Sonkers take center stage – Mount Airy News

Food writer Matt Lardie said in Carolina Country magazine, “Nowhere else in America can you plop yourself down at a table and ask, “What kind of sonker do you have today?” It is for that very reason the sonker sign celebration is being held Friday morning in Dobson.
The first of the Hungry for History signs was erected at The Salt Museum at Onondaga Lake Park for their local favorite in July 2021. Surry County Public Information Officer Nathan Walls says the new sonker sign is under lock and key, no sneak peaks here folks.
WGP Foundation
Faith White, left, and Callie Edmonds, both of Dobson, enjoy sweet potato sonkers at the 2017 Sonker Festival. The ever-popular dishes draw a crowd whenever they are available.
Tom Joyce | Mount Airy News
The unveiling of a sign unique to Surry County will take place Friday, April 22 at 10 a.m. on the lawn of the Historic Courthouse, 114 W. Atkins St., in Dobson. The famous sonker, a Surry County delicacy, will receive its well-deserved nod for its historical significance when its “Hungry for History” road marker is displayed for the first time during a ceremony on the Kapp Street side of the courthouse square.
Launched in 2021 to help communities highlight their distinctive favorite foods, the Hungry for History grant program commemorates the role regional food specialties have played in defining American culture and forging community identity.
During the first grant round, the Pomeroy Foundation awarded funding for a variety of prepared dishes including Surry County’s very own sonker. The inaugural class also includes salt potatoes in Syracuse, New York.; Michigan hot dogs in Plattsburgh, New York; beef on weck in West Seneca, New York; buckwheat cakes in Kingwood, West Virginia; barbecued chicken in Lansing, New York; chocolate jumbles in Esperance, New York; and chicken brissil in Greenville, Alabama.
The origins of its name date back to Surry County’s early settlers. The word sonker comes from the Scottish dialect and originally referred to a small, grassy knoll that could have been used as a seat. The meaning evolved to describe a seat made from bundles of hay or straw. Many suspect the irregular dough covering the bumpy filling reminded cooks of a knoll or saddle, prompting the term.
Another school of thought says the dessert derived its name from the word “sunk” because the crust of a sonker sinks into the fruit filling. After being passed down through decades of rural Carolina dialect, perhaps sunker became sonker.
Although it is hard to say for sure where the name came from, it is much easier to say what it is: delicious.
Sonker is best described as a hybrid between a cobbler and a deep-dish pie. Generations of Surry County residents have handed down recipes and tweaked them to suit their personal tastes, family preference, and the available ingredients of the time.
The result of blending fruit and unshaped dough, often sweetened with sugar or molasses, and an occasional spice of the cook’s preference is the sonker itself. It can be accompanied by a dip or glaze made of cream, sugar or molasses, and a few drops of vanilla extract.
Variations in crust abound with some recipes calling for a pie-like crust, while others call for a breadcrumb topping. Other cooks make theirs in a pot on the stove, with a crust that is more akin to dumplings.
Using fruits such as blackberries, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, apricots, huckleberries, and apples it is believed folks made sonker stretch the usage of their fruit in tough times, or to utilize fruit that is toward the end of its ripeness. That “waste not” conservatism is still a hallmark of the people of Surry County who hate to see food go to waste and have the tupperware to prove it.
“Communities are incredibly proud of the cherished local dishes their regions are known for. We’re pleased to provide this opportunity to recognize and celebrate those foods with Hungry for History roadside markers,” Deryn Pomeroy, trustee at the Pomeroy Foundation, said.
To qualify for the Hungry for History grant program, the regional food specialty must be a prepared, ready-to-eat dish that originated before 1960 and is comprised of at least two ingredients.
The dish must still be available to eat today and have historical significance to the surrounding community. All applications must also include primary source documentation that proves the food’s authenticity and significance to the region. Such primary sources may not settle any long-standing debate on the crust, however.
“We look forward to helping communities across the country celebrate their unique – and delicious – regional food specialties that are part of the fabric of our collective identities and heritage,” Pomeroy said.
The ceremony will include a brief history of the sonker provided by the Surry County Historical Society, a review of the Surry County Sonker Trail, acknowledgment of those who have helped develop the trail and what the sonker has meant to the county in terms of tourism and exposure. Following this will be the unveiling of the sign, along with sonker samples provided by The Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards.
For anyone planning to attend the ceremony, a canopy and chairs will be setup for comfort, and parking will be provided around the Courthouse Square and diagonally across from the Historic Courthouse and Business 601/Main Street in the County parking lot at the Judicial Center.
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May 16, 2022
• An armed robbery is being investigated in which a man armed with a club stole money from a local business, according to Mount Airy Police Department reports.
The incident occurred last Friday evening at Makers Market on West Pine Street, where maker/vendor space is offered to select craftspeople. The unknown suspect used the club to intimidate and steal an undisclosed sum of money from a clerk.
In addition to the business, Myra Jo Monroe of South McKinney Road is listed as a victim of the crime.
• The Hibbett Sports store on Rockford Street was the scene of a larceny Saturday, when an unknown suspect ran out of the business without paying for merchandise valued at $189. Included were a pair of size 10 Nike Air Max Dawn shoes, two pairs of athletic shorts and two graphic T-shirts.
• William Dale Haynes, 50, of 543 Reeves Mill Road, was arrested on a felony charge, larceny from a merchant, after a May 4 incident at the Lowe’s home improvement store on South Andy Griffith Parkway, where he allegedly exchanged tags on merchandise in order to obtain it for a lower price.
A Craftsman inverter generator valued at $899 was involved. Haynes was held in the Surry County Jail under a $2,000 secured bond and slated for a June 6 appearance in District Court.
• Luis Ortiz Orsorno, 21, of 131 Churchill Lane, was jailed on May 4 after a domestic dispute at his home in which he allegedly struck his mother, Angelica Ortiz, and another female, Alicia Sanchez, both of Churchill Lane. Orsorno was charged with two counts of assault on a female and also served with two outstanding orders for arrest for failing to appear in court in Pender County, which were filed in April, and another issued in Surry County in March.
Orsorno was incarcerated in Dobson under a $22,000 secured bond on the arrest orders and without privilege of bond for the assault charges. He is scheduled to appear in Surry District Court on June 6.
• Police were told on May 4 that auto parts with a total value of $1,350 had been stolen from a secured lot on Mount View Drive, taken from both inside and outside a 1992 Honda Accord owned by Dwayne Allen Cooke of Alton Lane.
Included were four tires with rims, a vehicle instrument panel, the driver’s-door window, two taillight lense assemblies and two front indicator light assemblies.
• An attempt was made to cash a forged check for $4,801 at First Community Bank on West Independence Boulevard on April 28, with an apparently known female suspect involved whose name appeared on that document.
Both the bank and a business in Bluefield, Virginia, Blue Wolf Sales and Service Inc., are listed as victims of the forgery/uttering case that was still under investigation at last report.
May 16, 2022
The goals were multi-fold in passage of a property nuisance ordinance last fall that some on the Surry County Board of Commissioners felt was too broad to be enforced. If the goal was to take a bite out of blight: the time is approaching to test the county’s teeth. Of course, though, it will need to be paid for.
County Manager Chris Knopf advised the board a property on Turner Mountain Road has fallen into the nuisance category. The property owner is known to the county but cannot be reached to serve the citations. To abate the nuisance, the county will need to create a fund to pay for the remediation of the conditions that brought the property to fall into the nuisance status.
Commissioner Mark Marion chimed in this is near where he lives and there is profanity written on the walls, mattresses in the yard, windows busted out, and the roof is caving in. “This is safety and health issue to everyone around it,” he told his colleagues.
The graffiti on the walls is in poor enough taste that the county manager did not include photos for the board members because of the “inappropriateness of some of the photos.”
At the heart of last fall’s debate and again of Commissioner Van Tucker’s points on this evening had to do with subjectivity. One man’s trash is another’s treasure was a debate point of the fall, and now one county ordinance officer could be making an assessment on a property that puts it into a nuisance category.
Tucker wondered if that was a fair setup, so the board talked through the process they approved with Knopf.
The ordinance has a mechanism for such nuisance properties including assessment by an inspector; posted physical notice of violation on the property; a period for review and timely reply; and an appeals process that would ultimately land the final decision on abatement with the commissioners.
Or, as Tucker summarized it, the board would “make a conscientious decision on when and where to drop the hammer on abatement issue.”
Thus far this property owner is not to be found. Behind on assessed property taxes, but not so far behind in passed time for the county to foreclose, this owner has not replied to attempts to be reached for these ordinance citations or back taxes.
No property owner means no appeal equals stalemate. Assuming the owner remains incommunicado, the county will have its chance to act in the coming months.
Tucker was interested in an ad hoc approach on funding these situations, rather than having a standing fund. Knopf advised the board has the right to fund cleanups in such a way if they so choose, and that this discussion was just to set the table for future action.
Marion suggested the process continue but that the board be ready to act when the designated time for the property owner to reply expires. If the abatement proceeds, coming next would be a period to seek a bid for proposal from an entity who would clear the violations.
“The homeowner left it bad, squatters made it worse,” the county manager set expectations on clearing the property on Tuner Mountain Road, “I don’t think it will be cheap.”
May 16, 2022
Maggie Peterson, whose character on “The Andy Griffith Show” developed a memorable infatuation with Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor, has died, her family said Monday. She was 81.
A post to her Facebook page said Peterson died in her sleep on Sunday with her family present. According to the post, Peterson’s health took a turn for the worse when her husband, Gus Mancuso, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2021 at age 88.
“I loved being part of that great show and the many friends and fans I’ve made because of it,” she said in a social media post in 2020.
In the 1963 episode, Peterson played the role of Charlene Darling, who along with her father and four musical brothers visited Mayberry and crammed themselves into one hotel room as they waited for her fiance to arrive. Sheriff Andy Taylor lets the family spend a night in the courthouse and it’s then that Charlene becomes smitten with the sheriff. It was only when the fiance gets to town that Charlene settles for her first love.
During the next season, the Darlings return to Mayberry to help Charlene find a young boy to become engaged to her new baby. They pick Opie, played by Ron Howard, and the sheriff comes up with a scheme to show the family that his son isn’t the one they want.
Margaret Ann Peterson was born on Jan. 10, 1941, in Greeley, Colorado. According to IMDb, the Internet Movie Database site, she, her brother and two of his friends formed a small group that rode around on a pickup truck singing to people. It was those tours that led to her discovery by director Bob Sweeney and producer Aaron Ruben, who teamed to develop Griffith’s show.
Peterson also has credits for “Casino” (1965), and “Mars Attacks!” (1996), among other appearances.
The family said a private service will be held in the next few weeks.
May 16, 2022
With a city government-imposed deadline looming Wednesday for owners of unsafe commercial buildings in Mount Airy to either repair or demolish the structures, a snag has occurred regarding the possible sale of one.
That is what’s commonly referred to as the former Koozies location at 455 Franklin St., a dilapidated unsafe building once housing a private club by that name which has long been on the radar screen of local building codes personnel.
In February, it was targeted for enforcement action by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, along with the former Mittman Paint and Body Shop at 109 S. South St. and the so-called “red building” at 600 W. Pine St. beside Worth Honda.
The commissioners voted 4-1 to give the respective owners of the sites 90 days to either repair or demolish the structures, which includes vacating any occupants or personal property.
That ultimatum expires Wednesday.
It the wake of February’s vote, the vacant Mittman body shop property was auctioned on April 1, which made the timing of its fate uncertain given the change of ownership.
Meanwhile, the Koozies site also reached the auction block on April 28, which produced a high bid of $165,000 from an unnamed New York party.
But that potential purchase has fallen through, according to Dale Fulk, an auctioneer with Rogers Realty and Auction Co. who conducted the sale.
“The highest bidder didn’t work out,” Fulk said Monday.
While Fulk didn’t elaborate, Commissioner Joe Zalescik, who attended the April 28 auction — although Mayor Ron Niland has disclosed the city government was not officially involved — said it was his understanding the prospective new owner was unaware of the demolition mandate.
Razing the structure, which the city could do on its own based on the wording of its 90-day ultimatum, has a potential price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to previous discussion.
Fulk simply said Monday that “he (the New York bidder) is not moving forward, so we are moving forward.”
The auctioneer explained that a possible deal now is being eyed with the second-highest bidder, also unnamed, who he said is local. The bidding on April 28 came down to two serious bidders, Fulk said.
“We’re in a negotiating process,” he added Monday, indicating that this includes the present owner, National Decon Holdings, LLC, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. “As of right now, we’re still kind of in limbo.”
Fulk says the process is moving forward, “but going slow.”
This includes getting more information from the city and its codes enforcement officer, Chuck Morris.
In the meantime, it is not known how the present situation with the Koozies building will affect the 90-day deadline for remediation action expiring Wednesday.
Mount Airy officials have said that failure to meet that deadline could result in the municipality itself ordering the razing and then taking ownership of the property through court action to help recoup the cost of this.
Despite signage prohibiting occupancy, two fires have occurred inside the Koozies structure in recent months which have been linked to homeless persons living there.
May 16, 2022
The Ararat Ruritan Club of Virginia recently presented the highest award in Ruritan to Shelby Bondurant Cox, in honor of her late husband and former Ruritan, Jack Cox.
Several members of the Cox family enjoyed the covered dish meal as prepared by members of the club prior to the presentation of the Tom Downing plaque during a recent meeting. Downing was one of the founding members of Ruritan National and the award given in his name is the highest honor bestowed upon a Ruritan.
“Jack Cox along with countless former Ararat Ruritan Club members have been instrumental in creating a better understanding among people and through volunteer community service, made the Ararat community a better place in which to live and work,” club officials said in announcing the award.
Having taken place during a regular business meeting, this award presentation was followed by discussions of the upcoming fundraisers and community service activities.
Monday nights in May, and beyond, are being dubbed Rook Night at the club building. Anyone is welcome to come play, at no charge, from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. every Monday, even if the person does not have a partner.
The club will be honoring local fire/EMS/police personnel as they celebrate Ruritan National’s birthday on Saturday, May 21. The celebration will feature a cruise-in of local emergency vehicles and timeless classics. Food will be available on-site. This event will be held from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Ararat Ruritan Club building, located at 4711 Ararat Highway, Ararat, Virginia.
The Patrick County Sheriff’s Office will conduct its quarterly Crime Watch meeting for Ararat on Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m. at the club building.
American flags will be placed on local veteran’s graves in honor of the Memorial Day holiday by some of the club’s veterans.
The club is hosting a patriotic barn quilt painting class on Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.. To reserve a spot and submit a design choice, email
The doors will open for the monthly Jackpot Bingo at 5 p.m. on May 21. Bingo starts at 6 p.m. and concessions will be available. Anyone who brings items for donation to the Ronald McDonald House will receive a free coverall. The list of items being collected is on the Ararat Ruritan Club facebook page.
The club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Those interested can follow the group on Facebook. for all things Ruritan.
May 15, 2022
Members of a local drama group are putting their musical talents on stage in support of the theater they call home.
The NoneSuch Playmakers will present “Lift Your Voice for Jones,” a wide-ranging musical revue being staged as a fundraiser for the L.H. Jones Auditorium in Mount Airy on Saturday, May 21.
“The Jones Auditorium has been our home stage for several seasons now,” said NoneSuch co-founder Brack Llewellyn. “The J.J. Jones Alumni Association, which operates the space, has always been supportive of us. We wanted to do something to show our appreciation.”
Llewellyn noted that, like all other performance venues, the L.H. Jones Auditorium was dark for more than 18 months during the pandemic.
“But they still had to pay their power bill, and their water bill, and maintain the facility with no income,” he said. “Now that NoneSuch can get back on stage again, we felt a fundraiser might help them out a bit. So we’re doing it the best way we know—with a show.”
The May 21 revue features some of the theater group’s best singing voices, he said. The performers include Jennifer Johnson Brown, Dani Davis, Jennifer Freeman, Shanna H. Jones, Angela Llewellyn, Chris Powell, Billie Smith, Cindy Southern Marion, Jane Tesh — who doubles as accompanist — and Elkin resident Christine Werner Booher.
“It’s going be a truly eclectic evening,” said Llewellyn. “We asked our singers to choose three or four songs each that they would like to perform, regardless of the style. You’ll get to hear everything from pop to country to Motown to show tunes to Gospel. We even have some original compositions. We want everyone to come out and enjoy the music, and also to see what a great performance space the Jones Auditorium is.”
“Life Your Voice for Jones” will begin at 7 p.m. A minimum donation of $10. per person is suggested, with larger amounts will be “gratefully accepted.” The evening will also feature a silent auction and a raffle, with those proceeds also going to the organization.
The L.H. Jones Auditorium is located at 215 Jones School Road, Mount Airy.
May 15, 2022
Editor’s Note: The Mount Airy News posed the same three questions to local school board candidates running in the May 17 primary. On Saturday, we published the responses from the District 3 Surry County Board of Education candidates in print and online. On Sunday, we published the responses from the District 4 online and in print on Tuesday.
T.J. Bledsoe
T.J. Bledsoe is a lifelong Surry County who lives in Dobson with his wife Amanda and their 10-year-old daughter, Ceily. As a family they spend most of their time outdoors on the farm or with their daughter showing livestock competitively.
He graduated from Surry Central High in 1999 and after attending Surry Community College started a landscaping business. He then went into the insurance and financial services industry with his father, Tim Bledsoe. Presently he vice president, commercial loan officer with LifeStore Bank.
He has served on various boards including the United Fund of Surry, Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, Greater Mt. Airy Habitat for Humanity, Elkin Main Street Advisory Board, Surry Community College Knights Athletic Board, SCA School Board, The Collaborative, and in June will assume a board position with the Yadkin Valley United Fund.
“I have coached multiple little league football and basketball teams, T-Ball, and Upward Sports Basketball. As a family we attend Salem Baptist Church in Dobson. My wife has taught in the Surry County School System her entire career and is currently in her 22nd year at Meadowview Magnet Middle. Being the husband of public-school teacher, along with my business background I believe positions me to be an asset to the children, staff, and citizens of Surry County on our local school board,” he wrote.
Question: What role should parents have in choosing curriculum for their child? What role should the Department of Public Instruction have?
Bledsoe: The system is designed as to allow professionals on a local level to dissect and implement curriculum in which they are educated and trained. Much as I would not allow someone who hasn’t had medical training to give me healthcare advice, I would not want an entire curriculum chosen by someone who isn’t an educational professional.
However, this should always be fully transparent and readily available to discuss with the public upon request and before implementing. The local school board should always have ethical and responsible professionals in place to be the gatekeepers for any negative curriculum in which may make its way down from the DPI. While we can’t stop what may be recommended by either state or federal officials, we should elect school board officials who will assure there are both staff in place to safeguard against negative curriculum, as well as be fully transparent and receptive to parental input.
This is the job of a school board and why it is so imperative we elect strong and ethical school board members who have no agenda, are not focused on one issue, and are unwaveringly ethical in their decision making. We should also never forget as school board members that we work for the citizens of Surry County and are entrusted with our society’s most valuable possession, our children.
Question: Should school board members be partisan elected officials?
Bledsoe: If you would have asked me this question 15 years ago, I would have said no. Partisan politics should not play a part of the school board election process. Fast forward to our current national climate and I am supportive of our current processes. Should politics play a role in the decision making, no. However, if you believe in a party enough to be registered with them and agree with their stances on certain issues I do not see as there should be a reason to not disclose said party.
Your political registration does not define you as a person, but it does tell as to how you may vote on large issues we are going to be faced with soon. This is not to mean that if you are a member of a different party, you are automatically a bad person, and I believe that is a large problem not only in our county but in our nation.
Our political landscape has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, and we have gotten away from civil discussions and realizing we are all human beings no matter our politics. I believe if you look at the current unaffiliated voters in our county you will find their respective parties have gone too far in either direction for their personal beliefs and now, they are “without a party.”
Question: The K-12 plus four years of college plan does not seem to be the path some students want to take anymore. As a potential school board member how does that strike you?
Bledsoe: This has been something I have spoken on many times recently. Not all children either want to or should attend a four-year university. Our educational systems have sold a false narrative to our children for decades and have conditioned society to think you must have a four-year degree to be successful. We have sold the lie that you are looked down on in society and you aren’t as important if you learn a skilled trade versus attending college. This is wrong. Look at the age of the average tradesman or tradeswoman.
I am proud to see a focus back on career and technical programs in our schools but would encourage more as well as agriculture related curriculum. In my opinion it should be normalized and celebrated when a young person graduates high school, obtains training in a trade, and begins working to become a productive member of society in many instances debt free. I do not say this to minimize the importance of an advanced degree in certain fields or career paths. A path that includes college and a degree in a specialized field should be celebrated just as well. To be a successful society we need teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. In the same regard and just as importantly we need skilled trades people such as mechanics, plumbers, and electricians.
Donna McLamb
Donna McLamb from Dobson is running for the district four school board seat for Surry County. This was her response to the Mount Airy News questions:
“My name is Donna McLamb. First of all, I would like to say I am a child of God and I believe in Jesus Christ. I have served Surry County as a veterinarian since 1993. I reside in Dobson where my husband and I have raised three children. Our children were educated in the Surry County Schools. Our eldest serves as a Mount Airy policeman. Our second child works with his dad in construction. Our third child is also a veterinarian. We have three grandchildren. I feel I was called to serve on Surry County School Board. I have a lot to learn but I am excited to do so if elected.”
Jimmy Yokeley
Jimmy Yokeley describes himself as “a born again Christian man” who resides with his wife Jan in Dobson. They attend Salem Baptist Church. They are the parents of three adult children, two daughters and a son, as well as a son-in-law and soon to be daughter-in-law. “We are equally blessed to have five healthy grandchildren, four granddaughters and one grandson ranging in age from 13 years old to 18 months. Our middle daughter lives in Surry County with her two children/our two granddaughters who attend SCS.”
“Jan and I are native North Carolinians, with both the Yokeley and Rogers families having long, deep rooted origins in Surry County…dating back to the early/mid 1800s,” he said.
He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Belk College of Business with a bachelor’s in business administration.
Work accomplishments consist of a 40-year career, both in the private and public sectors, in the global supply-chain and logistics and economic development industries. A majority of his work has been spent in senior and executive leadership. He is the “Founder/CEO of Logistics Advantage, LLC with headquarters in Wilmington… which is a partner company with a highly successful North Carolina founded and headquartered company in Emerald Isle…TransImpact, LLC.”
“In summary, I am a Christian, constitutional conservative and a businessman who felt God’s calling to pursue a leadership role with our school board, with the goal to vastly improve the educational performance of our school children, re-claim and ensure parental rights, returning our local school board to the rule of law, godly principles and values, and help create and sustain a much needed and strongest collaboration between our parents, students, teachers, administrators and school board members.”
Question: What role should parents have in choosing curriculum for their child? What role should the Department of Public Instruction have?
Yokeley: How can our Surry County Schools, and our NCDPI, help produce top performing, globally competitive students unless we have parents sitting at the same curriculum topic table? I firmly believe that choosing the best performing curriculum for our school children must be a collaborative consortium of authority between parents, students, educators (teachers and administrators) and private sector business leaders.
This process should be carried out jointly and collaboratively between local NC county/municipal and state levels only, that includes the previous named stakeholders. Our U.S. Constitution did not grant authority over education to the federal government, thereby leaving the authority of education to the states, of which our North Carolina county/municipal governments are a critical part.
An excellent example of why I am (a) strong advocate of the above is the widely determined failure of the Common Core Curriculum that was pushed upon our NCDPI and adopted in June 2010. Our state has disastrously held onto up to its current form which began to change in 2017 and federally incentivized with our tax dollars. NC public school student performance in math and reading skills has continued to drop steadily since its introduction. The U.S. as a whole spends more money on education than any other country in the world, yet our failing educational curriculum is producing student performance that is “middle of the road” at best on a global comparison. Let’s stop wasting our citizens hard earned money and tax dollars and invest in a proven, high performing public education curriculum that all NC citizens can be proud of. They do exist today for us to implement.
Question: Should school board members be partisan elected officials?
Yokeley: Yes, our local county/municipal school board members should be partisan elected officials. And, as long as we have a state board of education, those members also should be partisan elected officials. Our constitutional republic form of government insist on “we the people” to elect those who we entrust and hold accountable to represent our God-given rights, values and beliefs, at every level of government. Not to be handpicked by others we have elected to our state legislative, judicial and executive branches.
Question: The K-12 plus four years of college plan does not seem to be the path some students want to take anymore. As a potential school board member how does that strike you?
Yokeley: If blessed to be elected to the school board, I think it is very important to ensure the best educational solutions to our diverse group of students. One size never has fit all, so why should one educational path be the only one leading to a fulfilling career and life?
At the same time, not every SCS high school graduate and their family can afford the cost of a four-year college education. Every child in Surry County and NC minimally deserves a globally competitive K-12 education that affords them an opportunity to earn a legitimate living wage.
From there, I am a firm believer in a strong working partnership with our Surry Community College and NC Community College System, the best in the country in my opinion, for a globally competitive K-12+2 path for our students who want more financial rewards and career opportunities in a specific certified skill/trade or, need more time to better prepare to pursue a four-year college degree.
My wife’s educational path is a great example of all of the above, along with so many of our SCS children past, present, and future.
May 15, 2022
The Mountain View Gardeners Garden Club concluded its season recently with an induction ceremony led by former president Tamara Thomas. Officers installed were, from left, Treasurer Barbara Oliver, Secretary Jenny Cooke, Vice President Mary Higgs and President Mary Planer. (Submitted photo)
The Mountain View Gardeners Garden Club recently met for a season-ending gathering. Picture are, from left, Amanda Fretwell, Beth Pequeno, Tamra Thomas, Mary Higgs, Marie Simmons, Mary Planer, Joy Barlow, Judy Kirkman, Barbara Oliver, Jenny Cooke, Brenda Edwards, Betty Wright, and Elaine Harbour. (Submitted photo)
May 15, 2022
Auditions for the Surry Arts Council’s production of “Music Man” directed by Tyler Matanick are being held on Tuesday, May 17 and Wednesday, May 18 from 6 – 9 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
Those auditioning should wear appropriate audition attire (no sweatpants or hoodies). Each auditioner should bring dance clothes/shoes for the dance audition and should prepare a 32-bar to 64-bar piece of any musical theater song. Sheet music should be brought for an accompanist to play along with the audition. Anyone not bringing sheeting music may sing a cappella. No monologue is necessary.
The public performances will be on Friday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m.
The “Music Man” follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band that he vows to organize — this, despite the fact that he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by curtain’s fall.
For additional information, contact Tyler Matanick at 336-786-7998 or Tickets for the shows are available online at, via phone at 336-786-7998, or at the Surry Arts Council office at 218 Rockford Street.
May 15, 2022
A large, four-story building stands on the corner of North Main and East Oak Street in downtown Mount Airy, at 252 North Main Street. The building has occupied this corner for more than a century and has withstood all the changes that have occurred on the streets surrounding it.
Now known as the Main Oak building, and constructed sometime between 1905 and 1910, it has gone through countless renovations and changes, yet still retains many of its original details, such as its arched windows on the upper floor and its iconic, large storefront windows.
One of its early incarnations was as the F. L. Smith Hardware store. With the town of Mount Airy in boom and various industries springing up, there was high demand in the town for building supplies. As such, hardware stores became ubiquitous along Main Street. F. L Smith Hardware benefited greatly from all this new industry. The building then changed hands to Holcomb Hardware, and then over to Midkiff Hardware.
Its owner, John H Midkiff knew the building well, having been a resident of Mount Airy for the previous 21 years, and was an employee of F. L. Smith Hardware. In this incarnation, the store sold everything from wagons to tobacco and farming supplies. Under John Midkiff’s ownership, the store expanded, adding on a large storage warehouse located at the rear of the store, and also installed a modern (for its era) sprinkler system on the four floors of the building, making it the first store in town to have this fire prevention method.
Along with the flourishing business that the building housed, it also saw its share of the darker side of life. During the 1920s, Dr Harvey R. Hege’s practice was located on the second floor of the building, with Holcomb Hardware below. The dentist had lived and practiced in Mount Airy for more than 25 years and was by all accounts had many connections to the community and was very well respected.
Dr. Hege also flourished professionally. With the addition of a new X-ray machine in his office, the Mount Airy News wrote in a 1921 article that “with this addition to his already modernly equipped office Dr. Hege can now boast of one of the most completely equipped dental parlors in the state.”
However, what the dentist would become notorious for was his involvement in the murder of Curry Thomas, a Virginia farmer, in 1936. Just one month before his death, Thomas had married his wife Elise, who had previously worked for Dr. Hege at his practice. When they received a package in the mail, the couple assumed it was a wedding present. Instead, when they opened it, they set off the bomb that was inside, killing Thomas and severely injuring Elise.
Clues from the crime scene eventually led investigators in northwestern North Carolina, and to Dr. Hege. The dentist owned the very same typewriter which police were able to work out had written the shipping label of the deadly package. It is also said that Dr. Hege went right downstairs from his office and bought the materials for the package from Midkiff Hardware.
Dr. Hege denied all involvement and claimed he was away fishing at the time the package was sent, but his alibi soon proved false, and he was arrested.
However, before the case was brought to trial, Dr. Hege committed suicide in jail.
Legend has it that this unassuming building was at one time home to Mount Airy’s only speakeasy. In order to gain access, visitors were said to have to make their way to the top floor via a freight elevator. Not a sophisticated piece of machinery by any standard, the elevator was operated by a rope which would start and stop it. Once the rope had hopefully been pulled at the right moment to get out onto the third floor, visitors would be greeted by a small hallway, with a door with a small slot in it at the end of the hall. If the person looking through this slot approved of you, you were let in.
The elevator was the only way in or out of this building, so one night, when a party in the speakeasy was in full swing, and the rope for the elevator came loose, stranding the elevator in the basement, the visitors had no exit. There was no phone on this floor, in keeping with the secrecy of speakeasy and the cover story of it being used for storage, so the party-goers resorted to opening a window and yelling into the street for help. Unfortunately, the late hour meant the only ones still out on the street were the same people they were hiding from; the cops. We don’t hear any stories of the speakeasy after this point, but we can guess what happened.
Today, the building still stands on its corner, watching the hustle and bustle of Main Street. While the stories about the building have largely faded away, the building remains solid and standing, a testament to its varied history.
Katherine “Kat” Jackson is an employee at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Originally from Australia she now lives in Winston-Salem. She can be reached at the museum at 336-786-4478.
May 15, 2022
DOBSON — Hundreds of people will be “Running the Vines” next Saturday in pursuit of awards for top finishers, but the big winner stands to be recreation programs of Surry County and Mount Airy.
The event featuring 10K and 5K races long has been held on the grounds of Shelton Vineyards just outside Dobson — for more than 10 years. But just as those participating do from time to time, Running the Vines has had to catch a second wind after being affected by COVID-19.
This included the cancellation of the traditional springtime event in May 2020 and its postponement to September last year due to pandemic restrictions on large gatherings.
Running the Vines now is set to return to its normal schedule on the May 21 date and with renewed vigor, according to Mount Airy Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis, who previously served as recreation director.
“We have approximately 400 runners pre-registered with the goal of 500 runners by race day,” Lewis disclosed earlier this week. Sign-ups will be available until then.
Next Saturday’s schedule calls for the 10K (6.2-mile) race to start at 8 a.m. and the 5K (3.1 miles) is set for 8:15 a.m. A kids fun run is slated for 9:30, with the races to go on rain or shine.
One aspect that sets Running the Vines apart from similar events involves the setting, with both the 10K and 5K to start and finish at Shelton Vineyards, featuring views of it — hence the title of the gathering — and neighboring country farms.
The adult registration costs are $40 for the 5K run through race day and $45 for the 10K.
For those under 18, the fee is $25 through race day for the 5K and $30 for the 10K.
The cost for the kids half-mile fun run is $10.
A 5K Team Challenge also will be involved, with a minimum of five runners required.
The top-three overall male and female winners of the 5K and 10K and age division winners will receive custom awards and the 5K Team Challenge team winner a commemorative crystal team trophy. All those completing the 5K and 10K are to get a finisher’s medal.
Registration is available at, along with more information.
“Afternoon cooldown”
Next Saturday’s activities won’t just include the races, but live music and other activities throughout the day.
“Running the Vines” participants are invited to bring a chair or blanket, stick around and listen to Casey Noel at a bandshell on the grounds from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Scarlet Lemonade from 2 to 5 p.m. on the winery patio.
Hayrides through the vineyard, tours and tastings also will be part of the occasion, with food and beverages to be offered.
And from 6 to 9 p.m., the Shelton Vineyards Sunset Concert is to feature the Blackwater Band playing a mix of blues, country and contemporary hits.
Registered race participants age 21 and over will receive two complimentary tickets to the concert at packet pickup. Additional tickets can be bought in advance for $25 at or the day of the concert for $30.
Admission will be free for children 12 and younger.
Public to benefit
“Running the Vines” is co-sponsored by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation and Surry County Parks and Recreation.
Lewis, the assistant city manager, pointed out that proceeds from the event will be shared with the Reeves Community Center Foundation and the Surry County Parks and Recreation Department.
This will assist with scholarships, programs, Special Olympics and health and wellness opportunities, Lewis added.
May 14, 2022
Editor’s Note: The Mount Airy News posed the same three questions to local school board candidates running in the May 17 primary. Today, we publish the responses from the candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the District 3 Surry County Board of Education seat, both in print and online. The District 4 candidates will be online Sunday and in print on Tuesday.
Jessica George
Jessica George grew up in Westfield but now calls Siloam home, which is where much of her husband Cory’s family resides.
She is celebrating her ten-year wedding anniversary this month and has three children, two boys and a girl, who are ages 7, 4, and 1. She graduated from East Surry High School and went on to get my bachelor’s from Appalachian State University, majoring in risk management and insurance with a double major in finance and banking.
After college she worked in Excess & Surplus Lines insurance outside Orlando, Florida. Florida did not stand a chance, “because my longtime friend and fellow East Surry graduate asked me to marry him. We lived in Wilkes County, Raleigh, and Charlotte, before finally being able to move back to Surry County. My husband and I started a business in Pilot Mountain in the fall of 2020 and are loving every minute of being home.”
Question: What role should parents have in choosing curriculum for their child? What role should the Department of Public Instruction have?
George: Currently parents have two ways of participating in curriculum selection. The first is market choice. Demand always plays a role in any market. When parents choose alternatives to the public education system, they are making a statement on their preferences. The rise in classical education amongst charter schools is a current example.
The second way is within the public school system. According to our current administration parents are chosen to sit on a curriculum committee, along with a board member and staff. These committees ultimately select what providers will be used for our curriculums.
I agree with both of these methods. I believe that parents should have school choice, whether that be the public school, charter school, private school, or homeschooling. I also think parents should be allowed to play an active role within the school system when selecting curriculum. I do wish, however, that it was more widely known that parents can participate in the committee and the process.
The DPI should not be dictating curriculum. Our schools are run by local people who are elected by the citizens of Surry County. Schools are run locally, to ensure they can meet the expectations and needs of the local community. Our current superintendent attends EDC meetings to ensure the schools are preparing students for local job needs.
This of course is not limited in scope to employment but also applies to the values and expectations of parents. DPI has its place and purpose, in the oversight and transparency of our school system, but it should be limited in curriculum selection. For example, it may require that we teach NC History, but we should select the textbooks and material used to teach that subject.
Question: Should school board members be partisan elected officials?
George: I see no reason why they should hide party affiliation. They are an elected official, and their party affiliation is publicly available information. If a voter wanted to, they could do a quick search and determine each candidate’s affiliation, and what primaries they participated in.
I am always for more information available to a voter. The people of Surry County are smart. Providing the affiliation on the ballot gives the option to the voter, they can use that information or not. That is their decision.
While many have made the argument that it brings politics into our schools, I disagree. Politics have always affected our schools. I think people saw it more in the last two years with Covid response. The state House and Senate make laws that affect our schools, court systems interpret those laws, and the governor sometimes vetoes those laws. Our board is elected, the state superintendent (who is over DPI) is elected. That’s all politics.
I think most people want to keep political ideology out of the classroom, and candidates inflate that to apply to our election. I don’t think we have a candidate running who wants politics in our classrooms, myself included.
Question: The K-12 plus four years of college plan does not seem to be the path some students want to take anymore. As a potential school board member how does that strike you?
I don’t think this is surprising at all. The rising cost of college, paired with the rising supply of college graduates has created an undesirable situation for those that have invested in the college plan. Many of the top employers in our nation are no longer requiring college degrees. Many parents are cautioning their children against taking on large amounts of debt at such a young age, particularly if they are not sure of their career.
We are seeing a much-needed resurgence in the trades. Those careers are valuable to society because they are so necessary. We told an entire generation that college was the path to happiness, and/or wealth. In today’s economy that’s just not true for many people. I think students and parents are finding that we have a lot of good options that don’t require a $100,000 degree. We also have many employers willing to pay for some education. I think you have students taking advantage of those opportunities as well.
I also believe the rise in technology has fueled this shift and will continue to do so…It’s not hard to find someone online who has made a great living with no college degree. Information is readily available for students on what careers are really like day to day. In addition, skills are easier to gain with the use of online videos, subscriptions, or groups. College will still have its place for some career paths, but it’s not for everybody.
Kent Whitaker
Kent Whitaker is a life-long resident of Surry County and resides in the Copeland Community, with a Dobson address. He has been married to Lynn Harbour Whitaker for 47 years, they have four children, nine grandchildren, and one foster grandchild. Three of his family members are employed by the Surry County School system and five of his grandchildren currently are students in the Surry County School System.
He attended Copeland Elementary School and graduated in the class of 1970 from Surry Central High School. From there he attended Wingate Junior College and Appalachian State University graduating with honors and a BS degree in business administration/banking and finance.
He was employed with Farm Credit Service for more than 41 years and assumed the roles of commercial loan officer, branch manager, VP over marketing and related services, and retired as senior vice president and department head over special assets in 2015.
“My other affiliations consist of serving with the Gideon’s International for 39 years and member of Pine Hill Friends Meeting and Fairview Baptist Church. It has truly been a blessing to serve my Lord through these churches and through the Gideon Ministry.
“My activities within the school system consist of serving on the first advisory committee for Central Middle School, serving as a mentor and a volunteer at the elementary level. Another related school activity I am still involved with is basketball officiating at the high school and middle school levels.
“In relating to school age children, I served as director for the Copeland Youth Basketball for 17 years and also Coached Little League Baseball and Softball over that same period,” he wrote.
Question: What role should parents have in choosing curriculum for their child? What role should the Department of Public Instruction have?
Whitaker: I feel the role of the parent having a part in the curriculum process for the local school system is a vital one and should be incorporated when practical in the public school setting. Naturally, that oversight in a private and home school setting is even more pronounced.
The DPI should have the role of setting curriculum as it pertains to meeting achievement standards for students reaching required learning levels. The DPI’s role should be providing curriculums that are solely based on educational facts and learning and not on opinions, theories, and ideologies. Beyond these educational standards requirements where there may be flexibility by local school administrators and school boards, parents should have access to what is being taught.
Our school system should be transparent with the curriculums provided. That being said, I feel currently we have to give a level of trust and respect to the educators that are in place in the Surry County School System to teach our students in a way that will be to their benefit. One could say the vote up and down the ballot of parents can influence eventually what is incorporated within a curriculum. As parents have concerns or questions as to aspects of their child’s curriculum, I feel it is the responsibility of the DPI along with school system administrators to provide well versed explanations of content, etc.
Question: Should school board members be partisan elected officials?
Whitaker: I know there are some that would say that it is partisan officials at the state level that affect our local school systems through policies, mandates, and curriculums, therefore, it is reasonable for the school board to be a partisan vote. I understand that others feel the school board being a partisan position may provide them another level of assessment of a particular candidate because of their affiliation.
However, I do not feel it necessary that this county-level position be partisan. The focus of the school system should be about educating our students while upholding the values of the community.
This election is about selecting the candidate that will serve in the best interest of the students, educators, parents, and the community within the school system. Knowing a candidate’s specific views concerning educational issues is the more important thing. Even though I have filed under a party affiliation I am led more by my conservative and Christian values than party affiliation.
Question: The K-12 plus four years of college plan does not seem to be the path some students want to take anymore. As a potential school board member how does that strike you?
Whitaker: Apart from researching as to the reason for this trend, this does not strike me as a strong concern that I would immediately have. I do not feel that the school system’s position should be to push as many students as possible down the path of obtaining a college degree.
In today’s economy there appears to be a shortage of people to fill certain trade and tech jobs that would provide a quality living. School systems should continue to move toward equipping students to enter into a career and technical education path that provides skills-based career opportunities with flexibility to connect to college.
In short, there are solid employment opportunities with good paying jobs. The role of our school system is to help students be gainfully employed and productive members of society and prepare for what they want to do after high school, whether it be a college or career.
May 14, 2022
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care is making two separate moves — creating a new position for donor relations and stewardship and a literal move, changing locations for its headquarters.
Katherine Brinkley has joined the staff as director of donor relations and stewardship.
“One of Katherine’s primary responsibilities in this newly created position will be to implement and manage a comprehensive stewardship program,” the organization said in announcing her selection.
Most recently, Katherine served as the assistant director of marketing and community engagement at ABC of NC in Winston-Salem. She also held a variety of positions at Trellis Supportive Care.
“Katherine is passionate about the hospice mission,” said Sara Tavery, senior director of philanthropy. “She will lead our efforts to recognize and thank donors for their gifts in support of end-of-life care for our patients and their families.”
Brinkley is a volunteer with the young alumni leadership council of UNC and is a member of the Junior League in Winston-Salem. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Hispanic linguistics. She resides in Winston-Salem.
In an unrelated move, the non-profit agency will be moving its headquarters, from 401 Technology Drive, to 1427 Edgewood Drive, Suite 101, in Mount Airy.
“The pandemic taught us many things, among them that we no longer need expansive office space, and that patients are better served when we are closer to their homes, health facilities, or hospice homes,” said Tracey Dobson, CEO and president of Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care. “This new space will allow us to maximize our services to patients and their families.”
For more information visit
May 14, 2022
It was time for The United Fund of Surry to celebrate during their 2021-2022 Awards Luncheon that was recently held at The Barn at Heritage Farm. Executive Director Melissa Hiatt and representatives from among the organizations that make up the United Fund were in attendance and gladly took advantage of some catering from Mary Planer at This & That Catering.
Hiatt wanted all the credit for the United Fund’s work to start with her board of directors each of whom have a specific role to play in making the United Fund a continuing success. The board is comprised of: Brad Balentine, Jared Moser, Jayme Bryant, Jessica Montgomery, John Jonczak, Lenise Lynch, Mac Sammons, Merry Craig Boaz, Raleigh Scales, Sommer Coalson, and Taylor Clark.
The pandemic prevented the awards lunch from being held for the past two years, but Hiatt wanted to recognize those board members whose time on the board expired during COVID: Angie Cagle, Dale Badgett, Clay Nowlin, Dale Draughn, and Christopher Cook.
All the organizations under the umbrella of The United Fund of Surry were asked to stand with their group for a round of applause, the kicker was that you were asked to stay standing until all groups stood.
Hiatt opened the awards portion with a thank you to the marketing committee and board for supporting Downtown Rocks and Run which was held on August 14. She said more runners than ever came out to participate when 288 runners laced up their shoes for a good cause and brought in $23,421.34. The United Fund thanked Altec Industries for being the headline sponsor, and announced Saturday, August 13, as the next Downtown Rocks and Run.
Last October was the 14th annual Greater Granite Open Golf Tournament sponsored again by Altec. The tournament raised an additional $20,000 for the Unite Fund coffers.
John Tarn was given special thanks and a plaque for his work as campaign chair during a time of uncertainty. “We knew we needed a chairman that was not only knowledgeable about our community but engaged. When John was approached, he jumped right in to work with staff and offer his marketing knowledge when needed,” Ben Griffin said.
“Awards are our way of saying thank you, we couldn’t do what we do without every person in this room,” Hiatt said as she brought up some helpers to give out the awards. She listed off 23 organization which had “outstanding increases in giving from the last year’s campaign.” Businesses such as Renfro, Aprio, and Shenandoah Furniture were just a handful of those cited.
The Hometown Hero trophies were given to local businesses that “are truly our heroes. These businesses achieved 100% employee participation and had in increase in giving from last year,” Hiatt said. Carter Bank & Trust, Rogers Realty and Auction, Surry Friends of Youth, and Surry Medical Ministries were each so honored.
Annually The Chairman’s Award is given to a consistent workplace campaign or corporate donor. This year it was a tie between Altec and Surrey Bank & Trust. Surrey Bank & Trust has been a longtime sponsor of Rocks and Run as well as the golf tournament. The bank has also participated in a long-standing workplace campaign.
Altec was the title sponsor for two events this year, as noted, but it was their in-house campaign that really blew socks off with $60,000 raised. Hiatt noted Altec also has members of its staff to organize and run the golf tournament.
Not everyone conducts their campaign in the same way, some trot another path to raise money. The Pat Woltz Way to Glow Award this year was presented to Andy Hull on behalf of Surry Communications and staff. “When most of us are in our warm homes watching parades, the folks are down by the river on the Greenway setting up the Turkey Trot that is held each year.” Not only did she say this year’s event was a lot of fun, but she also said it has a good following of folks returning each year.
The Dave Green Achievement Award was named to honor a longtime supporter of the Renfro workplace campaign for 15 years. The recipients this year combined for well over 15 years of service, Robert and Cama Merritt accepted the award, and Vickie Harold accepted on behalf of her mother Sylvia Harold.
Created and presented for the first time this year is the new Volunteer Achievement Award given to an outstanding volunteer that has served one of the United Fund agencies and “has shown dedication to that member organization, the community, and the United Fund of Surry,” Hiatt explained. She also said multiple agencies and individuals nominated the very same person for the award.
“This individual stood out so much that we decided to name this award after them. They are very active with the Children’s Center of Northwest North Carolina, Surry Medical Ministries, and serve on our county school board. These are only a few of this person’s contributions to the community.”
“It is my pleasure to present the First Terri Mosley Volunteer Achievement award to Dr. Terri Mosley.”
May 14, 2022
Agriculture is a tough business, accompanied by hard work, stress, weather crises and uncertain incomes at year’s end — but farmers develop a certain perseverance, which also is true of a local event honoring them.
The coronavirus has been another addition to that list of obstacles which caused the annual Mayberry Farm Fest to be cancelled for the past two years. But with a sense of resolve that would put any mule to shame, it is returning next weekend to the streets of downtown Mount Airy.
“It will be our first time back since COVID,” key organizer Gail Hiatt emphasized in detailing the resurrection of Mayberry Farm Fest for what she said will be its 16th year.
The two-day May 20-21 event is scheduled to feature farm animals including a petting zoo, pony rides and other attractions geared toward children, live music, interactive displays, demonstrations, antique tractors and other equipment, heritage and cultural exhibits, crafts and more.
All that will be on tap next Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., when North Main Street is closed to vehicular traffic between Pine Street and an area just south of Independence Boulevard near Brannock and Hiatt Furniture.
The entertainment lineup will begin with an open jam from 9 a.m. to noon, with The Unique Sound of the Mountains — Larry Sigmon and Martha Spencer, to play from 1 to 2 p.m.
A Danceworks performance is scheduled for 2 p.m., and Dancemix with Tracie will be on hand from 2:15 to 2:45 p.m.
Danceworks is to return at 2:50 p.m. with Gap Civil, an old-time and traditional country band from Sparta, slated to perform from 3 to 4 p.m.
A watermelon seed-spitting contest is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. and cakewalks at 3:45.
Parade always a hit
Festivities for this year’s celebration of agriculture will kick off Friday with a tractor parade down North Main Street, to begin at 6 p.m.
The parade typically has showcased a procession of 30 or more tractors of various models, some dating to the 1940s and 1950s.
Many owners involved have devoted much time and effort to restoring the tractors and want to show off the finished products in their hometown, said Hiatt, who is co-chairing Mayberry Farm Fest with Downtown Business Association President Phil Marsh.
They are excited about the resumption of the parade, usually accompanied by spectators lining both sides of the street.
This year’s tractor parade will be enhanced by the presence of the Tucker sisters, Carson Parry and Roe Roe, who will serve as its grand marshals, with a horse-drawn wagon to lead the procession.
Roe Roe was diagnosed with leukemia in November 2019 and recently completed chemotherapy treatments. Her big sister Carson Parry has been with Roe Roe every step of the way.
“Both of these girls are warriors and deserved to be celebrated,” says a Mount Airy Visitors Center announcement regarding their involvement.
A kids’ parade is scheduled after the main tractor parade, during which children are invited to ride their toy tractors/cars and bikes.
Keeping history alive
Many people were disappointed that Mayberry Farm Fest wasn’t held in 2021 as the pandemic was subsiding somewhat, but insurance restrictions did not allow this to happen, Hiatt explained.
They included many older farmers who have enjoyed attending over the years and appreciated the ways in which the event has perpetuated their way of life.
“A lot of our history seems to be dying out,” Hiatt said. “I think it (Mayberry Farm Fest) helps keep it alive.”
Despite the two-year interruption, efforts to bring the festival back have been seamless, according to Hiatt.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all — everybody, I think, was ready for it,” she said. “I think everybody else is more excited that we (organizers) are.”
In fact, more vendors are expected this year along with some new attractions, including participation by a ranch owner from Jonesville who is to “bring a lot of stuff this year” in terms of animals, according to Hiatt.
“It is just a fun weekend for the family.”
May 14, 2022
The Edwards-Franklin House has been around since 1799, but recently its storied history was put on hold by the pandemic — which is changing this weekend.
For the first time in three years, open house tours are scheduled today and Sunday to showcase the Surry County landmark located at 4132 Haystack Road west of Mount Airy. That site additionally has long hosted an annual sonker festival, which also was cancelled the past two falls due to COVID-19.
“We haven’t had anything since 2019,” said Dr. Annette Ayers, the president of the Surry Historical Society, which owns the property and sponsors activities there. This included the last sonker gathering that October and a Christmas observance soon after.
“That’s why we’re so excited about getting to have something,” Ayers added Thursday.
This “something” is the resumption of open house tours for the public which were suspended in both 2020 and 2021. These are scheduled today from 1 to 5 p.m. and Sunday during the same time.
“Everyone is welcome to this free event,” Ayers advised.
The Edwards-Franklin House was constructed in 1799 and is considered the finest example of its architecture in the Piedmont.
It was built by Gideon Edwards and later occupied by his son-in-law, Meshack Franklin, a member of Congress and a brother of North Carolina Gov. Jesse Franklin, who served in the 1820s. The house was bought in 1972 by the Surry County Historical Society and restored to its grandeur, featuring many unique architectural components.
The Edwards-Franklin House has been readied for visitation once again after no open house tours for the public the past two years.
“We had to go in, of course, and clean everything extensively,” Ayers said. The lawn and surrounding grounds also have been maintained in an immaculate condition — “all the plant beds have been weeded.”
The Surry Historical Society is hoping to have additional open house events throughout the coming summer, according to its president.
She says such activities provide a good opportunity for newcomers to the area to experience the Edwards-Franklin House for the first time, in light of the long shutdown, and guesses that some local residents also have never visited.
“We just hope the public takes advantage of this free event.”
May 13, 2022
• Authorities are investigating a felony offense in which a stolen debit card was used to purchase goods at a local convenience store, according to Mount Airy Police Department reports.
The incident occurred last weekend at Speedway on West Pine Street, with the victim identified as Savannah Victoria Rice of Pell Lane in Claudville, Virginia. No loss figure was specified.
Rice told police Sunday, when she reported the financial card fraud, that her phone wallet, Allegacy debit card, Capital One credit card and driver’s license had been stolen by a known individual at Walmart earlier in the weekend.
• Timothy Banks Brannock, 44, of 241 Starwood Trail, was jailed under a $10,000 secured bond on May 6 on a felony charge of possession of methamphetamine and for being a fugitive from justice wanted in another state.
Brannock was encountered by officers during a welfare check at a location in the 900 block of West Pine Street, where he was found with the Schedule II controlled substance and also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, including a glass smoking device and rolling papers, arrest records show.
A check with a national crime database revealed Brannock was being sought by authorities in Patrick County, Virginia, on an unspecified matter. He is facing a May 23 appearance in Surry District Court.
• A felonious larceny occurred at Staples on May 5, when two people ran out of the store without paying for merchandise valued at $949, including a Hewlett Packard laptop computer with a 15-inch screen, a Fellowes paper shredder, Brother computer toner, two packs of Paper Mate gel pens and a Pendaflex hanging file folder.
• Stephen Isaiah Butler, 20, listed as homeless, was charged with injury to personal property on May 5, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly threw a rock through the back window of a 2003 Chrysler Concorde owned by Heather Michele Bryant.
This occurred during a domestic disturbance at Bryant’s residence in the 1000 block of South Main Street, police records state, with the damage put at $195. Butler is free on a written promise to appear in District Court, the date for which was unclear in the arrest report.
May 13, 2022
DOBSON — Master Gardener volunteers of Surry County have schedule a summer full of garden adventures.
“Whether you like planting herbs, flowers, or ornamentals, there is something for you,” the group said in a recent statement. In addition to virtual workshops the group has been holding, there are four in-person, hands-on opportunities coming up this spring and summer. They are:
• Thursday, May 26, 10 a.m.- Herbs for the Italian Blend, at a cost of $20 per participant;
• Thursday, June 23, 10 a.m.- Plants for a Drought Resistant Garden, at a cost of $5 per participant;
• Thursday, July 21, 10 a.m. – Sensitively Creative! at a cost of $5;
• Thursday, August 25, 10 a.m. – Inviting Pollinators to your Backyard, at a cost of $5.
All workshops will be h eld at the demonstration gardens at the Historic Courthouse at 114 W. Atkins Street.
Participants will have something to take home with them from each of the programs. Each class has an attendance limit and registration is required. For more information, or to register, call the N.C. Cooperative Extension Surry County Center office at 336-401-8025.
May 13, 2022
The Surry Arts Players will be performing “Little Women” directed by Shelby Coleman this weekend. There will be a Saturday performance at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday performance at 3 p.m.
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s life, “Little Women” follows the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested – her friend, Professor Bhaer, tells her that she has to do better and write more from herself. Begrudgingly taking this advice, Jo weaves the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America.
“Little Women” offers a night filled with laughter, tears, and a lifting of the spirit.
The production stars Raegan Amos as Jo March, Madison Stowe as Meg March, Cassidy Mills as Beth March, LillyRuth Beck as Amy March, Laura Hutchins as Marmee March, Scott Carpenter as Professor Bauer, Greg Matthews as Mr. Laurence, Django Burgess as Theodore Laurence III “Laurie,” Walker York as Mr. John Brooke, Shawn Murphy as Aunt March, Ashley Mills as Mrs. Kirk, Madelyn Holladay as The Hag, Alexis Holladay as Sir Braxton Prendergast, Kaitlyn Holladay as Rodrigo II, Thomas Holladay as Rodrigo, Abbie Schuyler as Clarissa, Kori Hawks as The Troll and Robert Parks as The Knight.
The Surry Arts Players are welcoming newcomer Laura Hutchens who has performed with the Piedmont Opera and serves as an adjunct professor of voice at High Point University. Madison Stowe is also a newcomer and is from Martinsville, Virginia. has performed in numerous community theater productions around the tri-state.
Serving on the production crew is Director/Choreographer Shelby Coleman, Music Director Katelyn Gomez, Conductor Hollie Heller, Costume Designer Khriste Petree, Lighting Designer Tyler Matanick, Set Design by Shelby Coleman, Set Construction Tyler Matanick and David Brown, Set Painting Shelby Coleman and Lori Hawkins Beck, Prop Master Shelby Coleman and Cassidy Mills, Sound Engineer Tyler Matanick, Production Assistant Reese Cox, Pianist Teresa Martin, Trumpet Allen Nichols, Percussion RJ Heller, Clarinet/Tenor Saxophone Bobby Heller and Stage Crew Revonda Petree, Noah Petree, Reese Cox, Isabelle Cowan, Patrick McDaniel, and Noah Wilkes.
Performances are on Saturday] at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Tickets are $20. Tickets are available online at, via phone at 336-786-7998, at the Surry Arts Council office at 218 Rockford Street, or at the box office one hour before the performances. For additional information, contact Marianna Juliana at 336-786-7998 or
May 13, 2022
The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi has been holding induction ceremonies throughout the school year, including services for several local residents.
Among those inducted are:
– Meredith Cox, of Mount Airy, at East Carolina University;
– Hollie Bowers, of Pinnacle, at East Carolina University;
– Diane Palmieri, of Pilot Mountain, at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro;
– Amy Snow, of Pilot Mountain, at The University of Alabama in Huntsville;
– Stephen Sasser, of Elkin, at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
They are among approximately 25,000 students, faculty, professional staff and alumni to be initiated into Phi Kappa Phi each year. Membership is by invitation only and requires nomination and approval by a chapter. Only the top 10% of seniors and 7.5% of juniors are eligible for membership. Graduate students in the top 10% of the number of candidates for graduate degrees may also qualify, as do faculty, professional staff and alumni who have achieved scholarly distinction.
Phi Kappa Phi was founded in 1897 under the leadership of undergraduate student Marcus L. Urann who had a desire to create a different kind of honor society: one that recognized excellence in all academic disciplines. Today, the Society has chapters on more than 325 campuses in the United States, its territories and the Philippines.
May 13, 2022
Rain or not, Dobson area residents — and most anyone willing to drive to the county seat — will have a chance to get all wet on Saturday.
And every day afterward, too, until mid-September.
The town is reopening its popular, and freshly painted, splash pad at Dobson Square Park.
“We have given it a fresh new coat of paint. It’s blue and it looks beautiful,” Town Manager Laura Neely said.
It is also free, no doubt another attractive feature for area residents who make good use of the facility.
“It brings people in not only from different towns in the county, but from different counties altogether,” Neely said. “Schools do field trips, usually in May for end of school year. Daycares, elementary schools come in. It’s heavily used.”
The nearby picnic shelter has already been reserved for the day by a local group, but the splash pad itself is open for all to use.
Officially the splash pad opens at 8 a.m. Saturday, and is available for use until 8 p.m. It sticks to those hours six of the seven days each week. Only Wednesday is different, when it is open from noon until 8 p.m.
“Wednesday morning we have maintenance hours,” she explained.
Neely said the pad has proven popular since it was opened in 2015, although there is no way to keep an official count on how heavily it is used.
“We do have park staff on site during the summer months to clean up trash and monitor that the rules are being followed, that everyone is safe at the splash park,” she said, but otherwise visitors are on their own to go in and out of the water as they please.
The water does turn off every 15 minutes, to keep from wasting the resource if the splash pad is empty. However, users can keep the water running simply by pushing a button. The only time it is off during normal operating hours is when there is lightning in the area.
“We’ll turn it off until the storm is over,” she said.
While the splash pad is free to use at any time during the normal operating hours, Neely said two picnic shelters at the park can be reserved for use by organizations and families for birthday parties and other gatherings.
“The easiest way to reserve the park is online,” she said. But those wishing to do so can call the office, email town officials, or stop by at 307 N. Main Street. The town’s website is and the phone number is 336-356-8962.
While the splash pad was shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was open last year. That doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm among town staff for its reopening this year.
“We get excited about it every year…it’s such a great thing for the town,” Neely said.
May 12, 2022
Authorities have released the name and cause of death of a man found earlier this week dead while sitting on a lawnmower, and a second man — identified as a “person of interest” in the shooting, is now dead.
Deputies with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office initially responded in the case at 1:18 p.m. Monday to a house in the 600 block of Golf Course Road in Pilot Mountain. There they found Vincent Lee Bray, 65, dead from an apparent gunshot according to Surry County Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt.
Working with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, officials ruled the death a homicide, and identified Michael (Mike) Patrick Alford, 71, of 657 Golf Course Road, Pilot Mountain as “a person of interest,” the sheriff said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“It appears that Mr. Bray and Mr. Alford had a history of disagreements dating back years,” the sheriff said. “Investigators interviewed Mr. Alford on May 9…in the evening hours pertaining to the incident. Mr. Alford abruptly concluded the interview with investigators and left walking from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office,” the sheriff said.
The next day Alford’s wife, Debra Alford, reported her husband missing, saying she had not spoken to him since his Monday night interview with the sheriff’s office.
On Wednesday, the sheriff said his office received a call about “a possible suicide incident” in the 400 block of Shoals Road, Pinnacle. There deputies arrived on the scene to find Michael Alford in an open field, dead from “an apparent self-inflected gunshot wound.”
The investigation is still active, the sheriff said, adding that no additional information will be released “at this time.”
May 12, 2022
Westfield Elementary School recently named 13 students as Leaders of the Month for April.
“These students were chosen by their peers for demonstrating the leadership attribute, being considerate,” school officials said. “Being considerate is thinking of other’s feelings and having or showing others they care.”
Each of the students received a book to take home.
May 12, 2022
The Mount Airy News is running question-and-answer articles with candidates leading up to the May 17 primary. We posed the same three questions to candidates for the Republican nomination for the North Carolina House of Representatives District 90 seat, which covers Mount Airy and Surry County, along with parts of Wilkes and Alleghany counties. Here are their answers.
Benjamin Romans
Benjamin Romans is from the Roaring River community.
Question: In recent years, there has been a lot of public discussion on the role of government, big vs. small government, intrusion in private lives vs. basic freedoms, and the like. In your opinion, what is the role of the state government in North Carolina?
Romans: Government should seek to maximize autonomy and political freedom, and minimize the state; emphasizing free association, freedom of choice, individualism and voluntary association.
Question: What do you believe are the two or three biggest issues facing North Carolinians today, and how do you believe the state government should attack those issues
Romans: Abortion. Abortion was not a decision made by the supreme court in 1973. In fact it was an opinion. Therefore it falls under the Tenth Amendment and is a state’s issue. Abortion should be illegal because it is murder. We must protect the unborn. Legislation should be put into place to criminalize abortions.
Liberty. There are far to many victimless crimes currently in North Carolina and throughout the country. Big government has reduced many of our God-given, constitutionally protected rights. Unconstitutional taxes and unreasonable regulations have crippled our economy thus creating a nation of dependent slaves who no longer know true freedom. So in conclusion the government should get its nose out of our business. Big government is a big problem.
Question: Why are you running for office, and why should voters cast a ballot for you? What sets you apart from your opponent?
Romans: I am running for office to bring forth true change. To institute true freedom and Liberties. Voters should vote for me because I care. I am the common man. I have counted change in order to make it to my next payday. I have the backbone to stand up to crooked politicians who have systematically destroyed this state and country. I am the true liberty candidate.
Sarah Stevens
Sarah Stevens is a Mount Airy attorney, who has served seven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives. She is the House Speaker Pro Tempore, and in the 2021-22 session, she served as chair of the Judiciary 2 committee, as well as being a member on the appropriations, appropriations capital, and regulatory reform committees. She was also co-chair of the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee and the Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group, as well as holding other non-standing committee assignments.
Question: In recent years, there has been a lot of public discussion on the role of government, big vs. small government, intrusion in private lives vs. basic freedoms, and the like. In your opinion, what is the role of the state government in North Carolina?
Stevens: Government should be limited but it s necessary to maintain law and order. The government is also critical to having the necessary infrastructure. Local government should be a limited function and often oversteps its allowed purposes.
Question: What do you believe are the two or three biggest issues facing North Carolinians today, and how do you believe the state government should attack those issues?
Stevens: Today it is inflation. People are struggling with getting necessary food and medicine and housing. The federal government has aggravated this issue with limiting our supply of fuels from a myriad of sources. Food and medicine come from transportation as does building supplies. The cost of everything continues to rise. The federal government should restart the (Keystone) pipeline and reduce the extra fees they have added to public leased lands which provide oil.
Question: Why are you running for office, and why should voters cast a ballot for you? What sets you apart from your opponent?
Stevens: I know that this job is public service. I have been in this office for the past 12-and-a-half years. Experience and seniority matter in Raleigh. What we do is important. I am a lawyer and that gives me an advantage in critical thinking. I ran my own office so I know what it takes to make a payroll and pay taxes.
May 12, 2022
A murder will take place this weekend on Jones School Road in Mount Airy — not really, just make-believe as part of a production to benefit the historic facility where it will be held.
This involves the staging of a play titled “Lights! Camera! Murder!” in L.H. Jones Auditorium on the grounds of the former Jones School and present community resource center in the northern part of town.
A local drama club, The Good Time Players, is putting on the production for which shows are scheduled Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Proceeds from the performances will benefit the J.J. Jones Alumni Association, which owns the former school auditorium that is now used for various community events. It operates separately from other parts of the old campus long owned by the county government, with the funds raised to go toward the ongoing maintenance of the auditorium.
“I am in the play,” Alumni Association President Nancy Bowman Williams said.
“Lights! Camera! Murder!” — described as a comedy murder mystery — has about 10 cast members altogether. The plot concerns the slaying of the leading man in a detective movie and efforts to unmask his killer. The story is set in the 1940s.
Tammy Denny of The Good Time Players Drama Club is the play’s director. That group is known for its staging of productions as fundraisers for worthy causes, with Denny involved for several years.
The doors open at 6 p.m. Friday for the first of the three “Lights! Camera! Murder!” presentations, with the play starting at 7 p.m. The audience will be seated at tables.
On Saturday night, the same schedule will be observed for a dinner theater event. “Saturday is a sellout,” Williams said of a 100-plate limit imposed by the caterer for the evening.
However, space will be found around the auditorium then for those who simply want to watch the play with no meal included. “We’re not going to turn anybody away,” the Alumni Association president said.
A matinee is planned Sunday afternoon, when the doors will open at 2 p.m. for a 3 o’clock show.
Organizers say a “dessert-theater” setup will be in place Friday night and Sunday afternoon, for which tickets were still available at last report.
The cost is $20 per person all three days, with those interested in attending asked to show up at the door.
Unlike some community theater productions that include several weeks of rehearsals, the local staging of “Lights! Camera! Murder!” has involved a much longer undertaking.
Rehearsals actually began in June 2021 for shows that originally were to be held much earlier than now.
“And COVID happened,” Williams explained.
May 11, 2022
The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, the country’s largest one-day food drive is Saturday and it provides residents with an easy way to donate food to those in need.
The National Association of Letter Carriers launched the campaign in 1983 to helps feed millions of Americans, now they need the public’s help.
Residents simply leave their donation of non-perishable food items next to their mailbox before the mail runs on Saturday, May 14. Letter carriers will collect these food donations on that day as they deliver mail and distribute them to local food banks “in the areas they serve,” Jimmy and Karen Caparolie, co-directors of the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center, said.
They explained that at the center donations have “just dropped off over the last two years, and there are not a lot of drive by donations. We are serving more people; we need more to serve more people.”
The food drive is held annually on the second Saturday in May in cities and towns across the country. Hunger affects one in eight Americans, including millions of children, senior citizens, and veterans.
In the 30 years since it began, the food drive has collected about 1.82 billion pounds of food for struggling residents. The need is as great as ever, given the pandemic-caused economic dislocations of the past two years.
“Letter carriers are a part of every neighborhood in the nation,” association President Fredric Rolando said, “and we see the growing need for food assistance in our communities. On Saturday, May 14, we invite everyone to participate in the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. Together, we can help stamp out hunger in America.”
The timing is important, with food banks, pantries and shelters running low on donations from the winter holidays and with summer approaching, when most school meal programs are suspended.
On May 14, as they deliver mail, the nation’s 200,000 letter carriers will collect the donations that residents have left near their mailboxes. People are encouraged to leave a sturdy bag containing non-perishable foods, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, canned meats and fish, pasta, rice or cereal next to their mailbox before the regular mail delivery on Saturday.
Karen Caparolie said that hygiene items are also needed although not listed. The Caparolies recommend a plastic bag because the handles will make it easier for the letter carrier to pick up. Donations can also be made at the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, at 407 East 52 Bypass, Pilot Mountain.
Donations made Saturday will be replenishing supplies at local food banks and nourishing those in need.
Postal workers in Mount Airy will also be accepting donations, with food collected going to Yokefellow Ministries.
May 11, 2022
Area businesses and individuals who won Mountie Awards — the Mount Airy News’ Reader’s Choice Awards — or Gemini Awards — the Carroll News’ Reader’s Choice Awards — can show off their awards by having them mounted on keepsake plaques by the graphics team at The Mount Airy News.
However, a firm contacting winners offering to mount those awards on plaques (at substantially higher costs) or to create trophies for the awards is not affiliated with The Mount Airy News, The Carroll News, or their parent company, Adams Publishing Group.
The company, identifying itself in emails as Showmark Media, LLC, does not have permission to use the Mounties or Gemini Awards logos, nor the names and logos of the two newspapers.
Area readers and businesses, particularly those who won the popular awards, should be wary of doing business with any firm implying or stating they have a relationship or authorization with The Mount Airy News or the Carroll News.
A Google search found that Showmark, based in Shelton Connecticut, has engaged in similar practices across the country. An attorney in Philadelphia reported on his blog he was being spammed by the company despite repeated requests asking Showmark to cease; a weekly paper in California — the Tracy Press — warned its readers and reader’s choice award winners against doing business with Showmark; and Atlantic Business Magazine alleged Showmark was once “…trying to cash in on Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO awards by selling fake awards.”
Mount Airy and Carroll News Publisher Sandra Hurley said if local winners wish to get a plaque or discuss other ways to show their Mounties and Geminis those papers could help.
“We will be happy to help our customers display their winning information,” she said.
May 11, 2022
Recent city government debates over outdoor dining/alcohol consumption in downtown Mount Airy are continuing with one councilman’s charges that Mayor Ron Niland has acted improperly regarding that issue.
This includes Niland’s handling of an attempt by Commissioner Jon Cawley — during an April 21 council meeting — to have an earlier vote by the group relaxing that activity rescinded. That was followed by the mayor later saying he didn’t recall key details about it during the commissioners’ last meeting a week ago.
A question has been left in Cawley’s mind about whether Niland deliberately circumvented a board vote on a related motion presented by Cawley on April 21, and what role the apparent memory lapse played.
“It was either incompetence or deceit,” the North Ward commissioner said Tuesday. “And neither one is acceptable.”
For his part, the mayor is defending his involvement surrounding the commissioners’ April 7 vote allowing any “food and beverage” establishment downtown to offer outside dining — including serving beer and wine — and that action’s aftermath.
“Everything I’ve done has been fair and open,” Niland said Tuesday afternoon.
And on Wednesday morning, the mayor addressed Cawley’s “incompetence or deceit” remarks in particular:
“I am saddened that my colleague would feel this way — and the comment is beneath the office he holds,” Niland countered.
He declined to elaborate on those criticisms at length.
“I refuse to comment further on these hateful accusations,” the mayor added. “I would not want to dignify those comments.”
This verbal barrage has come to a boil just days before Niland and Cawley square off in a primary election next Tuesday which features a three-way battle also including a former commissioner, Teresa Lewis. The two receiving the most votes then will go head to head in the general election in November.
But the seeds for the dispute were sown on April 7, when the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 — with Cawley dissenting — to expand opportunities for downtown businesses to offer outside dining/drinking, limited previously to restaurants.
His main bone of contention was the use of the word “plaza” numerous times in a revised city ordinance, which Cawley believes could allow alcohol consumption in Jack A. Loftis Plaza, a public rest area.
A wine shop called Uncorked is located next door to that facility, which was seen being marked with a tape measure that Cawley has said was done to prepare for a hole to be made in Uncorked’s wall to accommodate a serving window.
In seeking to have the April 7 action rescinded, or undone, when the board next met on April 21, Cawley expressed the belief that fellow commissioners weren’t fully aware of its implications — which some vehemently denied.
Parliamentary dispute
When Cawley made a motion on April 21 to rescind the decision, the mayor — who presides over council meetings — said the motion would have to be seconded in order for it to come to a vote.
However, Cawley says this was not required per new parliamentary procedure rules adopted by city officials several years ago, which don’t require seconds to motions. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, the longtime standard by which most governmental bodies operate including Mount Airy previously, a second would have been needed.
An air of confusion permeated the April 21 meeting, which City Attorney Hugh Campbell was absent from, with uncertainty expressed about exactly how to handle the rescinding attempt and an outright crackdown on drinking in public spaces suggested by Commissioner Tom Koch.
And when the next meeting rolled around last Thursday, Niland did not recall asking for a second on Cawley’s April 21 motion.
“Mayor, you called for a second on my motion,” Cawley replied in an authoritative tone.
Niland took an apologetic stance at last week’s meeting in his closing comments ending the session.
The mayor emphasized that he was not trying to be unfair to Cawley.
“If I made a mistake, I apologize,” Niland said. “It was not intentional.”
Actions questioned
Fast-forwarding to this week, Cawley is of the opinion that Niland’s asking for a second on April was possibly an attempt by the mayor to avoid a vote on his motion.
“It kept the vote off the record,” Cawley said, explaining that this could become an issue down the road if problems result from expanding outside dining regulations — while knowing fully his motion would’ve been defeated.
The North Ward representative is particularly incensed that Niland seemed emphatic in his denial during last week’s meeting that the motion had been made and he called for the second.
“And he was wrong on both of them,” Cawley continued. “He says I didn’t make a motion — which I did — and he didn’t call for the second — which he did.”
Cawley said it is difficult for him to conceive that Niland expressed no recollection of such details regarding a matter that had been vigorously debated by the board.
Niland now is acknowledging that Cawley did indeed formally seek to have the April 7 decision undone on April 21. “I’m sure the motion took place.”
But the mayor denied any move on his part to keep a decision off the books, as Cawley is alleging.
“Nothing’s further from the truth,” Niland said Tuesday. “Absolutely not.”
The mayor also says that Cawley had every opportunity on April 21 to make the case that no second was needed for his motion and a subsequent vote.
Cawley said this week that he does not know exactly where Niland was coming from on the issue. “I can’t speak for his intentions.”
But the veteran councilman is concerned about how other city government business might be handled in the future, judging by recent events.
“The issue is now, how are we doing things?”
May 11, 2022
Some people tried to outrun the rain, some people tried to hide from the rain, and more than a few outsmarted the rain and brought an umbrella — a wise move. No one wanted to walk away because raindrops kept falling on their head. After having been uprooted by COVID last year, a little precipitation was not going to dampen the spirits of Budbreak.
Mother Nature had some plans for the day, she had earlier made Mayfest a damp affair, but the folks who wanted to come out to support Budbreak and sample the wares from local breweries and vineyards are a hearty sort. With cloudy skies that gave way to drizzle and at times more precipitation than some would have liked, organizer Bob Meinecke said the weather had “very little impact as we had people paying to come in as late as 5 p.m.”
Being so close to the event, Meinecke said it is hard for an accurate estimate to be made on the turnout or the proceeds. “Can’t really go there yet. Too many moving parts,” he said. When the dust settles though the results of Budbreak’s return to spring “should be in excess of $20,000.”
While it may fall short of the mark set last year, that is a haul the Rotarians will be happy to accept. When it comes to groups such as the Mount Airy Rotary, they will never achieve a magic donation number level where they say, “Enough, we’re done.”
Even a Budbreak that did not make as much as the last one is still a great success. People in this community will benefit from the hard work of the men and women who organized and staffed the event.
With the rain, it begs the question if this is the sort of event that may be better inside. The plan for the proposed Spencer’s Mill project downtown contains a visitor’s and convention center that seems like it would be tailor-made for an event such as Budbreak. The Greensboro Coliseum is an annual host to a similar beer and wine event, and the capacity of such a venue no doubt leads to some serious donations for the Animal Rescue and Foster Program, their charitable partner.
Meinecke said he did not think the new convention center would or should take the place of having Budbreak out in the open.
“It needs to remain as an outdoor event. We like our location and because we rely heavily on logistical help from Old North State, we don’t see moving to another location,” he said. Given the street fair atmosphere, the music pumping from the stage in the parking lot between Brannock & Hiattt and Old North State, and the added bonus of overflow dancers from the Cinco de Mayo festivities at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History there was a lot to take in.
Main Street in Mayberry took a short trip south of the border for a few minutes as the dancers formed a circle in traditional garb. Some in the crowd stopped in their tracks as they were unaware there was a Cinco de Mayo event ongoing as well. “Now, this is different,” Jon Rawls of Hickory said. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
From inside businesses faces popped out of doorways and necks craned for a view as the dancers began while a drummer beat the rhythm.
Old favorite breweries and wineries come back year after year, it is that continuity that Meinecke says many are looking for. Not one to play favorites with the vendors of the event he so carefully helped to organize, he diplomatically deflected when speaking of his favorite wine. “Because drinking pallets vary so much, we make sure there is a broad range to choose from. There is a slight leaning toward sweeter wines.”
The vendors kept the commemorative tasting glasses full, and some long lines at certain tables may have told the tale of which were the favorites. Sue Brownfield reported back that she sold lots of wine and had spoken to happy vendors.
Meinecke was upbeat as always in offering the report from this year’s Budbreak. “There is always lots of events to compete with. We stand out and by all account reached our expectations.”
May 11, 2022
The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is offering two events this month, one hearkening to the days when iron and steel blacksmithing represented the cutting edge of technology, and another taking attendees into the space age.
The first is the museum’s last blacksmith workshop of the season. Local master blacksmith Joe Allen will teach participants about the tools and techniques involved in entry-level blacksmithing.
Everyone will receive hands-on instruction on the tools and conditions necessary to forge iron and will get their opportunity to use a hammer and anvil, as well as other basic tools, to craft two different projects they will get to keep. All of the tools and materials are included in the workshop price, and it will be held in the museum courtyard.
This workshop will be on Saturday from 1 p.m.–5 p.m. and costs $75 for members and $100 for non-members. The class will be limited to six participants per class, so early registration is encouraged.
Space Age
Pete Taggett will be presenting for the museum’s first Maker’s History presentation featuring local craftsmen and creators who have contributed to technology, science, and history. Taggett will tell the story of how he worked on the communications antenna used on the Apollo missions. From the early Apollo mission where men were eventually put on the moon to helping to save astronauts during the Apollo 13 explosion, Taggett’s work has helped shape history.
This presentation will be held Saturday, May 20 from 12 p.m.–1 p.m. at the museum. It is free to the public, and there will be opportunities to ask questions. Those attending may take a lunch to eat while listening to the talk.
This presentation is being hosted in partnership with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. For those unable to attend, there will be a Zoom link for anyone to watch the event virtually. For more information about this event and how to register to watch virtually, check the museum’s social media accounts or reach out to Cassandra Johnson at the museum at 336-786-4478.
May 11, 2022
The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce will host a morning networking event called Business Over Breakfast on Thursday May 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The event will be held at the Mount Airy City Schools Central Office, 351 Riverside Drive, Mount Airy.
Business Over Breakfast will feature tabletop networking where attendees can talk about their businesses and exchange business cards. Attendees will rotate tables and have the opportunity to meet almost everyone in the room. People who may be interested in this event are sales managers, sales professionals, business development staff or any small business owner.
The event will feature a buffet breakfast catered by the Ol’ Farmer Restaurant, from Cana, Virginia. The breakfast is open to all members of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce or any prospective member. Sponsorships for the Business Over Breakfast are available and provide marketing for sponsoring companies and event tickets.
Chamber President and CEO Randy Collins remarked “traditional business networking is alive and well in Surry County. Attendees will meet many business prospects in a short amount of time. Bring your business cards and come join us.”
Tickets or sponsorships can be purchased on the chamber website Questions on the event should be directed to Jordon Edwards at the chamber via email at
May 10, 2022
The Mount Airy News is running question-and-answer articles with candidates leading up to the May 17 primary. We posed the same three questions to candidates for the Surry County Board of Commissioners Mount Airy District seat.
Bill Goins
Bill Goins is an avid outdoorsman who is in his fourth year on the board of commissioners, and its current chairman. He and wife, Shelley, have four children. Both are active in the county and attend Bannertown Baptist Church.
Goins is a lifelong resident of Surry County who is proud to call Surry County home. After spending 28 years as an educator- teacher, coach, assistant principal, and principal in the Surry County School System, he retired in August 2020.
He wears many hats serving on the State Water Infrastructure Authority, the Surry County Board of Social Services, Mount Airy/Surry County Airport Authority, Mount Airy Liaison Committee, Flat Rock and Bannertown Water and Sewer Authority, Northern Regional Hospital Board of Trustee, Partners Behavioral Health Board, Surry County Budget and Finance, and Surry County Property Committee.
“It has been an honor to serve as county commissioner over the last four years and I would consider it an honor to serve another term to represent the people of Surry County. I would appreciate your vote in early voting or on Tuesday, May 17.”
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and describe how you may choose to address that issue?
Goins: Choosing one issue is a difficult task when you look at the issues that you face as a county commissioner. There are several areas of concern for me, but probably the most prevalent and the one that people talk about most is opioid addiction. It impacts so many people and families in our county. We hear the number of overdoses each year but is only the tip of the iceberg.
There has been a great deal of work in this area, and we are in a better position than many counties because of the work of previous commissioners and the hiring of a director position to work with all the stakeholders and develop a plan. We will be receiving opioid settlement money and because of the efforts in Surry County, we will be able to use that money to immediately fight the opioid crisis here in the county.
We need to continue to support a “continuum of care” for residents suffering from substance use disorder and seeking treatment and recovery. Short-term goals include a communications campaign, transportation program, work programs for employees and employers, housing, and planning for detention facility programs. Long-term goals include surveys, implementation of detention center programs, a mentor program, and an “Innovation Grant Pool” for non-profit organizations.
As we move forward, we need to give people hope and support as they work to recover from substance use. We need to understand that we are dealing with people from all walks of life, and they deserve our help in beating their addiction.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Goins: I am a Republican and I have been since I first registered to vote in 1986. For me, being a Republican and a conservative means I want to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money and to spend it wisely. I, along with my fellow commissioners, have done a great job in looking at our budget and asking some tough questions about how we spend taxpayer money. We always want to do the most we can with the money that is collected from taxes and other revenue sources.
During COVID, we had to look at how to do things differently. We had to make difficult decisions because we did not know what the future would hold or what the impact would be on our economy. We cut all departments by 10% and ultimately cut the county budget by $1.7 million. We asked everyone to do more with less, and with the current labor shortage they have continued to do more with less people.
Now we have to deal with inflation unlike we have seen in a long while. That means we must look at our budget and plan on how to deal with the increased expense of doing business. We have to ask, “Are we headed for a recession?” Indicators say it is possible, but I feel confident in our ability to “pump the brakes” and slow our spending when times call for it. Our tax rate is low at 55.2 cents on $100 worth of property. More importantly, our sales tax revenue has seen growth every quarter for the past two years.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Goins: When I ran, I talked about economic development, education, safety, and building better relationships with all the stakeholders in the county. I think we have addressed these items in various ways and there is still much to do in these areas as I look to another term in office if elected. I am optimistic and believe the future holds great things for Surry County.
Today, we are faced with inflation, higher fuel prices, supply chain issues, and a labor shortage. And I believe several of these issues will continue for the foreseeable future. Economic development will always be ongoing. We want to continue to look to bring jobs to Surry County.
We need to continue to make Surry County an attractive place to do business. It is important for us to continue to foster economic development and bring in new jobs here, but it is equally important to find ways to partner with existing industries so they will continue to call Surry County home. When we are asked to help with water, sewer, natural gas, and other needs, we need to work toward meeting those goals.
Our school systems along with Surry Community College are working to address the labor shortage with programs like Surry-Yadkin Works. The program partners with our high schools and places students in businesses and industries. This gives them an opportunity to experience what is like working in a field they might want to pursue. Additionally, this allows our students to explore what Surry County has to offer as they begin to enter the workforce.
I see our county government as continuing to be responsive to the needs of our citizens. I commit to continuing to work for all the citizens and with our current board, even when we do not agree, in working to do what is best for the citizens of this county.
Walter D. Harris
Walter D. Harris was born and raised in the Washington suburbs of Alexandria, Virginia. Along with wife Melisa (Lisa Beasley) Burton Harris they have three daughters and three grandsons. Both work at Lowe’s hardware in Mount Airy and attend Mount Airy Wesleyan Church, which they love.
He was educated in catholic and private schools. Duke University yielded his college education with a political science and government degree. A return to the classroom via the kitchen at The Culinary Institute of America in New York led to a stint as a corporate executive chef for Sheraton and Marriott. He is familiar with million-dollar budgets and has owned and operated three successful restaurants in North Carolina.
Harris is serving his third term as a Surry County Delegate to the North Carolina GOP convention and his second term on Surry County Board of Adjustments. He and his wife have been chair and co-chair on Surry County’s GOP Executive Committee for several terms. He has served as judge for several elections in. Harris said he “heavily campaigned for our 45th President Donald J. Trump for the 2016 and 2020 campaigns and is planning the same in 2024.”
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and describe how you may choose to address that issue?
Harris: Many negative issues thrive within our county’s border and is embedded into our county’s heartland. National struggles as inflation and illegal migration are certainly paramount issues of which I have little control other than my family budget. However, there is a major issue our county must deal with in which I can influence as your commissioner. When we hear of crime locally, it mirrors what we see/hear in our national and state news. Most of these crimes are related to drugs, directly and indirectly; Therefore, I believe the “war on drugs” remains the most prevalent issue facing our county.
Society struggles to apprehend and prosecute the dealers and has been for over 70 years. I believe the root of “the drug problem” is addiction. Guess what everybody, addiction is in our DNA. It’s time to be harsher with the users. Users are not innocent. These drug addictions are “self-created” (I speak of illegal drug use for recreational purposes).
Do these people want to be drug addicts? I say no, but once exposed and hooked they need to be removed from society and sentenced to a lengthy serious rehabilitation, a minimum of 6 months, not a Betty Ford 30-day slap on the wrist. I have some worthy ideas worth exploring. Ideas on decreasing the demand for these drugs and assist our addicted citizens. Citizens on drugs do not work and sap our county of vital resources.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Harris: I registered as a Republican in 1971. Decades have passed and I’m now a conservative Republican. Every single decision I make as your commissioner will be based on my core conservative value. I love and defend our constitution. I am fiscally dedicated to holding our budget and fighting any unnecessary changes to the budget. If additional money is needed, find it elsewhere within our budget and save. My style of governance as a commissioner will represent only 20% of the voting bloc, but I will bond my conservative governance with 40% of our ‘equal-minded” conservative commissioners to assure and maintain the majority conservative vote.
Remember Coca-Cola’s voter suppression claim in Atlanta and how this company’s political views negatively affected many political campaigns and ultimately the presidential election? Remember? Commissioners Eddie Harris and Van Tucker crafted a serious response/resolution to Coca-Cola kicking their business out of our government offices. A well-crafted conservative response representing our county’s conservative values. Remember how the other three commissioners let Coca-Cola off the hook? I would have voted yes with Mr. Eddie Harris and Mr. Van Tucker. This is how I govern, conservative.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Harris: Very promising. Our county has a very large land mass. I would love to honeymoon very large businesses to our county complete with infrastructure with a growing young employee base. We need young families. Our county’s geographic location is convenient for domestic commerce. Slow, deliberate, and well-planned is key to our future growth. Politically speaking, I see our county’s future as more conservative. I envision Surry as a haven for all families, young and old, to enjoy “their/our” constitutionally entitled happiness in a secure protective conservative Republican-bathed county.
Surry is well into a decade of Republicanism. Surry County is unique and has proven its itch, its desire to stand out as a beacon of conservatism for all North Carolina counties. This will not happen until conservatives hold the majority within our five commissioners.
Steven R. Odum
Editor’s Note: The Mount Airy News was not able to secure a photo of Steven Odum, despite several requests.
Steven R. Odum is a conservative Republican candidate for the county board of commissioners Mount Airy district seat. Marriedto Wendy for nearly 25 years, they have six children and are raising three grandchildren. He said they love Surry County, and he hopes to be able to assist in bringing much needed change, safety, security, and economic stability to the people if elected to represent his district.
A lifelong resident of Surry County, he was raised by parents Bobby and Della in a Christian family and taught the value of hard work and the dollar. It was a tobacco farm on his mother’s side of the family and construction on the other side, a day out of school was really no day off, but a day of labor.
“I assure it did not hurt me. I learned to farm and provide for myself and a family. I also learned the craft and trade of building houses. I obtained my education through the Surry County school system and Surry Community College where I obtained my National Registry EMT-Paramedic and my Associate degree in nursing.
“I worked for a few different EMS organizations for nearly seventeen years and have worked as a registered nurse for twelve years. Currently, I am a travel nurse and have traveled the country working ICU / PCU units battling the Corona 19 / Covid virus.”
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and describe how you may choose to address that issue?
Odum: The issue I believe to be most concerning in Surry County is the opioid crisis. To call it an “opioid crisis” doesn’t honestly address the depth of the problem we are facing. We have an overdose crisis that is actually the poisoning of a significant portion of our county.
I believe our first step in addressing the problem is to honestly acknowledge its severity, without sugarcoating it. Only a truly informed public is capable of making decisions and taking actions that cut to the heart of this tragedy. This is an issue that has affected almost every family in the county and has brought significant pain, grief, and financial stress on our communities.
I strongly believe in and support the philosophy of harm reduction programs and efforts. These along with collaboration with local law enforcement, state and federal law enforcement, the education system, and local non-profit organizations and with utilization of a well-enforced drug court, we can achieve the goal of reducing and preventing overdose and overdose deaths.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Odum: I am a conservative Republican. I believe the government belongs to the people. My hope and my plan is to be a voice for the people of Surry County in any decision I would be making in the office of county commissioner. It is not the job of an elected official to make decisions, without knowing the opinions of those he or she represents. Therefore, my style of leadership is a partnership with our county citizens.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Odum: The past 20 years have been devastating for Surry County. NAFTA brought the end of a rich history of textile jobs and pride in our community. The loss of jobs and illegal immigration, coupled with the pharmaceutical assault from drug companies, all hit us hard.
We must address the health of our economy. Encouraging small business owners and entrepreneurship are vital in stabilizing our local economy. We need to focus on economic development ensuring potential businesses are aware of the wealth of resources along with the excellent labor force Surry has to offer.
I personally believe the citizens of our beautiful county are more than tired of traveling out of county for employment sufficient to provide for their families. We are constantly encouraging our citizens to spend locally, support local businesses as we should. These same citizens deserve the opportunity to work within minutes of their homes while earning wages that can provide for their families.
I believe that with the right objectives and goals, with the right individuals in place, Surry County has an excellent future for business, housing, and financial stability for its citizens. We cannot continue to sit by waiting for someone else to act. We have to pull together as individuals and truly form a “we the people” attitude.
May 10, 2022
The Mount Airy News is running question-and-answer articles with candidates leading up to the May 17 primary. We posed the same three questions to candidates for the Surry County Board of Commissioners South District seat.
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris was born in Mount Airy in 1961 and lived in the Boones Hill section south of Bannertown and went to Bannertown Elementary School and the old South Main Street School for sixth grade. After that, his family moved to Mountain Park where he finished his last six years at Elkin City Schools. A graduate of Surry Community College and Appalachian State University he married Robbin Burchette who taught first grade for 30 years in Surry County and Elkin City schools.
They have two daughters Mary Gwyn and Victoria and two sons-in-laws Alex Ratley and Brandon Cox, as well as two grandsons Harris Ratley and Samuel Cox. He is employed in the family’s business Harris Leather and Silverworks manufacturing equestrian products. “I am a self-taught hand engraver and silversmith in that business. I also do carpentry work remodeling houses on the weekends. I am a member of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.”
He is the current vice chair of the Surry County Board of Commissioners while also serving the community on a variety of committees. Harris is a self-identified history and genealogy buff who in discussions on J. J. Jones High was a vocal proponent of protecting the history of the building for posterity.
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and describe how you may choose to address that issue?
Harris: I am running for a fourth term because I am honored to serve our citizens as county commissioner and appreciate the confidence the good people of Surry County have shown me these last 12 years. My primary focus is making this county a safe and decent place to raise a family, have a good paying job, and hopefully build a county in which our young people can remain.
I will continue to vote to maintain our current tax rate and insist that county tax dollars are not wasted but spent in a conservative common-sense fashion. Our tax rate has remained unchanged, and our unencumbered fund balance has grown during my tenure in office. I met with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s credit rating agencies to elevate our ratings and put our county’s financial position on a solid footing. We hired some of the best financial advisors in our state. Our financial position is sound having achieved this through commonsense conservative principals.
I will not waver in representing our working people and senior citizens who must choose whether they are going to pay their property taxes, pay their power bill, buy groceries, or their medicine. I will never forget these forgotten Americans. I will also continue our war on drugs and substance abuse that is ravaging many of our families and affecting innocent children in a horrible way. Surry County has led the way in developing a comprehensive prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery approach.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Harris: I am a conservative Republican and am very disturbed by what I see taking place in our country today. This includes our federal government, state government, as well as the public schools in our nation. I am pro-life and will fight the intolerant, divisive, disruptive leftist agenda that liberal politicians, the leftist news media, big corporation, and unelected big tech oligarchs are using to usurp our basic constitutional rights. They are dividing Americans young and old in every way imaginable.
When the radical woke left calls the American flag, the English language, Mickey Mouse, Dr. Seuss, meritocracy, and accountability racist, our mothers birthing persons, thieves uninvited guest, and the list goes on it causes me great worry for our nation. We need to look for ways to bring Americans together not tear the fabric of our nation apart.
I am a strong defender of freedom of speech and the rule of law. I believe what is happening at our southern border a disgrace to our people and our national sovereignty. I believe Surry County citizens should know the beliefs of all elected officials, that is why I voted to make our school board elections partisan. Knowledge is power. Our children belong to their parents and not the school boards. Political and social indoctrination have no place in our public schools. The people of this county do not support the destructive woke Critical Race Theory, social justice equity agenda. These beliefs have carried me through my 12 years on the board and I believe they mirror the working people of this county.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Harris: Looking out five years I continue to see people wanting to move to our county to escape the big cities. I see our taxes low, revenues stable, and an economy that continues to diversify with small business continuing to be the leading employers. Tourism will continue to play a big role. I see a county that is more focused on keeping trash off our roadsides. I see our drug problem continuing to be challenge, but hopefully progress will be made in that area.
I believe our young people will continue to move into trades and technical education careers. I serve as a trustee on our community college board and that has been a primary focus. Surry County will continue to be a special place to live and raise a family. We must continue to offer our citizens and especially our young people the hope and promise of tomorrow. The promise of a forgiving God and a nation birthed by liberty and freedom with endless opportunity. I remain optimistic despite what we are seeing in our nation today because ultimately only God can heal our nation. With warmest regards, I seek to remain your humble servant.
Tessa Saeli
Tessa Anne Saeli of Elkin is a mother of four who along with husband Dr. James Saeli own Beth EL Wellness & Chiropractic in Elkin. Her kids are grown, but an empty nest it is not with four dogs, four ducks, one cat and a bunny to keep them company.
She wants voters to know that she has a great deal of leadership experience and qualifications, “but I am not a politician and do not want to be.
“I am an ordained and licensed minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Certified Biblical Life Breakthrough Coach. I have managed many large budgets and large groups of staff and volunteers. I have served on the North Carolina Southern Baptist Ordination Board, have served in South Carolina and North Carolina in different churches in different roles: youth pastor, associate pastor, worship pastor and children’s pastor as well as education director and missions director.
I served on Marlboro County Arts Council and Downtown Development Board, I’m a former schoolteacher, preschool director of two very large pre-schools in the Raleigh area, community outreach director, former Rotarian, and a former prison chaplain in South and North Carolina; on the Development Board of Stevens Christian Academy in South Carolina; part of the American Renewal Project and Convention of States. Have attended numerous John Maxwell Leadership Seminars to fill myself with good counsel and wisdom.
And let me add, the current elections machines need to be audited now.
Question: Identify an area of concern that matters to you and tell the readers how you may choose to address that issue.
Saeli: An area of concern in Surry County is the substance abuse problem that is truly a plague on this land. I will allocate all of my commissioner’s salary to the Substance Abuse Recovery Team for programs, prevention, etc. I will also work closely with them to establish better programs and the building of new Rehab Centers that are much needed in this area. However, prevention is the number one goal. The churches need to be better educated on how to actually “help” their own congregations. I want to be a connector in that process between the governing officials and the churches. Time to go “upstream.”
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Saeli: I don’t have a “political” philosophy. Politics is a demonic spirit. Governance, however, is different. This nation was founded upon Biblical principles and should be governed as such. Prayer, the Bible, the Constitution is all we need. We don’t need new laws. We need to follow the ones we have. They work. Surrounding yourself with good counsel that believes in these things is a must. Term limits are a must. Praying over every decision can’t be an afterthought, it needs to be a leader’s first thought.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Saeli: The future of Surry County depends on the outcome of this election. If we’re going to continue to live on the “merry go round” of the same thing over and over over again, keep the officials we have. But if you want a fresh outlook with new ideas and new breakthroughs for the future, vote for new people to lead. There is a great future ahead for Surry County if we elect new leaders that listen to God and will not compromise. Also, we need news outlets that report truth instead of pieces of the actual story.
May 10, 2022
The Mount Airy News is running question-and-answer articles with candidates leading up to the May 17 primary. We posed the same three questions to candidates for the Surry County Board of Commissioners Central District seat. Here are their answers.
Mark Marion
Mark Marion is a Surry County Commissioner from Dobson who is seeking a second term as county commissioner, and is the past chair of the commissioners. He was born and raised in Surry County. A man “63 years young,” he along with wife Sara have four daughters and six grandchildren. He is a member of Salem Baptist Church in Dobson who had racked up more than 30 years of service with RJ Reynolds before retiring.
Marion said, “I proudly coached many years and a couple of generations of children in baseball and basketball. Although I no longer coach, I get to enjoy watching my grandchildren play in all their sports.”
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and describe how you may choose to address that issue?
Marion: As a county commissioner, all things that go on in Surry County matter to me but the two things that concern me most at this time is our opioid crisis and the overcrowding in our jail. The jail has been overcrowded for several years and it is a danger to the detention officers as well as the inmates. It is an enormous cost to send our inmates to other counties to be housed. The state inspection department was one step from closing our jail down. Our new jail is under construction and will house a new 911 operations center as well as a magistrate’s office. It can’t be completed soon enough.
The opioid crisis is not going away anytime soon, county government along with the sheriff’s department has initiated a substance abuse program where county employees along with volunteers are working diligently to combat the everyday influx of drugs in our county and assist the citizens that are affected in their rehabilitation. A plan to use opioid settlement money has been designed as a long term road map, lots of counties don’t have one.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance?
Marion: As the old saying goes “treat others as you would have them treat you.” I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I’m never going to please everyone. That’s where the common sense approach comes in. I try to make decisions based on what I believe my constituents would want. Sometimes you get it right but believe me the times you get it wrong; you’re going to hear about it.
I really enjoy being a commissioner, sure there are times when you get those calls where citizens are unhappy, and you do your best to lead them in the right direction; then you get those calls where you can ease someone’s mind or comfort them. We learn and grow together every day and I would appreciate your support for this upcoming election.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Marion: Surry County’s outlook is very bright. No one has a crystal ball to predict the future but the economic development along with infrastructure, broadband, water and sewer, natural gas upgrades and improvements to the Mount Airy/ Surry County airport to attract new businesses and sustain our present ones outline a promising future.
We haven’t raised property taxes since I’ve been on the board, and I don’t foresee it in the near future. Our citizens are very good about paying their taxes so we can invest in the welfare of our county. We strive to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and with God’s help Surry County will continue to prosper. We want our county to be a place where our children and grandchildren want to continue living and raise their families.
Landon Tolbert
Landon Tolbert, 30, a small business owner from Mount Airy is in his first campaign for office. “I have been a small business owner since I was 15 years old. I know the value of a hard day’s work. I believe because of this experience I will make a strong, conservative, leader for Surry County.
“I would like to begin by thanking my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for allowing me to take this journey to run for Surry County commissioner. I am a Christian first and a true fiscal conservative. I stand for the 2nd amendment, pro-life, and the Constitution.”
Question: Can you identify an area of concern that matters to you and tell the readers how you may choose to address that issue?
Tolbert: One issue that I am concerned about is that we need stronger leadership in office. I believe that we need conservative leaders who will work for the people. There seems to be a disconnect between what the people want and what the representatives do. For example, it seems like the government’s spending keeps increasing while the taxpayer’s wallet seems to keep decreasing. Times are hard right now due to inflation, and I believe that we need leaders who take this into consideration. We need leaders who will be more fiscally conservative with taxpayer dollars.
Question: How would you describe your political philosophy and what that means for your style of governance.
Tolbert: I, Landon Tolbert, want to be a watchman on the wall for the people of Surry County. The term watchman comes from the book in the Bible Ezekiel 33. A watchman to me, means a true representative that fights for the good of the people and understands the consequences of their decisions. I believe I will answer to not only the people, but I will answer to God if I do not fulfill the job of a watchman correctly. With every decision that I make, I will honor God and the people.
Question: What does the future of Surry County look like in five years?
Tolbert: I believe that if conservative leaders are voted into office, then Surry County has a bright future. Surry County can have a future with low taxes, a small government, a thriving economy, and a place where young families will choose to stay and live their lives. I hope to make all this possible with your vote.
May 10, 2022
The Konnection Band returns to the Blackmon Amphitheatre stage on Friday, while Gary Lowder & Smokin’ Hot will take the stage on Saturday night. Both shows will start at 7:30 p.m.
Founded in 2005, The Konnection has been tabbed as one of the East Coast’s premier party bands, specializing in a variety of music including Top 40, Rock, Country, R & B, Beach, and Oldies.
Gary Lowder & Smokin’ Hot are known as a Soul, R&B party band based out of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their musical repertoire covers decades of hits from favorite artists and genres of music including soul, rhythm and blues, funk, reggae, jazz standards, country, 50s, 60s, and Carolina Beach Music. In addition to performing some of the most current hits that are topping the charts today, the group has had many successful chart-topping hits on local radio and internet stations across North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida.
Admission to each show is $15 or a Surry Arts Council Annual Pass. Children 12 and younger are admitted free with an adult admission or annual pass. The Dairy Center, Whit’s Custard, and Thirsty Souls Community Brewing will be at the concerts to provide food, snacks, drinks, beer, and wine for purchase. No outside alcohol or coolers are allowed to be brought into the amphitheatre area. Those attending are asked to bring a lounge chair or blanket to sit on.
Tickets are available at the gates one hour before the concerts, online at, via phone at 336-786-7998, or at the Surry Arts Council office at 218 Rockford Street. For additional information, contact Marianna Juliana at 336-786-7998 or
May 10, 2022
A South Ward slot on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is among city offices up for grabs in the 2022 municipal election season. With a non-partisan system involved, the three candidates facing off in the primary will be narrowed to two who will be on the November general election ballot. Each responded to the same set of questions designed to help voters learn about their backgrounds and positions on key issues to make informed choices. Listed in alphabetical order, the candidates and responses include those of:
Gene Clark
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Gene Clark, and I seek your support to serve as commissioner, South Ward, of the Mount Airy city council. At 59 years old, I have had an abundance of personal and professional experiences that shaped my ability to work well with others to achieve shared goals.
As a husband to my beautiful wife Becky, I have learned to cherish her unconditionally and listen carefully to her wise counsel. As father to two beloved sons, Taylor and Tyler, I have learned to put the needs of family above my own personal desires, and to expect and respect differences of opinion — so long as those differences harm no one else.
As a successful business leader for more than 40 years who has worked from the ground up in the highly competitive furniture business, I understand the importance of developing and maintaining a sustainable budget, identifying and prioritizing needs versus wishes, seeking opportunities for growth and expansion, hiring and mentoring young professionals so they can advance to more-lucrative positions and ensuring customer satisfaction and repeat business by providing a high-quality product that is truthfully promoted.
My Christian faith is the foundation of who I am and has always informed my value system. Since birth, I have been part of the Methodist Church and participated in a variety of faith-based organizations and volunteer roles — including Methodist Men, pastor-parish and serving on the church Finance Committee and Administrative Council.
I also have held several leadership positions with the Bassett (Virginia) Kiwanis Club, including president and vice president. Most recently, I led the now-defunct Citizens for Transparency — a local group dedicated to encouraging members of the city council to engage in open, honest communications with the public.
I believe my background will serve me well as commissioner, because it provides a foundation for me to engage collegially with other council members as we work together to ensure that the city’s needs are consistently prioritized.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I love Mount Airy and want to help ensure its ability to remain a family favorite beacon to yesteryear while expanding its attraction to the next generations. Sweet memories of bygone days can stir our souls, but the tools and technology of today and tomorrow must stir our imagination so we can effectively embrace the future.
As a commissioner, I will use my talents and strengths to help lay the groundwork for the city to aggressively and strategically search out and seize opportunities to move our focus beyond the immediate “downtown” area — where we have stayed mired for the past 10 years. As a commissioner, I am interested in helping to heal the ever-widening chasm that now exists between the elected officials of this town and its people.
To that end, I will invite and welcome ideas, comments, criticism and questions from the public — because a city council is only as effective as its communications — and our present council only tells people what they’re going to do rather than engage in open, honest discussions with constituents about potential plans.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Jobs is my top consideration. And when I say jobs, I mean jobs that pay significantly more than minimum wage. I’m talking about jobs that can sustain a family and permit the purchase of a reasonably priced home within the city limits or nearby vicinity. We cannot grow unless and until we engage aggressively in finding and attracting small, medium or large-sized businesses to Mount Airy.
We must rally our local business and political interests to help us recruit new employers to our town, including women and minority owners who bring with them refreshingly new and updated views and perspectives. Such entrepreneurs will be attracted to what Mount Airy has to offer — including easy on/off access to all major highways and byways, superb educational and health care facilities, a rich variety of cultural and recreational activities and outlets and strong traditions with a culture wrapped in old-fashioned values.
My second priority will be to attain and maintain budget compliance. Over the years, we have gotten off track and spent money recklessly while raising taxes at the drop of the hat. We cannot continue on that budgetary train wreck. As commissioner, I will help ensure that the city manager and all department heads operate in unison to correct budgetary variances that lead to over-spending, and that they also lead the effort to cut costs, as might be necessary.
Unlike the federal government, Mount Airy does not have a printing press that will produce more greenbacks — so we must not spend more than our revenues allow and borrow more than we can comfortably repay. Developing and maintaining a budget is not brain surgery — it only requires a commitment to “staying within our means.” Rest assured, I mean to stay within those well-defined boundaries.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: If you believe, as I do, that the status quo has gotta go, then I’m the commissioner for you. Mount Airy is long overdue for a group of elected officials who will put the needs of the whole city first — ahead of their own personal interests.
And the city is long overdue for a group of elected officials who can work well together rather than squabbling like grade-school bullies. As your commissioner, I will be truthful and honest with you and vote with integrity at all times. And as your commissioner, I will be a proud ambassador for the city of Mount Airy — the place we all love and the place we all call home.
Phillip Thacker
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Phillip Thacker, I am 67 years old and was born and raised in Mount Airy.
I have been married to my wife Nancy for 48 years and am blessed with two married children and three wonderful grandchildren.
After 46 years of working here in Mount Airy, I am retired and have the time to continue serving the community. I am a graduate of Mount Airy High School and Surry Community College with an associate in science degree.
I was previously employed by Quality Mills for 12 years as an engineer and by Renfro Corp. for 34 years as an engineer and an engineering manager.
Other involvements have included serving on the Mount Airy Planning Board for three years and the Mount Airy Board of Education for 23 years.
I presently am a member of the Mount Airy City Schools Educational Foundation; treasurer of our church, for 21 years; and a trustee.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I was born and raised in Mount Airy and have been fortunate enough to work here for 46 years.
During that time I have served the community since 1993 as a member of the planning board and formerly the city school board, so now I would like to continue serving the community as a Mount Airy city commissioner.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: (1) Increasing the number of jobs available in the community is important to me. We need to be aware of the opportunities available and pursue them.
(2) Keeping a sharp eye on the budget. I would address this with the simple idea that you can only spend what you have available.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Working in the private sector in Mount Airy for a long time makes me aware of the need for jobs in the city today.
Having served on a public board that successfully takes care of our tax dollars and demonstrates success is another reason. And serving on several local boards prepares you on how to work together with people and move a board in the right direction.
I know I can be a positive influence on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners and our community.
I will do my best to make good decisions for the city of Mount Airy.
Joe Zalescik
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I presently serve as a Mount Airy city commissioner and work hard every day to represent your interests in making this city a better place to live, work and play.
My credentials include 35 years of elected and appointed public service experience; being a former member of the Mount Airy Planning Board who now is a member of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority; and serving as a representative for Surry County Tourism and Economic Development.
Also, I am a member of the Surry County Farmers Market Board and the coordinator of the Mount Airy Farmers Market along with being a member and membership ambassador of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce;
I am a small business owner in Mount Airy, of Station 1978 Firehouse Peanuts, LLC; have strong public safety experience with more than 40 years in fire and rescue activities; and am a retired health care media executive with 40 years of experience
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: In addition to now serving as Mount Airy’s at-large commissioner, I have 35 years of elected and appointed public service experience in local government and continue to make public service a priority in my life.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: There is a need for new affordable housing, especially for young people who work in Mount Airy. The city has land available for development and can offer incentives for new housing opportunities.
Secondly, we have to fill the vacant positions in our police and fire departments. I also would like to see the Police Department be nationally certified. This will help with recruitment and retention of our police force.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Experience and a commitment to Mount Airy, including serving on the Mount Airy Planning Board before I was appointed to the at-large commissioner seat.
In working as a volunteer ambassador for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, being on the Surry County Farmers Market board and coordinating the Mount Airy Farmers Market, public service is at the core of my beliefs — as service to humanity is the best work of life.
May 09, 2022
A local man’s death is being investigated as a homicide, according to Surry County Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt.
The sheriff, in a statement released late Monday, said deputies from his office responded to a call of “an unresponsive patient setting (sic) on a lawnmower,” in the 600 block of Golf Course Road in Pilot Mountain at 1:18 p.m. Upon arrival at the scene, deputies discovered the man was dead.
“Deputies on the scene requested the assistance of the Criminal Investigation Division and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation,” the sheriff said. “This investigation is still ongoing and is being ruled a homicide,” Hiatt said. “This investigation is believed to be an isolated incident.”
The sheriff declined to release the name of the victim, the address of the finding, or whether the man had suffered any obvious wounds.
“The sheriff’s office will release additional information at a later time.”
May 09, 2022
The most crowded race facing city voters this spring is in the North Ward, where four candidates are seeking to fill the seat now held by mayoral candidate Jon Cawley. After the May 17 primary, the first- and second-place winners will then go head to head in the non-partisan municipal election next November. Each person in the race responded to the same set of questions designed to help voters learn about their backgrounds and positions on key issues to make informed choices. Listed in alphabetical order, the candidates and responses include those of:
Chad Hutchens
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I am Chad Hutchens, 45 years old, who has have been a sworn law enforcement officer for more than 24 years. I am presently a sergeant with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office in the School Resource Officer Division.
I have been employed with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office for about 22 years. Before that, I was an officer with the Mount Airy Police Department.
I obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia Southern University and a master’s degree in criminal justice/public administration degree from Liberty University. I received my Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) certification from Surry Community College in 1997. In January of 1998, I began as an officer with the Mount Airy Police Department. In July 1999, I was hired by the Surry County Sheriff’s office as a school resource officer and in May 2007, received my Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate. In July 2009, I was promoted to the Criminal Investigations Division as a detective.
In July 2014, I had the opportunity to return to the School Resource Officer Division of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. In July 2019, I was promoted to sergeant of that unit. I serve as a liaison between the Surry County Schools and Surry County Sheriff’s Office. I encourage preventative measures for safety, instruct drug-awareness programs and lead a team of great officers.
In addition to having attended numerous schools at the federal, state and local levels, I have completed training in technology-facilitated crimes against children and protecting children online, presented by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
I have been a public service advocate involved with various organizations in our community. I have served with the Mount Airy Rescue Squad, Surry County Emergency Services, Surry County E-911 Communications, United Fund of Surry, Fraternal Order of Police and Boy Scouts of America. I have received the National Jefferson Award for my contributions through public and volunteer community service.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I am running for city commissioner because the great citizens of Mount Airy have made a difference in my own life, and I know that we can continue to make a difference for all citizens in our community. As a public servant, I have had the opportunity to help and influence the lives of the citizens who we are so grateful to serve. I will continue to bring my passion and experience to help everyone within our great community.
I also am seeking office because I have a passion for helping others, and I was raised to believe that community service is a noble exercise of our freedom. However, I also believe that community service must be done for the right reasons. It should be viewed as a personal commitment to better our community, not as a means of personal gratification.
Educated in public administration, I understand the policy issues facing our city. As a public employee myself, I also understand the challenges of providing superior public service.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: (1) Economic development and (2) community development.
We should strive to promote Mount Airy and our city merchants. We must also balance business development with quality of life. Infrastructure is a subject matter that needs our attention. We should assess our needs and address the issues of aging and outdated water and sewer lines. Recreation is essential to the growth and development of our community. We need to ensure that we have adequate facilities for our citizens to safely enjoy and promote the health and well-being of everyone.
We need a citizens-driven approach to government. Citizens should be at the forefront, as they best understand our city’s dynamics, cultures and history. We need to have citizens involved in identifying issues and measuring performance. We should be encouraging citizen participation and working to develop partnerships among our citizens. Buy-in and participation are of great importance, as our citizens are the stakeholders of our community.
The bottom line is that I care about Mount Airy, and I care about working hard for you. The critical issues to you are those same issues that are important to me.
I will work to grow our community while also preserving our small-town charisma.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I have developed many useful skills through my education and life experience as a law enforcement officer and community volunteer. I have experience ranging from policy regulations to strategic planning. I have a positive track record in leadership as both a volunteer and paid public service professional. I understand that there are different perspectives on issues in the city regarding regulations for financial and fiscal management. I have always been focused on those we serve and their families. I will always strive to represent the public’s best interests, and I am committed to that priority.
I genuinely love Mount Airy. I sincerely appreciate its beauty, charm, history, award-winning schools and all our city activities and events. I have been an active member of our community through volunteer public service and serving as a law enforcement professional.
I have been involved with the Mount Airy Rescue Squad for the past 27 years, with which I have served as a member, chief and now as a board member. I have the confidence and support of our great sheriff, Steve Hiatt, in serving as a sergeant supervising our School Resource Officer and DARE officer unit. I have served with numerous service organizations such as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association; the Boy Scouts of America, of which I am an Eagle Scout; and the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Teresa Leiva
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Teresa Davis Leiva. I am 37 years old. My husband, Carlos, is a software developer by profession and we have two children who attend Mount Airy City Schools. I grew up just outside the city limits in Sheltontown and graduated from Mount Airy High School in 2002. I work as an advocate for high-risk children at Jones Intermediate and Mount Airy Middle schools, and taught piano lessons from my home until the pandemic hit in 2020.
I’m also an active member of my church, serving as the children’s music conductor and an adviser in the Compassionate Service Program, providing care to those in need. I am a former school board member for Mount Airy City Schools, serving on an interim basis from July 2019 to Dec. 1 2020, through the start of the pandemic.
In my free time, I volunteer for multiple programs in our community, such as Surry Animal Rescue, where we foster cats and dogs (more than 150 fosters collectively) and assist with adoptions and fundraisers. I proudly serve as a board member of the Greater Mount Airy Ministry of Hospitality over The Shepherd’s House and Helping Hands Foundation of Surry County, and I am the president of the Board of Directors for The Redemption House-Surry, a long-term men’s recovery program located right outside the city in Toast.
As the adviser over the High School Interact Club, whose motto is “Service Above Self,” I work to cultivate the next generation of service-oriented individuals. Because of the scope of my community-based activities, I believe that I am in the best position to reflect the wants and needs of those who would be my constituents.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I feel called to serve our community. I can’t change the world, the United States or even the entire state of North Carolina, but I can help to cultivate a thriving community here in Mount Airy. On a daily basis I work with children who will need jobs when they grow up, affordable housing and positive activities, and I would like to be in a position where I can do the most good for them and for all of us who live here.
This is my home, and I understand the history of Mount Airy because it is my history. We have a really wonderful town, with strong, kind individuals who deserve to be supported and to be heard. I want to be able to provide the opportunities for growth, while balancing a fiscally conservative approach and utilizing local networks as well as local partnerships to set us up for future success. I would like to support the continuance of responsible growth while maintaining the rich, vibrant history and culture we already have. Mount Airy is a great place to live, and I want to keep it that way.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: While there are some who would say jobs and housing are the two biggest issues, I would select workforce development and poverty as those I see a need to address. Jobs and housing both fall under these categories. Though proper workforce development and utilization of community programs that already exist, such as career and technical education programs, along with partnerships with the city and Surry Community College, Mount Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools, NexGen, etc. and proper marketing we can increase development, without necessarily spending money to fix problems.
As we build stronger partnerships and grow our workforce, we provide opportunities for those struggling with poverty to rise above their circumstances. A stronger workforce cultivates a stronger economy, which entices more housing developers and businesses to choose Mount Airy.
There are many other needs our community has, but I believe that once we have focused our efforts on these issues, we will have time and tools necessary to address the other needs plaguing our community. A stronger economy generates more sales for local businesses, more enticement for tourism and more opportunities to be able to recover from addiction, just to name a few of the needs we have here in Mount Airy. I would support the endeavors that grow our workforce and encourage the retention and success of our citizens.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: My experience of being a former school board member sets me apart from my opponents running for the North Ward seat. As someone who already learned how to work alongside elected officials overseeing all facets of a large-scale community program such as the educational system, I understand why it is important to be fiscally responsible and how to allocate funding appropriately.
This experience has taught me exactly why it is imperative that officials listen to their constituents, respect differing perspectives and be willing to adapt as the needs of the community change and grow. Through my experiences in multiple community programs, I know and work/volunteer alongside an amazing network of individuals here in Mount Airy who are already striving to decrease poverty, build houses, grow our economy and help with substance-abuse recovery, as well as those who are putting in the effort to provide wholesome activities through parks and recreation, downtown development and the vital network of public safety.
As the youngest candidate and the only candidate with school-age children, I would also bring the perspective of young families with me to this position. While we have some great city commissioners, there is no representation of young families, or diversity. My young, multicultural family sets me apart from my opponents and grants me a broader view of all the people we are striving to serve.
John Pritchard
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I’m a retired commercial banker and have lived here 30 years. I’m a senior citizen outside but only 39 inside, graduated from East Carolina University, where I studied business and economics, and have spent my entire career working with businesses large and small.
Before being transferred here I worked in other North Carolina towns, so between those places and here I’ve been involved with various chambers of commerce, Habitat, Rotary, Lions and other civic clubs, as well as Central Methodist Church. After retirement I started a management-recruiting business to locate banker candidates for other banks across the Southeast. I sold that business in 2021.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I’m a candidate for city commissioner because I think our city should adjust its direction and priorities. I want to help that happen. Our downtown is the envy of others. We have unique tourism that has kept us going during tough spells. Record-setting city spending over the past nine years has created big improvements downtown and at Spencer’s. We hope they will repay us over time. That’s been a huge kickstart and it’s now time to take off the taxpayer-paid training wheels and have private developer money move that area forward. This is what the city promised originally, so let’s get back to that plan. We need to turn more attention to the rest of the town.
Most people know I’ve closely followed our city government for years, much like others might follow Duke/Carolina basketball. From speaking up at city forums to letters to the newspaper, I’ve shown citizens my long-term sincere interest in good stewardship of taxpayer monies. That’s what a commissioner should do. We’ve all seen lots of changes over the past few years and more will come. As your commissioner I’ll make sure those changes meet the common sense test and are the best ones for all citizens.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Our two biggest issues are a lack of good-paying full-time jobs and our almost zero population growth.
We have surplus city water and land. Our workforce is great, but much of it commutes out of town daily. Our school system is strong, as is our community college. Cost of living is moderate. Quality of life is tops. We’ve got a lot to offer. Jobs and population are directly connected and new full-time jobs can solve both problems.
Macy’s chose China Grove for a distribution center with 2,800 jobs. Just one recent year in the state saw 157 new announcements and 19,700 new jobs. Seventy percent of that went to small towns in rural counties. We didn’t get a shot at Macy’s or the 157 new job announcements. I say we weren’t trying hard enough; it wasn’t the priority it should have been.
City expenses increase over time, but our population has stood still since 2010, so each citizen will pay more taxes — unless we grow. Tourism is frosting on the cake, but real jobs form the cake itself. Real jobs are what give young people the confidence and security to marry, buy homes and raise families. We need that.
As a commissioner I’ll work to have the right people, the right priorities and the right business-recruiting plans to let the world know we are the real thing and we have everything they could want in a new location
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: That’s an easy one for me.
I’ve attended 90 percent of city council meetings for many years. Most candidates don’t start attending meetings until they file for office. They’ll need a lot of on-the-job training, but I can make a meaningful contribution from day one.
Attending all those meetings taught me a great deal. I understand city operations and procedures. I know past and present issues, I know the city budget and I know business. I know Mount Airy.
My priorities are: solid full-time jobs to grow the city, fairness and openness with all citizens, common sense and good stewardship of taxpayer money to lower taxes.
I’ve spent years speaking up for the silent majority and I’m talking with lots of them on front porches as I campaign. Many recognize me from my longtime focus on city government. I’ve spoken countless times in the public forum portion of our city board meetings. I’ve written numerous letters to the newspaper. Most of you know who I am and what I stand for — now I’m asking you to show up for me at early voting that’s going on now and especially at the primary polls on May 17.
Joanna Refvem
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My family and I moved to Mount Airy in 1996. I became licensed as a school counselor in 1999 and as a licensed professional counselor in 2001. I have worked for Mount Airy City Schools and have had my own private practice. I have served as a board member for the United Fund of Surry and also as a committee member for Young Life of the Foothills. My husband, Bill, is an orthopaedic surgeon and joined Surry Orthopaedics in 1996. He later went on to form Blue Ridge Orthopaedics, and since then has been employed by Northern Regional Hospital.
All five of our children attended Mount Airy City Schools, and all graduated from Mount Airy High School. Each has gone on to complete a higher education and all have successful careers
I was born in England and raised in the United States, so as a naturalized U.S. citizen I take voting and civic responsibility quite seriously. Recently I was challenged by a friend to think about serving our city in an elected capacity. Running for city commissioner has so far proven to be interesting and informative. I have met with a number of city leaders, and I am extremely encouraged by the status and future of this community.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I have always been interested in community development, and I have witnessed tremendous growth and progress in this city over the last 26 years. I would consider it an honor and a privilege to help navigate this great city forward to an even brighter future for all constituents. I believe that in order to be an effective leader, it is crucial to be available and accessible to respond to queries and concerns.
Not only do I commit to being approachable, I will also do the research necessary to fully understand all sides of pressing issues. Rather than pursuing my own agenda, I want to be a conduit by which the voices of the great people of Mount Airy are heard.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Growth while retaining the inherent charm of the area is quite important. As an avid watcher of local real estate, it seems there is a shortage of available and affordable housing. As city commissioner, I would explore ways to alleviate this shortage, consulting with local Realtors and developers to understand barriers to more housing becoming available. As a homeowner I am keenly aware of a shortage of contractors to work on new or existing homes. Consulting with local educators to explore ways to encourage more people to enter the area of construction and development could prove helpful.
Secondly, aiding and promoting the development and improvement of our downtown area is crucial. I have attended a couple of the meetings where a consultant described ways to accomplish a myriad of goals to bolster our downtown, not only for local citizens but the many visitors we welcome each year. For instance, the Spencer’s buildings are a key project and opportunity for revitalization downtown. I am hopeful that this will bear fruit economically and also bring many more visitors to our community.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I will dedicate myself to viewing issues from all sides. While I firmly believe that all my competitors are more than competent, I am confident I can bring a fresh approach to this public office. With my goal of being available to listen, and indeed my training professionally in listening well, I believe I would provide a level of accessibility that many I have spoken with say is vital.
This community has been extremely good to me and my family, and a chance to serve as city commissioner would be only a small token of my appreciation.
May 09, 2022
A fire at a local child-care facility Monday afternoon caused no injuries to the children, but an HVAC worker who had been using a torch there was treated for smoke inhalation.
The incident was reported about 1:20 p.m. at Magical Moments Day Care at 122 Williamson Ave. in Mount Airy, located off South Franklin Road in the vicinity of the Surry Emergency Medical Service headquarters.
“It happened at the worst-possible time — nap time,” city Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said of the scenario that had unfolded as the emergency situation occurred. “Every child in there was laid down for naps.”
The chief credited Sharon Anthony, the director of the preschool center, and her staff for “an excellent job” in getting all the occupants out safely.
They included 23 children and 12 adults.
An emergency plan had been prepared to address just such an occurrence, and the staff executed that plan “to perfection,” Poindexter said.
The blaze — which was brought under control in less than 15 minutes — has been ruled accidental, caused while work was being conducted by an unidentified employee of the Logan heating and air-conditioning company using a torch in a ceiling area.
“And some kind of malfunction happened with the torch,” explained the fire chief, who added that the worker suffered smoke inhalation.
“He was treated at the scene by the EMS,” Poindexter said, and did not require hospitalization.
No structural damage resulted, but contents damage of $20,000 occurred, which the chief said largely involved smoke damage and fire extinguisher powder that coated items and will require attention.
“It’s going to be closed until they can get cleaned up,” Poindexter said of Magical Moments Day Care.
Seventeen firefighters responded to the scene altogether, including members of neighboring units who arrived as part of an automatic-aid agreement with the Mount Airy Fire Department.
The Franklin and Bannertown volunteer fire departments lent that assistance.
In addition to the Surry EMS, county fire marshal personnel responded.
May 09, 2022
Three candidates are on the ballot for the at-large seat on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in next week’s primary election. City offices are non-partisan, with the two then getting the most votes advancing to the general municipal election in November. Candidates for the at-large position on the five-member board mustn’t live in a particular ward, but may reside anywhere in the city limits. Each responded to the same set of questions designed to help voters learn about their backgrounds and positions on key issues to make informed choices. Listed in alphabetical order, the candidates and responses include those of:
Deborah Cochran
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I am Deborah Cochran and want to be your next at-large city commissioner. I just turned 60. You can have full confidence in my character. I have passed not one, but two extensive background checks, one as a teacher and one for my concealed carry. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in business management from Gardner-Webb University and a teaching licensure in business and information technology from N.C. State University.
I am a career development coordinator at John F. Kennedy High School and former business teacher at this school since 2015. I taught part-time at Surry Community College for 18 years, worked in radio broadcasting for decades and have been a notary since 1984.
I bring history and experience, having served during the Great Recession as an at-large city commissioner from 2007-2009 and was elected to two terms as mayor here in my hometown of Mount Airy, 2010-2015. I have attended UNC School of Government and ethics training courses. I will bring all the skills and depth of knowledge that I have acquired as a former commissioner and mayor along with teaching business and placing students in careers.
Experience matters.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: We are a nation of inflation. Economics experts predict a recession is coming in 2023. I have been approached by several citizens to seek this office due to my proven record in government. I served during the Great Recession and know what it is like to make difficult choices. My actions match my words.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Lowering property taxes — when I left office we had reduced our tax rate from 63 cents to 48 cents (per $100 of assessed valuation). Now the rate is 60 cents. People are dealing with grocery inflation, high gas prices and the highest inflation overall in more than 40 years.
I have experience in lowering the tax rate. Businesses and citizens need relief. Citizens live within their means and government can do the same by becoming fiscally responsible.
Public safety will always be a top priority.
Property crime is becoming an issue. In the last three years, I’ve had a bicycle stolen and license plate removed from my car parked in my yard on a Sunday afternoon. A couple went to different homes in the neighborhood. Another incident involved a neighbor watching a woman steal mail from mailboxes and notifying the Mount Airy Police Department. The woman had my check on her person in the back of the police car.
I was getting ready to teach a high school class when I received the call from the Police Department.
We don’t want Mount Airy ending up like other cities where businesses and people are moving away due to crime. It is imperative for citizens and neighbors to be aware of their surroundings. Defunding police is not the answer.
As a property crime solution, it is imperative that the city recruit businesses that provide jobs and employee benefits. People need to work and be productive. Those who live purposeful lives are not engaged in criminal activity. As mayor, I flew to West Memphis, Arkansas, and helped recruit a business that is still one of the city’s largest water users, which keeps our water rates low and provides jobs.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I have a strong background. I bring history and experience. I have a proven record of lowering taxes and recruiting business.
The municipality is still receiving property taxes and water revenues from decisions I made while on the board. I’m conservative and recycle campaign signs. I encourage anyone to research my record while I was in office from 2007-2015. I serve the citizens who pay the bills.
I have an expansive community service background, too.
Tonda Phillips
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Tonda Phillips and I have lived in Surry County most of my life. I’m 44 years old and have been a self-employed top producer in the insurance, real estate and mortgage industries for more than 20 years.
I attended Surry Community College and Gardner-Webb University. I presently serve on the board of directors for the Shepherd’s House (homeless shelter) and Helping Hands of Surry. I’m the president of the Rotary Club of Mount Airy, a member of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and also serve on the Spencer Lofts and Greenbrier Villas Condominiums associations.
I have served on the board of Habitat for Humanity and volunteer with the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team. I’m also trained in conflict resolution.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I’m interested in serving as Mount Airy city commissioner because there is a need for a new perspective. I have watched the present council drag its feet on decisions that could have been settled through existing city ordinances and processes. It seems that recently, a fire has been lit under them to make decisions that could have been long since handled.
We have great momentum with recreation, culture and tourism. I think these things have always been available to us, but those who resisted change held us back from improving in these areas. There are things that city leaders can do to propel us to a better future using the existing protocol to enhance services and encourage growth of our present resources.
Businesses/jobs, housing and infrastructure are basic necessities for a healthy economy. We cannot neglect or procrastinate on these things.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: The two most important issues, in my opinion, are public safety and business development. Our police and fire departments need adequate pay and staffing to be proactive in preventative action. There is a need to educate the public so that when faced with an incident, our citizens know what to do to minimize the damage. Risk management is an important function of city operations.
As far as economic development, I believe the city is responsible for providing the needed resources to attract businesses to this area. Our town is full of friendly citizens ready to welcome business and workforce opportunities. Businesses need well-positioned facilities, access to infrastructure and skilled labor. I believe, with some determination, we can accommodate these needs.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I am the best choice for the at-large city commissioner seat because I’m a person of action. You might not hear me shouting my opinion or arguing with others, but you will see results. I believe any problem can be solved through prayer and then open communication.
I have been a local business owner, employing and serving local families for 20-plus years. As a Realtor, I can help with housing, both affordable and market-rate. I personally brought two large apartment complexes to Mount Airy, one beside Walmart and one just past Odell’s Sandwich Shop. As an insurance professional, I can help with managing our risk and exposure to catastrophic events. As a financial representative, I can budget our tax dollars to the highest and best use for all citizens.
Listen, motivate, engage — we all can.
Steve Yokeley
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: Steve Yokeley, age 74; B.S and D.D.S. degrees from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Active-duty U.S. Navy officer for two years, with 21 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve; retired as a general dentist after 33 years of practice; Fellowship and Mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry; was on the part-time faculty of the UNC School of Dentistry and the Dental Department of Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University;
Past president of the UNC School of Dentistry Alumni Association and of the Second District Dental Society (includes Winston-Salem and Charlotte); past chairman of the North Carolina Dental Political Action Committee;
Have been an active real estate broker licensed in North Carolina and Virginia for the past 16 years; past president of Surry Regional Association of Realtors and was Realtor of the Year in 2007 and 2015; have been a member of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Airy for many years, including serving as a deacon and an elder;
Have been a Mount Airy city commissioner for 12 years; was Mount Airy’s representative to the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC, which includes 12 counties and about 63 municipalities in the Piedmont and Triad areas of North Carolina) for 11 years, serving on the executive committee of the PTRC for eight years, including two as chairman; also was the council’s representative to the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils of Government;
Was honored to have received the PTRC’s Grady Hunter Regional Excellence Award in 2019 for dedication to regional issues and the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Public Service Award in 2015.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as a city commissioner?
Answer: I am running to continue to serve as a city commissioner for the same reason that I have for the past 12 years – I want to continue to help make Mount Airy an even better place to live, work and play.
I always have been oriented toward service to others. I enjoy helping individuals and organizations be the best that they can be. I want to continue to be positively involved in our great community and make a positive difference.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: (1) The need to improve the quality of life for all ages by increasing the quantity and quality of recreational opportunities and free-time diversions, improving and increasing the number of housing units and bringing more and better-paying jobs of all types.
There are many reasons why people want to live in a certain location such as Mount Airy, including recreational opportunities and free-time diversions; adequate housing; challenging, rewarding and good-paying jobs; good schools; adequate medical care; taxes as low as possible; and a safe, friendly and healthy environment.
I will continue to address these important concerns by making sure that Mount Airy city government supplies the services that a municipality should be responsible for providing, including outstanding police and fire protection as well as trash, recycling, brush and leaf collection. I also will continue to help make sure that Mount Airy has a friendly environment to support both businesses that already are here and which want to maintain their success and/or expand, and those that are considering a move here.
In addition, I will help make Mount Airy a place where entrepreneurs will be able to thrive, and developers and builders will be encouraged to construct new housing of all types as well as commercial buildings. All of this can be done without the need for additional taxes.
(2) The need to improve and update our infrastructure, which includes repaving city-maintained streets, upgrading our wastewater-treatment plant, fast tracking the replacement of aging water and sewer lines, upgrading our parks and recreation facilities and improving the condition of our city buildings.
I want to make sure that we develop the proper plans to do all of these improvements and updates as efficiently and most cost-effectively as possible. I want to be sure that we explore all outside funding opportunities including the use of grants. Even though much needs to be done, with proper planning and use of grants we can do them without putting additional burdens on city taxpayers.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: First, I have a positive vision for the future, and I am not running against anyone or anything. I am a doer who wants to make positive things happen in Mount Airy. I am a good listener, an analytical thinker and a planner. I always try to do the right thing in an ethical manner and work tirelessly to get it done. I know how to get positive things done and don’t give up until they are completed.
I know how to avoid wasteful spending. I also know the proper ways to invest our tax dollars for a successful and prosperous future for all of us. I have been a tireless supporter of trying to get new uses for the Spencer’s property, which should include a downtown hotel. I know the importance of maintaining our present course and getting across the finish line at Spencer’s.
I have the knowledge and experience needed to finish the revitalization of several areas of our downtown, including the Spencer’s property.
May 09, 2022
The weather was not cooperative, with heavy storms on Friday evening and rain off and on much of Saturday, but the annual Pilot Mountain Civic Club Mayfest returned this year, filling the streets with vendors and shoppers.
While the crowds might have been off from what organizers were hoping for as a result of the poor weather, thousands still made their way to Pilot Mountain for the three-day event.
Mayfest, the major annual fundraiser for the local Civic Club, is a popular gathering, where town residents, as well as visitors from all around the region, visit Pilot Mountain for live music, a variety of food booths, and a number of craft and other vendors.
The event, an unofficial beginning of summer for many, had been cancelled the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but folks seemed to enjoy this weekend’s event even through the stormy weather.
May 09, 2022
The White Plains Elementary School’s Student Council completed a service learning project. The students collected donations for two community organizations. Snacks and miscellaneous items were collected for the Joan & Howard Woltz Hospice Home, and pet items were collected for Mayberry 4 Paws.
May 08, 2022
• A man listed as homeless was jailed under a high bond last week on a felony drug charge and other violations after being encountered by officers during a breaking and entering in progress, according to Mount Airy Police Department reports.
Alfred Daniel Pacheco, 27, was located on May 1 at an unoccupied residence in the 300 block of Linville Road, owned by Old Banner Properties in Toast.
Pacheco allegedly had drugs on his person, resulting in charges of possession of a Schedule II controlled substance (methamphetamine), a felony; breaking and entering; possession of a Schedule VI controlled substance (marijuana); resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer; possession of drug paraphernalia (a syringe); and possessing marijuana paraphernalia.
No property was reported stolen as a result of the break-in, with Pacheco confined in the Surry County Jail under a $15,000 secured bond and slated for an appearance next Monday in District Court.
• Police responding to a shoplifting call on May 2 at Lowes Foods filed felony drug charges against Sydney Brooke Leftwich, 28, of 252 Toast Road, and Zackary Wade Johnson, 34, of 145 Splendor Lane, which involved heroin.
Both were charged with possession of a Schedule I controlled substance, along with misdemeanor violations of possession of drug paraphernalia. Johnson additionally is accused of possessing a Schedule III controlled substance (listed as sublingual film Suboxone), also a misdemeanor.
Leftwich and Johnson were each jailed under a $500 secured bond, with Leftwich slated to be in Surry District Court next Monday and Johnson, June 6.
• An orange and black Stihl weedeater valued at $400 and owned by Jennie Loucinda Lowry of Broad Street was stolen on April 30 from a trailer while at a location on Pender Street.
• Security personnel at Walmart reported on April 26 that an incident involving larceny and possession of stolen goods had occurred at the store, where a known suspect stole two Midea air-conditioning units valued at $518.
The case was still under investigation at last check.
• Soho Bar and Grill on Franklin Street was the scene of a larceny on April 25, when persons unknown ate there and left without paying the bill totaling $34, including for hibachi chicken, draft beer and other items.
• Miscellaneous tools valued at $2,000 were discovered stolen on April 23 from an outbuilding that was broken into on Lovill Circle, with a resident of that street, Charles Michael Lovill, listed as the victim.
• Police were told on April 19 that tools and equipment valued at $3,806 were missing after a break-in of a commercial/office building on Hickory Street. Included were various DeWalt power tools and battery packs, a welder stand kit, a vehicle computer code reader and vehicle parts/accessories.
Kevin Markham of Westview Drive is listed as the owner of the property.
May 08, 2022
Scenic Automotive Group recently presented a Subaru Share the Love check of $10,600 to Yokefellow Ministry – Mount Airy. Scenic recently held two fundraisers to raise the money for the food bank.
Yokefellow volunteer, Dixie Ratliff, said that Yokefellow Cooperative Ministry has been in existence for 50 years. It continues today with its mission of providing food, prescription medicine, and utility assistance to the underserved in Surry County as well as neighboring cities in Virginia. Each year Yokefellow has touched the lives of thousands of individuals and families in crisis situations. Even through the pandemic, Yokefellow never closed the doors. Yokefellow is primarily a volunteer organization.
”Without the generosity of businesses, organizations, churches and individuals, Yokefellow would not be able to serve our community,” he said.
May 08, 2022
Three people are running for mayor of Mount Airy in the 2022 non-partisan municipal election, including Ron Niland, who was appointed to that post in 2021; present North Ward Commissioner Jon Cawley; and Teresa Lewis, a former at-large city commissioner.
The two top vote-getters in the primary on May 17 will square off in the Nov. 8 general election.
Each responded to the same set of questions designed to help voters learn about their backgrounds and positions on key issues to make informed choices.
Listed in alphabetical order, the candidates and responses include those of:
Jon Cawley
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Jon Cawley and I would like to be the mayor of Mount Airy.The most important thing to know about me is that my hope is found in Jesus. God’s love is unconditional. I am blessed and I believe you are as well. Please don’t define yourself as a victim, we are meant to be so much more.
Jill Rae and I have been married for 34 years and she remains the best person I know. She and I are thankful for our adult children (Kendall, Choppy and Antonia, Simon) and the lives they are building. They are other-centered.
As far as my educational background goes, here’s what matters: I was fortunate to get an athletic scholarship that kept me around school long enough to fall in love with learning. I still love to learn and want to pass that along to others. Be intentional in your life — thank a teacher today! My teachers often cared more about my future than I did, and I’m so glad I lived long enough to share the passion.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as mayor?
Answer: I want to be the mayor in order to tell our (Mount Airy’s) story.
Most of us learned who we are and where we are from by hearing stories about our family and community. As much as the world has changed, the need to hear the stories of how it has not changed.
Our children need to know and we all need to be reminded of the collective values that made us unique. Those who desire to be comfortable living in Mount Airy should want to be productive.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Mount Airy shares all the challenges of any city in America.
The single biggest issue facing Mount Airy is leadership. It is the issue facing all facets of life in these United States.
The answers to the issues of opioids, housing, jobs, water, roads, staffing, education, taxes, race relations, equality, transparency, special interests or any other topic begin with leadership.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: My tenure as an elected official spans more than 14 years. My voting record shows a history of caring about people, desiring small government, keeping schools safe, lowering taxes and being informed, approachable and trustworthy.
All things considered, I am the best mayoral candidate.
Teresa Lewis
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Teresa Lewis and I am 63 years old. My family has lived in Mount Airy for generations. I graduated from Surry Community College in 1978 with an associate in applied science degree in legal secretarial technology. In 1987, I founded my business, WorkForce Unlimited, and later our executive placement firm AREVO Group. For more than 36 years I have met a weekly payroll and continue to do so.
We now employ more than 10,000 individuals in three states and place hundreds of executives every year. Additionally, I am retired from my businesses and still am the majority owner. For two years, I served as the at-large commissioner on the Mount Airy city council.
Also, I am now on the board of directors of Northern Regional of Surry County. Over the years, I was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Reeves Community Center board, Mount Airy Rescue Squad board and many others. Over the years I have been involved in many philanthropic causes in the community.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as mayor?
Answer: Being retired allows me the time necessary to serve our community as mayor. My history definitely qualifies me to hold that position and is well-documented.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: Taxes and related issues are at the top. As mayor, I will promote a reduction in taxes while keeping our present excellent service in place. As a city commissioner, I voted for lower taxes and was the deciding vote on curbside recycling. Also, I appeared before the North Carolina Legislature and saved our ABC taxes that help our local library, Police Department and others.
Allocation of property taxes will be reviewed, as our tax rate is higher than similar-size cities. Also, I want to ensure that taxes are being well-spent in addition to not being excessive. My priorities include a fair and equitable tax rate and an opportunity for all to have adequate housing.
As mayor, I would be an agent of change and collaborate with the city council to make the best decisions for the citizens.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: One of my greatest strengths is team leadership, as has been proven over the past 36 years. In my business, I have led a team of incredible employees to being recognized as one of the largest staffing firms in the region. It is my belief that my leadership skills, along with my business and government experience, uniquely qualify me as the best choice to serve as the mayor of Mount Airy.
Also, the fact that I have served in many leadership capacities and continue to do so, volunteer by giving time, talent and treasure to our local community as well as all local schools and charities certainly qualifies me as the best choice.
Ron Niland
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I am 67 years old and have lived in Mount Airy for more than 30 years. I graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in history and have a master’s degree from Appalachian State University in political science/public administration. I am a retired city manager, having served in five cities in North Carolina, and now am a consultant to small local governments in the state.
I served on the city commission beginning in December 2019 as commissioner at large. I then served as mayor pro tem from December 2019 until July of 2021, when elected by the board to serve as mayor, filling the remaining term of Mayor David Rowe.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as mayor?
Answer: I have had the privilege of serving as the mayor of the best small town in America. We are at the exciting crossroads of opportunity and vision. Many decisions have been made that have put us in a position to make us a first-class city that will still retain the charms of what we have been blessed to enjoy. I have invested much of my energy to the future of our city and have encouraged the next generation to see public service as rewarding and fun. I have the energy and passion for public service. I truly enjoy representing my community and telling our story.
The next several years are crucial to our future and will shape our community for generations to come. With my experience in local government and, knowing the background of issues facing us, we can forge the relationships needed to effectively move us forward.
I love the interaction with our citizens and visitors and hearing all the great stories and experiences they bring in making our city a great place to live. These encounters give me the wonderful opportunity to tout the characteristics to others that we experience by living in Mount Airy. I enjoy working with our business community and seeking ways to help it become stronger. I am one who loves representing our city at events and celebrations.
We have made great progress and I want to see that continue. I want to continue telling our story and expand on the possibilities to come.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing Mount Airy and how will you address them?
Answer: The two most important issues facing us are both related. They are housing and economic development. How we deal with these will affect how we live, work and play going forward.
The board and I are now working on economic development by the changes we are making in our downtown area. Most of the new investment the city has seen has been downtown. This is vital to our future. Changes in demographics and what our future holds will make what we do crucial. In speaking with our local industries these investments need to continue if they are to remain and expand here. We must create spaces and living facilities that our younger generation expect. Attracting talent that will enhance our community is vital for any vibrant and growing city.
Housing trends are ever changing, and we need to have housing that reflects those changes. The city needs to encourage exciting living communities by finding ways to make development easier and affordable. Quality high-density development will help keep our taxes low and allow us to continue the high level of excellent services we enjoy.
We must have vision and react quickly as trends dictate. A city must be growing if it is to remain vibrant. Attracting the next generation is essential, but these changes will serve all our residents of all ages by enhancing the quality of life. We can and will meet these challenges.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Energy, passion, fairness and vision. I have the experience of serving in local government for more than 30 years and the knowledge to know how government at the local level functions. This background is invaluable as we deal with issues of service levels and cost containment. I also understand the business side of government.
None of that matters, however, without the vision of what we can become. I enjoy working with people in creating consensus of a vision moving forward. Being a leader requires the energy and passion for trying to get things accomplished when there is a diversity of thought. I enjoy the interactions of citizens, city staff and our board when we solve issues facing us. I have developed strong relationships with county and state leaders that are paying dividends. My strength is working to see everyone is heard and respected as decisions are made. I enjoy encouraging all to be part of their government and in turn, make us better as a community. I always try to represent our city with integrity and pride.
Being mayor is more than presiding at meetings and cutting ribbons. It takes the ability to lead our community and tell our story everywhere. I have tried to engage as many people as possible to help us to continue being the bright light we are to our county, state and country. Being mayor requires energy. I have that. It requires passion, I truly love to serve. Being kind is important. Vision with integrity is my promise moving forward.
May 07, 2022
The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History held several activites Sunday in honor of Cinco de Mayo over the weekend, in honor of the traditional Mexican holiday held on Thursday.
While Saturday’s overcast skies and rain made enjoying the celebration a bit dicey, museum officials and participants were up for the challenge, moving some of the event indoors.
Visitors, some entering the museum for the first time, went up to the third floor to see performances from both Ballet Folklorico and students from the museum’s Mexican Dance Bootcamp.
For those who could not make it in person, there are live stream videos available on the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s Facebook page.
May 07, 2022
STATE ROAD – One of the largest area fundraisers, the 14th Annual Pfc. Adam Lee Marion Memorial Golf Tournament held at Cedarbrook Country Club, was held recently. The annual event, begun by friends of Donnie and Pam Marion in 2009 in memory of their son, Adam, has raised more than $1 million dollars over the past 14 years to benefit the Children’s Center of Northwest North Carolina.
“Once again the Marion family, the golf committee and the community have stepped up to the plate to support this organization and the youth and families we serve,” noted Valerie Smith, community relations coordinator.
On April 28, 2008, a rocket attack claimed the life of Pfc. Adam Marion while he was deployed to Iraq with the North Carolina National Guard. Prior to that, he had both worked and volunteered at the Children’s Center. Close friends of the Marions started the golf tournament in 2009 to honor their son’s memory and give to a cause near and dear to his heart.
“It’s humbling that the Marions have chosen this organization as a way to remember their son,” said Smith. “His sacrifice and this community’s generosity in honoring him will never be forgotten.”
The community is what makes it all happen, explained Smith. From corporate donors who give thousands of dollars to every golfer who tees off and every volunteer who helps make it all happen, each has a role in the event’s success.
Smith said the funds are earmarked for use in ensuring the center’s facilities meet the needs of those it serves. The Children’s Center operates two residential homes for youth in Surry and Yadkin counties, as well as youth, family, and behavior health programs and services for both youth and families in seven counties in Northwest North Carolina.
The golf course was abuzz during the event, which included both morning and afternoon sessions of golf and a lunch. As in the past, there was a program honoring Marion’s sacrifice.
In all, more than 260 golfers, in teams of four, took part in the event, and dozens of volunteers helped make the tournament possible. Additionally, many local businesses sponsored the event, forking out up to $8,000 to support the center.
May 07, 2022
Karl Singletary has a vision that he wants to bring to Mount Airy, a project he launched first in Asheville five years ago that he is now bringing to his hometown.
“I grew up on Virginia Street, I remember when drugs first got here 1981. I remember when crack first showed up,” he said with a knowing look. “Things won’t get better until we do something about it. I just want to see this place turned into a place that saves lives. It’s important that I give back, this is where my addiction started.”
New Hope New Beginnings will be a sober living transitional house located at the soon-to-be renovated multi-unit residence at 126 Rawley Avenue. It seeks to give men in recovery stability that will allow them to work a program with the security of continuity.
The home itself is an allegory of the potential hidden beneath. Comprised of eight units, a mixture of apartments and single bedroom dwellings, the goal is to totally renovate the interior of the home. Singletary gave a short tour Thursday in which some of the units seen were ready for tenants, others were a chaotic mess of trash and the belongings of past residents.
“The house is a really good example of transformation of those who live here. If we can take this house and transform it into a safe and supporting home, people can see that and maybe we can make these changes at a personal level,” said Jaime Edwards, of the county’s substance abuse office. He is making a video timeline of the project which will be shared with the community.
“We are looking for ten residents upstairs and ten downstairs, and then there are three apartments that we are going to turn into home living apartments,” he explained, “People are going to transition from the dorm to the apartments.”
The home needs a lot of work: new wiring, plumbing, and windows to go along with its new tenants. In a nod to the transformational theme, “The old windows, we’re going to turn them into a greenhouse for the backyard,” Singletary said. If inanimate windows can evolve into something new, he knows so too can the residents.
He said word they were coming to the neighborhood set off alarms. The concern of some was that the house would be a magnet for troublemakers. His project was met with a ‘not in my backyard’ response that is at times indicative of the uphill battle Surry County is facing when it comes to substance abuse.
What he wants the public to know is that this is meant to be the last stop for these men. When their time at New Hope New Beginnings is complete, they will have transitioned into a next chapter armed with a toolkit of skills, coping devices, and along with a solid stretch of sobriety to go with it.
He noted, “To bring people out of treatment or prison without getting them back into society and getting them back into the thought process of getting a job and making money, is a complete failure.”
People who leave treatment for drugs or alcohol are significantly more likely to relapse if they exit treatment without a plan including a place to live, and a support network. Often, that means a new place to live and a new support network.
This model can work. Singletary is a graduate of such a program before founding his own. After 30 years in addiction, and now seven clean, he has a lot of useful insight. He will be living at the home with the residents, albeit in separate quarters, as an accredited drug counselor and offer his wisdom of experiences with the struggle.
During active addition, people have had on blinders as they had but one goal: to satiate the urge. As the world kept turning for everyone else, they were stuck in a loop that prevented significant growth physically, mentally, or spiritually.
Filling those gaps in mental and spiritual health with something other than “a thing,” as Singletary said, is critical to their recovery. “Connections with the ministry, the spiritual aspect is very important because that’s where the strength comes from. You got to lean on some kind of faith because our best thinking is how we got here, so we have to allow other people to think for us for a while.”
It will take time; it takes time to fall into addiction and it similarly takes time to break it. This program will be making a commitment, up to two years, for these men to find their path. They will do so with guidance from Singletary and his hope is those who succeed and exit the program will be willing to help those who remain.
“Our hope is this can be the shining light on the hill that recovery works, and people get better, by setting a high level of service and expectations for ourselves, and those we serve,” said Edwards.
Some have trouble seeing addiction as anything but a personal shortcoming rather than the chronic and debilitating disease it is. Friends and family who have been put off by toxic behaviors may keep those in recovery at arm’s length for fear of being hurt again.
“A man once asked me, ‘Karl, what is the most powerful thing in this world? A mind, once you’ve made up your mind.’ So, we need to change the way people think, and the way they think about recovery and the way they think about drugs.
“Drugs aren’t the problem; it’s the way people think about drugs and what they use them for. It stopped being fun a long time ago. Drugs used us; we weren’t using drugs no more.
“We have to change the way people feel so they know drugs are not a medication, or a choice. We got to live on life’s terms, and we have to learn how to deal with that without the use of drugs or alcohol,” Singletary said.
He sees New Hope New Beginnings as a long term tool to help those in need. “We’re not trying to control people; we are just trying to provide a service. We’re not trying to have power; we are trying to empower people. It’s not about manipulation; we want to inspire.”
May 07, 2022
DOBSON — The primary election for Surry County clerk of court includes three candidates, who are all Republicans, with no Democrats having filed to run for that office this year.
One is incumbent Neil Brendle and the former clerk he defeated in a party primary in 2018, Teresa O’Dell, en route to overcoming a Democratic challenge in the November general election that year.
The third candidate in the 2022 race is Melissa Marion Welch, who has many years of experience as a clerk’s office employee.
The same set of questions was posed to all three, designed to help voters learn about their backgrounds and positions on key issues in order to make informed choices.
Listed in alphabetical order, the candidates and responses include those of:
Neil Brendle
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is L. Neil Brendle, clerk of Superior Court for the county of Surry. I thank you for the opportunity to bring attention to the office.
I have served for the last four years in this capacity, am 45 years old and a resident of Dobson. I was appointed in December of 2000 as a magistrate judge for Judicial District 17-B, and served here in Surry for almost 17 years.
Additionally, I have worked many years in the grading, highway building and public utilities construction industries. I am a graduate of Gardner-Webb University, Surry Community College and have completed many hours of education at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ and a conservative Republican individual rooted in the Constitution of our great nation. I have been a lifelong sportsman with a love of the outdoors and shooting sports. I am blessed to be a father of two bright, caring, loving daughters; husband to an incredibly supportive wife; and have five amazing dogs.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as clerk of court?
Answer: I was born and reared in Dobson, where my parents were public servants in differing capacities. I learned from a young age the value and reward of helping others. My mother was a town commissioner in Dobson for many years until her death. She operated the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles License Plate Agency in Dobson, and was perhaps my biggest influence in dealing with the public. No matter how difficult or time-consuming, each individual she dealt with was as important as the next.
My father served as a magistrate, a law enforcement officer with the state Department of Insurance and later owned a construction company where I worked for many years. Throughout high school and college, I was a coach and referee in youth sports, which laid the foundation for serving others. At the same time, I was working for my father long hours in adverse conditions at night and on holidays which made me appreciate the value of hard work.
I still draw upon the passion for public service and work ethic instilled in my youth every day. For the past almost 22 years I have had the opportunity to help people daily, and to be honest, I have received the greater blessing.
As a magistrate and now clerk of Superior Court I’ve honed and developed skills that no other candidate possesses. I’ve assembled a team of staff whose skills and assets rival and surpass any other workforce I have ever witnessed. My desire to continue to serve has nothing to do with a title, power or position; but solely the opportunity to lead and serve others without delay, provide equal and ease of access to justice and to utilize my skills helping others. My judicial experience equips me better than others. I have a passion and desire that is unparalleled.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing the clerk’s realm of responsibility and how will you address them?
Answer: The greatest challenge is also the largest challenge facing us since the unification of our court systems in the early 1960s. We are about to embark on the inevitable journey of modernization, by transforming our courts to a paperless system. This initiative by the N.C. Judicial Branch will have innumerable benefits, among them streamlining the court processes, increasing and easing access to the courts, improving efficiency and providing a continuity of service that is necessary as witnessed by interruptions such as the pandemic we just experienced.
I also serve as a member of a technology committee comprised of a small number of clerks across the state, which allows me to be a participant as well as stakeholder in implementing this change.
Secondly, the increased caseload we have seen is unprecedented. Our office has been phenomenal in dealing with the workload increase as well as reduction of backlog. In 2017, 58% of estates cases had not been compelled for filings. In 2019, just months after I took office, we had reduced that to 41%, and today I am proud to say we have reduced that to less than 19%.
While initially this accomplishment appears monumental, its value increases when you consider we had an overall annual increase of almost 300 case filings additionally in that category more than any year ever. This speaks volumes to the increase of efficiency of our staff. I also serve on a state clerk resource committee, and am committed to increasing the benefits our staff deserves, which will aid in the recruitment and retention of valued employees.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Countless attorneys, self-represented litigants, judicial officials, law enforcement officers and many members of the public have stated the improvements of the environment at the Surry County clerk of Superior Court’s office since I took office. Our courts and services here are regarded as some of the most productive, efficient, secure and accurate anywhere. I have made many changes and program implementations that have produced profound benefits.
The improvement and development of interagency relations, cultivation of workforce and changes to the environment and atmosphere have been instrumental in improving productivity and efficiency. Also, the desire to be a good leader is imperative. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Our staff includes some of the most skilled, knowledgeable, competent and kind individuals you will ever encounter. They are constantly provided and take advantage of training, cross-training and continuing education opportunities.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were always open and provided access to the courts as required by our state Constitution. My background in human resource management, business administration and project management; my judicial experience; and unending desire to serve the public are all assets that elevate me as a choice for this office.
It’s difficult to summarize in a few words 25-plus years of experiences in these different areas, so I encourage anyone to reach out to me. My office door is always open, and one of the best parts of my job is the time spent meeting and talking with the public.
Teresa O’Dell
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Teresa O’Dell, age 60. I was proudly elected as Surry County’s first Republican clerk of court in 2014. I have 20 years of experience in the clerk’s office. I have served as an evening instructor at Surry Community College teaching about the court system and juvenile law. I also have been employed with the Yadkin County Sheriff’s Office and Adult Probation Office.
Having been born and raised in Surry County, I came from very simple beginnings. My parents are Gladys Hopkins and Elmer O’Dell. I graduated from Gardner-Webb University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. I attend Antioch Baptist Church in Mount Airy and have been a Christian since 1976. I built my first home at the age of 21 and my second home at the age 31.
A registered Republican since 2000, I am conservative and pro-life.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as clerk of court?
Answer: I want to continue serving the good citizens of Surry County. The court system requires a strong and experienced leader who is respected by attorneys, law enforcement and the general public. My door will always be open for conversation concerning the needs of the community. Trust, knowledge and good communication are the keys to a successful clerk’s office.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing the clerk’s realm of responsibility and how will you address them?
Answer: Number one, electing a clerk of court who knows how to run the office efficiently.
The second issue includes customer service, training and adding personnel to balance out the workloads. I want to be the elected clerk of court to train the next generation of deputy clerks.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Having been the elected clerk of court, I have been on the job since Day One serving my constituents in estates, adoptions and criminal/civil filings. Every night I worked until 7 or 8 o’clock to check the work of 20 employees.
I am a proven leader with 20 years of experience in the clerk’s office and a faithful public servant for 30 years.
I am a specialist in helping people. For many years, I have been walking the extra mile to encourage people to succeed. A clerk can be many things to many people. She is a good listener, a voice for the elderly and victims of domestic violence. She is a protector of the law and procedure.
The judicial process must be productive and less stressful for those who are experiencing sessions of court for the first time. The experience must be positive. I will work closely with our resident Superior Court judge to address concerns. My goals will reflect a clerk’s office that maintains accurate records and excellent customer service.
This is one of the most important elections in our lifetime. The primary election will select your clerk of court for the next four years. There will be no general election for clerk. I am confident and prepared to return to that office.
I humbly ask for your vote.
Melissa Marion Welch
Tell citizens a little about yourself.
Answer: I’m Melissa Marion Welch, am 41 and live in Dobson. I graduated from Surry Central High School, Surry Community College and Appalachian State University. I am married to Brandon Welch from Dobson and we have three daughters, Kendall, Dannie and Charlee. My father was Danny Marion of Shoals. My mother is Debbie Hawks Dezern, from Beulah, and my stepdad is Steve “Doc” Dezern from Dobson. My mother-in-law is Judy Johnson Welch, from Ararat, and my father-in-law was Charles Welch of Dobson.
I am a Christian and a member of Salem Baptist Church in Dobson. I am presently the children’s director and oversee areas that include Vacation Bible School, children and adult Sunday School, Upward Basketball and children’s activities throughout the year. I attend a weekly women’s Bible study and am now serving my second three-year term on the Salem Christian Academy school board.
Question: Why are you interested in serving as clerk of court?
Answer: The clerk’s office is part of my life. I grew up in this office. I was 22 years old when I started my career. During my career I got married, had children, built a home and lost a parent, all while working with coworkers that were as close to me as my family. I genuinely enjoyed my job. I enjoyed coming to work and processing all the job duties that I had to complete. I felt like my job mattered and I found joy in helping people.
I enjoy passing my knowledge on to the next generation of new employees. I want to retire from the clerk’s office. I want to finish the race that I started. I always thought I would decide closer to retirement whether I would like to run for clerk of court or not.
God’s timing is in His time and not ours. I have prayed and prayed for guidance and direction with my decision to run for office. I felt at peace after months of prayer when I decided to run and told my husband my decision. I truly believe this is where I am supposed to be. I know the knowledge and experience that I have gained over 18 years has prepared me for this role.
Question: What do you consider the two most important issues now facing the clerk’s realm of responsibility and how will you address them?
Answer: An issue I will address is customer service. Employees in the clerk’s office are public servants. Being a public servant can be difficult. Most people who visit to do business with the clerk’s office come in emotional and upset. Something has happened in their life such as a criminal charge, a death in the family, losing their home or kids and they bring that frustration in with them. The staff needs to understand this and be able to address each person with compassion and patience.
Many people do not understand completely what the clerk’s office can and cannot do. We do not have forms to fix every issue you have. We can still take the time to speak to you and explain our processes, leaving you with a better understanding. We work for you, the public. Customer service needs to be at the highest level possible.
Another issue is training. It is a necessity for the staff to be cross-trained in many different areas. Life happens and someone will need to be out for various reasons. You should not be sent away without being helped due to an absence of an employee.
The elected clerk needs to fill any vacancies in a timely manner and make sure the staff is fully trained. Training is mainly on the job. Classes are offered through NCAOC (the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts). I would ensure employees completed classes offered in their areas of work. I would encourage them to retake classes during their career to be refreshed on processes and because laws change.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I began my career in the Surry County clerk’s office in December of 2002 as a deputy clerk. I have 18 years of experience, 12 years in Surry County and six years in Forsyth County. There are three levels of employment in the clerk’s office, deputy clerk, assistant clerk and the elected clerk. Each level has its own set of duties and responsibilities. I have held two out of the three positions.
While in Forsyth County I was promoted to an assistant clerk and supervised as many as 20 employees. I also worked directly under the elected clerk. I was able to learn things in Forsyth County that I would not have been able to as a deputy clerk in Surry. I want to bring the knowledge that I gained from Forsyth back to Surry County to implement services that are not presently being offered to attorneys and the public.
I have knowledge and experience in areas such as District and Superior civil proceedings, domestic violence, courtroom clerk, jury, small claims, adoptions, name changes, motor vehicle liens, legitimations, incompetency, foreclosures, head cashier, administration, payroll, benefits and time management.
While I was employed in Forsyth County, employees from Surry and Stokes would reach out to me for help. I was also contacted by attorneys from Surry County and the public for assistance. I am still being contacted at this time for help. I believe it is the right time for me to step out in faith and run to be your next clerk of Superior Court.
May 07, 2022
Surry Regional Association of Realtors recently partnered with Bradys Coffee Company to kick off Nurses Month and say “thank you” to the Northern Regional Hospital staff for their continuous hard work over the past two years. As a thank you, Realtor members raised funds to provide hospital staff with a free cup of coffee and donut.

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