State employees offered incentives – Mount Airy News

All hands on deck for NC schools
Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools Superintendent, said the county has needs for substitute teachers, child nutrition staff, and custodians. Interested state employees can now use volunteer hours to assist in schools short on staff.
Kindergarten students participate in a classroom activity on the first day of in-person learning. Gov. Roy Cooper wants to keep NC students in the classroom as much as possible. “It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” said Gov. Cooper. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Across the state, local school board and individual schools have been scrambling to meet the needs of students in unexpected ways. Gov. Roy Cooper joined in when he announced last week a new plan that would encourage state employees to assist in public schools decimated by staffing shortages.
With the ongoing surge of omicron, K-12 school districts across the state are experiencing staff shortages due to the increase of staff having to isolate or quarantine. Cooper’s plan will allow state employees to use volunteer days to work in North Carolina public schools as substitute teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria staff.
“Our district has faced this problem since the beginning of the school year and the return from winter break in the midst of the Omicron surge has amplified staffing challenges,” Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools Superintendent said. “So, the district welcomes any policy that can help fill these crucial positions during this time of acute need.”
School districts have experienced a far greater need for substitutes, bus drivers, cafeteria, facilities, and support personnel who can fill in for employees. Absenteeism is up for employees who are out with the virus, and with omicron’s widespread reach there has been an increased emphasis on quarantine and isolation to prevent further infections.
Breakthrough contaminations, reinfections of COVID for those who have had their vaccinations or have had and recovered from the virus, are on the rise across the country. The prevailing wisdom remains that having a vaccination and booster does offer greater protection than having none. Some though who had an early bout with the virus have now gotten sick with either delta or omicron, as the variants are constantly looking for ways to mutate and vector in new directions.
Therefore, isolating those who are confirmed to have COVID, and quarantining those who may have had exposure, remain critical components in staving off the pandemic. With masking and testing requirements in place for school system employees, it may be safer for kids to be in a controlled and supervised environment than at home.
Schools are more than a place for kids to learn. They are also safe places to be while their parents are working, and they support kids’ physical, mental, social, and emotional health. Parents and educators alike are desperate to minimize any additional missed classroom time for students at every level, and the governor is in agreement.
“It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” said Gov. Cooper. “This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools.”
The State Human Resource Commission’s Community Service Leave Policy currently states that full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year. With approval from their supervisor, employees are encouraged to take part in efforts that would help in their community.
To drive participation in this limited time change to state policy, this new initiative is running through February 15, the Cooper administration is now allowing for the training time to be included as part of the paid volunteer off hours.
Furthermore, state employees had previously been restricted from using volunteer hours and then accepting the stipend. Now, under the updated policy, state employees are also eligible to use community service leave for volunteer activities, regardless of whether they are paid for their service
“Requiring people to decline their stipend would discourage state employees from meeting the current, urgent need for substitute teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff in the schools,” the state human resources memo reads. “Moreover, many substitute teachers must pay out-of-pocket for mandatory training sessions, and the stipend pay for substitute teachers will work to compensate for this training expense.”
The benevolence of state employees is being called on during a most challenging staffing time. Creating an easier pathway to get additional assistance into schools is a welcome development for educators.
“Surry County Schools appreciates officials at the state level for recognizing the challenges facing public schools while we work to keep our students learning in a face-to-face environment with our educators,” Dr. Reeves said.
The goal for Gov. Cooper is to limit the further impact to students’ learning after a prolonged period of challenges and changes to and from remote learning. Parents across the state also had to quickly change gears as the virus created a need for an army of homeschool experts, seemingly overnight.
“State employees always step up to help our state in challenging times and this policy gives our talented employees yet another way to serve their communities,” said State Human Resources Director Barbara Gibson.
Dr. Reeves made specific note that Surry County Schools have a need for substitute teachers, child nutrition staff, and custodians.
If you are a state employee and would like to know more about how you can get involved volunteering in Surry County Schools, through community service leave, please contact Mr. Kevin Via, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at (336) 386-8211 or
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February 09, 2022
The Surry Arts Council will be hosting its annual Arts Ball later this month, featuring a silent auction, seated dinner, and dancing to the live music of the Band of Oz.
As an extra treat, those attending the celebration will have a chance to meet and talk with local school administrators, who will be on hand to great guests. All of the proceeds from the Arts Ball are used to fund free cultural arts programs for 25 area schools including all Surry County and Mount Airy City schools and Millennium Charter Academy.
The gala, set for Friday, Feb. 18 at Cross Creek Country Club, will include a Mardi Gras theme, carried out throughout the club with table decorations, booklets, and throughout the silent auction.
Melissa Sumner is coordinating the Arts Ball and working with volunteers from each of the schools as well as Surry Arts Council board members and others. The gathering will once again feature passed hors d’oeuvres and soup, followed by a seated dinner.
The fundraising goal this year is $25,000. Items available through the auction range from tickets to gift cards to household items to purses and jewelry.
“The community has been generous with donations that everyone will want,” the arts council said of the more than 300 items to be auctioned.
Hollie Lyons, communications coordinator for Surry County Schools; Carrie Venable, executive officer of communications for Mount Airy City Schools; and T.J. Lievsay, art, music and theater teacher at Millennium Charter Academy, are serving as liasons from their respective schools. Other committee members include Ashley Mills, Jennie Lowry, Gaye Cooke, Ginny Adams, Brooke Lowry, Meredith Simmons, and Nicole Harrison.
All of the schools are participating with both donations and attendance. Surry Arts Council Board members, school personnel, and dozens of volunteers are working to organize the event, sell tickets, and ensure that the arts remain a part of area school programming.
Thousands of students have enjoyed arts programming already this year. In addition to directly paying for arts programs, the Arts Ball proceeds leverage grants from the North Carolina Arts Council and South Arts.
The TAPS grant provides support for several hundred students to have a hands-on experience with traditional stringed instruments. Jim Vipperman spends a week in each of three schools introducing students to fiddles, guitars, and Surry County’s traditional music heritage. Students are then able to attend the weekly free year-round lessons at the Historic Earle Theatre every Thursday afternoon if they wish to continue lessons.
Other cultural arts programs provided during the current year include two school performances of The Nutcracker, performed by Ballet for Young Audiences, with over more than 700 students attending; more than 700 students enjoyed performances of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever performed by the Surry Arts Players at the Andy Griffith Playhouse; and another 1,050 K-2 students were bused to Pout Pout Fish, performed by Theatreworks USA, a professional touring company.
Another group of 1,050 students will see Rosie Revere, Engineer, a production of the Virginia Repertory Theatre. Virginia Reportory Theatre will also present Have You Filled A Bucket Today for area students. Seussical JR will be performed by the Surry Arts Players for 700 students. A Black History musical performance by Sons of Mystro will be held at the Earle Theatre reaching more than 400 students. This performance is funded in part by a grant from South Arts.
Mike Wiley will be featured in four performances of Jackie Robinson: A Game Apart and this will be performed for more than 2,000 students. The Surry Arts Film Festival for Surry County High School and Surry Community College Students will again be hosted at the Earle Theatre and students will have the opportunity to see their work shown in a movie theatre setting.
Multiple monthly free movies at the Earle have already been enjoyed by more than 3,000 students and more monthly opportunities are upcoming.
Additional programs that target students with special challenges are sponsored in part by the United Fund of Surry coupled with Surry Arts Council support. Arts programs funded by the Arts Ball result in more than 15,000 student contacts during this school year. In addition to students receiving programs in their own schools and having the opportunity to bus to the Blackmon Amphitheatre, the Historic Earle Theatre, and the Andy Griffith Playhouse, students also have field trips to these venues Andy Griffith Museum, the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, and the Siamese Twins Exhibit at no cost. These field trips include guided tours, scavenger hunts, and music. Arts Council venues are used by the schools for holiday and year end choral and band programs at no cost to the schools.
The arts council works with schools to host interns and to provide art instruction in both in-school and after school programs along with many other partnerships.
February 09, 2022
If that fellow who has been winning this week on the “Jeopardy!” television quiz show looks familiar, it’s probably because of Lawrence “Skip” Long’s links to Surry County including once working at a Pilot Mountain business.
“I always knew he was really smart,” said Scott Needham, owner of The Living Room Coffeehouse and Winebar on East Main St., said of his association with Long, which began when that establishment, now closed, opened around 2012.
“He’s always been super-smart,” Needham added Wednesday, although the thought that Long — who lives in East Bend — would be a contestant on the long-running television program never really occurred to him.
“It makes a lot of sense now.”
Long was the winner on “Jeopardy!” both Monday and Tuesday nights and entering the next show on Wednesday evening had amassing a two-day winnings total of $43,591. Those games actually were recorded in November and just now are being broadcast, with the eventual outcome of Long’s run not publicly disclosed until that runs its course.
He upended a three-day champion in his first appearance on Monday, Emma Saltzberg of Brooklyn. Long is billed on the show as a nursing student and “stay-at-home” uncle for the daughter of his sister.
Many people in the area who know Long have been tuning in each day for the show that airs at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 2 (WFMY).
Needham, a member of the Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners, said he was notified about Long’s appearance on the TV show by Nicki Farrington, who also worked at The Living Room Coffeehouse and Winebar.
“He was one of our first employees,” Needham said, along with Farrington.
“We hired him because he had a lot of knowledge about wine, and was a sommelier (trained wine professional,” the Pilot Mountain man recalled. “And we had a wine bar, so that was really beneficial.”
Long worked at the Pilot Mountain business for several years, Needham said, until it closed.
“He was a really smart guy,” he mentioned, not just about wine but in other areas.
Long has exhibited a bit of a show business flair that has translated to the TV screen this week.
“I have a background in theater and he does, too, so we really hit it off,” Needham observed regarding that aspect.
“He’s part of an improv group out of Winston, The Bunker Dogs.”
Long also loved to entertain during open-microphone nights at The Living Room Coffeehouse and Winebar.
“He would always get up and sing,” Needham said, with Long being quite a crowd-pleaser with his choice of entertaining songs. “They were just hilarious.”
The Pilot Mountain man, who still stays in touch with Long, pointed out that his father is an attorney and he “comes from a pretty intelligent family.”
Witnessing him taking the Alex Trebek Stage under the bright lights of Sony Pictures Studios in California this week has been interesting, Needham said.
“It was kind of funny seeing him,” he disclosed.
“He had kind of an Alex Trebek moustache,” Needham explained in reference to the longtime host of the show who died in 2020, noting that Long usually is clean-shaven.
“I just wondered if he did that (grew some facial hair) for the show.”
The last person with local ties to make a splash on “Jeopardy!” was Hunter Appler, a six-game winner in 2016 who later appeared on its Tournament of Champions matching those who win five or more times.
Appler is a graduate of Mount Airy High School and the son of Dr. Mark and Kate Appler.
February 09, 2022
The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History located at 301 North Main Street, Mount Airy, has announced a slate of programming for the month of February.
Museum Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, February 12: Ghost Social 7 -8 p.m. Sit and enjoy treats while listening to ghostly folklore and tales on Saturday February 12 from 7 – 8 p.m. $25 per person includes coffee, tea and sweets. Pre-registration and masks required (when not eating.) Call 336-786-4478 for more information or to make your reservation.
February 15, 22, March 1 Genealogy Class for Beginners This course, taught by local genealogist Esther Johnson, will be a four-part series designed for the individual who is interested in researching his/her family tree. The first two classes, February 8 and 15, will be held in the Museum’s 3rd floor classroom from 6-7:30 p.m. The 3rd class on February 22 will be at 1 p.m. at the Surry County Register of Deeds Office in Dobson and the 4th class on March 1 will be at 1 p.m. at the Carlos Surratt Genealogy and Research Room at Surry Community College. There is a limit of 12 participants to allow for social distancing. Pre-registration and MASKS ARE REQUIRED. Museum members are admitted free. There is a fee of $5.00 per class for non-members. Laptops are welcome but not necessary. In case of inclement weather and Mount Airy City Schools are closed, genealogy class will be rescheduled. For additional information, or to register, please contact Amy Snyder (336) 786-4478 ext. 227 or
Saturday, February 26: Behind the Scenes Ghost Tour 7-8:30 p.m. $20 Get a tour of the Museum like no other! Hear new ghost stories, staff stories and history! The tour remains inside the museum building for its duration. Pre-registration and face masks are required. Please call the Museum at 336-786-4478 to make your reservation.
February 09, 2022
They might be named Buddy, Jack, Bella or Lady and considered members of the family, but unfortunately dogs and cats have short lifespans compared to humans, leaving behind only memories — until now.
A memorial garden is taking shape at the new non-profit Rotary Pup Dog Park in Mount Airy, where commemorative granite pavers will be placed to permanently honor beloved animals.
“There’s a hole in our hearts when we lose a pet,” Sue Brownfield, a member of the Rotary Club of Mount Airy who is a key organizer of the dog park, said of the painful brand of grief experienced when one passes on into Pet Heaven.
The new memorial dog park — situated to the rear of the Lowes Foods shopping center along the Emily B. Taylor Greenway near Lovills Creek — is a way to help fill that void.
“We think this will be a nice area,” Brownfield said.
While no animal burials will occur at the dog park that was first announced in 2019, the memorial garden will provide a place where owners can come and see images or inscriptions devoted to their pets. Seating also will be part of the display, enabling them to reflect on the animals’ existence in a quiet setting by the stream.
The memorial tiles, or pavers, which will be 12 inches square in size and 1 inch thick, are not limited to dogs and cats, according to Brownfield, who said other pets can be memorialized such as a parakeet, for example.
A side-view image of the animal can be uploaded to or mailed in to help guide the preparation process, which also can include supplying breed and other descriptive information, with hundreds of images available to represent people’s pets. Examples of designs offered can be found at that website to facilitate the donation and ordering process.
A silhouette granite memorial paver can be obtained for a $100 tax-deductible donation that will be used for the continued development of the facility spearheaded by the two Rotary clubs in Mount Airy, also including the Surry Sunrise group. Support additionally has come from the local business community.
“That’s at a critical stage right now,” Brownfield said in encouraging contributions to the effort by the public.
Participants may personalize one or more pavers not only to honor or remember a faithful furry family member, but a dedicated animal rescue organization, an endearing vet group or another care group for pets which someone wishes to recognize.
In lieu of images, the pavers can include text only and a symbol.
A granite paver also may honor more than one pet, based on examples of two displayed at the park by Brownfield honoring late dogs she has owned, one devoted to Rusty and Riley and the other to Rebel.
For now a concrete slab is place awaiting the small markers which can accommodate 120 altogether.
Brownfield is hoping all the pavers and other elements of the memorial garden can come together by June, with delivery issues a factor. “The whole supply chain is a mess right now.”
Modern Gardeners play role
In addition to the Mount Airy and Surry Sunrise Rotary clubs, another local group has been fulfilling a key function to make the memorial garden a reality.
The Modern Gardeners Garden Club designed an attractive landscape surrounding the commemorative pavers, donated the foliage involved and assisted with its planting.
This occurred through the help of a $1,000 award from National Garden Clubs Inc. through its Plant America Community Projects Grant Program aiding such efforts.
“We’re always motivated to add a garden to an area,” said Modern Gardeners member Cheryl Ward, who designed the one for the pet memorial space.
“I just drew it up — I had the software,” said Ward, who is a master gardener.
“Cheryl has a thing about using native plants,” fellow club member Cindy Rader said of the attractive array resulting through a project with an overall price tag of $3,486. Seventy-two different plants, shrubs and trees have been included in the mix.
The Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Grounds Maintenance Division installed the materials.
February 08, 2022
The Surry County Board of Commissioners took time on Monday to give proper credit and respect to Doug Jones who is retiring after a lengthy career in service to the people of Surry County.
“First of all, I want to thank God for putting me in the place that I been for the last 39 years. God proved to me many times that I was in the right place and doing the right thing I should have been doing.” Jones told the assembled crowd inside the Surry County Historic Courthouse, “I was where I should have been.”
A collection of firefighters and emergency personnel were on hand to offer their congratulation as well, big jovial smiles and a few jokes gave the evidence Jones is a man respected among his peers.
In 1982 Doug Jones started with the Surry County EMT and got his first promotion the next year. Moving up to full paramedic in 1986, his next step was to enter the Fire Marshal training program in 1989. From 1990 to his 2022 retirement, Jones has answered the call of the county.
During remarks Monday night, Jones said that he owes a lot to his family for their patience and understanding that his job sometimes meant sacrifices. “I have to give thanks and apologies to my family. For all the times I had to leave in the middle of a get together, or a party or a movie, or whatever. And apologize for missing several important events in their life.
“But that’s what I did. That’s being a public servant, that’s how it works.”
Thanks were given to former members of the fire marshal’s office, and everyone he has worked with over the last many years. A special note of thanks was given to County Attorney Ed Woltz with whom he worked together on several projects.
Jones thanked the members of the fire service and took a moment to reflect, “I am very proud of your accomplishments. I look forward to your accomplishments even more in the next thirty years.”
The county commissioners presented Jones with a certificate and the Surry County Chiefs Council presented Jones with a memento, a fire helmet from the fire chiefs of Surry County.
February 08, 2022
A possible new home could be found for programs now housed at L.H. Jones Family Resource Center in the form of an old textile facility in Mount Airy.
The center is now located at the old Jones School, which last year was declared surplus property and put up for sale by the county government which now owns the former all-black campus.
A sale could displace various programs at the site which operate through the YVEDDI (Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc.) community action agency, such as Head Start, and a Yokefellow Cooperative Ministry food bank among other operations.
The county now leases the former school property to YVEDDI, which has been eyeing the possible move to another location since the sale plan was announced last year — triggered by rising maintenance costs associated with the aging facilities.
A solution has emerged regarding a possible new home which is centered on the former Lynn Hosiery Mill plant (part of Kentucky Derby Hosiery) at the corner of North South and Hay streets not far from Mount Airy High School. Manufacturing ceased there many years ago.
“That is a big building,” Mount Airy Mayor Ron Niland said Tuesday of the facility containing about 50,000 square feet on three levels which is centrally located.
This would be sufficient to accommodate not only the agencies now housed on Jones School Road but a Greater Mount Airy Habitat for Humanity ReStore component where items are sold to support the Habitat mission.
A meeting was held last week at the resource center, during which rough drawings of the proposal were presented, according to one source there.
“But at this point, no decision has been made,” added Niland, who explained that the potential relocation effort does not involve his function as mayor or city government — and it has not been asked to participate in such a move financially.
“I’m just trying to help everybody,” the mayor said of seeking to connect the dots with another possible location for Jones Resource Center programs to avoid service disruptions or other problems. “I’m doing this to benefit the community and trying to help these folks.”
Niland was instrumental in the formation of the local Habitat for Humanity organization in the 1990s. He explained Tuesday that his role with the resource center’s space needs is as a citizen advocate while also allowing a vacant industrial facility to possibly have a new purpose.
“I am not involved directly with any of it, but indirectly involved with all of it,” Niland said.
The former Lynn Hosiery building is owned by Bray Properties of Mount Airy, which has acquired similar facilities in recent years.
February 06, 2022
DOBSON — Problems with absentee ballots have been a source of controversy nationwide since the 2020 election, but a local official says the process in Surry County is reliable.
A number of steps are in place — from the requesting of ballots until completed ones are returned and tabulated — to ensure an accurate and honest count of votes using that method, according to Surry Director of Elections Michella Huff.
Huff has announced that the 2022 Absentee Ballot Request Form is available, with both a fillable version and a print-only version accessible on the county Board of Elections website.
Under state law, any North Carolina registered voter may request, receive and vote a mail-in absentee ballot — with no special circumstance or reason needed.
Absentee request forms can be returned only by mail or in person — except for individuals covered under the Uniformed And Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, who may return requests via email and fax, based on information from Huff.
Further provisions
An absentee request form is invalid if returned by someone other than the voter or a person such as near relative or legal guardian.
Only voters who are blind, disabled or illiterate may receive assistance from someone else, with voters required to identify who aided them.
Among other rules, the form must indicate a single election date for which the voter is requesting a ballot.
At last report, North Carolina will hold a much-anticipated primary election on May 17 in the wake of recent court challenges over redistricting boundaries.
Huff reported last Monday that Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto the previous Friday of a N.C. House bill that recommended June 6 as a new primary date was one key development. “So, the primary election is still scheduled for May 17,” she advised then — although this was not set in stone with additional legal activity pending.
“Oral arguments will be heard in the case with claims that district maps are unconstitutional,” the local elections director advised Monday. “There is a possibility the court could still decide to push the primary back further.”
Later in the week, on Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court ordered that the state draw a new congressional map after finding it unfairly favored Republican candidates, but made no mention of the May primary, according to statewide reports.
Meanwhile, the candidates’ filing period for various local, state and federal offices affected by the 2022 election cycle is scheduled to resume on Feb. 24 after being halted in December by the N.C. Supreme Court in response to redistricting lawsuits.
Processing absentee ballots
The deadline for requesting absentee ballots is May 10. The deadline to return completed ones is Election Day, May 17, by 5 p.m.
Once local elections personnel receive a completed absentee by mail request, they link it to the voter’s registration. If that person is not found to be registered to cast a ballot in Surry County, he or she will receive a letter saying there is no record of this accompanied by a voter registration form.
Someone could fill out an absentee ballot request form 20 times and mail it in to Dobson, but will still only receive one absentee by mail ballot.
After someone receives an absentee ballot in the mail, choices are made by filling in bubbles, then the ballot is sealed in an absentee ballot return envelope.
The process also requires signatures by two witnesses, along with printing their names and addresses, or certification by a notary.
If a voter forgets to sign or fails to get the witnesses to print and sign their names and provide their addresses, the ballot cannot be accepted.
Once an absentee ballot is received, a barcode on the return envelope is scanned and linked to the person’s voter registration. The ballot envelope then is placed on an absentee report for approval by the Surry Board of Elections at a meeting that is part of the tabulation procedure.
At that stage, a citizen will be counted as having voting and will not be able to cast a ballot at one-stop early voting sites or his or her Election Day polling place.
Another safeguard involves an administrative rule requiring county boards of election to keep a written log of anyone returning an absentee ballot in person.
Also, an absentee ballot may not be returned at an Election Day polling place.
Huff mentioned another step to ensure the integrity of voting via the absentee route.
“Each absentee voter has a unique identifier barcode for their return application, and the state system will not permit two ballots from the same person to be accepted or counted,” the elections official explained.
“Once one ballot is returned and accepted, the voter’s record reflects that he or she has already voted — therefore, if that voter returned another ballot, it would not count.”
February 06, 2022
Literature can be defined as written works reflecting excellence or lasting artistic merit, and in that spirit an event is scheduled Wednesday at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History in conjunction with Black History Month.
The annual African-American Read-In, now in its 12th year here, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. that day, with the community invited to participate. One needs only to select works written by an African-American author and be prepared to read a poem or an excerpt from a book.
However, listeners also are welcome at the event sponsored by the downtown museum and spearheaded by members of a local group called the Plaid Cloth Literary Society. It is free and open to the public and will take place in the second-floor conference room of the museum.
Marie Nicholson of Mount Airy, a frequent participant of the read-in, views it as having a dual purpose.
“I see it as encouraging people to read and share books and passages from books,” Nicholson said Friday of the literacy aspect that it promotes which goes in hand with a lifelong appreciation of the written word.
Then there is the special focus on books by or about African-Americans which she believes is also important.
Nicholson was quick to name her favorite work Friday:
“Mine is the one I always read, ‘And Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou,” she said.
In that poem, Angelou lauds the value of confidence and self-esteem and how it can be used as fuel to overcome most anything in rising to the occasion and letting nothing hold a person back, including skin color.
James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr. and Toni Morrison are among others whose writings have been showcased at the event over the years.
Nicholson is not sure if she will be able to attend the African-American Read-In this year due to work obligations.
Similar to other public events, it has been impacted by COVID-19 and the spectre of the disease will continue to loom over Wednesday’s proceedings.
Due to coronavirus regulations, masks will required for those attending, organizers say.
The local African-American Read-In is part of a widespread effort endorsed by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Since 1990, more than a million readers, nationally and internationally, have gathered annually to participate in the read-in at various venues.
One of its goals is to make the celebration of African-American literacy a traditional part of Black History Month activities.
February 05, 2022
It began simply with two local women wanting to join a garden club in 1956 — a natural inclination given their interest in plants and flowers — only to learn three existing ones in Mount Airy had no vacancies.
So what did Eleanor Powell-Hines and Katherine Parries do? Well, they started their own group, the Modern Gardeners Garden Club, which is still going strong after taking root 66 years ago — including making its mark with a number of beautification efforts throughout the community.
These involve attractive areas onlookers admire and appreciate, including a mini-garden where North Renfro and North Main streets converge, a pollinator garden near City Hall and holiday decorations at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and the historic Moore House.
Yet most people probably don’t stop to consider how those attractions came about — which was certainly not because of magic but the planning and literally down-to-earth hard work on the part of Modern Gardeners.
“So often what you do is not recognized,” club President Joy Barlow said Thursday of its efforts during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, while also acknowledging a subdued form of admiration lurking under the surface.
“A lot of times you put the work in, but you don’t realize how much it is appreciated,” Barlow added.
She mentioned as an example the pollinator garden on South Main street in the vicinity of the post office and Municipal Building which was launched several years ago to promote a process that’s important for agriculture.
Club members periodically work there to maintain the garden, which it designed and planted, invariably interacting with passersby who respond positively.
“It’s always amazing the people who come by that are visiting the town, and people who live here, who comment on how lovely it is,” Barlow observed regarding the site boasting such flowers as zinnias and marigolds.
And local government officials also showed Modern Gardeners members how much they are appreciated Thursday when the group received official recognition for its service to the community.
“This club does so much individually and collectively to make our city a better place,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said during the meeting attended by the bulk of its membership.
Story of growth
Yokeley detailed the history of Modern Gardeners starting with the efforts by Powell-Hines and Parries.
When they weren’t able to join any of the existing groups in 1956, Fanny Jones, the president of one of them — Mountain View Garden Club — did lend a hand.
Jones suggested that the two friends start a new club, which would be sponsored by Mountain View Garden Club.
“Eleanor and Katherine gathered together a group of women in Mount Airy who had an interest in flowers and gardening and thus began the Modern Gardeners Garden Club,” Yokeley read from prepared remarks.
“Over the past 66 years the club has continued with a group of 24 diverse women, young at heart, who love gardening, preserving the environment and contributing to the education of children and adults as well as beautifying our community.”
A former state president and five Master Gardeners are among their ranks, Yokeley mentioned in praising the group that has spearheaded a number of projects:
• Both spring and fall plantings at Main and Renfro at the entrance to the downtown section of North Main Street;
• Maintaining planters on Market and Oak streets and in the new Melva’s Alley;
• Buying and dedicating two yellow benches overlooking the pollinator garden, one honoring Powell-Hines as a charter member and founder of the club and the other, Michella Huff, former city landscape supervisor;
• Providing floral arrangements for the lobby of Northern Regional Hospital;
• Conducting quarterly garden therapy with the exceptional children’s class at Tharrington Primary School;
• Coordinating the yearly planting of a tree on Arbor Day in conjunction with city parks and recreation staff members;
• Participating with two other clubs in a biennial “blooms” tour of local gardens to raise funds for more beautification efforts;
• Assisting Surry County officials with the addition of a Blue Star Memorial at the old county courthouse in Dobson to honor military members and sponsoring another memorial at the state welcome center on Interstate 77;
• Conducting a fall bulb sale to aid other projects.
“This group is a great resource and benefit to the Parks and Recreation Department’s Grounds Maintenance Division,” was the word Thursday from Darren Lewis, who heads that department. Even though he could not attend the council meeting, Lewis prepared special remarks for the recognition occasion which were read aloud by new City Manager Stan Farmer.
Barlow, the Modern Gardeners president, also applauded that partnership when speaking Thursday, especially with Luke Danley, who took over as landscape supervisor for Huff after she became Surry County’s elections director.
But similar to a rose in full bloom, Thursday was a time for Modern Gardeners to shine.
“They help with many projects and are essential to the beautification efforts in Mount Airy and the downtown area,” the statement by Lewis continued.
Barlow and other club members seemed to soak in all the accolades like water through mulch on a hot day.
“I’m especially touched by the words of Darren Lewis,” she said.
February 04, 2022
If winter has already seemed too long, then it is permissible to go ahead and think about spring. Currently closed for the season, it is not too early to dream of the thaw and set your gaze on the horizon for the Elkin and Mount Airy farmers markets to reopen in late April.
For a better experience, the public is asked to provide feedback on the Surry County Farmers Markets ahead of their 2022 openings by taking a short ten question survey.
Building a better market
Surry County is fortunate to have choices in farmers markets available at three locations spanning the county that operate on different schedules to allow for more people to attend. From April through November the Surry County Farmers Markets located in Mount Airy and Elkin will be ready to serve. Dobson’s market location has a shorter market season that beginning in June.
These markets provide an option for local buyers to grab fresh fruit, produce, and meat right from the farm and skip the rigmarole of the supermarket. Supply chain problems, meet you match – the tandem of locally grown and locally sold can overcome out of state shipping delays.
To better accommodate the communities that they serve, feedback is being sought from the public on usage of the markets. For those who have taken advantage of one of the farmers markets, the survey is to gauge what works and what does not.
The survey asks about any items people want to see added, probes whether food trucks would be a nice addition, and asks what day and time are best for farmers market shopping.
Conversely, for those who have not taken the farmers market plunge, the survey would like to identify ways in which market officials could encourage new shoppers to come out and shop for fresh, local commodities.
Perhaps the prospect of seeing a food truck to grab a bite would be the inducement needed, or maybe hectic family scheduling means a weeknight farmers market option may need to be considered. This is the purpose of polling the public on preferences.
COVID created opportunities
“The COVID pandemic showed us vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and the need for local products to meet consumer demand,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in describing a new grant program last year.
“During the pandemic, consumers experienced limits on meats as shopping transitioned mainly to grocery stores and farmers markets with restaurants closed or limited. This program is designed to increase the meat processing capacity in the state for smaller processors to help ensure a stable supply of fresh, locally grown and processed meats.”
The state began the aptly named Increasing Meat Production, Efficiency and Capacity (IMPEC) grant program which is aimed at independent meat and seafood processing facilities. Benefits will be seen by the producers, processors, and consumers by ensuring an uninterrupted supply of top-quality North Carolina meat products.
“We have seen the shortage in the grocery stores,” Troxler said at the Council of State meeting on Tuesday. “The idea is to increase efficiency so farmers can sell directly to the public.”
Processors reported that after the pandemic started the were overwhelmed with new demand. By providing federal and state funds to local processors the goal has been to decrease the lag times to get livestock processed closer to the farms from which they came.
“We have been hugely successful in the first three parts of the program, increasing processing facility participants by 40%. We are going to do another round of $17 million. It’s vital to the food supply for North Carolinians.”
He also thanked North Carolinians during a Southern Farm Network interview for purchasing foods grown and processed in-state, “You are providing a much-needed boost to the ag economy and helping our farm families during these trying times. I know you are getting high quality products. Farmers and agribusinesses appreciate your support.”
When the markets reopen and vendors return, they look forward to serving the community, but also supporting one another in a small-town synergy. “Supporting small business is important to me and being a part of the farmers market helps to do just that,” said Angie Hemmings of Pipers Gap Soap Works.
“I use beeswax in my lip balms from one of the local vendors and lard from another vendor in some of my soap. The farmers market is all about supporting local small businesses.”
The survey can be found at:
February 03, 2022
• Movie prop money has made another illegal appearance in Mount Airy, according to city police reports, but the experience was not exactly entertaining for a business victimized.
This occurred last Saturday night at the Papa John’s pizza establishment on Rockford Street, where $10 in motion picture currency was passed by an unknown party in order to obtain goods.
Such currency typically is labeled “for motion picture use only,” but has been passed at various local businesses in recent years due to its resemblance to the real thing. The first reported case here occurred in 2017.
• A break-in was discovered Saturday at the residence of Patty Morton in the 1200 block of Newsome Street, which involved entry being gained through a secured front door.
Nothing was listed as missing, but damage put at $200 occurred to the door frame.
• Gravely’s Appliance Service on West Pine Street was the scene of a break-in that occurred during the early morning hours last Friday, when a brick was thrown through a front window to enable the theft of an undisclosed sum of money.
February 03, 2022
COVID-19 has done its best to undermine all facets of American life, but it hasn’t tuned out old-time and bluegrass music that has been around for generations and will outlast any pandemic.
This is evident with a 74th birthday celebration being observed this week and also the entity it is honoring — radio station WPAQ in Mount Airy — which will include a free concert this Saturday evening downtown featuring five groups.
That occasion will mark a return to normalcy after a virtual event last year.
The local radio station first hit the airwaves on Feb. 2, 1948 and continues to play a profound role in preserving the traditional music rooted in this region. WPAQ’s longevity has been regaled with a yearly musical extravaganza at the Historic Earle Theatre and Old-Time Music Heritage Hall on North Main Street.
“For many years this has been an annual event to celebrate the ‘Voice of the Blue Ridge,’” Jennie Lowry of WPAQ mentioned in reference to the station’s status among fans of mountain music.
At this time in 2021 as the coronavirus raged and public gatherings were curtailed, organizers had to rethink the logistics surrounding the concert in the auditorium of the theater typically drawing huge crowds. Yet the show still went on in a sense.
“Due to the pandemic, last year’s event was an on-air compilation of past concerts,” recalled Lowry, who is known by many as the host of a weekly “Merry-Go-Round” show broadcast live over WPAQ.
The program’s origin coincides with that of the station in 1948 and is the second-longest continuously running live radio broadcast in the nation, behind only “The Grand Ole Opry.”
Although a semblance of the free annual entertainment event managed to take shape last year despite the pandemic, Lowry says organizers are welcoming a return to a full night of bluegrass and old-time performances.
“The staff of the station is really looking forward to a live in-person event this weekend.”
Full-fledged concert
Saturday night’s concert, for which the festivities are to kick off at at 5:30 p.m., will feature five of the most favorite traditional acts in the area.
The talent list includes The Goodfellers, The Country Boys, The Slate Mountain Ramblers, The Nunn Brothers and Harrison Ridge.
Lowry stressed that admission to the concert will be free, with concessions available.
WPAQ, Mount Airy’s first radio station, was founded by the late Ralph Epperson, a native of Patrick County, Virginia, using bricks and locally crafted beams.
Epperson, who died in 2006, sought to provide a “stage” for local musicians and promoting the area’s talent.
In the Internet era, the station on Springs Road has been able to expand its traditional musical programming reach to new audiences outside the regional listening area through daily live streaming.
WPAQ now is co-owned by Epperson’s son Kelly and the latter’s wife Jennifer, with Kelly Epperson serving as general manager.
“Many things have changed since Ralph Epperson first signed WPAQ on the air back in 1948, but the music remains the same,” Lowry added. “WPAQ still features and promotes local and regional acts on its daily programming.”
February 03, 2022
Mount Airy officials are said to be setting their sights on a problem structure at 455 Franklin St., commonly known as the Koozies building.
At one time that site was part of the then-thriving Quality Mills manufacturing operation, but after it and other local textile companies closed in the wake of NAFTA, the building eventually housed a private club known as Koozies.
That club closed more than a decade ago and the structure has been sitting vacant in recent years. Around 2015, it became the poster child for what a now-defunct city redevelopment committee labeled as a blighted area occupying parts of Franklin Street along with Pine and South streets nearby.
The former Koozies building was thrust into the public eye again in late November when a fire broke out there which was caused by a homeless man, reportedly one of multiple persons who had taken up residence there.
That individual was charged with breaking and entering. He had been occupying a portion of the structure fronting West Pine Street located diagonally across that roadway from Mill Creek General Store.
November’s blaze caused minimal damage, but prompted concern by city Fire Chief Zane Poindexter about further potential problems with the unoccupied and deteriorating structure.
“I made a recommendation that it be torn down as soon as possible due to the public safety hazards,” Poindexter said Thursday afternoon when discussing the situation after a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting at City Hall, where the Koozies topic arose.
It was not on the agenda for the meeting, but reportedly was to be discussed by officials during a closed session after the regular part of the meeting concluded.
This was to include an update on where the situation with Koozies stands at the moment. No specific action was expected to be taken after the property matter discussion behind closed doors.
The fire chief, who was not part of that discussion, said outside the meeting area that the biggest concern he has about the building is vagrants occupying it as was the case with the fire in November.
It is not secured, Poindexter said. “It’s not being taken care of,” he added regarding the upkeep and maintenance of the structure.
One problem concerns the fact that the property is now owned by an out-of-town entity, National Decon Holdings, LLC, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, according to Surry County tax records.
It was divided into suites by the holding company, which has publicly announced no plans to improve its condition.
Local officials faced a similar situation about five years ago after the Mayberry Mall shopping center had fallen into a severe state of disrepair.
The mall was then owned by a businessman in New York state who neglected its upkeep, posing hazards to public safety which threatened the future of the shopping center.
Officials said then that if the owner failed to take action to correct those problems as requested, state statutes would require the city government to abate the structural issues on its own— including having the mall torn down.
The costs of that were to have been recouped through the filing of a lien against the owner, which would require the debt to be settled before the property changed hands.
A firm in South Carolina bought the mall before any of that transpired and made major improvements to the facility.
February 01, 2022
A Lowgap man was arrested Monday on a charge of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
Jacob Grey “Jake” Shelton, 24, of 280 Watershed Road, was confined in the Surry County Jail after being taken into custody by officers in Mount Airy. He is being held under a $100,000 secured bond.
The sexual exploitation of a minor charge, which is a felony, had been filed last Thursday through the Surry County Sheriff’s Office.
Shelton came to the Mount Airy Police Department Monday afternoon to be served with an arrest warrant in the case, with the large secured bond subsequently set by Magistrate Merlin Scales.
An investigation that led to the charge against Shelton originated at his home on Watershed Road in October, Maj. Larry Lowe of the Surry Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday, relaying information from the detective who handled the case.
Due to its sensitive nature, no further details were released, including the age of the alleged victim or any specifics regarding the accusation.
“The case is marked as a juvenile (matter) and that’s the reason why we can’t release anything else,” Lowe explained.
Under state law, the offense of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor can be issued against a person who uses, employs, induces, coerces, encourages or facilitates a minor to engage in or assist others to engage in sexual activity.
This can include doing so for the purpose of producing material containing a visual representation depicting that.
The charge also applies to a person who permits a minor under his custody or control to engage in such sexual acts, or who records, photographs, films, develops or duplicates for sale or pecuniary gain material which includes a visual representation of the activity.
A mistake of age is not a defense to a prosecution in such a case, the law states.
Shelton is scheduled to appear in District Court in Dobson next Wednesday.
In January 2019, the Lowgap man was facing three charges of assault on a female, according to previous reports.
February 01, 2022
Rather than getting a new sheriff in town, which his coming from Texas might suggest, Mount Airy has its latest city manager aboard.
Stan R. Farmer is now on the job to oversee the day-to-day functions of the municipal government. He is taking over for Parks and Recreation Director Darren Lewis, who has been serving as interim city manager for several months and will return to his regular position full-time.
Farmer’s hiring by Mount Airy was announced on Jan. 6, with a Jan. 31 date set for him to begin work.
He said Monday at City Hall that the first order of business involves simply getting accustomed to the new surroundings.
“Where is the printer — how do you turn on the computer?” Farmer said regarding the usual logistical adjustments faced. “And where are the paperclips and things like that.”
Before coming to Mount Airy, Farmer was city manager in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, for 13.5 years before resigning in October. He earlier held the same job in two North Carolina municipalities, Selma and Lucama.
Along with extensive academic credentials, he served five years with the U.S. Marines Corps, including in Japan.
Farmer’s appointment as city manager in Mount Airy capped a widespread search to find a successor for Barbara Jones, who announced her retirement on Sept. 9 after a 30-year city government career. Jones had been manager since 2010.
The recruitment effort attracted 21 applicants from a number of states, a pool subsequently whittled to five. Farmer became the finalist after a round of interviews and his hiring on Jan. 6 was approved unanimously by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
“Stan came highly recommended and has the credentials to lead our city forward,” said a statement issued at that time on behalf of Mayor Ron Niland and the commissioners.
His hiring around the first of the year was timed to coincide with the start of the city’s annual budget process for 2022-23. The process usually commences at that time and will lead to the adoption in June of the spending plan for the next fiscal year beginning on July 1.
While many budgetary issues await along with the ongoing Spencer’s redevelopment involving former industrial property owned by the municipality, Farmer says for now his goals with the city government are basic in nature. This includes “meeting the people” and making the rounds with department heads.
The new city manager also has said he was looking forward to getting to know folks in town.
His first week on the job will include a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners scheduled Thursday at 2 p.m.
January 31, 2022
“There are few places in America more beloved than the Blue Ridge, rising like an ancient Great Wall across a third of the breadth of the nation. It has the burnished beauty of a country long lived in, of doorsills worn thin, of deep cook footpaths beneath the poplars.” – Opening words to Richard C, Davids’, The Man Who Moved a Mountain.
The Blue Ridge is a wondrous place, some would say the hills and valleys are plucked right out of a book. With numerous stories and songs to sing; some of hope and joy, others of loss and pain. The story and legacy of Bob Childress might seem like a tall tale at times, but his prevailing attitude, faith, and love has made him a Blue Ridge legend and hero.
Rev. “Bob” Robert Childress was brought into this world by another mountain legend, Aunt Orlean Puckett on Jan. 19, 1890. Bob was born to Babe and Lum Childress within “The Hollow,” located just above the North Carolina border. He was born into the poorest of the poor, as a child being hungry was commonplace in the hollow, at least in his family. With multiple brothers and sisters, winters were long, while fall spoils were greedily received.
Food wasn’t the only thing scarce in the hollow. Churches were few and far between and schools were practically nonexistent. When Bob was 6, a teacher was sent from Guilford College to start a school and Sunday school in the Hollow. Bob vowed to attend every meeting and he did. He even received an attendance award — a pair of red suspenders. After eight years of school, his beloved teacher, Miss Sally Marshburn, married, leaving The Hollow and heading closer to her home in North Carolina. Bob was devastated, and rarely attended school afterward.
His young life was plagued by drinking, fighting, and debauchery. If he wasn’t picking fights with others, they were picking fights with him. He was troubled with many trials and different jobs. He worked with lumber, and as a blacksmith at one time. He was on a continuous path of drunkenness and pain until he met his first wife, Pearl, and that’s when he started to turn his life around. Bob even joined up with a posse tasked with finding the fleeing members of the Allen family after the trial in Hillsville. He moved his family to West Virginia in search of work in the coal mines and continued his journey for self-discovery.
Pearl passed quietly in 1918 after the family returned home to The Hollow, leaving Bob with two children and lost hope.
Bob had been searching all his life for a purpose, and with the loss of his wife and the security of his two children to worry about he started getting straight, even more so than after his marriage. He would take the kids to church each week and his blacksmithing business prospered. The church became his crutch to lean on, with the need to help others growing inside him.
Married again in 1919 to Lelia Montgomery, Bob started on a path that would lead to many new and exciting things for him and his family. The years to follow would find Bob finishing seminary school to become a minister, cultivating a persona of faith and good works, and the creation of seven unique and amazing churches still recognizable today.
Couldn’t make it on the rough mountain roads to church? Bob would come pick you up.
Did you need help chopping wood? All you needed to do was call the Reverend.
He made church and religion accessible to the hollow and beyond. Some of his hardest work was done on and around Buffalo Mountain. Buffalo was known for its hard men and women. Killing, lying, and shame crept over the mountain like a terrible storm, never to leave. Some would say that Bob helped calm the storm.
Bob’s legacy continues to live on in the seven churches he created and the many people whose lives he touched. It you want to learn more about the Rev. Childress check out The Man Who Moved A Mountain, written by Richard C. Davids, or take a trip to one of the churches he built.
Churches he built:
– 1919 Bluemont Presbyterian Church
– 1925 Mayberry Presbyterian Church
– 1926 Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church
– 1932 Slate Mountain Presbyterian Church
– 1946 Dinwiddie Presbyterian Church
– 1954 Willis Presbyterian Church
– Indian Valley Presbyterian Church, the only Bob Childress church not to be faced with natural rocks.
Emily Morgan is the Guest Services Manager at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. She and her family live in Westfield. She can be reached at or by calling 336-786-4478 x229.
January 30, 2022
DOBSON — Along with culinary delights such as grilled Arctic salmon and seared duck, a local restaurant has cooked up success by being ranked as one of the best dining establishments in the nation.
Harvest Grill, located at 286 Cabernet Lane on the grounds of Shelton Vineyards just outside Dobson, is one of only two businesses in North Carolina named to Yelp’s Top 100 U.S. restaurants list for 2022.
It came in at No. 79, with Machete in Greensboro ranked 18th on the list.
Yelp is an entity based in San Francisco which processes user reviews and recommendations on the best food, shopping, night life, entertainment, things to do, services and more.
To compile its ninth-annual restaurant list, Yelp reached out to its users for feedback on their favorite dining spots. Yelp then ranked each restaurant by total number of submissions, ratings, reviews and geographic representation, among other factors.
“Spending time at Shelton Vineyards is so relaxing— great wines and a gorgeous property — the icing on the cake is Harvest Grill,” was among the comments by “Yelpers” which led to the rating.
“They offer an extensive farm-to-table menu and a great wine list (most of the wines by the glass, so you can try different wines with each course) — everything we tried on the menu was delicious.”
Harvest Grill specializes in what is known as New American cuisine, loosely defined as assimilating flavors from the melting pot of traditional cooking with innovative uses of seasoning and sauces. It reflects a trend of modernized dishes predominantly served at upscale fine dining establishments in the U.S., which originated in the 1980s.
“Picturesque grapevines set a lovely backdrop,” the Yelp website states in summarizing the basis for Harvest Grill’s ranking. “Not surprisingly, this bistro-style eatery offers a large selection of vineyard-produced wines, alongside a compact menu of ‘sophisticated comfort food.”’
Harvest Grill Executive Chef Mark Thrower also used a more specific term Friday, “Southern sophisticated,” to describe the philosophy by which it operates.
Thrower explained that this relates to how most chefs enjoy preparing dishes that their grandmothers cooked, which he likes to take to another level while using a formula of traditional techniques blended with fine local products.
Harvest Grill does not serve standard duck or chicken, for example, but that raised on sustainable farms along with other products the restaurant uses to ensure top quality.
The establishment also is noted for its crab cakes served with gribiche (a cold egg sauce) and shoestring fries, according to Yelp.
Thrower added that he was “kind of shocked” when learning that the local restaurant had made the national top-100 rankings.
“It was just one of those wonderful feelings,” he indicated, which one gets from having his or her work recognized in such a way. “I was kind of like, ‘where did this come from?’”
Yelp’s top-rated restaurant is Cocina Madrigal in Phoenix.
Thrower says the local establishment’s rating not only speaks well of Harvest Grill, but the community as a whole.
“It’s an awesome opportunity” the chef said, to build on the restaurant’s success by expanding its array of locally produced foods and thereby involve more area farmers.
A dozen people are employed in the kitchen at Harvest Grill, which also has about 10 servers.
The top-100 ranking emerged as a bright spot in the same month that Charlie Shelton, a co-founder of Shelton Vineyards with his brother Ed, died.
January 29, 2022
Since the attack on the capitol that tried to stop the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election, investigators have not stopped. Federal law enforcement agencies are at the moment devoting technical resources and personnel to scouring over videos and still images in an attempt to mete out justice from a sad day in America history.
With more than 750 active federal cases and suspects from around the country, some feel the prosecutions from the events of Jan. 6 have been slow in developing. However, there has been significant movement on two cases with local ties.
So far 184, or 22%, of those facing charges from that day have plead guilty. The most common charges are the ones centered around being in and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol itself. As the building was on lockdown, no entry of any kind for any reason was allowed by unauthorized personnel.
The charges ramp up in severity from there: civil disorder; assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon or inflicting bodily injury; entering and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds; and conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, to name a few.
A handful of North Carolinians were charged with unlawful entry and nothing else, these charges stem from curfew violations or other offenses in which suspects did not enter the capitol complex. These are not being approached by prosecutors with the same zeal as those who enter into violence with law enforcement or entered the capitol illegally.
So far, only three cases from North Carolina have yielded guilty pleas and the most recent of those against Anthony Scirica of Winston-Salem was only recently decided. When asked by FBI investigators if he wished he had stayed outside the capitol building, he replied, “I don’t know. I’m not really sure. It might make a good story in like 50 years when I’m a grandfather.”
Four charges were filed against him including violent entry and disorderly conduct in a capitol building. He plead guilty to demonstrating in a capitol building, the other charges were dismissed. The sentence handed down was for 14 days in jail, with credit for one day served.
Scirica will be spending seven intermittent weekends in jail and pay both a fine and restitution in the amount of $500 each for his role in the attempted overturning of a presidential election. Outcomes such as this have become frustrating to prosecutors, judges, and some everyday citizens.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell of DC District Court has referred from the bench to the Justice Department’s “schizophrenic” approach that is limiting judge’s abilities to hand down the sentences they feel meet the severity of the crimes for what last fall she called the “crime of the century.”
Judge Howell spoke specifically last October at a sentencing hearing on fines such as Scirica owes and repeated her criticism that prosecutors are only asking each misdemeanor rioter to pay a small fee to fix damages, even though millions of dollars were spent on repairs and security in the wake of the insurrection.
That brings the focus closer to home with the case of Virginia “Jenny” Spencer, of Pilot Mountain. Spencer and her husband Christopher are both charged with the most common four charges: entering a restricted space, disorderly conduct in that space, disorderly conduct in a capitol building, and demonstrating inside a capitol building.
Allen Orenberg, Spencer’s defense lawyer, argued that his client had no intention of joining in with a mob that day. “She did not suit up for combat. She did not hide her face. She was not armed, and she committed no violent actions. She did not destroy anything. Jenny Spencer’s only desire was to participate in a Democratic process.”
The Spencers went to Washington, D.C. to attend the rally of former President Donald Trump where he repeated claims the election was fraudulently stolen. Orenberg in court papers acknowledged there was no evidence of such a fraud. He went on to say that it is “mindboggling” that the lawyers who brought such “frivolous” lawsuits have not been sanctioned.
He went on to explain that Spencer saw media coverage of the protests after the police killing of George Floyd and that persuaded her that the only way her voice could be heard was through protest. Furthermore, she also felt that she would not face criminal liability if she did participate.
Jenny Spencer entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors and plead guilty to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a capitol building. Christopher Spencer has an additional charge of “Obstructing of Official Proceeding” and has plead not guilty, he is awaiting trial at this time.
Prosecutors had sought to deliver a hefty sentence to Virginia Spencer for her participation in the Jan. 6 riot, when prosecutors included in their sentencing documents information they had previously withheld, that the Spencers had their 14-year-old son “in tow” with them.
“There are lawful means available to change or challenge actions you disagree with,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said before handing down Spencer’s sentence. “But they don’t include a violent insurrection.
“It must have been a traumatic experience to witness this kind of violence. I really hope (your son) is all right,” the judge said in the sentencing decision on Jan. 7. At that time Spencer was sentenced to three months in jail and 36 months of probation.
Orenberg filed a motion on Spencer’s behalf saying the government had overreached on their sentencing. He argued it was not allowable for her to be sentenced to both jail time and then probation for the same crime.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly agreed with Orenberg and issued a new sentence for Virginia Spencer on Jan. 19. Now, she will still be serving three months in jail and face fines, her 36 months of probation have been removed.
The government it seems would rather see jail time rather than none, a sentiment echoed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan at a sentencing hearing last fall, “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government besides sitting at home.
“The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the history of this country before, for actions and crimes that threaten to undermine the rule of law and our democracy.”
January 28, 2022
Sure, scouting offers many activities for youths including camping, hiking, swimming and more — but along with the fun, leadership and other skills are developed which translate to the real world and make it a better place.
“I do think scouting offers so many things that are transferable,” local businessman Chad Tidd said Wednesday afternoon during a kickoff luncheon at Cross Creek Country Club in Mount Airy for an annual Friends of Scouting fundraising campaign locally.
Whether sleeping under the stars or shooting the rapids in a kayak, scouting provides adventures that teach valuable life lessons such as teamwork and perseverance, added Tidd, owner/manager of Chick-fil-A in Mount Airy, one of two special speakers Wednesday.
To him, scouting is more about a sense of adventure than anything else — specifically, leaving one’s comfort zone and engaging in activities that are challenging while also helping a person grow.
“Real-life applications” abound with scouting, said the other speaker on Wednesday’s program, Dr. Travis Reeves. While he is best known as the superintendent of Surry County Schools, Reeves also is an avid outdoorsman and a member of a scouting family, including both he and wife Leslie long serving as leaders in the program.
Too many youths raise themselves, Reeves said of how some immerse themselves in pastimes such as video games.
Scouting is a way to bridge that gap by having “kids being kids” while getting outside, he explained.
Measurable growth results along the way, including through leadership activities that later pay dividends in the business world and other realms, according to Reeves, who cited his son Ridge, 13, as an example.
Ridge is a Boy Scout who applied skills learned through scouting — such as respecting the environment and working with others — to a public service gesture.
“He organized a community cleanup in our neighborhood,” said his dad, which required planning, developing a safety checklist along with road assignments/maps and relaying instructions to participants in achieving cooperation.
“It looked like he grew three inches,” Reeves said of the impression he had while watching Ridge lead the proceedings en route to a successful campaign in which 54 bags of roadside trash were collected in 2.5 hours.
Tidd said the same applications of scouting skills also have occurred at Chick-fil-A.
“I have employed over the years lots and lots of scouts,” said the owner/manager, who explained that the key traits he looks for in a worker include being hungry, humble and smart. These tend to go hand in hand with values stressed by scouting such as being self-aware, resilient, courteous and trustworthy.
Tidd mentioned Eagle Scout Jeremiah Campbell as one he has employed who embodied such qualities, whom the Chick-fil-A official said possessed a quiet determination along with being personable and self-aware.
“Not only of oneself, but also their surroundings,” he said of such individuals. “Putting others first.”
Though Tidd said he is engaged in a “glorified fast-food” endeavor with Chick-fil-A, such characteristics can be beneficial regardless of one’s chosen field.
Fundraising effort
The chief goal of Wednesday’s kickoff event involved drawing attention to the need for funding to support programs offered by the local scouting district to ensure a continuation of its work with young people in Surry County. It has weathered a number of financial and other effects during the pandemic.
“When we are investing in the youth in our area, we are investing in our future,” Ann Vaughn, a veteran scout supporter who is chairing the annual fundraising campaign, told those assembled Wednesday afternoon.
“This organization means so much to so many,” said Daron Atkins, chairman of the newly created Seven Rivers District that includes Surry and neighboring counties. It operates under the umbrella of the Old Hickory Council of the BSA (formerly Boy Scouts of America), based in Winston-Salem.
This year’s fundraising goal for the district is $24,500.
“It costs the Old Hickory Council $200 to fund one scout one year,” Vaughn said.
The donation process can include supporting a scout, several of them and maybe a patrol of eight. “Or if the spirit moves you, an entire pack or troop,” Vaughn said of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups in the area.
Surry facility praised
Along with opportunities within individual troops or packs, a traditional beneficiary of fundraising efforts is Camp Raven Knob, a 3,200-acre facility in the Lowgap area which at last report provided summer jobs for about 120 staff members,
“We are so fortunate to have it in Surry County,” Atkins said of the camp that offers such activities as swimming, hiking, rappelling, archery, boating/kayaking, nature study, marksmanship and more.
“It is a paradise for scouts,” Dr. Reeves said during his time at the podium. “Leslie and I feel at peace when we’re at Camp Raven Knob and we believe our scouts do, too.”
“The magic of Raven Knob is the people,” said Chris Lawson, another scout leader who spoke Wednesday.
Local citizens and businesses can aid the scouting mission by sending checks payable to the Old Hickory Council, BSA, 6600 Silas Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, NC, 27106.
Atkins said local donations should be designated for programs in Surry County.
Vaughn and Atkins also can be contacted, respectively, via (336-374-9990) or (336-401-3708).
“The money stays local,” Atkins said.
“It goes to help the youth.”
January 27, 2022
The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Citizen of the Year is no stranger to most people in Mount Airy.
Traci Haynes George, who has been involved in multiple community organizations and charities, was chosen this year for the honor, considered the chamber’s most prestigious individual award.
She was on hand with her family, friends, and coworkers Thursday night at the chamber’s 61st annual meeting when she learned she would be this year’s recipient.
“I am very honored, humbled, blessed,” she told the roughly 200 people gathered for the annual meeting and dinner. “Thinking of the people who have been named (in years past)…I am very humbled.”
“She was one of the first people I met when I came here,” said Chamber President Randy Collins. “Every community should have someone who knows everyone in the community.” Prior to Thursday nights’ gathering, Collins said George has been nominated several time for the award — including by multiple people this year.
“Her community involvement shows how large her heart is and how much she gives back to Mount Airy and Surry County,” said one person who nominated George this year. “She’s an example of kindness and goodness and she gives it back to each person she knows. Even during her darkest times she continued to support the community with raising money for the Leukemia Foundation. She’s a rare gift to our community and deserves this recognition.”
“In addition to her responsibilities at WorkForce Unlimited, Traci has served as vice chairman of membership for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, chaired the Christmas Tree fundraiser for the Surry Stop Child Abuse Now organization, served on the fundraising committee for the Shepherd’s House and participated in a fundraiser for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History,” another nomination stated. “Traci has been active in the United Fund of Surry for many years where she has served as chairman for the industrial division and has also served on special committees for the Mount Airy City Schools. She has volunteered in various ways for Reeves Community Center as both a fitness instructor and a coach.”
George serves as director of business development at WorkForce Unlimited, where she has worked since 1995. In addition to the volunteer leadership positions mentioned in the nomination form, she serves as vice chair of the Shepherd’s House, has served on the executive committee of the Tri-City March of Dimes, and has served on the boards of the Mount Airy High School PTO, Surry SCAN and Relay For Life.
Additionally, she has been involved in coaching area athletics, after a successful high school and college basketball career of her own. It was her last summer after college, while life guarding at Reeves Community Center, when her life changed.
That is when Teresa Lewis, founder of WorkForce Unlimited, approached George about taking a receptionist job at the firm. In a 2020 interview with The Mount Airy News, she said she didn’t really know what she would be doing, but two things about the offer enticed her: her admiration and respect for Lewis, and the fact that the firm placed a high importance on community service.
“That’s always been one of our core values, community — so once I was hired at WorkForce, that community thing was already instilled in me with my family,” she said at that time.
“When you talk about someone being able to see into a community’s heart you’re talking about a person it has a special gift,” one of the nominators said of George. “Traci’s ability to see a vision for caring for the homeless and many other organizations sets her apart from others. Her vision is part of her strength.”
Another nomination quoted Catrina Alexander, who serves as career development coordinator for Mount Airy City Schools, after having served as director of the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department.
“Traci was one of the first people I met when I moved to Mount Airy and became a Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce ambassador,” she said. “Her enthusiasm and energy was contagious. To be around Traci makes you want to be a better person. Regardless of where her job has taken her over the years, she is always involved in the ‘good-works’ of the community. Whether it is coaching aspiring athletes or advocating for a worthy cause, Traci is a friend to all. We are fortunate that Traci has chosen to continue to call Mount Airy home and to give back over the years with her time and talents.”
Even during difficult times — George was diagnosed with leukemia early last year — she found a way to turn that into a positive. She became part of a challenge over the past year to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation to fund research into treating and curing the disease — and she raised the most of all those involved in the Triad, with $30,000 in donations given to the effort.
“I’m speechless,” she told the audience Thursday night, before adding the only other time that has happened to her was when she met singer Carrie Underwood, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.
George concluded her brief remarks by repeating what she’d said earlier — “I’m humbled,” she said to a standing ovation.
January 27, 2022
Mount Airy officials are alerting owners of local businesses to the presence of state grants available to help offset the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Time is running out to seek assistance from the Business Recovery Grant Program administered by the N.C. Department of Revenue, for which the application period closes on Monday.
“It’s economic-recovery money for businesses that may have been hurt,” Mayor Ron Niland said of segments impacted.
“And they can apply for a variety of things.”
Two types of grants will be offered to eligible businesses, according to information posted on the city government Facebook page:
• A hospitality grant is available to an eligible arts, entertainment or recreation business, in addition to an eligible accommodation or food service business such as a hotel, restaurant or bar (under NAICS Code 71 and 72).
• Reimbursement grants target eligible businesses not classified in NAICS Code 71 and 72 and which did not receive funding from other relief efforts including the Paycheck Protection, COVID-19 Job Retention Grant and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) Advance programs.
The Business Recovery Grant Program will issue a one-time payment to eligible North Carolina businesses that suffered an economic loss of at least 20% during the pandemic, officials say.
Under the guidelines, the grant sum will amount to a percentage of the economic loss demonstrated by the eligible business or $500,000, whichever is less.
The Department of Revenue plans to reduce grant sums if the total assistance requested exceeds the maximum funds authorized for the Business Recovery Grant Program by the state of North Carolina.
Mayor Niland stressed that the COVID assistance being provided through the state government is not connected to federal coronavirus aid the city of Mount Airy has been tapped for through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP).
Eligible business owners are encouraged to apply online for the recovery grants now through Monday at the website.
January 26, 2022
In conjunction with its primary function of battling blazes, the Mount Airy Fire Department logged fewer first responder calls during 2021 — not because the medical-related emergencies involved declined, but the usual suspect: COVID-19.
“Last year at this time we lost a whole entire shift for a two-week period,” Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said during a city council meeting last Thursday night when presenting an annual report of departmental activities.
Due to fire personnel being under coronavirus quarantine or actually having the disease, Poindexter said a temporary pausing of the first-responder program resulted at times last year.
But he emphasized in follow-up comments on Tuesday that this manpower issue did not compromise the department’s main mission of fire suppression, or prevent its personnel from answering “very urgent” medical calls.
“We did not pause all of it,” Poindexter said Tuesday of times last year when the medical response function was curtailed, after being asked if any serious repercussions stemmed from this.
Fire personnel continued responding to serious cases such as CPR, cardiac and those involving traffic accidents. Also, they were available whenever called to assist the Surry County EMS, for example, in helping to load patients into ambulances.
“But we’re back to answering medical calls fully now,” Poindexter said at the meeting.
The Mount Airy Fire Department expanded its services in December 2010 to include responding to all medical incidents in the city limits except for those at staffed facilities.
Department members answering those calls typically are on the scene several minutes ahead of the Surry County EMS and render vital care during that time which can mean the difference between life and death. This might include restoring pulses or normal breathing.
Before 2010, medical calls had been answered on a limited basis by firefighters since 1997.
The fire chief explained Tuesday that the personnel pause resulting from COVID ensured that sufficient numbers would be available to handle any blaze.
In 2020, Mount Airy firefighters weren’t dispatched to any call where coming into contact with COVID-19 patients was a possibility, per a request from the N.C. Office of Emergency Medical Services aimed at reducing the number of responders being exposed.
Numbers down
Last year’s results reflected a two-year phenomenon.
After logging a record 1,957 fire and emergency medical-related incident responses during 2019 — pre-pandemic — the total dropped to 1,113 in 2020. For 2021, the number was 1,189.
The yearly totals include both critical cases and performing other services such as assisting invalids and handling situations involving alarm system or smoke detector malfunctions.
EMS calls were “way down,” the fire chief said, numbering 664, but still constituting 55% of all calls handled by the department.
Fire-related incidents totaled 525 during 2021, which doesn’t mean there were that many structural blazes. The breakdown includes a significant number of incidents involving malfunctioning or unintentional activations of smoke detectors, alarm systems and sprinklers.
In 43 of the 525 cases, firefighters were dispatched to a scene only to have the calls cancelled en route.
The department was involved in 19 building fires. However, 11 of those occurred outside the city limits but counted by Mount Airy due to a mutual aid pact with neighboring volunteer fire units in which city personnel respond to incidents in their jurisdictions as needed and vice versa.
This netted eight in-city fires, “so we are about where we are normally,” Poindexter said of that number. In 2020, the Mount Airy Fire Department responded to 12 structural fires, up from nine the year before.
Fire losses amounted to $184,650 last year — compared to a pre-incident value of $2.5 million, which Poindexter considers a good ratio.
He also is proud of the department’s average yearly response time of two minutes and 58 seconds.
Poindexter lamented the fact that Mount Airy fire personnel were able to conduct only 15 public education events last year — “which is tremendously down, and of course we all know why.”
January 26, 2022
Local businessman, educational benefactor and southern gentleman Charlie Shelton passed away over the weekend, he was 86.
Shelton had retired to the Charlotte area, and he was living at the Southminster retirement community in Charlotte. His daughter Mandy Houser, and son, Chip Shelton, confirmed to the Charlotte Observer their father had fought a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
A name that may now be most recognized with Shelton Vineyards, Charlie and younger brother Ed Shelton took the lessons learned from their upbringing in these parts out into the business world. The impact Charlie Shelton had on this area is great, and he left an impression on those he met.
“Charlie’s message would be the example he set in life,” Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris said in remembrance of Shelton. “That anyone even from humble origins can achieve great success in life if they work hard, persevere, and seek out the great opportunities this country provides.”
The brothers Shelton worked in construction together after both realized separately that college was not the path that was meant for them. After planting cabbage for cash at age 12, and three acres of tobacco at 15 Charlie was not scared of working with his hands. After graduating from the Franklin School, “my dad told me I needed to go to college,” Charlie said in a profile piece for North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry in 2004.
Charlie was already enrolled at NC State to study textile engineering when his father Reid got him a summer job at the Mount Airy Knitting Mill that changed the trajectory of his life. He recounted in 2004, “I pushed cloth boxes in the mill the whole summer,”
“The windows were painted blue and I couldn’t see the sun. I decided right then and there that I didn’t want to be in textiles in any way.” After a drive to Raleigh to get back the deposit from State, that was the end of textiles. He asked Reid for a loan of $5,000 – what Charlie said school would have cost – to build his own home and make his own way.
His enterprising spirit saw its flare up in 1958 when Charlie started Blue Ridge Enterprises, his first business venture with former classmate Dee Meadows. Late in 1962 Charlie and Ed went in business together for the first time, forming Fortis Enterprises. “Fortis” means strength in Latin, and it was Ed’s wife Dotti who suggested it and the name carries on to this day.
They built homes one at a time as money allowed, and they scrapped and saved wherever possible to keep costs down. Betty Baker, Fortis’ first bookkeeper recalls Charlie telling her to turn the adding machine tape over to use the reverse side. The Sheltons streamlined the process of home building by using pre-cut framing lumber. Every major piece was pre-cut, lowering waste, and raising efficiency and Fortis profits soared.
Selling Fortis, Charlie and Ed were able to retain management and retain the Fortis company name in 1971. After a loss of confidence with the new ownership group, Charlie exited the company in 1977 knowing Ed would follow soon thereafter – which he did. The town of King was a major winner from the brothers exit from Fortis and the company’s later sale. The brothers donated more than a half million dollars in profits to projects benefitting King and King Elementary School.
After Fortis, the last company they founded was Shelco Inc. a general construction company which they sold to a group of employees in 2003 after having relinquished managerial control years earlier. Ed, also featured in the 2004 NCCBI profile, said of their decision to sell to their employees instead of selling for profit, “We’ve got about 250 employees who have worked hard for us and helped make this company, so they should have some fun with it like we did.”
Never one to rest, Charlie had spotted something that interested him as their Shelco time was ending, an old dairy farm in Surry County. “I paid $1,600 an acre” Charlie reminisced during his profile interview. “Three days later, I told Ed about it. At the time I just wanted a piece of land to get out and walk around on once in a while. We gave the use of the land to the local farm community for hay.
“Then one day I told Ed that I’d like to try a little bit of vineyard up there on the property. He said he didn’t want to have anything to do with it, so I decided that I’d fool around with about 20 acres. Then he tells me that if I want to do 50 acres and build a pretty entrance, he might be interested.”
What was to follow is now the stuff of textbooks and state board of tourism brochures. Charlie and Ed were responsible for petitioning the federal government for American Viticultural Area recognition for North Carolina’s first AVA, The Yadkin Valley, which was approved in 2003.
The significance of this recognition cannot be overstated when it comes to credibility in the wine market. The Yadkin Valley now has more than 40 wineries according to Signage along North Carolina highways pointing out the wineries are there thanks to the Sheltons as well.
To facilitate the vineyard, and to create the homegrown talent that would be needed to run a successful winery, they made generous contributions to Surry Community College and underwrote for the enology program in its infancy.
“Years ago, when we began thinking about the Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture & Enology, we envisioned graduates from the program at Surry Community College working in the local community to help it grow and prosper,” Shelton said in article published by in 2018.
Shelton Vineyards’ current winemaker Ethan Brown is an alum of the Surry Community College program, the desire for homegrown talent has been realized.
Commissioner Harris said he had seen Shelton’s passion up close, “He and his brother Ed always sought to help the young women and men who sought to better themselves through Surry Community College. I saw that firsthand as a trustee on the college board. He gave mightily to this county; the results are visible everywhere and he could care a less as to your socioeconomic status.”
“Charlie was a very thorough person,” his brother Ed said in their profile. “He always tried to do the right thing. He was also pretty determined. If he set his mind on doing something, he made sure it got done.”
January 25, 2022
City officials have taken steps to address transient housing after residents complained about an unlicensed establishment operating in their midst, but issues remain regarding another form of short-term rentals, Airbnbs.
“I think what we’ve got here is a good start,” Mayor Ron Niland said after last Thursday night’s action by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
The board essentially made it harder for transient rooming establishments to exist in the city, including limiting the number of areas in which they may operate.
It was the presence of just such a facility at 204 W. Church St. which brought a group of residents to the Municipal Building in September to complain about what they perceived as a threat to the general welfare and safety of their neighborhood.
This allegedly included much police activity at the house where persons from far reaches of the country were said to be renting rooms by the month. Another resident of the neighborhood echoed similar concerns during a December council meeting.
“They also came and spoke to the Planning Board,” city Planning Director Andy Goodall said Thursday when outlining the events leading to the commissioners’ vote that tightens regulations.
The neighborhood opposition — containing an undercurrent of wanting to prevent the same situation from occurring elsewhere in town — led to proposed municipal ordinance changes by the Planning Board, an advisory group to the commissioners, which the latter approved unanimously.
New rules
One key change involves removing the term boarding/rooming house from the books and replacing it with rooming house alone — while also differentiating between transient and non-transient establishments.
Transient facilities are now permitted only in R-4 (Office-Residential) zones with a special-use permit, based on city government documents, with greater leeway in place for the non-transient variety.
A transient rooming house is defined as any single dwelling unit containing no more than five guest rooms and limited to that number of people where rent is paid, with transient specified as staying less than 30 days. Non-transient is defined as more than 30 days.
Wording that has allowed boarding/rooming houses in the R-20 (Single-Family Residential), R-6 (General Residential) and R-4 (Office-Residential) zoning districts was stricken for purposes of the amendment package.
The unlicensed facility on West Church Street was in an R-6 neighborhood, with Goodall earlier reporting that the owner decided not to pursue a permit because of strict building codes governing such establishments.
Under the revised ordinance, facilities must meet city minimum housing and state building codes before a certificate to operate is issued.
The changes also call for a house to be overseen by a resident manager, who Goodall said can be the owner.
One parking space is required for each guest room and one for the manager, located at the side or rear of the structure.
The planning director said due to the special-use permit status for transient rooming houses which also requires a hearing process, residents of an affected area will have a step up on the proceedings. “The surrounding neighbors will get notice of that,” Goodall explained.
He believes this was one of the issues with the West Church Street case.
Last Thursday’s action came after a public hearing on the proposal, which drew residents from that area.
However, only one spoke, seemingly on behalf of the group, and that was to express gratitude for how the city government handled the matter.
“I want to thank all of you,” Tim Ayers told Mount Airy officials. He had been one of the most-vocal residents to complain about the situation in September.
Mayor Niland thanked Ayers and the other residents for being patient throughout the process.
Board concerns
The changes were accompanied by comments from council members about the implications for other types of housing in the city limits.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley asked how the new ordinance might impact Airbnb, also known as Air B and B, sites, along with shelter facilities.
Airbnb refers to a rental idea that dates to 2007 in San Francisco, where two roommates in need of money loaned out spaces in their apartment to persons attending a design conference because of hotels being overbooked.
They gave their endeavor the name “Air Bed and Breakfast” since guests slept on air mattresses. The concept later expanded to other locations where short-term vacation rentals of cabins, beach houses, unique homes and even boats are offered to travelers.
“Bed and breakfasts have their own category,” Goodall said of local regulations, with the same also true of shelters.
“As of right now we don’t regulate Airbnbs,” the planning director added concerning that specific housing type.
He said it occupies a murky area where circumstances can be difficult to establish, such as a single-family dwelling becoming a two-family dwelling in violation of certain zoning rules.
The mayor acknowledged much “gray area” in this regard.
Commissioner Jon Cawley was quick to comment on potential problems with the lack of Airbnb guidelines from an operator’s standpoint. “At what point do you say, ‘I’m not a boarding house, I’m an Airbnb.’”
Goodall said Mount Airy is awaiting guidance from state officials regarding the relatively new form of accommodation.
But he advises anyone planning to open an Airbnb facility to first check with the Mount Airy Planning Department.
Street closures approved
When is a street not really a street? The answer: when it’s never built in the first place and exists only on paper, but officially remains on the books until finally removed by the commissioners.
That occurred at the meeting with two unopened streets, one located off North Andy Griffith Parkway in the vicinity of Food Lion and the other off East Haymore Street in the middle of town.
Both of the “streets” are less than 1,000 feet long and never were accepted for maintenance by the municipality or N.C. Department of Transportation.
Generally, street-closing requests are initiated to allow neighboring property owners right of way or other access to sites which would not be possible if the street status is in place.
Public hearings also were required for the closings, but only one person spoke during either, Jody Phillips, who had requested the change for the location off East Haymore Street.
“This property has been in my family for generations,” said Phillips, who mentioned that varying lot configurations for residential acreage over the years ended up with a small parcel left over containing the “street,” which serves no purpose.
Rights to the property involved will be split between him and a neighboring landowner, Phillips said.
Local businessman Tom Webb requested the other closure off North Andy Griffith Parkway.
January 24, 2022
“I thought that was the sweetest music that had ever been in this world, that old fiddle.”– Albert Hash
Music surrounds us in our daily lives whether on the radio, in commercials, at church, social gatherings, or around the house. The Blue Ridge Mountains have a rich and diverse history of music, and due to the isolated nature of some towns, music traditions were able to be passed down through the generations without much variance. Due to this, most famous musicians from the area often have humble musical roots. One little county has given a lot to the preservation and longevity of old-time and bluegrass music and it’s just a hop and a skip through the holler.
Covering approximately 427 miles in northwestern North Carolina is mountainous Ashe County. Through time, it has been part of Anson, Rowan, Surry, Wilkes, and the State of Franklin until it became its own county in 1799. There are three incorporated towns, 19 townships, and 18 unincorporated towns in its borders. Rich in natural resources, the county has boasted various industries over time.
Lansing was incorporated in 1928 and sits on less than half a square mile of land. Out of this town came Ola Belle Reed. Born Ola Wave Campbell in 1916, Ola Belle Reed came from a family of 13 children in Lansing. Both sides of her family were musically versed; her grandfather was a Primitive Baptist preacher who could fiddle, her father could play fiddle, banjo, guitar, and organ, and her grandmother and mother taught her the traditional ballads of the area. Ola learned to play clawhammer banjo and accompanied it with her singing.
Due to the Great Depression, the family moved to Pennsylvania and then Maryland in 1934 for employment. In Maryland, the family formed The North Carolina Ridge Runners, a band that played live radio broadcasts as well as for social gatherings and dance among the Appalachian transplants in the area.
Ola was known for playing and singing traditional songs and hymns but was also an accomplished original song writer. She wrote and recorded, “High on a Mountain,” “My Epitaph,” and “I’ve Endured.” In 1972, she played for the Smithsonian Folk Festival held in Washington D.C and recorded 75 songs for the Library of Congress. In 1986, she was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor in folk and traditional arts. In 1987, she suffered a stroke and was unable to play music anymore. She passed in 2002.
Although not born in Lansing, Albert Hash spent a bit over a decade in the city. Born in Whitetop Mountain, Virginia, in 1917, Albert learned to fiddle from Corbitt Stamper, his uncle George Finley, and was influenced by GB Grayson. His wife Ethel Spencer’s family was musically gifted as well; his father-in-law Bud Spencer was a dancer while his brother-in-law Thornton Spencer played fiddle. Their distant relatives were Ola Belle Reed and Dean Sturgill.
An extremely gifted player, Albert was better known for building and repairing instruments. He mostly built fiddles, but also made mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, and only one guitar, which is now in the possession of Wayne Henderson, who Albert mentored and was good friends with.
A firm believer in teaching and sharing knowledge and traditions, Albert formed the Whitetop Mountain Band in the 1940s and in 1982 he started the music program at Mount Rogers School, now known as the Albert Hash Memorial Band. In 1976, Albert recorded an album of fiddle tunes with Thornton, Thornton’s wife Emily, and Flurry Dowe under the band name The Whitetop Mountain Boys. Of note, the producer of the album was Kyle Creed. Albert passed in 1983, but his daughter Audrey Hash Ham carried on his work mentoring young luthiers in the craft as well as playing and teaching music.
Ashe County hosts many music events and festivals throughout the year. The Ola Belle Reed Festival is held in Lansing in August and the Ashe County Fiddlers Convention is held in Jefferson in July; both draw musicians and onlookers from around the country to participate and listen. The Old Helton School Hog Stomp is held every Thursday in Sturgills. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s a social gathering full of music, dancing, and of course a jam session. Another local favorite is the Phipps General Store Jam, located outside of Lansing and held on Fridays. The town of Todd offers multiple music events such as the Todd New River Festival, Jam Sessions at the Todd General Store, Todd Concert Series, and dances at the Todd Mercantile.
The interconnectedness of music, family, and traditions is a wonderful sight to behold, whether reading about it, listening to oral interview recordings, or listening to the music itself. This was a an extremely short overview of the subject, as books, documentaries, and films have been made about the people and music mentioned here, but I hope I did it justice.
January 24, 2022
Charlie Shelton, one of the founders of Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, has passed away. Details on his passing are not immediately available.
“As someone who has worked with Charlie for over a decade he was a giant of a man and monumental catalyst for positive change in Surry County,” Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris said in praise of the late Shelton.
“His humble origins never left him in his pursuit and love for our community college and making our county and region a better place to live.”
Shelton attended Surry County Schools and was a graduate of Franklin High School class of 1953.
Charlie and his brother Ed Shelton worked together in construction and real estate development for the majority of their working careers. The last company they founded was Shelco Inc., a general construction company which they sold to a group of employees in 2004.
The brothers also founded and own The Shelton Companies, a private investment firm based in Charlotte. The Shelton portfolio of companies also includes Fortis Homes, King Sash & Door Company, and Carolinas’ Distribution Services.
The Sheltons were also responsible for petitioning the federal government for American Viticultural Area recognition for North Carolina’s first AVA, The Yadkin Valley that was approved in 2003. Through their work and dedication to their state and community they helped put North Carolina on the map “as one of the top wine producing states in the nation.”
“When we broke ground, there was one other winery in the Yadkin Valley and a total of 12 in North Carolina. Now there are 38 wineries in the region and 120 in the state,” Charlie Shelton told ‘The Land Report’ in 2014. Today, the state claims more than 400 vineyards and 100 wineries.
More than a solid member of the community and a catalyst for change in the county, Charlie Shelton will also be remembered for his manner. Commissioner Harris recalled, “His folksy southern gentlemanly approach to life was an inspiration and example to all.“
More information on Charlie Shelton and remembrances will follow in Wednesday’s edition of the Mount Airy News.
January 23, 2022
Despite having a hefty surplus, or fund balance, on hand, Mount Airy officials are taking the loan route to acquire a new fire engine for the city costing $561,720.
But that’s not the whole story with the fund balance, based on the fact the municipality has identified $11.6 million in such big-ticket items, or capital needs, which are looming over the next few years and could pretty much wipe out those savings.
“It is our (staff) recommendation this is the best thing for the city,” Interim City Manager Darren Lewis said Thursday night when the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved a borrowing plan for the fire truck.
The board had decided in January of last year to rely on that option with the arrival of the vehicle still months away, which Lewis said Thursday will aid Mount Airy’s cash-flow situation.
Under the loan agreement, the city government will borrow the $561,720 for a period of 10 years for the purchase of a 2022-model engine from Atlantic Coast Fire Trucks in Denver, a community in Lincoln County.
The money is to be loaned at a fixed rate of 2.31%, with the first payment to occur next Oct. 1 and continue on the same date for the ensuing decade — with the interest cost totaling $69,740. The lender was identified as REV Financial Services.
Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said the new truck is undergoing finishing touches in Denver and will be delivered to Mount Airy in February.
Poindexter has said that the Mount Airy Fire Department has a mostly aging fleet, including two 1995 Sutphen fire trucks and a 2000 American LaFrance.
But then-City Manager Barbara Jones said last year when outlining the needs that the public shouldn’t think the existing fire trucks are unreliable in emergencies, with which the fire chief agreed.
“We would not put an unsafe fire truck on the road,” he stressed.
Lewis states in a memo to council members that the plan now calls for replacing the fire vehicles every 10 years depending on the maintenance service log for individual trucks. “If a truck is 10 years old and we have had minimal or no issues, we will not recommend replacing the vehicle at that time.”
Fund balance targeted
The new fire engine was included on the list of capital improvements totaling $11.6 million over five years which officials were eyeing a year ago at this time.
Capital needs involve expenditures generally exceeding $10,000 which are related to buildings, infrastructure projects and equipment for city government operations, including vehicles.
The fire engine was considered a need for the shorter term in the five-year plan, along with new automated garbage trucks (added in 2021), a dump truck for the city’s public services/streets unit ($160,000), a leaf machine ($120,000), police patrol vehicles ($115,749), a police vehicle used for vice investigations ($26,250) and a truck for Reeves Community Center ($35,000).
A report last month on the municipality’s annual audit by an out-of-town firm showed that the city’s available fund balance stood at roughly $12.6 million as of June 30 — money that may be used for any purpose without restrictions. It grew by nearly $1.7 million from the same date in 2020.
However, Lewis pointed out that this result was not as rosy as might seem, being somewhat artificially created partly due to rolling over major expenditures to the next fiscal year and the freezing of 13 employee vacancies.
Lewis suggested that this delay eventually will create a major funding challenge that might strain the available fund balance.
As of December — only about midway through the 2021-22 fiscal year — around $1.3 million already had been committed from that revenue source.
That included allocations related to the ongoing redevelopment of the former Spencer’s textile complex, downtown projects and a new grapple truck costing $185,000. The Surry Arts Council also was designated to receive $400,000 for a new facility now under construction near the Mount Airy Public Library.
And the commissioners dipped into the fund balance again on Thursday night when taking separate action on other capital needs, involving the acquisition of the dump truck and leaf machine mentioned in the five-year capital plan
They agreed to appropriate a total of $280,000 from that source to pay for those items.
January 22, 2022
A local resident who has played a key role in recent redevelopment efforts for the former Spencer’s textile complex now has the opportunity to serve in additional capacities with the Mount Airy Planning Board.
Bryan Grote was appointed by the city commissioners Thursday night to an unexpired term on the planning group, an advisory board to the commissioners on growth-related matters such as rezoning and annexation requests.
Grote is replacing Jim Cavallo on the nine-member Mount Airy Planning Board. Cavallo has resigned, with Grote approved Thursday night to fill his unexpired term that ends on Oct. 31 of this year. Grote will be eligible for reappointment when that period ends.
He expressed interest in joining the planning group, citing his work as a volunteer adviser to the city government on efforts that have included trying to find new uses for the city-owned Spencer’s industrial site downtown.
As a member of the governing board of the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc., Grote — who is considered a local financial expert — spearheaded an RFP (request for proposal) initiative in 2020. It led to plans for a hotel to be developed in the Sparger Building once used for Spencer’s operations.
“I have enjoyed this work, which gave me a greater understanding of the city’s situation,” Grote stated regarding such economic-development efforts he has been involved with in recent years. “It also has made me aware of the critical role of the local planning process and the regulations that guide economic development.”
Grote, who grew up in Winston-Salem, is a principal and co-founder of Mercator Advisors, LLC, a registered financial advisory firm that provides consulting services for transportation infrastructure projects and capital programs. He works with state and local governments on behalf of Mercator.
“I believe my professional background and recent volunteer work may bring a useful perspective to the table,” Grote added regarding his upcoming service with the Mount Airy Planning Board.
In turn he believes this will “advance my understanding of the planning process that is essential for good government and a healthy community.”
Grote says he is prepared to devote the time and attention needed to be an effective member of the board.
He holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota and an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
January 21, 2022
Both substance-use events and related overdose deaths increased in Surry County during 2021, according to year-end statistics released by local emergency services officials — and the coronavirus pandemic is being blamed.
Fatalities rose from 30 in 2020 to 44 last year, the highest count recorded for Surry since 2017, when a staggering 55 overdose deaths occurred before Narcan became widely used as an overdose antidote.
Total substance-use events also jumped to 529 during 2021 — up from 503 the year before, statistics show. The 2021 annual total was the highest during the five-year period from 2017-21.
The biggest spike in such activity occurred from 2019-21, according to Eric Southern, Surry County’s director of emergency services, a period spanning the advent of COVID-19 and its laundry list of continuing problems.
“County deaths also increased during this time,” Southern mentioned.
He indicated that the signs point to COVID-related restrictions as a causative factor for the upswing.
“The coronavirus pandemic certainly impacted local and national numbers, including overdoses and deaths related to substance use,” Surry County Substance Abuse Recovery Director Mark Willis agreed, citing an array of related issues.
“Statistics in these categories increased, most likely due to increased isolation, which can affect mental health issues, especially with individuals who already have difficulties with mental health,” Willis added.
“Other factors that may have contributed to the increase in these numbers include higher unemployment, lower income, transportation issues and different illegal drugs that were introduced by suppliers.”
Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson, who also closely monitors the local overdose situation, said another another aggravating factor involves restricted access to resources such as counseling and other care during the pandemic.
“So without those resources, they’re more likely to go back using again,” Watson said of those who might have been successfully dealing with their addictions pre-COVID.
Narcan remains a key
Southern also referred to another notable finding in figures from last year, involving the continuing high reliance on Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, a medication that blocks respiratory depression and other effects of opioids, especially in overdoses. It can be administered by laymen, meaning professional medical aid might not be sought when one occurs.
The emergency services director says known cases of Narcan administered by family members/bystanders totaled 72 during 2021, compared to only 17 doses the year before and 14 in 2019.
A total of 261 Narcan doses are being reported for the county during 2021, reflecting gradual rises in each year of a five-year period starting with 131 in 2017. Those include ones administered by Surry EMS paramedics, law enforcement or other public safety personnel in addition to lay persons.
The use of Narcan has been seen as obscuring the actual number of overdoses cases in Surry, because if a relative, for example, successfully revives an overdose victim using that medication, the incident might not be reported and thus stay off the books.
Substance-use events reflected in the official statistics released include those in which local emergency services personnel had an involvement, as compiled by Compliance Officer Eddie Jordan.
“This just shows the data we see,” Southern explained.
Alcohol “leads” way
“The biggest substances that we are seeing are alcohol and heroin,” Southern observed, with “opioids and meth still being used a lot.”
Willis, the county substance abuse recovery director, says the “menu” has included some recent additions.
“The introduction of the new illegal drugs to the already vulnerable population of people suffering with substance-use disorder, during a time of increased isolation, is obviously never good,” he said. “Unfortunately, as soon as we have studied and understood the effects of an illegal drug, a new one always seems to emerge.”
Despite last year’s increases, Southern suggests there is reason for hope, including strides made by a county drug task force program.
Willis said one promising development is the previously reported addition of a transportation network to address lack of mobility. “And our intervention team and peer-support specialists are doing a great job with helping patients get the help they need.”
Police Chief Watson is hoping a return to normalcy from COVID will make a further difference in this regard. “We’re hoping with less restrictions there will be more availability of resources.”
“The vicious cycle of illegal drug use that has affected Surry County, and many other counties, will continue to be a problem until we implement an effective recovery-oriented system of care for substance-use disorder that focuses on all aspects of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery,” said Willis.
January 20, 2022
The Surry County Board of Commissioners met this week in an online only meeting as the road conditions following Winter Storm Izzy made travel to Dobson potentially unsafe for the commissioners and public alike. Chairman Bill Goins brought the meeting to order after a period of lighthearted banter between the commissioners on Zoom.
Regular meeting elements such as open forum, special recognitions and a guest presentation were all postponed due to the transition to an online meeting.
Kristy Preston gave her Director’s Report for the Department of Social Services. She presented the board their annual confidentiality agreement for their signatures. This is an acknowledgement by the board that they understand as board members they may be privy to departmental information that cannot be shared with the public.
Preston also presented quick information items for the board to consider, first being that the General Assembly has authorized an increase in the stipends offered to foster parents. She said she had gone back through records for ten years and could not find the last time the stipend was raised.
“This is really good news for our foster families,” Preston told the board. “Our foster families do a tremendous amount of work for us. It’s a volunteer position and the amount we reimburse them is just a stipend to help cover the cost of care.”
She provided data to illustrate: a foster family with one foster child over age 13 was previously given a stipend of $634/month, which has been raised this year to $698/month. While not an enormous difference, Preston commented, “Having had two 18-year-olds at home recently, I can tell you it costs a lot to take care of kids.”
Preston told the board about staffing challenges her department has seen, but she gave a positive report about their progress, and she is looking forward to new hires completing training. “We have an all-new staff in child welfare, is what it feels like, but the advantage to that is the energy they bring and their desire to learn. They’re very excited about the work.”
Social Services is preparing to complete a 10-month State Treasurer’s Office audit on the county’s Medicaid program. “Medicaid is a very costly program to administer, it costs the state a lot of money as well; because of that, it is one of the most heavily audited and regulated programs that we administer.”
The audit found an accuracy rate of 98% of county Medicaid claims approved. The audit did identify a small variance in negative eligibility, meaning there had been Medicaid benefit claims denied in error. Preston called these audit results “error finding,” and the benefits were then covered from the denial date.
“So far we’ve been exceptionally pleased, and our staff will be excited when this audit is complete,” Preston summarized.
In other Surry County Board of Commissioners notes:
-County Manager Chris Knopf had a list of items that needed the board’s attention one of which was additional funding for the new detention center. A Fire Marshal review determined additional fire hydrants would be needed to provide effective coverage of the new facility. Additionally, there was a request to change maintenance hole covers and upsize a sewer line that the City of Dobson agreed would be in the best interest of lowering future sewer line repair costs. These two items total $53,089 and were approved.
Secondly, Knopf described to the commissioners the need for a revamping of the county’s zoning ordinances. The state passed a law consolidating zoning laws to create uniformity last year, Knopf reported Surry County is not in compliance with the new statute.
He asked the board to approve a Request for Proposal from statewide firms to “go over with a fine-tooth comb” the zoning regulations of the county to modernize. “Some of you have mentioned to me about the lack of teeth in some of our land use controls, this would be an opportune time to look at that as well.”
Commissioner Van Tucker spoke in agreement with the county manager saying he hopes the firm that is brought in can do a “broad sweep” of the zoning laws, some of which Knopf pointed out are over two decades old. The measure passed the board, and the Request for Proposal will be released.
Finally, the Surry Rural Health Center is seeking a state grant to expand its operation off Highway 89, and if the state approves the grant a 5% local match of the grant is needed. This item would have had a public hearing at this meeting, and the public was offered to make comment on this topic. Todd Tucker of Surry Economic and Development Partnership sent a note to the board expressing his full support of the expansion and supported the matching funds.
Public comment was solicited again, and the board will vote on this at the February 7 meeting.
-In Commissioners General Business the board each offered thanks for the diligent work of the county staff that helped with the winter weather cleanup.
Commissioner Larry Johnson thanked those who helped convert the meeting into an all-online affair so he could “sit in my recliner and take it easy” rather than brave bad road conditions. Johnson also offered a hearty welcome to new county Planning Director Marty Needham, who was in attendance for the virtual meeting.
Commissioner Van Tucker offered thanks to Jessica Montgomery of Public Works, and all the county staff for their work in getting the county recycling centers open for business again. “We had some really tough patches between (my home) and Dobson,” Tucker said as he reiterated thanks for the online meeting.
January 20, 2022
Mount Airy officials are inviting local non-profits to seek a portion of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds designated for the city — although no decision has been made on that assistance or any sum involved.
Aiding non-profit organizations is an allowable use of the funding approved earlier this year in Washington in response to COVID-19, with a total of $350 billion in financial aid designated for all 50 states at the statewide and local levels.
“But we don’t have to,” Mayor Ron Niland said Wednesday of diverting some of Mount Airy’s ARPA share — $3.2 million — toward non-profits, a proposal expected to be officially acted on later this year.
In the meantime, applications are being solicited from local groups which Niland said will aid the city commissioners from an informational standpoint if and when they decide to shift ARPA money to their ranks.
The application form has been posted on the city of Mount Airy website — at — according to Interim City Manager Darren Lewis. He mentioned that other access avenues include Facebook and Twitter.
General operating expenditures of an organization will not be considered for funding, officials say.
The test of time
“I think the application form helps define kind of what we’re looking for,” Niland said of a process geared toward well-established organizations with solid foundations and leadership — along with proven track records of community service.
“We’re looking for applicants that are going to last,” the mayor explained.
At the same time, said Commissioner Marie Wood — who successfully lobbied other council members to launch the application process during their last meeting on Jan. 6 — the city seeks to fund projects that are “meaningful” and will endure for generations.
The three-page application form requires representatives of a non-profit entity to provide detailed information, including its mission statement, organizational purpose and income statements for the past three years.
Applicants further are asked to describe the fiscal oversight/internal controls within their agencies “to minimize opportunities for fraud, waste and mismanagement,” the form states.
A specific project eyed for ARPA funds also must be described in detail, including the need for it and who would benefit, along with its proposed budget.
Applicants are asked to list any groups in Mount Airy which are addressing the need, whether a new or existing program is involved and the level of collaboration with others on the project — with an emphasis on avoiding duplication.
The number of individuals or families to be served also is to be included on the form, among other requirements.
One key focus involves having applicants list measurable outcomes for a proposed project or program, including indicators that would show true success.
Applications must be turned in by March 1 and ones that are incomplete will not be accepted, according to the city’s guidelines.
Completed application forms and related documents can be submitted electronically to, by mail to City of Mount Airy, P.O. Box 70, Mount Airy, NC, 27030, or dropped off at City Hall on South Main Street.
Funding decisions
Determinations on whether the municipality actually will use some of its ARPA allocation for non-profits, and how much, are anticipated sometime during the spring — given that some of the money also will be delegated for city government uses.
“It all depends on how much we’ve got after we do our budget,” Commissioner Wood said Wednesday of a process typically concluding in June.
The Treasury Department in Washington released a final rule last week giving state and local recipients of American Rescue Plan Act funding more flexibility in the spending of it, according to information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Capital expenditures, employee pay, water-sewer and broadband projects are among the permitted uses. The final rule also includes a key change for local governments in small communities allowing the option of allocating up to $10 million of the funds toward revenue losses.
This is said to provide flexibility for broad expenditures without burdensome administrative requirements of earlier versions of the funding program.
Downtown improvements, city employee salaries and upgrading the communications capabilities of the council meeting room in the Municipal Building through a major technology upgrade have been listed as possible uses of the federal dollars locally.
Equipment and building-related expenditures such as for trucks and HVAC upgrades are among major capital needs mentioned.
One non-profit organization already has come forward with a request, which occurred in August after the ARPA funding was announced for Mount Airy.
The Sandy Level Community Council is seeking a $200,000 allocation toward a renovation project at the historic Satterfield house on the corner of North Franklin Road and West Virginia Street.
It was the first house deeded to an African-American in Surry County and supporters now want to establish an events center there as part of a project with a total price tag estimated at $307,520.
“We’ll just see where it ends up,” Niland said of the local implications for American Rescue Plan Act funding.
January 19, 2022
An individual with many years of experience in sock manufacturing and retail sales has joined Nester Hosiery in Mount Airy, where he is occupying a key position tied to its growth plans.
Chris Bevin is now the senior vice president of brands and licenses for the local company that is a leading U.S. manufacturer of performance merino wool socks and the parent of Farm to Feet socks.
The addition of Bevin to its executive team is part of ambitious plans by Nester Hosiery, according to a company official.
“We are putting considerable resources behind each of our established business channels as we position ourselves for considerable growth in 2022 and beyond,” CEO Kelly Nester said in a statement.
“Adding Chris to our team is a big step in our strategic growth plan, as he brings a wealth of industry and brand-building expertise.”
Bevin has 30 years of industry experience in manufacturing and retail sides of the business.
He joined Balega in 2005 and helped establish that brand as a leader in the performance sock category, and ultimately was president of the business from 2009 through 2015.
Bevin transitioned to Implus when it acquired Balega in 2015 and went on to oversee independent retail sales for multiple Implus brands.
Nester Hosiery branded and licensed product areas will report to Bevin, including the Ariat, Keen Footwear and Woolrich licensed brands and Nester’s Farm to Feet label.
He is excited about joining the locally based operation.
“The team they have in place, together with its production and operational expertise, has Farm to Feet well positioned to be the premier wool sock brand and Nester Hosiery the go-to licensing partner for premium, performance brands,” Bevin said in a statement.
Nester Hosiery is considered a key manufacturer in the outdoor industry, operating state-of-the-art knitting, finishing and packaging equipment to make premium performance socks for leading outdoor brands and retailers as well as under its own Farm to Feet brand.
Customers tend to value the company’s superior manufacturing capabilities in producing innovative socks as well as its commitment to social and environmental responsibility, according to insiders.
The Farm to Feet brand of wool socks was launched in 2013, featuring an all-American recipe of U.S. materials reflecting an exclusively domestic supply chain, manufacturing operation and workers.
January 19, 2022
Across the state, local school board and individual schools have been scrambling to meet the needs of students in unexpected ways. Gov. Roy Cooper joined in when he announced last week a new plan that would encourage state employees to assist in public schools decimated by staffing shortages.
With the ongoing surge of omicron, K-12 school districts across the state are experiencing staff shortages due to the increase of staff having to isolate or quarantine. Cooper’s plan will allow state employees to use volunteer days to work in North Carolina public schools as substitute teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria staff.
“Our district has faced this problem since the beginning of the school year and the return from winter break in the midst of the Omicron surge has amplified staffing challenges,” Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools Superintendent said. “So, the district welcomes any policy that can help fill these crucial positions during this time of acute need.”
School districts have experienced a far greater need for substitutes, bus drivers, cafeteria, facilities, and support personnel who can fill in for employees. Absenteeism is up for employees who are out with the virus, and with omicron’s widespread reach there has been an increased emphasis on quarantine and isolation to prevent further infections.
Breakthrough contaminations, reinfections of COVID for those who have had their vaccinations or have had and recovered from the virus, are on the rise across the country. The prevailing wisdom remains that having a vaccination and booster does offer greater protection than having none. Some though who had an early bout with the virus have now gotten sick with either delta or omicron, as the variants are constantly looking for ways to mutate and vector in new directions.
Therefore, isolating those who are confirmed to have COVID, and quarantining those who may have had exposure, remain critical components in staving off the pandemic. With masking and testing requirements in place for school system employees, it may be safer for kids to be in a controlled and supervised environment than at home.
Schools are more than a place for kids to learn. They are also safe places to be while their parents are working, and they support kids’ physical, mental, social, and emotional health. Parents and educators alike are desperate to minimize any additional missed classroom time for students at every level, and the governor is in agreement.
“It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” said Gov. Cooper. “This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools.”
The State Human Resource Commission’s Community Service Leave Policy currently states that full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year. With approval from their supervisor, employees are encouraged to take part in efforts that would help in their community.
To drive participation in this limited time change to state policy, this new initiative is running through February 15, the Cooper administration is now allowing for the training time to be included as part of the paid volunteer off hours.
Furthermore, state employees had previously been restricted from using volunteer hours and then accepting the stipend. Now, under the updated policy, state employees are also eligible to use community service leave for volunteer activities, regardless of whether they are paid for their service
“Requiring people to decline their stipend would discourage state employees from meeting the current, urgent need for substitute teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff in the schools,” the state human resources memo reads. “Moreover, many substitute teachers must pay out-of-pocket for mandatory training sessions, and the stipend pay for substitute teachers will work to compensate for this training expense.”
The benevolence of state employees is being called on during a most challenging staffing time. Creating an easier pathway to get additional assistance into schools is a welcome development for educators.
“Surry County Schools appreciates officials at the state level for recognizing the challenges facing public schools while we work to keep our students learning in a face-to-face environment with our educators,” Dr. Reeves said.
The goal for Gov. Cooper is to limit the further impact to students’ learning after a prolonged period of challenges and changes to and from remote learning. Parents across the state also had to quickly change gears as the virus created a need for an army of homeschool experts, seemingly overnight.
“State employees always step up to help our state in challenging times and this policy gives our talented employees yet another way to serve their communities,” said State Human Resources Director Barbara Gibson.
Dr. Reeves made specific note that Surry County Schools have a need for substitute teachers, child nutrition staff, and custodians.
If you are a state employee and would like to know more about how you can get involved volunteering in Surry County Schools, through community service leave, please contact Mr. Kevin Via, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at (336) 386-8211 or
January 18, 2022
A public hearing is scheduled this week on proposed changes to Mount Airy’s zoning regulations regarding rooming houses, which was triggered by neighborhood concerns about such an establishment operating on West Church Street.
Residents of that area located a few block blocks from the downtown first approached the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners last fall to voice displeasure about transients living in a house at 204 W. Church St. for which no permit had been issued.
This has led to proposed rules changes that will be the subject of the hearing during a meeting of the commissioners which begins Thursday at 6 p.m.
The residents complained during a public forum about problems allegedly occurring among the short-term occupants renting rooms by the month from places all over the U.S. — based on license tags of vehicles there. Neighbors said they constantly were “coming and going,” and generating much activity by police, prompting safety concerns.
That area is zoned R-6 (General Residential) and primarily composed of single-family dwellings. And while apartments are located there, those registering concerns indicated that they were specifically opposed to a boarding house for transients.
Further concerns surfaced at another meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on Dec. 16, when Sue Stanish of West Church Street said during a public forum that a new issue had arisen regarding the house in question.
City Planning Director Andy Goodall had said earlier that the owner of the house abandoned plans to use it as a rooming house — including not seeking a required permit — because of strict building codes governing such establishments.
However, Stanish said she had seen the West Church Street location posted on Craigslist — a classified advertising website for housing, jobs and buying/selling items — offering rooms there for $125.
The resident said she is troubled by the prospects of transient housing.
“I am concerned that it will affect our neighborhood due to the traffic it would invite,” Stanish said.
She also wondered how many rooming houses now exist in Mount Airy, who owns them, if they are required to have business licenses and if there is a process for collecting occupancy taxes among them as required for other lodging establishments.
Proposed changes
On the heels of neighborhood unrest, city planning personnel have crafted proposed amendments to local regulations to better define and manage rooming houses in town, which citizens can weigh in on during Thursday night’s public hearing.
The commissioners will vote on those suggested changes later in the meeting after the hearing, which is required before the city zoning ordinance can be altered.
One key difference between what’s proposed and existing regulations involves removing the term boarding/rooming house in the rules as now written and replacing it with rooming house alone — separated into transient and non-transient facilities.
This would address the West Church Street residents’ concerns about transient ones.
Transient facilities would be allowed only in R-4 (Office-Residential) zones with a special-use permit, based on city government documents, with greater leeway proposed for the non-transient variety.
Wording that has allowed boarding/rooming houses in the R-20 (Single-Family Residential), R-6 (General Residential) and R-4 (Office-Residential) zoning districts was stricken for purposes of the amendment package.
A transient rooming house is defined as any single dwelling unit containing no more than five guest rooms and limited to that number of people where rent is paid, with transient specified as less than 30 days.
Such a facility would have to meet city minimum housing and state building codes before a certificate to operate was issued.
The proposed amendments also call for a house to be overseen by a resident manager.
One parking space would be required for each guest room and one for the manager, located at the side or rear of the structure.
Other hearings
Two other public hearings are slated for Thursday night’s meeting, both pertaining to the requested closings of two unopened streets.
Local businessman Tom Webb has asked that an unopened street off North Andy Griffith Parkway — which basically only exists on paper and is only about 800 long — be closed.
In the other matter, Joseph Phillips is seeking to have an unopened street off East Haymore Street closed, which is less than 300 feet long and is adjacent to property he owns there. Though known as “Haynes Street,” it never has actually been constructed, opened for use or actually used, according to city government documents.
Neither of the two streets has been accepted for maintenance by the city or N.C. Department of Transportation.
Generally, street-closing requests are initiated to allow neighboring property owners right of way or other access to sites which would not be possible if the street status is in place.
All neighboring property owners near the two sites eyed for closing have been notified about the requests and the public hearings by certified mail.
The hearing allows interested parties to make comments if they think a closing would be detrimental to the public or the property rights of any individual.
Council members also are expected to vote on the closings Thursday night.
January 18, 2022
While some areas of Surry County may have seen as much as 6 inches of snow on Sunday, the storm was not nearly as bad as predicted.
But more snow may be on the way.
Forecasts for later in the week vary — the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia, said the area may receive little more than an inch or so of snow Thursday and Friday, but other weather forecasting services show as much as 3 more inches of the stuff.
The snow and sleet on Sunday blanketed the area, giving area school children a day or two off from classes this week, and changing operation hours for many businesses and agencies. The storm also caused a number of power outages — Monday even more people lost power because of high winds, with hundreds of customers across Surry County without electricity. As of Tuesday morning, both Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Cooperation and Duke Energy reported no power outages in Surry County, although Duke was still trying to restore electric service to several thousand scattered across the state.
Despite fears the storm would result in significant traffic issues, there were no major wrecks or problems on the highways.
“To say we were blessed would be an understatement,” said First Sgt. J. M. Church of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. “The amount of traffic on Sunday was very, very minimal.”
He said there were a few incidents of cars sliding into a ditch, but there were no serious wrecks. The worst incident occurred between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Monday, when a tractor trailer traveling on Interstate 77 ran off the road near the interchange with I-74. Church said I-77 was blocked for about three hours for the clean-up there, with traffic being rerouted onto I-74.
Church said activity was light on Monday as well.
“Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” he said Tuesday morning. “A lot of businesses were already closed. That helped a lot.”
On Tuesday, he said interstates 77 and 74, along with U.S. Highway 52, were all clear in Surry County, and major roads such as NC 601 and NC 89 were mostly clear, but secondary roads were still dangerous.
“A lot of the back roads have still not been plowed, and the temperatures are not getting hot enough to melt.”
Because of those treacherous road conditions, both Mount Airy and Surry County schools as well as Millennium Charter Academy were closed Tuesday — the schools had already been scheduled to be closed Monday in observance of MLK Day.
Mount Airy is planning to close Wednesday as well, although neither Millennium nor Surry County had announced a decision by 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
With temperatures predicted to be in the mid to upper 40s on Wednesday, much of the remaining snow and ice on roadways might melt, just in time for the next dose of winter weather.
Nick Fillo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia, said a cold front will be sweeping through the area Thursday.
“We’ll start out as rain showers as the front moves through,” he said. “By afternoon, we are expecting temperatures to cool down enough where we might see the rain change over to a light snow. We are not expecting very much in the way of accumulation.”
He did say that might change Thursday night.
“It looks like another disturbance develops along the coast, which may keep the precipitation over our area longer.” That, he explained, could mean an extended period of snow from the cold front.
“It does not look like it should be a substantial amount, but we’re still getting a feel for how this will play out.”
Several other weather services, however, are already projecting it to play out with several inches of snow. is predicting an inch of snow on Friday, then another 1 to 3 inches that night. is predicting little on Thursday, but says snow is likely on Friday, with “the potential for a major winter storm.” is forecasting little to no accumulation on Thursday, but more than 2 inches on Friday.
January 18, 2022
Winter Storm Izzy is still making herself felt in Surry County as the threat of another round of winter weather this coming weekend is still developing.
Surry County Schools released the following statement:
“Due to continued hazardous road conditions across Surry County, Surry County Schools will transition to a remote learning day for students tomorrow, Wednesday, January 19, 2022.”
Mount Airy City Schools released the following statement:
”Due to road conditions, tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 19 we will be closed for students. It will be an optional teacher workday. Staff members will receive an email from their administrator. Stay safe and warm everyone!”
Elkin City Schools released the following statement:
“Wednesday, January 19th will be a remote instruction day for all students.
EHS classes will meet remotely on a regular schedule.
EMS classes will meet following your school’s remote learning schedule. Check the EMS Website.
EES classes will meet according to remote learning plans posted on Class Dojo or sent to parents via email.
GLA classes will meet on a regular schedule.”
Surry County announced that the landfill will operate at normally scheduled hours on Wednesday, January 19. All county convenience centers also will be operating on a normal schedule with the exception of Ararat and Eldora, which will delay their opening until 11 a.m.
The county announced Wednesday morning an additional change, the Shoals Convenience Center will open at 11 a.m. to allow for additional ice melting.
January 18, 2022
A pair of issues went before the Surry County Board of Commissioners Tuesday evening in their virtual meeting that require timely input from the public. Due to road conditions that are varying significantly across the county, the meeting was moved to the safety of everyone’s homes away from any black ice.
As the meeting was virtual, the county made notice on their website that the public was welcome to submit any comments for the commissioners on two topics.
The first item has to do with new cell phone tower construction, and the regulations that dictate where they can be placed. The board heard from Marty Needham, the new county planning director, who advised the planning board has accepted a new proposal that was drafted by County Manager Chris Knopf.
Technology has changed, and the regulations need to be updated with the times. Cell towers are now shorter in height and can be placed in a more nimble fashion to best serve the public.
Needham said this policy change will allow “more flexibility in getting (cell phone) towers up, but they will all be reviewed in a per case basis,” Needham said, “so that we can keep our viewsheds open and not see something unsightly from our state parks.”
Viewsheds, as Commissioner Van Tucker helped explain, does not mean the view from your kitchen to Pilot Mountain, rather your view from inside the state park out. Cumberland Knob and the Raven Knob Scout Reservation are also cited as the specific locations this rule change applies to.
Cellular demand has outpaced cellular capacity supply especially in rural areas, but there are solutions available to this problem. “A provider wants to put two cell towers near Pilot Mountain State Park, current language is prohibiting this,” Knopf explained. “The planning board was wise to accept this change.”
Secondly, the Surry Rural Health Center is seeking another grant from the state to grow their operation of off Highway 89. The Rural Health Center is held in high regard among the county commissioners, and they were unanimous in their praise for the efforts of owner Dr. Challie Minton.
The health center is applying for a North Carolina Department of Commerce Rural Health Care Grant in order to make a direct investment of $387,000 into the county via expansion. The county would have to appropriate a 5% local match if the grant is awarded by the state. Commissioner Larry Johnson confirmed the match total would be $5,000.
Todd Tucker of the Surry Count Economic Development Partnership sent comment to the commissioners, “The customer base has grown and the need to expand is evident. I believe that this investment by the county will provide dividends for the county residents.”
Commissioner Mark Marion mentioned to the board in past meetings how the health center keeps growing, seeing more patients and hiring more staff. “Dr. Minton has lived up to his end of the bargain, and he’s brought in some good people from around the state to work there.”
The rural health center applied for and received a grant like this before, and previously the commissioners opted against the matching funds. Commissioner Johnson at the last meeting suggested a change in that Surry County would accept the cost of the matching funds if the grant is awarded.
Commissioner Eddie Harris said he was in full support of the health center and went on to mention the benefit the center provides to the people of southern Virginia. He made objection to the county matching funds only, not the grant application or expansion plans.
The board will review the public comments and vote on both the cell tower language change and the rural health care expansion grant matching funds at their next meeting in February.
Comments may be sent to: or
A complete video of the commissioners meeting from January 18 can be found:
January 17, 2022
Sunday’s snow and ice may have made life difficult for area EMS crews and those needing to get out for work Monday and Tuesday, but plenty of people — especially local youth — enjoyed the snow.
Surry County and Mount Airy schools were both closed on Tuesday, and officials also announced all non-emergency government offices are closed on Tuesday, as well as the county’s convenience centers will be closed.
Here are a few pictures shared from our readers. If you’d like to share your pictures, send those to
January 17, 2022
With a mix of rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain and back again: Izzy was truly a mixed bag that delivered a little something different across the region. The storm that came through produced enough snow and ice to make Monday morning a tough drive, and with cold temperatures there is still an ice threat lingering.
“Road conditions are very hazardous everywhere due to ice, but the secondary roads remain the worst due to snow and ice,” Eric Southern of Surry County Emergency Management reported. “North Carolina Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and National Guard assets have been working hard to keep the roadways open”
“Thankfully no serious injuries, all vehicle crashes have been property damage only,” Southern said. “County fire departments have been responding to trees down due to ice and wind since yesterday.”
The Surry County Emergency Management team executed its plan and continues to monitor the situation, “Our Emergency Operations Center has been open since Sunday morning early and will remain in operation through Tuesday it looks like.”
When the needs arose, the county team stepped up and did even more for the people of Surry County. “Our off-duty personnel are transporting patients to the Mount Airy Dialysis Center due to YVEDDI being closed today,” Southern said.
The Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc. operates the minibuses seen moving around the area that get people to service they need, so when they do not run there are not options. Not receiving dialysis treatment could be a dangerous thing because without it, toxins can build up in the blood.
The cleanup phase has begun, and at last report, Duke Energy showed there were fewer than 1,300 customers in Surry County still without power at this moment. Power outage numbers are spiking this morning as there were only 134 customers reported at 10 a.m., but 1,261 by 11:30 a.m.
There had been some level of concern after Duke Energy had signaled, they were anticipating a possible total power outage in the range of three quarters of a million customers.
Duke Energy is currently showing a statewide power loss total at this time of 24, 390 customers in North Carolina, and 15,492 customers in South Carolina.
Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Cooperation reported a single power outage in Surry County as of 10 today, and 75 customers without power in Stokes County.
Mount Airy and Surry County schools were off today because of the MLK holiday, no official word yet as to whether they will be open tomorrow.
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., issued a Wind Advisory for the area that remains in effect until 10 p.m. Monday. Winds from the west are forecast between 20 to 25 miles per hour, with gusts expected to reach up to 55 mph.
Wind chill temperatures during this time will approach zero, so while there may be no further precipitation today that does not mean an all clear has been sounded.
Accumulated snow may retake flight with winds reaching above 25 miles per hours, any tree limbs weakened by the weather yesterday could still pose a risk of falling on individuals, vehicles, or power lines. “Due to the temperatures and wind today, roads are going to remain hazardous into tomorrow,” Southern said.
The Weather Service advises drivers to use “extreme caution” on the roads today. Gusty winds could create white out conditions on area roadways today.
Eric Southern also recommends stay off the roads and remain at home today. Monitor for road conditions.
Use caution when walking outside due to ice covered surfaces.
Report power outages to Duke Energy Carolinas: 1-800-POWERON (1-800-769-3766)
Report power outages to Surry-Yadkin Electric at 1-800-682-5903
January 16, 2022
The lingering effects of Winter Storm Izzy have led to the closure of schools tomorrow in Surry County. The school system released the following statement:
“Due to continued hazardous road conditions on many neighborhood and secondary roads in Surry County, Surry County Schools will be closed for students and staff tomorrow, Tuesday, January 18, 2022.”
January 16, 2022
An increased emphasis has been made of late on the principles of isolation and quarantine, to diminish the opportunities for COVID-19 to continue its latest charge. To know who needs to be isolated, testing is again the watchword on the lips of medical professionals and a Biden administration desperate to turn the corner on the omicron variant.
Fatigue from the prolonged slugfest with the virus has left many frustrated and scratching their heads while at the same time scrambling anew to find a testing site. Appointment times at chain pharmacies were hard to come by locally last week, and the traffic at testing sites provided by Surry County was brisk.
Locally, the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center is still holding nearly daily testing operations at various locations throughout the county (See accompanying graphic for dates, times, and locations).
“Even with everyone’s weariness in dealing with this pandemic for almost two years, we must get boosted and vaccinated to keep us from getting severely ill if we get infected,” said Gov. Roy Cooper as he toured a testing site last week in Kinston.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is working to improve the availability of COVID testing and, “is pulling all available levers to support existing testing sites, to open more sites across the state and to increase access to at-home collection kits.”
New contracts were announced last week with two additional testing vendors to improve options and increase the footprint of testing to cover hundreds of no-cost testing sites across the state. The announcement said, “More than a million professional rapid antigen tests, at-home rapid antigen tests and at-home collection kits are beginning to arrive in the state.”
“Before case numbers began breaking records, we already were working with our vendors to secure more testing kits and testing supplies,” said Departent of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley Thursday.
North Carolina’s statewide testing volume reached more than 564,000 tests last week. With such high testing numbers, the state has ordered an additional 700,000 professional and at-home rapid test kits, bringing the total on their way to the state to more than 1 million. The state heath department has also delivered more than 250,000 swabs, antigen kits and other testing supplies to their testing partners statewide.
Omicron has managed to run through a large number of people who had so far eluded the virus, and recently the number of breakthrough infections has been on the rise as well. Testing is key at this time to identify those who have been infected and stop the spread by isolation.
For clarification isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID.
CDC guidelines currently hold that for those who test positive but do not have symptoms, an isolation period of at least five days is needed. People who are asymptomatic, who do not have the obvious symptoms like fever, aches, or cough, may feel like they are well when they are not.
Those with symptoms should stay isolated until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. As with previous variants, people became contagious two to four days after infection, and people remained contagious a couple of days after symptoms subside.
Dr. Amy Karger of the University of Minnesota Medical School recommends that people test themselves at three days and five days after exposure. “A lot of people are turning positive by day three,” she said in referring to omicron. “There’s basically an opportunity here to catch people earlier than you would with the other variants. If you only have one test, it’s fine to wait until day five.”
Data from the United Kingdom has shown their daily case rate falling dramatically in a short period of time, and experts in the US feel expect a similar trend. Ali Mokdad, a health metrics professor at University Washington Seattle, said based on their models the true number of new daily infections in the U.S. — an estimate that includes people who were never tested — has already peaked, hitting 6 million on Jan. 6. “It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” he said of the infection rate.
As the calendar edges closer to the start of the third year of COVID, Secretary Kinsley echoed a similar refrain, “Getting vaccinated, getting a booster as soon as you are eligible, and wearing a mask are the three best things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones during this surge of COVID-19 cases.”
January 16, 2022
In an era of national attention on fatal shootings by police, one local law enforcement agency is relying on non-lethal alternatives as much as possible.
This includes an effort by the Mount Airy Police Department to expand its specialty impact munitions equipment using grant funds received last Tuesday from a local Rotary Club.
The money will be used to buy two additional Less Lethal weapons — in layman’s terms, shotguns that fire small beanbag-type projectiles at a velocity sufficient to subdue someone who is posing a danger to themselves or others.
These devices resemble a regular pump shotgun and also use 12-gauge “stun shells” that look like the real thing, but contain less of a powder charge.
And instead of lead pellets, the guns fire the bagged projectiles at the target — theoretically toward an individual’s extremities to cause a minor short-term trauma or muscle spasm aimed at stopping a threat in its tracks.
“We have several in our vehicles right now,” Police Chief Dale Watson said Friday of the Less Lethal-labeled shotguns.
He explained that the department had been made aware of possible Rotary grant assistance — which will be used to buy the two new ones — through its support group, Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department.
“We applied for the funds,” the chief said of the $1,000 subsequently awarded by the Rotary Club during a Tuesday meeting at Cross Creek Country Club, where he displayed one of the specialty shotguns.
Changing times
In the Old West, peace officers tended to rely on their trusty six-shooters, but in today’s law enforcement environment there is an emphasis on other weaponry that doesn’t result in someone being buried on Boot Hill.
The Mount Airy Police Department in recent years has used pepper spray and tasers, with that force progression most recently incorporating the Less Lethal shotguns.
Officers have an array of weaponry, including traditional handguns, to fit whatever situation might be faced in a crime setting — which are deployed under a strict set of guidelines.
The non-lethal methods aren’t used in response to simple non-compliance, Chief Watson explained, only instances in which someone’s behavior has become aggressive or assertive to the point he or she needs to be subdued to protect themselves or others.
“But a threshold for lethal force has not been met,” he said in pointing out how the Less Lethal shotguns fill a niche in this regard.
“It gives you an option — it gives you a go-between,” Watson said of the device officers consider a reliable alternative. “You’ve trained in that option — we know its a go-to.”
The police chief mentioned one particular incident in which a Less Lethal shotgun paid dividends, involving a suicidal individual who was barricaded inside a home. That person was subdued without injury after being struck in a leg by the projectile, a 40-gram “ballistic bag.”
Aiming toward one’s extremities is a key, since firing at a person’s body core might injure organs.
“Under certain circumstances, it could result in death,” Watson said of being hit by a blast from a specialty shotgun.
During a demonstration Friday afternoon behind the police station, two projectiles fired at a plastic container produced noticeable dents — yet much less damage than the standard-issue 9mm or 357 magnum handguns would leave.
Another advantage with the new shotguns is better precision, aided by dead-on sights, and at a greater distance than the taser option, for example.
A taser might be good 25 feet away from an aggressive individual, while a Less Lethal shotgun has a maximum accuracy range of 70 feet.
And there is a better chance of success with it as opposed to using something such as pepper spray, according to city police Capt. Junior Palmer.
“Pepper spray just won’t work on some people,” Palmer said.
Chief Watson also pointed out that shots from a taser are limited, whereas the non-lethal shotguns hold up to seven shells.
“And with this you could deal with multiple assailants.”
No choice sometimes
Sadly, there are occasions when alternative uses of force simply do not apply.
One such incident occurred at a home on Allred Mill Road in July 2020, when two Mount Airy police officers were dispatched there to assist the Surry County Emergency Medical Service concerning a reported chemical overdose.
It involved a 23-year-old man living at that location who initiated an altercation with police and was fatally shot.
“He was coming at the officers with a knife,” the chief recalled.
The two policemen basically had no choice in the matter, including employing a less-lethal option such as the new shotgun technology.
“That was a lethal-force encounter — an option like this could not have been used,” Watson emphasized.
“If you have a lethal-force encounter, the appropriate response is lethal force.”
An inquiry into the shooting by the State Bureau of Investigation showed the two city officers acted reasonably under the circumstances, a finding confirmed by the Surry County District Attorney’s Office.
January 16, 2022
Area officials spent several days getting ready for this weekend’s snowstorm, and now their advice for area residents is simple: hunker down and wait for the roads to clear.
“I hope people will just stay home, stay off the roads,” said First Sgt. Joshua M. Church, of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
Church said the highway patrol had been busy Friday and Saturday, clearing broken down or abandoned vehicles from the interstates and contacting other area agencies — police departments, emergency medical service offices, and others — to prepare for the storm.
“We’ve stacked coverage as much as we can,” he said Friday. “I’ve told my guys to pack an extra lunch and be ready for long shifts.”
On Friday, Surry County officials issued a state of emergency for the county while area utilities were getting ready for the expected snow and ice.
“The county on Friday signed a State of Emergency Declaration that would help the local government acquire any needed resources or funding needed to respond to the storm,” according to a written statement issued by Nathan Walls, assistant to the county manager and clerk to the board of commissioners. While the declaration can help in funding the county’s response, it appeared to be primarily aimed at allowing the board to hold its scheduled Tuesday meeting online, rather than in person.
“An in-person meeting may still be held, but a final determination will be made on Monday,” Walls said in the statement. County and state law allows the county to hold a virtual meeting during a state of emergency, if transportation safety is a concern.
“Depending upon the forecast model, Surry County could receive anywhere from 1 to 12 inches of snow with a possible mixture of ice and rain,” he said. Walls added the county may likewise cancel the open forum portion of the meeting. The county is required to hold one per month, which it did on Jan. 3.
The county’s action came as weather forecasters were predicting freezing rain, sleet, and several inches of snow for the region, along with high winds and sub-freezing temperatures — making roads treacherous, and raising the prospect of widespread power outages.
A Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the area through Monday morning, with up to 9 inches possible, according to the National Weather Service’s forecast last Saturday.
Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Cooperative has been working to prepare as well.
“All SYEMC crews as well as additional line crews coming in from out of town will be on standby beginning Saturday evening and will be ready to be dispatched to restore power if outages occur,” the company said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
The company said in the event of multiple outages, crews are dispatched to the ones affecting the most people first. “After transmission and distribution lines are fixed, the co-op’s crews then fix problems in smaller neighborhoods or problems at individual homes.”
The company asked its members to get ready for the storm.
“Members should have an emergency kit assembled and be prepared to be without power for several days. Now is the time to prepare,” the firm said Friday.
Red Cross recommended emergency kit essentials include:
• Styrofoam coolers to preserve food
• Ice to keep food cold
• Water – one gallon per person, per day
• Food – non-perishable, easy-to prepare
• Flashlights
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
• Multi-purpose tool
• Sanitation and personal hygiene items
• Cell phone with charger
• Family and emergency contacts
Additionally, Surry-Yadkin EMC stresses a need for safety during storms asked people to stay away from downed wires or damaged electric equipment, and to never run a generator inside a home or garage because of the danger of deadly carbon monoxide emissions.
Resource for members:
• To report an outage, please call 800-682-5903, 336-356-8241, or use your SmartHub app. During major outages, you may have to call several times due to high call volume.
• Outage information also will be frequently updated on SYEMC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
January 15, 2022
The last shots of the Civil War were fired nearly 160 years ago — but a modern-day battle continues over the fate of a statue honoring one of its key figures.
Members of the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust based in Ararat, Virginia, tried for months to convince city officials in Richmond to let them take charge of a large bronze likeness of Maj. Gen. Stuart which was removed in July 2020.
It had long occupied a spot along Monument Avenue in Virginia’s capital until being ousted along with other statues of Confederate military leaders amid a nationwide wave of protests.
Not only did Richmond leaders fail to act on requests by various historic-preservation groups seeking to give the city-owned statues new homes — in Stuart’s case, his Laurel Hill birthplace in Ararat — they’ve passed the decision gauntlet to another entity.
A plan recently was forged by city and state officials to transfer ownership of about 10 statues to the Richmond-based Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and a partner institution, The Valentine museum of Richmond history.
Officials of the local trust group agree that this move certainly has thrown an unexpected twist into their efforts to relocate the statue to Patrick County.
After dealing with Richmond officials, the organization is having to regroup in its approach to the Black History Museum.
“Basically on our end, we’re still at the mercy of what they decide to do,” said Ronnie Haynes, the birthplace group’s president.
“The way the law is written, they have the final say,” Haynes added regarding museum officials’ disposition of the formerly public property.
Tom Bishop of the trust’s board of directors says one problem is not knowing exactly where the museum is coming from in terms of its thoughts about the Stuart statue and how this might affect its ultimate fate.
“I can’t figure that out,” Bishop said.
Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney is quoted in one media report as saying that “entrusting the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do. “
This is said to include “properly” engaging the public to ensure appropriate future uses of the statues that were removed.
Museum officials will seek citizen input, possibly including sending out surveys and making contacts during festivals and events, according to media reports.
Both museums in Richmond reportedly are approaching the situation through “completely open minds” with no geographic or strategic limitations involved, in order to make informed decisions.
Haynes hopes museum officials also revisit the 23 applications that were submitted to the city of Richmond from those seeking to take charge of the statues, including the trust organization. Most of the proposals seek donations of statues.
In the meantime, the plan calls for the city and the state to keep the items in storage while the museums interact with the public and other institutional partners in considering the next steps.
Local effort to continue
With that outcome cloaked in uncertainty, one thing that is clear is the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust is not about to give up on its dream of moving the statue to what is considered an appropriate place.
“We’ve still got the door open,” Haynes said. “We’re just hoping for the best.”
The trust president said it plans to send another letter to Richmond officials on top of previous correspondence. “We just hope that will have an impact.”
Haynes says some breakthrough also might occur through a change in Virginia’s governmental makeup occurring this month involving Republican Glenn Youngkin taking office along with a GOP-controlled Legislature — a shift from Democratic rule.
“There is a possibility the new governor and General Assembly will put some pressure on,” Haynes said of a decision on what to do with the statues, although he doesn’t expect action anytime soon.
Some concern emerged in discussions leading up to the recent transfer decision about avoiding a situation in which the statues become the basis for Confederate theme parks.
But Bishop says the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust would use the Stuart statue in a thoughtful, dignified way that stresses education about a key period in America, which occurs during its annual Civil War encampment and reenactment at Laurel Hill.
“There is a proper historical perspective.”
The Ararat group has agreed to foot the bill for transporting the statue to Laurel Hill and setup costs including surveillance equipment, which has included soliciting contributions from the public.
“We’re still getting inquiries about it — people want to make donations,” Haynes said.
While that has been put on hold for the time being, he believes adequate financial support will come from the public if the local group is awarded the statue.
January 14, 2022
The Mount Airy Men’s Shelter has announced an impromptu shelter for the homeless of Mount Airy to offer some of those in need a roof over their head during Winter Storm Izzy. “Snow Camp” will be opening this evening at 6 p.m. to offer shelter and food through the upcoming winter weather event.
The shelter will be located at 443 West Pine Street, Mount Airy and those in need can begin arriving tonight at 6 p.m. “It is a Men’s Shelter project, but its open to any homeless that need it.” Those in need can simply arrive to the home Simmons said.
“We are calling the shelter ‘Snow Camp’ and it will continue through Wednesday, if temperatures are below 30°. We have the house locked in,” Ann Simmons said – with that hurdle overcome, they need to get the word out quickly.
Simmons of the Men’s Shelter said their board member Theresa Gray has generously donated the use an empty home for the homeless to use. This is an on-the-fly shelter that this group is putting together to serve a very real need, and the wheels of this plan have been turning quickly.
Just this morning they opted to open their shelter tonight as opposed to tomorrow as Izzy is eyeing an earlier start.
Izzy is projected to be a snow event beginning Sunday morning, and the chance of ice being part of the day’s mix of precipitation seems more likely based on the 4 a.m. projections from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va.
“We are gearing up to provide cots and meals,” Simmons said. Her group came into possession of a number of cots from a previous iteration of ‘A Room at the Inn’ held in Mount Airy. When that group was no longer able to host the homeless shelter due to the pandemic, they donated the unused cots to the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter.
For this popup shelter she added, “Any support by the community would be welcome.” When talking through the organization of the plan, Simmons noted that Mount Airy Men’s Shelter has taken in donations as they wait for their permanent location for a homeless men’s shelter. That means, much of what is needed is on hand, “We will have the cots and bedding. Extra blankets and pillows would be great.”
Foodstuffs are welcome as the group is unsure what the turnout may be, or for how long it may be needed. They have asked for a mixture of nonperishable items but also need the items for an overnight stay that may last more than one night. “We will accept food, continental breakfast muffins, granola bars fruits donuts. Beverages like ground coffee, bottled water, cocoa mix, tea bags, sugar, and creamer. Casseroles, precooked canned foods, bread, peanut butter, jelly, lunch meat, desserts, mayo, mustard.”
The shelter needs some people power as well. They need people to spend a few hours in the day or evening, helpers to disinfect things continually, and help with the meals. Reach the Men’s Shelter of Mount Airy at 336-708-5777, or if you have questions, or want to offer support.
January 14, 2022
Preparations for Winter Storm Izzy have heightened as the storm moves closer to the area.
On Friday, Surry County officials issued a state of emergency for the county, while North Carolina Highway Patrol officials were shuffling schedules to have extra troopers on duty, and area utilities were getting ready for the expected snow and ice.
“The county on Friday signed a State of Emergency Declaration that would help the local government acquire any needed resources or funding needed to respond to the storm,” according to a written statement issued by Nathan Walls, assistant to the county manager and clerk to the board of commissioners. While the declaration can help in funding the county’s response, it appeared to be primarily aimed at allowing the board to hold its scheduled Tuesday meeting online, rather than in person.
“An in-person meeting may still be held, but a final determination will be made on Monday,” Walls said in the statement. County and state law allows the county to hold a virtual meeting during a state of emergency, if transportation safety is a concern.
“Depending upon the forecast model, Surry County could receive anywhere from 1 to 12 inches of snow with a possible mixture of ice and rain,” he said. Walls added the county may likewise cancel the open forum portion of the meeting. The county is required to hold one per month, which it did on Jan. 3.
The county’s action came as weather forecasters were growing increasingly comfortable with making some early predictions.
Friday morning, the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia, issued updated guidance for Winter Storm Izzy. Izzy is expected to bring a mix of rain, snow, sleet and possibly ice starting late Saturday into early Sunday.
A Winter Storm Watch is in effect for the area through Monday morning. Their bulletin states, “Moderate to potentially heavy snow should fall along and west of the Blue Ridge, while the snow should mix with sleet and freezing rain during Sunday afternoon and evening. Significant impacts to travel are likely. Start preparing for winter weather.”
The Weather Service is now calling for 5 to 12 inches of snow and a possible ice accumulation of up to two tenths of an inch. They warn travel could be “very difficult to impossible.”
First Sgt. Joshua M. Church, of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, said his department has been in contact with most area agencies — police departments, emergency medical service offices, and others — to prepare for the storm.
“We’ve stacked coverage as much as we can,” he said Friday. “I’ve told my guys to pack an extra lunch and be ready for long shifts.”
He also encouraged area residents to “stay home, off the roads,” during the storm.
Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Cooperative has been working to prepare as well.
“All SYEMC crews as well as additional line crews coming in from out of town will be on standby beginning Saturday evening and will be ready to be dispatched to restore power if outages occur,” the company said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
The company said in the event of multiple outages, crews are dispatched to the ones affecting the most people first. “After transmission and distribution lines are fixed, the co-op’s crews then fix problems in smaller neighborhoods or problems at individual homes.”
The company asked its members to get ready for the storm.
“Members should have an emergency kit assembled and be prepared to be without power for several days. Now is the time to prepare,” the firm said Friday.
Red Cross recommended emergency kit essentials include:
• Styrofoam coolers to preserve food
• Ice to keep food cold
• Water – one gallon per person, per day
• Food – non-perishable, easy-to prepare
• Flashlights
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
• Multi-purpose tool
• Sanitation and personal hygiene items
• Cell phone with charger
• Family and emergency contacts
Additionally, Surry-Yadkin EMC stresses a need for safety during storms asked people to stay away from downed wires or damaged electric equipment, and to never run a generator inside a home or garage because of the danger of deadly carbon monoxide emissions.
Resource for members:
• To report an outage, please call 800-682-5903, 336-356-8241, or use your SmartHub app. During major outages, you may have to call several times due to high call volume.
• Outage information also will be frequently updated on SYEMC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
January 14, 2022
Cristie Andrews has a sweet deal for local Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce members — a chance to visit with other businesses in the community, promoting their own enterprise while on the visit. She even will throw in a light breakfast for those interested in the deal.
All she asks is that those folks who take her up on the idea also make it a point to represent the chamber while making the visit, and maybe volunteer to help out at a few chamber events throughout the coming year.
She is recruiting for members in the Chamber Ambassador program, and those requirements — and benefits — describe in a nutshell what ambassadors do: They visit area chamber members, communicating what the chamber has to offer and seeing how the chamber might help those local businesses, along with helping out at some of the chamber’s activities. And while there, the ambassador gets to show off what his or her business might offer as well.
She said the goal is for the ambassadors, as a group, to contact all 600 chamber members in 2022.
“We want to let our members know that we care and we want to help in anyway we can,” said Randy Collins, president and CEO of the chamber.
“I need a large group of people who are willing to get involved on behalf of the chamber, and use that ability to raise their own brand,” said Andrews, who is the chamber’s director of membership. “It goes both ways, helping the chamber as customer service reps, and helping their own business at the same time.”
For folks wanting more in-depth information on the program, Andrews and the chamber will be hosting a chamber ambassador recruitment breakfast Wednesday, Jan. 19 at RidgeCrest Senior Living Community from 8:30 a.m. until 9:30 a.m.
Andrews, along with Membership Committee Chairman Chad Tidd and Connie Hamlin, chairman of the board and lifestyle advisor at RidgeCrest, will all be addressing the group. Andrews said those at the breakfast will receive an application for the ambassador program, to be completed and then signed by the person’s employer, before training gets underway in February.
The long-time ambassador program has been popular through the years, with members not only making informational visits to chamber members, but also serving as volunteers who meet with area businesses to present awards, attend ribbon cuttings, as well as working to recruit new members.
Chamber membership took a bit of a hit over the past two years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, just before the pandemic hit, chamber officials announced the organization had for the first time crossed the 600-member mark. Since then, with some businesses closing and others cutting back, chamber membership fell.
“The ability to not get out and see people definitely affected that,” she said of membership and the work of the ambassadors. “We had some very smart ambassadors who got on the phone, or used email, to send messages of encouragement to members.
“Small business owners are typically the ones who are most affected,” Andrews said. “They are having to make decisions, ‘Am I going to pay my staff, or pay my membership dues?’” she said as an example.
While some did leave, many have returned, she said, as the economy has picked up despite the lingering pandemic.
“We were fairly lucky…to keep a strong membership base in place. There was a loss…be we were able to rebound from that, as well as bring new ones in.”
As of Thursday morning, she said chamber membership stood at 608, and she hopes to see that number between 650 and 675 by year’s end.
Thus far, Andrews said 20 people had sent an online RSVP for Wednesday’s recruiting breakfast, but she has room for many more.
”They are going to be essential this year, I have a large goal to meet,” she said.
Visit and scroll down to the “Become an ambassador” tab to register for the event. For more information, contact Andrews at 336-786-6116, extension 206, or via email at
January 13, 2022
Preparations are underway for the expected winter weather event named Winter Storm Izzy this weekend that is set to bring a mixed bag of precipitation to the Southeast. The system will move across the Missouri valley today and is expected to bring heavy snow to the region before setting its sight in this direction.
With the usual caveats given that weather in North Carolina can be a tricky affair to predict, “Confidence continues to increase” that a winter weather event will occur Sunday, according to Erik Taylor of the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“I wish I could offer a real ‘this is what is going to happen’ but as of today, we still do not know except we will be getting some weather of snow and possibly ice,” said Eric Southern, director of Surry County Emergency Management.
The forecast currently calls for the system to have dropped south by Saturday morning where it will be met “with plenty of available cold air” says Meteorologist Domenica Davis.
A massive wet weather event is predicted that will develop Saturday beginning as rain that will continue for much of the day. Snow is predicted in the northern band of that storm system, a line of winter weather that may stretch from the Carolinas to Oklahoma and begin Saturday evening.
Saturday night, a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected to develop from parts of Georgia into South Carolina, North Carolina and southwestern Virginia. Snow could be seen in heavier amounts in the mountains and higher elevations, where a dusting was already spotted Thursday.
The early morning hours of Sunday are when the snow is expected to begin in earnest and then continue throughout the remainder of the day. Taylor forecast, “The peak is going to be all day Sunday really, afternoon and evening.”
Izzy is predicted to be a fast moving storm that he said should be “ending Monday morning” having delivered a snow total that will vary across the region. Predicted snowfall totals from the National Weather Service will be updated as the storm continues to develop.
Given the amount of time, and the unpredictability of weather systems as they move over the mountains, these are only best guesses based on current forecasts. If you like snow however, it seems like this may be a good weekend for you.
Some models are showing the likelihood of an ice event in areas to the south of Surry County. Ice is a serious concern during winter weather as it is the most frequent cause of power outages, the weight of a tree can increase by 30 times under an ice coating.
One tenth an inch of ice is enough to lose traction on foot or in a car. A half-inch of ice can bring power lines crashing down by adding up to 500 pounds of extra weight.
Eric Southern said his team has its plan in place. “The Emergency Operations Center will be opened with a limited staff beginning Saturday. As the weather certainty increases, we will increase our staff.” He went on to say that “protocols in place like testing and respiratory protection to protect our personnel on-duty” have minimized the impact on staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
“On-duty emergency personnel will remain at the ready when needed but we stress that the public have supplies ready to sustain them for 48-72 hours. Dangerous weather and/or roadways will increase the time it takes us to reach someone.”
City and state teams are preparing for an event that will move from rain to snow, with a threat of ice tossed in just to raise anxiety a touch further. Mount Airy Public Works began its preparations Wednesday adding plow heads onto trucks, and started brining major roads like such as Main Street on Thursday.
“We’re pretreating with all the brine we can and until the precipitation starts. Then it’s a waiting game,” Mount Airy Assistant Public Works Director Lee Wright said. The city is accepting a small risk should the event begin as a heavy rain, but to prevent snow buildup and later ice he says it is a risk worth taking. Wright also points out that the brine solution is inexpensive to mix, so deploying it now as pretreatment is the best offense his crews have.
State Department of Transportation crews have already deployed in some parts of the state to begin prepping surfaces ahead of the storm. In a state released video, drivers are asked to give road brining crews they may encounter space, “Remember, if you cannot see the driver, they cannot see you.”
Gov. Roy Cooper echoed the NCDOT suggestion that drivers need to be prepared for any possibility this weekend. They suggest having gas tanks at least half full because “short commutes can turn into long ones when a storm hits.” It is suggested drivers have a supply kit in the trunk in case the vehicle and passengers get stranded. Include a flashlight, first-aid kit, blanket, shovel, sand, snacks, and drinking water.
Drivers are reminded to come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection where traffic lights are out. Treating this scenario as a four-way stop will reduce the chance of an accident during a time in which response may be difficult.
“It has already started here,” Donna Pyburn said of the brisk business at the Food Lion in Toast. “People are coming out of the woodwork” in advance of the anticipated storm. One thing that does set off alarm bells in many Carolinians is the threat of winter weather.
With supply chain woes a common complaint across the country at large, she encouraged those who need to grab a loaf of bread and milk at the first whisper of snow to not delay. A veteran of the blizzard of 1978 before the move south she mused, “I’m not fazed at all. I love the winter weather.”
The ten day forecast shows only Sunday to have a high temperature that won’t reach above freezing, and several days with high temperatures in the mid-40s predicted should help melt off any remnants.
In a stroke of good luck, this Monday students in Surry County are scheduled off in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Having those busses off the road Monday morning when slush or black ice may be an issue will eliminate a potentially dangerous ride to school for those students.
“Please check on neighbors especially people who have limited means of travel. Stay home and do not travel if possible.” Southern said.
January 13, 2022
The grand opening for a major Shepherd’s House expansion was accompanied by much celebration and smiles, but also an acknowledgement that bringing the project to fruition was neither quick nor easy.
“We’re excited for this moment — it’s been a long time coming,” Kevin Minnix of Haymore Memorial Baptist Church nearby said during a prayer Tuesday night when the new homeless shelter in Mount Airy was officially welcomed to the community.
A huge crowd of supporters was on hand for the occasion, including city and county government officials, shelter staff/board members and other well-wishers who filled the front lobby of the facility on Spring Street.
It is located behind the old shelter fronting Rockford Street, which opened in 2003 in a former private residence and in recent years has been unable to serve all those in need — mirroring a huge rise in the area homeless population.
Ground had been broken for the spacious multi-storied expansion at what was then an empty lot on Spring Street in October 2019, only to face delays in fundraising and construction because of COVID-19. Before that, the journey had required clearing city government zoning hurdles which initially threatened its presence at that location.
But Tuesday night, those issues seemed just blips in the rear-view mirror as the sparkling new facility was unveiled, including a 64-bed capacity to provide temporary shelter for homeless persons and programming space to prepare them for independent living.
“It’s been a long project — but we’re finally finished,” summed up Mike Bowman, one of multiple speakers for the grand opening that also included tours.
Bowman, who was heavily involved as the treasurer of the governing board for Mount Airy’s lone homeless shelter and the head of its finance and building committees, indicated that this occurred through an “it takes a village” approach.
“It takes a community to believe in what we’re doing,” he said of widespread support garnered for the endeavor from Day One.
This included raising $2.1 million through a capital campaign to fund the 11,200-square-foot facility, which in addition to lodging quarters features a commercial kitchen to teach occupants culinary skills.
Several large contributors supplied $1.4 million of that. They included the local Springthorpe family whose matriarch played a key role in The Shepherd’s House becoming a reality in the first place, State Employees Credit Union and the Cannon and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina foundations.
“And then we had many donations of smaller amounts,” Bowman added.
He further mentioned the 1.1-acre construction site being made available by Haymore Memorial Baptist Church, which granted a 99-year lease for it at a cost of $1 annually.
The general contractor for the project, the local J.G. Coram Co., offered “gift in kind” assistance, Bowman said of its president and owner, Jerry Coram. “And he also gave us quite a bit of materials,” including flooring and other supplies that had been stored in a company warehouse.
Bobby Brinkley’s work as Coram’s project manager also was cited during the program.
Meanwhile, community residents donated items such as artwork for the new building.
Origins of shelter
Another person who spoke Tuesday night was John Springthorpe III, whose late mother, Berta Glenn Springthorpe, was a catalyst for the original Shepherd’s House along with the late David Simmons.
This is said to have occurred after Mrs. Springthorpe met a shabbily dressed woman named Annie while attending church services and became aware of her homeless living arrangement.
Mrs. Springthorpe subsequently teamed with Simmons on an effort to develop a shelter to aid the less-fortunate.
Her son told those assembled Tuesday night that he would like to think she was present in spirit, smiling proudly while surveying what has transpired with the greatly expanded homeless program.
“I know it’s night, but it’s a great day to be here,” Springthorpe remarked.
That sentiment also was voiced during the prayer by Minnix, the youth minister at Haymore Memorial who also is serving as fill-in pastor there and has been familiar with the Shepherd’s House mission due to serving on its board.
“It’s an honor to be able to be here tonight,” he said in reference to the long struggle to arrive at this point, while also mentioning the struggles yet to be encountered by those the expansion will benefit.
“We pray that the families, the women and others will find rest here,” Minnix observed, “and get their feet back underneath them.”
Bowman suggested that the sky is the limit in this regard, given everything that has transpired so far:
“With all the support from the community, I think this place will be here and functioning for a long time.”
January 12, 2022
Starting next week, a new partnership of like-minded community groups will begin a weekly hot meal service for the homeless of Mount Airy. The combo team of Maranatha Homeless Outreach and the Men’s Shelter of Mount Airy decided to work together to provide another weekly hot meal service for some of Mount Airy’s most vulnerable.
Next Thursday, Jan. 20, will be the first of the meal offerings from Maranatha and the Men’s Shelter of Mount Airy, it will begin at 4 p.m. behind Rose’s on Independence Blvd. This would be the area around the Lovell’s Creek Pocket Park along the Emily Taylor Greenway. Event co-organizer Ann Simmons said the plan currently is to continue service from the same location.
The new meal service will be in addition to the weekly meal service already offered by Maranatha. The groups hope that by teaming up they can get the word out to more people and get more food where it is needed.
Last Friday Maranatha served 51 plates at their evening meal service at Flat Rock Church of God. Having meals offered on different days in separate locations will maximize the outreach possibilities for both groups.
The Maranatha Homeless Outreach team has been on the job in Surry County and beyond for more than a decade under the leadership of Chrissy and Rickey Daughenbaugh. It was on Christmas Eve that they set out with toys for the children of Mayfield, Kentucky, who were impacted by the devastating wall of storms that swept through several states and killed 77.
After those storms hit and having already completed the Maranatha toy drive for this area, it was time to change gears. When the need was greatest and the people in Mayfield needed any hand, the decision was made that was where Maranatha Homeless Outreach was being called to next.
Now, the need has been identified and is a local ongoing concern that needs help in being addressed. As has been discussed in council meetings and beyond, there is a need for additional support for the homeless community of Mount Airy and Surry County.
The new Shepherd’s House expansion is a welcome addition of more beds, its current facility from 2003 is meant for temporary housing for 18. “We will have a 64-bed capacity,” said Shepherd’s House Executive Director Jana Elliott, “quite an uptick from where we are now.”
An exciting component to the Shepherd’s expansion, and one that will dovetail with combating local food insecurity, is the addition of a new commercial kitchen space. This will increase the output to beyond “just meeting the needs of shelter occupants,” Elliot said, while also providing skills development for the residents.
Ann and Joe Simmons have been laying out their foundation for the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter in hopes of filling in the gap that Shepherd’s House leaves. The Shepherd’s House model is one set for women and children, “They had to turn away 141 families last year due to lack of space and turned away single men,” Simmons said. “That is why we need our shelter. We will also take in overflow families and unsheltered women.”
The new Mount Airy Men’s Shelter is still in its planning stages as finding a space within the city limits that can accommodate such a venture has proven hard to come by. A church Simmons had hoped to purchase needed more refit work than was feasible to get it converted into a shelter.
For the Simmons, the desire is there, the apparatus and non-profit documents are ready, there are funds in the bank and supplies have been donated. However, it is that elusive room at the proverbial inn that she is still looking for. “Currently we are serving as a shelter through supplying needed items until a shelter is established. We so want to find a building or land for the permanent shelter.”
The needs exist even if the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter is not yet in its brick in mortar home, which is why partnering with Maranatha Homeless Outreach to find ways to give aid now is of paramount importance. “We are getting more calls every day from the homeless. We do still need some place for them to go during these cold nights.”
For now, the goal is to focus on what is in front of them and what can be addressed rather than linger in worry about the future. As the weather has now taken a chillier turn after unseasonably mild temperatures, Simmons discussed menu ideas for some stick to your ribs crock pot favorites for the new hot meal service.
“The meals are going to be hot. Soup, chili, occasionally things like pork or chicken fried rice. Salisbury steaks with mashed potatoes, or spaghetti with garlic bread,” Simmons listed among her desired menu items for future meals, “and always dessert, hot coffee, tea and waters.”
To aid in their effort, Simmons and Daughenbaugh need help from the public in getting the word out to those who need it about their new joint venture.
The public’s support is always welcome from both organizations. As Maranatha board member Penny Rinehart explained their mission is year-round, “Monetary support, help with cooking the meals, collecting coats and gloves all year. We are very thankful for everything that is donated and every prayer that is lifted up for this group.”

© 2018 The Mount Airy News