to help those who needed it.” o Have a memory from the 2011 tornado that you’d like to share? Email billy@rantnc. com or comment on this story on Facebook, and we’ll share your memories and experiences in an online story on April 16 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the storm. Also, view this story online to see videos from a decade ago.
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20 | April 2021
TO MORE THAN JUST A GYM
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22 | April 2021
COUNTY SEES UPTICK IN POSITIVE COVID CASES AFTER WEEKS OF DECLINE After three consecutive weeks with new COVID 19 numbers in the 40s, Lee County reported 72 new cases in the last seven days, as well as the county’s 74th COVID related death on March 29.
In all, 5,667 county residents have now tested positive for COVID-19. Identifying details about patients are not released in accordance with federal health privacy laws. However, the most recent individual who died was confirmed to have been hospitalized at Central Carolina Hospital. “This is a reminder that while we are making great strides in the fight against COVID-19, this remains a serious illness that threatens public health and safety,” said Lee County Health Director Heath Cain. The March 29 announced death is the first in Lee County since Feb. 26, when county government reported six deaths in a single day.
VACCINES AVAILABLE TO ANYBODY OVER 16 COVID-19 Vaccinations are now open to all Lee County residents 18 or older, and 16 or older for the Pfizer vaccine. To register for the COVID-19 vaccine, individuals may call (919) 842-5744 or to register in Spanish, (919) 718-4640 option 8. Calls will be accepted Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 PM. There is also an online pre-registration form available at leecountync.gov/covid19. Once a form is submitted, staff will be in contact within five business days to complete the registration process. Through March 29, nearly 3 million North Carolinians (35 percent of the population) have received at least one dose of vaccine. Roughly 1.68 million (or 22 percent) are fully vaccinated. Those percentages are lower in Lee County (23 and 15 percent).
Sanford barber Reginald Green of Barber Plus on Wilson Road is giving free haircuts to men and women who come in with a vaccination card between April 12-15. Photo by Billy Liggett
CLEAN & VACCINED Local barber offering free haircuts April 12-15 to anybody with proof of vaccination By Billy Liggett Reginald Green, as much as anybody, wants to see COVID-19 go away. The Sanford barber and Moncure native tested positive for the virus back in January, and while the experience wasn’t as bad as many have gone through, he’s certain that a full year earlier — after a trip to Indianapolis
to catch a Colts-Panthers game — he came home with either the virus or something very similar. “I thought it was the flu, but this was different,” he recalls. “It lasted three full weeks, and I couldn’t breathe, especially at night. I thought if this is what death feels like, I was on my way.” While recent studies have suggested COVID-19 was present in this country as early as December 2019, Green had no way (or reason) to get tested for it then. But whether he’s had it once or twice, he wants to see his community get vaccinated. To make that happen, he’s offering free haircuts from April 12-15 to anybody with
a vaccination card. Anybody with proof of vaccination can sign up for a free cut at joinbarberplus.com (click “book online”) for those three days. The offer is Green’s way of not only giving back to his community — which he’s done in the past by giving free cuts to the city’s homeless — but also his way of thanking those who are “doing their part to make their community safer.” “I’m not doing this to try to convince anybody to do something they don’t want to do,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s your choice. But the vaccine is available if you want it, and I want to thank those who’ve gotten it. And if somebody feels
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rantnc.com compelled to go get the vaccine because of what I’m doing, that’s great, too.”
he said. “That was my entertainment in middle school and high school.”
Green is already getting calls and reservations for his offer. He’s blocked out 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on those three days for people to come in (slots are still open). While the haircuts are free, tips and donations will be accepted.
Green himself hasn’t been eligible for the vaccine until recently, but is scheduled to get his first shot before his three-day free haircut marathon. He said the pandemic has hurt his business like most barbers, because many are still hesitant to come into close contact with a barber or a stylist.
All donations will go toward the Sanford Barber College on Wicker Street, which gives students an opportunity to learn the skill and have a trade coming out of high school. The money will be used to fund tuition or help pay off loans for the students. Green grew up in Moncure, a small community in southern Chatham County just north of Sanford, and graduated from Northwood High School in Pittsboro. But Sanford also felt like home — it was where he and his friends would go to hang out. Weekends often involved trips to Kendale Plaza, where they would spend the afternoon at the skating rink or that the $1 movie theater. “You got dropped off in Sanford and you hung out until your mom picked you up,”
But as more and more are getting vaccinated (roughly 35 percent of North Carolinians and 23 percent of Lee County residents through March 29), he’s noticing a difference. “I had a guy come in last week who hadn’t had his hair cut since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “We’ve had people come in who have been vaccinated and people who haven’t. You see a difference in their comfort level — they’re more confident to be sitting in that chair if they’ve gotten the vaccine.” Visit joinbarberplus.com and click “Book online” to make a reservation or call (919) 292-1966. The business can also be found on Facebook at @joinbarberplus.
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A ‘GAME CHANGER’ Pilgrim’s donates $500K to fund renovations to downtown building for future agricultural marketplace By Billy Liggett Pilgrim’s — one of the world’s largest poultry producers with a plant in Sanford — announced on March 8 it is contributing more than $500,000 to establish a permanent home for the Sanford Agricultural Marketplace in downtown Sanford. The marketplace will be housed in the former King Roofing, Heating and Air building on Carthage Street, next to the old City Hall building and will serve as a multi-functional space for civic events and gatherings; including 4-H meetings, farmer education courses, a food donation hub and bi-lingual classes on food safety, budget planning and cooking.
Above: The old King Roofing, Heating & Air building on Carthage Street in downtown Sanford will be transformed into the Sanford Agricultural Market Place thanks to funding by Pilgrim’s in Sanford.
The announcement is the result of a collaboration between Pilgrim’s, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the City of Sanford and Downtown Sanford, Inc. The initial investment was revealed back in October, and Pilgrim’s has been working with local officials since then to “determine where the funds can best help meet immediate and longer-term community needs.” “We are honored to call Sanford our hometown and to be a reliable and responsible contributor to our local economy,” said Jamal Mohammed, Pilgrim’s Sanford complex manager. “Through our Hometown Strong initiative, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the community and look forward to sustainable agricultural growth right here in the heart of North Carolina.”
The Pilgrim’s Sanford facility employs 1,060 people with an annual payroll of more than $35 million. According to the company, the facility also supports more than 160 growers, paying them more than $21 million per year for their birds. Pilgrim’s Sanford says it has also invested more than $110 million in capital im-
provements over the last five years. The marketplace will be a much-anticipated addition to the city. Several local elected officials, agriculture representatives and business leaders praised the announcement. “We are very appreciative and humbled by this generous donation from Pilgrim’s as
part of their Hometown Strong Initiative,” said Bill Stone, county extension director. “We anticipate that this Agricultural Marketplace project will help growers and producers from the Sandhills region expand their consumer base and increase farm profitability, while also serving as an epicenter for celebrating Lee County’s rich agricultural heritage and promoting the diversity that makes our community such a special place today.” Sanford Mayor Chet Mann: “This incredibly generous investment will allow us to offer something long term and sustain-
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rantnc.com able to our residents. It will also continue to preserve our agricultural heritage and enhance our agri-business community while creating a fantastic venue downtown for civic events and community usage. A currently dilapidated — now owned by the City — will spring back to life and kick off even more revitalization in East Sanford just bordering our downtown. I am grateful to Pilgrim’s for sharing our vision we have for this area and partnering with us to achieve even greater things for our citizens.” Kelli Laudate, Downtown Sanford Inc. executive director: “The Downtown Sanford Inc. board and I are extremely grateful to Pilgrim’s Hometown Strong initiative to invest in the Agriculture Marketplace to be located in the heart of our historic downtown Sanford. The partnerships will be invaluable to the community as we will work to bring the produce of local farms to their supper tables each week as well as educational opportunities on the benefits of supporting local farms and an improved quality of life. Many thanks to Pilgrim’s for their generous donation to our project and for believing in the vision that everyone should have fresh vegetables and fruit to
serve to their families.
Joni Martin, Progressive Contracting Company, Inc. and a DSI board member: “Another vital piece of the revitalization puzzle is in place in our wonderful downtown, a cultural center bridging the gap between farming, rural Lee County and the City of Sanford. It will be a wonderful place to buy fruits and vegetables plus opportunities to expand the market and its services. Thanks again to Pilgrim’s for seeing the importance of being a caring and giving corporate citizen and for being a part of this exciting project for our community.” Sharon Spence, DSI board member: “This grant from Pilgrim’s Pride is a game-changer for our farmers and for our community. The Agriculture Marketplace brings with it endless opportunities, from expanded space and hours for the vendors to educational activities for youth and adults. I envision the marketplace becoming both a local and regional shopping destination, making it a strong economic driver for farmers and our downtown businesses. Shoppers will have increased access to fresh, nutritious food — which in turn supports a healthy community.”
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26 | April 2021
WICKER RECEIVES CHAMBER AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE A Sanford native who rose to the highest ranks of state government has been awarded an honor by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce that puts him in the company of some of the state’s most well known figures.
Dennis Wicker, who served as North Carolina Lieutenant Governor for two terms from 1992 to 2000, received the chamber’s Distinguished Service Award at the organization’s 79th annual meeting in March. Other North Carolinians who have received the award include Gov. Jim Hunt, Sen. Sam Ervin, the Rev. Billy Graham and Sen. Jesse Helms. “I was really overwhelmed when they called me. I became emotional,” Wicker told The Rant. “I have never considered myself to be among that group, that caliber of people.” Wicker, prior to serving as lieutenant governor was a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and still lives in Sanford, is now an attorney with the Nelson Mullins firm in Raleigh. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. of Charlotte, and First Bancorp of Southern Pines. He is also founder and a current Board member of the Lee County Education Foundation. “Certainly I’m very proud of the Chamber for recognizing his civic contributions,” said Lee County Commissioner Robert Reives Sr., a longtime friend of Wicker’s. “He’s been good for this state for years and years, and he’s an outstanding individual.” As a legislator and lieutenant governor, Wicker’s issues of focus included expanding access to health insurance for children, toughening DWI laws and strengthening public education. The award was given “for his outstanding record of public responsibility” and a press release noted that he “has made an indelible mark on our state.”
Bret Schaller will appear on the April 13 episode of History Channel’s “Assembly Required,” a reality contest hosted by “Home Improvement” stars Tim Allen and Richard Karn. Photo courtesy of Bret Schaller
ASSEMBLY REQUIRED Sanford engineer competes on History reality show hosted by ‘Home Improvement’ duo By Jonathan Owens
pseudo-reboot of the roles that made them stars in the 1990s on the sitcom “Home Improvement.”
The episode featuring Schaller, an engineer who owns Schaller Industries, will air on April 13 on the History Channel. Because it had not aired as of publication, he could not share the specifics about his experiences on the show.
People passing by a quiet home on Carthage Street last fall had no idea that a national television show was in production there.
“Everything you’ll see with me is filmed in Sanford on Carthage Street,” he said. “It was the most intense thing I’ve ever done. It was awesome though.”
Inside his workshop, Bret Schaller was hard at work competing on “Assembly Required,” a new reality contest show hosted by Tim Allen and Richard Karn in a
After being selected to be on the show more than a year ago from a casting invite on Facebook, initially the plan was for Schaller to travel to Los Angeles to
compete in the studio alongside Allen and Karn. Then the COVID pandemic hit, and the show was shelved for six months as production all over the country shut down. The show’s production company pivoted to a new format, with Allen and Karn in the studio while the contestants like Schaller competed from their workshops. A film crew spent five days at his home last September, filming his work. “Because I was working in my own shop, I had zero excuses,” he said. In the show, three contestants have a specific time to build an item – anything from a flame-throwing ice-melting leaf blower to a do-it-yourself jacuzzi and BBQ bicycle – selected by Allen and Karn. Allen
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Tim Allen and Richard Karn, stars of the 90s hit sitcom “Home Improvement” host History Channel’s “Assembly Required.” and Karn judge the contestants’ work, and eliminate one after Round 1. The two finalists compete for $5,000. “It was so stressful,” Schaller said of the experience. “I was doing things I know would make shop teachers at school cringe. I was just flying through. At one point, I even cut my jeans and kept working.” Schaller gave no hints about the outcome of the show. He just said he was proud of
his work. “They gave us so much freedom that it was all up to us,” he said. “I think I came up with a pretty elegant solution.” He also enjoyed the competitiveness of the show. “I never played sports in school, and I grew up not competing,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. I would do it again. It was stressful, but I had a great time.”
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28 | April 2021
LOCAL SARAH FAITH
MORE BANDS JOIN SANFORD INDIE FEST Eleven new acts were announced in March for the upcoming Carolina Indie Fest, slated for Sept. 17-18 at three venues in downtown Sanford, bringing the total number of bands and artists to 20 out of a total of up to 36. For a complete list of acts, visit facebook. com/officialcarolinaindiefest. •
Sklyar Love: Emerging 15-year-old singer/songwriter with influences ranging from Bowie and Queen to Winehouse and Eilish.
Mudflower: Chicago-based band blending soul, rock and fusion.
WEEP: Florida funk trio with infectious melodies, tight harmonies.
Sarah Faith: Nashville indie/ Americana artist.
Caroline Keller Band: Hailing from Charlotte, CKB plays a mix of country and Americana.
Releaser: Chicago four-piece rock outfit which considers the only band leader the song.
Rachel Messer: West Virginia singer/songwriter who pays tribute to the country greats and has appeared on NBC’s “The Voice.”
Jennie Angel: Poughkeepsie, New York-based country artist.
Ebb & Nova: Indie four piece from Baltimore with soulful, haunting sounds.
Carrie Asher: Feisty “folk punk” singer songwriter from San Antonio.
Nitro Nitra: “Astral pop” and soul rock singer from Philadelphia who has been compared to Amy Winehouse, Tina Turner, Erykah Badu and Diana Ross.
Chad Spivey, the former owner of a kayak tour company on the Deep and Cape Fear rivers, has been working to make those rivers more accessible for people with small boats and kayaks. Photo courtesy of Chad Spivey
KAYAK ACCESSIBLE River enthusiast says Deep, Cape Fear will have three paved access raots, more boat ramps
he Deep and Cape Fear rivers run along the Lee County line for a combined 43 miles — all without a single paved boat access.
Chad Spivey of Sanford has been working for several years to change that, and his efforts are beginning to come to fruition. Currently, the closest paved accesses to the river are on the Chatham County side
of the Camelback Bridge, which crosses the Deep in Cumnock, and on the Harnett County side of Avent’s Ferry, which crosses the Cape Fear at N.C. Highway 42. Spivey, a river enthusiast who formerly owned a kayak tour company and is now an agent with Harris and Company Insurance in Sanford, said there will soon be three paved accesses of differing types along the two rivers, which meet on the northern edge of Lee County. “We’ve built makeshift accesses over the years, but storms always eventually end up destroying what we do,” he said. “So we’ve been working with the state to get more ramps put in, but these things can take a few years to happen.”
That being said, Spivey expects to see new accesses at the U.S. 421 bypass at the Lee-Chatham county line, McIver’s Landing across 421 from J.R. Moore and Son general store (technically a stone’s throw from Lee County), and along 15-501 where a new bridge is being built over the Deep River in the next year or so. The 421 bypass access is expected to be paved steps, much like at the access to the French Broad River in Asheville. “I’ve always been a big fan of the river, and anything we can do to help get more people on it is a good thing,” Spivey said.
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rantnc.com COVID RELIEF PACKAGE
City, county unsure of how to spend millions in aid By Gordon Anderson
money until we know those rules,” Crumpton said.
Between local governments in Sanford, Lee County and Broadway, more than $21 million in federal cash will be coming to Lee County in the months ahead, thanks to the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.
Giving an example of how coronavirus relief money was used under President Trump’s CARES Act, Crumpton said there had been some speculation that funds could be used to give bonuses to some employees affected by the pandemic.
The problem? Nobody knows yet how it can be spent.
“When you went and read the rules, it turned out it wasn’t the case for us,” he said. “But that wording is in this legislation again, so we don’t know if we can do that or not.”
Lee County Government is allocated $11.98 million in the legislation, with half set to arrive in May and the rest to come in July. But County Manager John Crumpton said the parameters for what expenses are allowable under the law haven’t been clearly defined by the U.S. Treasury Department, so making plans for what to do with the money is difficult right now. “I’m kind of apprehensive to talk to the commissioners about what to do with that
Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer said the city was allocated $8.8 million in the legislation. He said he anticipates using the money for “COVID-related expenses” like PPE, sanitizer and the installment of equipment to make social distancing more efficient, but like Crumpton is cautious due to uncertainty from the federal government. “I don’t know if I anticipate any real an-
swers soon,” he said. Both Crumpton and Hegwer also said North Carolina as a whole fared better than many states during the economic crisis spurred on by COVID-19. Crumpton cited fiscal oversight of local governments by the Local Government Commission as a reason for that and noted the county is actually ahead of where it was at this time last year in sales tax revenue collections. Hegwer said the city has seen some increase in expenses, citing the loss of inmate labor for things like trash pickup leading to contracts with private industry, and a decrease in Powell funding revenue which pays for street maintenance and upgrades but also said other areas are up and characterized the impact as “more of a shift in spending.” “Locally, we’ve fared pretty well overall,” he said. The Town of Broadway is allocated roughly $200,000 in the American Rescue Plan.
Sanford, Broadway and Lee County governments have received more than $21 million in federal aid for COVID-19.
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BRIEFS LEE COUNTY SCHOOLS TAKE FAFSA CHALLENGE TO SEND MORE TO COLLEGE
ROTARY CLUB HERO PROJECT DONATES $1K TO THE SANFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT
Lee County Schools have accepted North Carolina’s First in FAFSA Challenge to help send more local high school seniors to college. Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School are competing against each other and hundreds of other high schools across the state to increase their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion rates.
Sanford Rotary Club and Jonesboro Rotary Club — along with Rotary District 7690 — donated $1,000 to the Sanford Fire Department to purchase a radio battery conditioner/analyzer.
NC First in FAFSA launched the inaugural FAFSA Challenge this semester to encourage high schools to earn the highest college application completion rate and implement innovative strategies to support FAFSA completion locally. Nearly 500 North Carolina high schools or 75 percent of public high schools across the state have registered for the challenge.
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The donation was made by the Rotary Clubs’ Honoring Emergency/First Responders Opportunity (HERO) Project, which seeks to acknowledge and understand the importance in recognizing those men and women who work and volunteer around the clock to ensure public safety where we live. The department requested a Motorola Fire 6-Bank Charger, a portable charger that reconditions radio batteries to extend their usability and monitor the
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rantnc.com charge of each battery. This equipment allows firefighters to replace radio batteries before a problem arises. Rotary District 7690, which includes 40 Rotary Clubs in our region, pledged $400 for every $100 we donated locally. The Sanford and Jonesboro clubs joined forces to make a bigger impact. Each club pledged $100 and $800 came from the District.
CONGRESSMAN COMMENDS HEALTH DEPARTMENT FOR ITS COVID-19 RESPONSE Congressman Ted Budd of North Carolina’s 13th congressional district presented a letter of recognition to Lee County Health Director Heath Cain on March 25, to commend the department and staff for their work and efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with an emphasis on the current vaccination drive. “The department is honored to have Congressman Budd recognize our efforts over the past year,” said Cain. “This has been a challenging year for public health
professionals, and we appreciate the special acknowledgement. The letter not only recognizes the hard work and dedication of our staff but also serves as a morale boost for staff serving on the frontlines of this pandemic every day.” Budd also met with county commissioners Kirk Smith, Bill Carver and Arianna Lavallee to discuss local issues. Recently drawn congressional maps shifted a portion of Lee County’s west side into the 13th congressional district, which became effective on Jan. 3.
LIBRARY TO EXPAND HOURS Lee County Libraries announced it will expand public hours at the main library in Sanford; beginning April 5, hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The main library will continue to offer curbside services Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with hours extended until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. COVID protocols in the library will remain in place. The library’s Broadway branch remains closed; however, patrons may utilize the book drop that is available 24/7.
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32 | April 2021
DONATION DRIVE BENEFITS ‘HAPPY BOTTOMS’ IN LEE CO. The Partnership for Children and Families hosted its second donation drive on March 19 for the Happy Bottoms and Femine Care Bank, which supplies diapers, wipes and feminine products for women and families in need. According to the Partnership, one in five women between the ages of 12 and 44 in North Carolina are impacted by “period poverty,” and have little to no access to necessary products. The Central Carolina Jaycees were among the several groups and individuals who donated to this great cause.
The Rant Monthly | 33
rantnc.com THE RANT ON TV
Anderson featured in Oxygen true crime show
dd Oxygen to the growing list of television networks that have featured members of The Rant in their programming.
Anderson was a writer for The Herald from 2002 to 2010 and covered the case for the newspaper in both 2004 and 2007. In “Killer Motive,” Anderson recalled the scene at Marnita’s funeral in 2004 and discusses the secrecy around Melvin and his parishioners in the weeks and months that followed.
Rant co-founder, former Sanford Herald reporter and Star Trek aficionado Gordon Anderson appeared on the Oxygen show, “Killer Motive,” about the 2004 murder of Marnita Bynum, the wife of former Sanford pastor Melvin Bynum.
The Bynum case — the episode was titled, “Savior or Sinner?” — aired on March 13, teased with the following: “When a North Carolina preacher’s wife is found murdered, police must determine not only who may want her dead, but whether some members of the congregation are mourning – or trying to cover up their part in the violent crime.”
“Killer Motive,” hosted by Troy Roberts, revisited the case 17 years after Marnita was founded strangled to death in the trunk of her Chrysler Sebring convertible, which had been abandoned on a rural road in Richmond County on Aug. 2, 2004. At the time, Melvin was the pastor of Cry Out Loud Ministries in Sanford. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and could have faced the death penalty if convicted. Instead, he pleaded guilty in 2007 to voluntary manslaughter
and was sentenced to 64 to 86 months in state prison. He was released in 2009 after barely serving two years of that sentence. Rich-
mond County law enforcement officials have gone on record multiple times saying they believe Bynum got away with murder.
The Rant was featured on WRAL’s “Tar Heel Traveler” in 2020 for its work during the pandemic and covering local Black Lives Matter events and was featured in an episode of MTV’s “Catfish” the same year.
34 | April 2021
Jetport’s new flight simulator makes better pilots From Raleigh Exec Jetport Pilots flying out of Raleigh Exec now have a new training option after a flight simulator was installed in the terminal by Odyssey Aero Club, a nonprofit flying club based at the general aviation airport. The simulator, a Redbird TD2 with G1000 and 6-pack panels, is designed for instrument-rated pilots — those who have gone through additional, intensive training to fly solely using instruments in the cockpit that provide continuous data about the aircraft’s flight. While more than half of all pilots have earned the rating, only a small percentage maintain it over time.
The Redbird TD2 flight simulator allows pilots to enhance flight safety by practicing in different kinds of weather and becoming familiar with approaches at airports they haven’t yet visited. Photo courtesy of Redbird’s website.
According to Raleigh Exec officials, Redbird TD2 is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a Basic Aviation Training Device. It allows pilots
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The Rant Monthly | 35
rantnc.com to enhance flight safety by practicing in different kinds of weather and becoming familiar with approaches at airports they haven’t yet visited. Instrument-rated pilots and pilots training for their instrument rating can use the simulator to complete some FAA requirements to earn and maintain their ratings. Jan Squillace, general manager and flight instructor for Odyssey Aero Club, says the simulator offers many advantages for pilots, including the chance to acquire experience less expensively than actually flying. But, in the end, it’s all about safety. “For any pilot wondering what really bad weather can look like, try it on a simulator,” she said. “When things get too rough, you can press pause and consider your choices, an opportunity you may not get in an actual airplane in bad weather. Flying a simulator does not make you a capable pilot, but a capable pilot can improve their level of safety by using the simulator.” Squillace said there are a handful larger simulators in the area, equipment classified as Advanced Aviation Training
Devices, but those are more expensive to buy and maintain. This one was affordable for Odyssey Aero Club and is currently available to any member, with a checkout with an Odyssey instructor, at $40 per hour for Social/Simulator members and $30 per hour for Full Flying members. The simulator also further expands the growing list services available at Raleigh Exec since its new terminal opened less than two years ago. “The newest addition of a Redbird simulator will be an additional boost for the club to attract more members and offer a capability for flight simulation inside the classroom at a lower cost or when the weather is not conducive for actual flying,” said Airport Director Bob Heuts. “The simulator is a welcome addition to all of the aviation activities offered at Raleigh Exec.” Since being formed in 2018, Odyssey Aero Club is a nonprofit that offers aircraft rentals, flight instruction and monthly safety seminars to enhance piloting skills, as well as a “vibrant social atmosphere” for pilots to share their passion for aviation.
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LOCAL LEE COUNTY GRAD LEADS MERCER HOOPS TO NCAA TOURNAMENT Amoria Neal-Tysor, a 2018 graduate of Lee County High School and a former member of the ladies basketball team there, was named Most Outstanding Player in the Southern Conference women’s basketball tournament which her Mercer University team won on March 7 in Asheville with a victory over Wofford. Tysor, a junior, scored 78 points between the quarterfinal, semifinal and final games including a career high of 34 points in the semifinal. Additionally, she averaged 25.5 points in games played in her home state. In the NCAA Tournament opening round match-up against top-seeded South Carolina, Neal-Tysor led the Bears in points with 15 in her team’s 79-53 loss. Mercer, based in Atlanta, will advance to the NCAA Women’s Tournament for the second time in Neal-Tysor’s career. Neal-Tysor was also named to the All Tournament First Team.
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THE YEAR OF BRITTON Britton Buchanan has released three singles so far in 2021 leading up to his debut album, set for release this summer. Friend and fan of The Rant Britton Buchanan has released three singles so far in 2021, with more coming soon. His long-awaited first album is also set to drop this year. Buchanan joined the Friends of The Rant podcast in March to talk about these things and more. Below is an edited, condensed transcript of Buchanan’s podcast. THE RANT: We know 2020 has been tough for everyone in the music industry, but it looks like your 2021, Britton, has been eventful. It looks like it’s been a busy time for you in terms of releasing music. Let’s talk about these three new songs first. Last time you were with us in September, you said, “I’ve got big plans coming up.” That started with your “October Queen” single that came out in October, and it’s just gotten crazier since.
that came with a video. It’s a very catchy song and it comes with neat lyric video. I want to ask you about the video — did you make that?
BRITTON BUCHANAN: Well, it’s so funny. I feel like every time I say, “We’re gonna put out a record,” the record gets farther away. I mean, I’ve somehow managed to tell everyone so many times that I’m putting out a record, that I’ve delayed it for two and a half years, so I think I have to stop myself from saying a particular date. But we’ve just put out three singles, and there’s three more to come. And then there’ll be a record at an undisclosed time.
BUCHANAN: Yes, I do my own stunts. We wanted to do something fun, but not expensive. Because we’ve made this big music video for what will be the lead single. So we were, like, what can we do for this one that is more contained? Can we do it ourselves? So I just had the idea to have the notepad with me writing the lyrics in it. I was just crossing my fingers, hoping it wouldn’t come off as stupid. And luckily, I don’t think it did.
THE RANT: In January you released a song called, “I Hate the Way I Love You.” It was the only one you’ve released so far
THE RANT: You said you have a lead single coming up soon with a big video coming with that. Tell us more about it.
BUCHANAN: We have this song that’s looking like it will come out in June — a song that we (my co-writer and producing partner, Derek Fuhrmann, and I) directed ourselves. We put a lot of love and energy into it, and we think it turned out great. It’s the most large-scale thing we’ve done. We did a proper music video with sound stages and people who know what they’re doing behind the camera and editors who know what they’re doing — not just a strange 21-year-old man with a notepad and a table [like the other video]. We’re hoping it will come out in June or July. Fingers crossed we can maintain that. THE RANT: I think that last time we talked, you were not specifically working with a label? Is that still the case?
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rantnc.com BUCHANAN: My producing partner, Derek and I met when I was on the trial period with a manager in 2019. And we just had this productive and exciting creative partnership. So let’s just keep working together. And then it was his idea. Oh, let’s make a record. No one’s making records anymore. We should go against the norm. We’ll put out singles, but let’s have it lead up to an album, because that’s what I love. I mean, all of my heroes, Springsteen and Tom Petty, and Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne — these are album people. So let’s do that old school thing, instead of just being single driven. But at the same time, you know, let’s play by the rules just a little bit. THE RANT: Are you still in the process of writing for that album? Where are you in the process? BUCHANAN: We have all six singles done, mixed and mastered. Then we have two more that we’re sure is going on it. And we have enough for the rest of it. We want 12 songs, so now we’re in the process of seeing what is [worthy]. Everything has to be as good. We’re still writing and trying to figure out if we can write better songs to fill those spots. THE RANT: The best way to get an album out to the people is to go out and play it. When we talked last year, we had no idea when you would be able to do that. Now, there’s a little more clarity. More and more people are getting vaccinated and a lot of states are starting to ease their crowd restrictions — even here in North Carolina. Where are you right now in terms of live shows? And is that something that’s coming up soon for you? BUCHANAN: I have no idea. We’re starting to see restrictions eased. From what I understand you can only do outdoor shows at 25 percent capacity. And I think the peak is 100 people, which is the right thing to do. We have a great governor here [in California]. Gavin Newsom, who knows what he’s doing. And we have a great governor back home who knows what he’s doing as well. So I don’t know what the restrictions are like back home, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it yet to play outside, because of the monetary investment you have to have with equipment and travel and selling tickets and whatnot. I’m just not sure if that’s even an economically responsible decision to make. I don’t know what your return is going to be like. And I’m a very paranoid
person about COVID. I wouldn’t want to get sick, and I wouldn’t want to get anybody sick. And I wouldn’t want to be the catalyst that anyone got sick over either. As someone who’s not vaccinated yet, I am not prepared to go out just because it’s intimidating. THE RANT: We want to ask you about “October’s Queen.” You were really excited about that back in September. You were putting the finishing touches on a video. We saw it when it came out. And yeah, you weren’t kidding. You got some pretty impressive horror movie icons in that video, and I saw that you were well over 135,000 views on it on YouTube. How did you feel about the finished product? BUCHANAN: I haven’t seen it in a long time, [because] I’ve heard the song so much that I don’t want to ever hear it again [laughs]. And so I haven’t seen it in a long time. But when I think about it, and when I do see it, I always get so excited. I can’t believe that I added all these people for my childhood. I mean, I remember seeing “A Nightmare on Elm Street” for the first time when I was 9, because my mom was cool. And it scared the crap out of me. And she was like, “You can’t watch any of the other ones.” And then I immediately found bootleg copies on YouTube and watched all of the other ones and got so excited. I remember when Hollywood Video closed when I was 10 or 11, and they were selling all of their excess product at insanely cheap prices. And I bought all of the “Nightmare” mainstream movies, and I have the Hollywood Video cases and with the stickers on them still in my closet back home. I remember seeing these things for the first time and being completely terrified and dumbfounded and astounded by all these you know, blood and guts and bad words and naked people and all this stuff was like that. Now, 12 years later, all of these people are lip-synching to a song that I wrote. THE RANT: You were excited about having [iconic horror film critic, writer and comedian] Joe Bob Briggs take part. Who else had you in disbelief that they were singing your song? BUCHANAN: Oh, that’s a hard question. The one who I didn’t expect to say yes — even though we did know each other — was Kane Hodder, for who was the only person to ever play Jason more than once in the “Friday the 13th” films. And Kane is just like this huge convention draw. His line is always super long. Everybody wants
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38 | April 2021 to meet Kane. He’s Jason. But the one I think I was most excited about as someone who was not even really a particularly huge fan of their films, but it’s just a huge fan of the person was Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Entertainment, which was so cool. THE RANT: We were looking up your music before this podcast and on some of your social media, we noticed that you’re starting to develop a big Mythical following. And for those who don’t know, Mythical refers to the fans of Rhett and Link. And Link Neal, of course, is your cousin. And you got to open up for them during their national tour. Those seem like very dedicated fans for one. And for them to jump on your stuff seemed like really good exposure for you. BUCHANAN: This is a huge blessing, for sure. The tour was amazing. We did 20 to 21 dates over five or six months. We played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which was huge for me. And then the first night of the tour, we were in St. Louis and it was sold out. And it was the biggest theater we played, which was like 3,100 people, and it was packed. Walking out and seeing this mass of people that were
“The fact that I’m actually putting out music this year is very exciting. I just hope people dig it.”
happy it’s happening. And selfishly I just wish it happened a little earlier, so I could have done it when I was still living back home. But still, it’s very exciting.
— Britton Buchanan
THE RANT: Tell us again what you got coming up and how we can support you and what you’re doing.
all very welcoming and receptive to me — that was amazing. We had a great, a great time. And Link and I are just one in the same. We just geek out about music. I used to live with him and all his kids, we would all start after dinner and Link and I would start talking about music. Then slowly, one kid would trickle out. And then Christy, his wife, would trickle out. And then we noticed it was three hours later and everybody was asleep. And we were still talking about some Kenny Rogers record that no one ever heard from 1974 or whatever. I love my cousin, and we’re one of the same. That was the most fun part besides playing shows, you know, sleeping in the bunk above him and having to be woken up by him. It was fun. And their fans are great. Their fans have really latched on to me and are several of my biggest supporters — besides the good people of Sanford, North Carolina, and the listeners of The Rant. So, yeah, that I love my Mythical people.
They’re a lot of fun. THE RANT: Speaking of Sanford, I don’t know if you’ve seen the news that there’s like a downtown music festival coming — a multi-day, multi-venue music festival set for September. What’s it like for you to move away and see something like that come to your hometown? BUCHANAN: My first thoughts were, “What the hell?” Where was this when I was there? It’s funny. I was still playing, playing in Sanford and living in my parents house. And this sort of thing happened. And I was able to go do it. When I was 17 years old — playing in Sanford and living in my parents’ house before this big thing [“The Voice”] happened — I wish those things were around when I was 17. But every time I go home, Sanford looks different. And it’s growing in a tremendous way. And so I guess a part of growth is these cool things get to happen. And I’m
BUCHANAN: Go stream wherever you stream music — Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer. “I Hate the Way I Love You,” “Can’t Help Myself ” and “Last Time for Everything” are out now, and we’re going to have another single out at the end of April or beginning of May called “Better,” which is maybe my personal favorite of the ones we’re releasing. Visit my website — brittonbuchanan.com — for updates and news or my socials — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I’m just excited to be putting out music. It took so long. I mean, I put three songs out in 2020, which was a year and a half to two years after “The Voice.” So the fact that I’m actually going to put out music this year, it’s very exciting. And I just hope people dig it. o Hear the full podcast at rantnc.com or rantnc.podbean.com.
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40 | April 2021
The April 2021 edition of The Rant Monthly, a product of LPH Media LLC in Sanford, North Carolina