Surry Parks and Rec Easter egg hunt Saturday | Mt. Airy News

2022-04-20 03:33:01 By : Ms. Alice Sun

The Surry County Parks and Rec Easter Egg hunt is this Saturday at Fisher River Park with the Easter Bunny to be in attendance.

The Surry County Parks and Recreation will be holding their Easter Egg Hunt at Fisher River Park in Dobson this Saturday, April 2 from 10 a.m. – 1p.m.

Bradley Key, program coordinator for parks and rec said, “The event is more than just the egg hunt…between 10 and 1, community vendors, agencies, civil service groups along with their vehicles are on display. Families come, visit these booths, talk with representatives from these agencies.”

The Easter Bunny is expected to be on-hand to visit with children and the young at heart. There will also be face painting, arts, crafts, and other activities.

Best of all, Key said, the event is free — however organizers are asking those attending to bring a canned food item for donation, with the food going to area food banks.

Of course, the big draw — at least for the youth — is the Easter egg hunt. Key said roughly 8,000 eggs will be there.

“Each egg will be stuffed with candy or toys and there is a grand prize Golden Egg to be found in each age group’s area,” he said.

Key explained the egg hunting is done in three shifts, with kids grouped by age. At noon, those aged birth up to 3 will collect eggs, at 12:20 p.m. the 4- to 6-year-olds will be let loose on the field; and at 12:40 those aged 7 and older will have their chance.

“You don’t want to be late,” he said with a laugh. “They can clear a whole ball field of thousands of eggs in less than 5 minutes. It is amazing. Generally, each child collects at least 20 eggs.”

He does say children need to bring their own baskets, although the county will have a limited number available for those who may forget or need an additional basket.

“It’s a great fun healthy activity for the families to get back involved in. Folks may have not had as much opportunity to have fun over the past couple of years. We’re happy to offer this as a chance to get out for a fun, family activity.”

He said the event is outdoors, which will limit potential COVID issues, and the county will have hand sanitizer on hand for individuals to use. There will be ample space for people to spread out, observing social distancing practices, he advised.

Key said if inclement weather occurs and the event cannot be held, it will still go on — just in a drive-through format, with folks able to drive up for youth to get some goody-filled eggs.

North Surry singers earn honors

Golden Eagles fall to Wilkes Central 7-2

Easter, no matter when it falls, marks the coming of spring and has been celebrated with exuberance for centuries. Many bits of farm wisdom revolve around “the signs” and Easter is an important milepost in the signs.

Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox which means the earliest it can happen is March 22 and the latest is April 25 in any given year — prime planting time for a number of garden staples.

The Herbalist Almanac of 1931, from the Dault and Lucy Sawyers homeplace in Shoalsm advised under the heading, “When to Plant, Harvest, etc. By the Moon and Moon Signs” that the lucky days for April that year were the second and third which were noted to be the best days to marry that month. That was Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

“Plant Irish potatoes, bed sweet potatoes, put out onion sets, sow onion seeds, beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips radishes, artichokes and peanuts on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th and 14th,” it continued. Soil was considered to be the most fertile on Good Friday according to wide-spread folk wisdom of the time.

Although the region had members of the Jewish faith, and, presumably, other non-Christian religious faiths from Colonial times, the vast majority of people across Surry, Stokes, Carroll in Virginia, and other counties of the area identified as some form of Christian. The earliest newspapers we have from the region give a great deal of ink to Easter folklore and religious reporting.

As Holy Week approached, newspapers of the region carried reporting on special worship services, commercial sales, community events, and outings.

In the early- to mid-20th century the churches of Mount Airy coordinated union Good Friday services, moving between churches from one year to the next and all the pastors taking a role in the three-hour services. In April 1943, when so many local men and women were engaged in the Second World War, the words spoken from the cross were presented as lessons on pardon, human care, loneliness, and human need.

Easter Sunday, of course, was, and still is, a heavily attended church service. The Elkin Times ran an article on April 15, 1897 about the Moravian tradition of musicians greeting Easter morn with brass instruments calling worshippers to the cemetery in the chill dark hours to commemorate the empty tomb. “The procedure of the service is so timed,” it read, “that the musico-prayerful (sic) rejoicing reaches its highest expression just as the sun rises.”

Other denominations tended to have quieter and later services with everyone wearing their literal ‘Sunday Best.’ Many letters and news articles from the 1800s through the 1950s indicate Easter services involved more music or other changes to the usual Sunday services.

“Rev. G.M. Burcham preached to 800 people at the Rock House on the Brushies, five miles from Jonesville last Sunday,” reported The Elkin Times April, 22, 1897. Though we find such reports over several years, we can’t find clear explanations of what this place was or where it was.

The holiday drew adult children to celebrate with family whether they were traveling in from a new home in Greensboro or Tennessee or coming from Salem Academy or Fort Bragg. Such trips were often noted in the Mount Airy News or Elkin Tribune.

If Holy Week involved more-than-usual time in church, Easter Monday took a turn to the secular. The Danville Reporter noted in 1909 a Stokes County superstition that working on Easter Monday would mean the loss of a cow so folks played with determination.

“Easter Monday promises to be more largely observed this year than usual in this part of the state,” reported the Twin-City Sentinel on April 9, 1914. “The events in different parts of the country will bring the people together for a day of social intercourse and can hardly fail to do good in that it will make the people realize more fully their oneness and engender a spirit of good fellowship.”

Kate Rauhauser-Smith is a local freelance writer, researcher, and genealogist.

In the hot seat for the first-time last week was Eric Southern who oversees emergency services for Surry County. “I can confirm, this is an uncomfortable seat,” he said before making his first budget proposal to the board of county commissioners.

Still in his first year as director, Southern is no stranger to mechanisms of county government. He knows the end game with budgeting. “The bottom line is to save the taxpayers money.”

His department is one of service and its three branches Emergency Management, Fire Marshal’s Office, and EMS all have the laser focused goal of public safety in mind. To do what is required means his team needs the right vehicles, equipment, and training.

You cannot provide first aid when you cannot access the patients, so an improvement to county ambulances is needed. The Type I ambulance with power lift system is what Southern would like to see the county invest in.

In certain environments, the county is relying on equipment arriving on scene with the local volunteer fire department or rescue squad. “We are a rural county; we have to go off road. There have been times we had to load a patient on a pickup truck and bring them to the ambulance because the ambulance can’t get there.”

This could lead to a lack of availability should multiple incidents happen at the same time. The county and volunteer fire departments have a mandate to send a response to all alarm calls, when the bell goes off – an engine is rolling. Two fires in Bannertown at the same time may explain why you see a White Plains fire engine outside their fire district, they are providing redundant coverage for community protection.

“Through the years we rely on the squads to bring their ambulance, again that’s a volunteer service, so we started to look at what we could do if we don’t have that,” he said.

The Type I ambulance would be a pronounced change for the county. They are beefier with a sturdier frame, elongated nose, and improved suspension over the in-use Type III ambulances. Their 4×4 suspension would allow for crews to reach areas previous models could not.

Power lift systems are the improvement over power stretchers that the county now uses. Ever mindful of the budget the board noted those stretchers had already dropped workers comp claims due to back injuries from this department dramatically. Five of eleven ambulances now have power lift, Southern would like to retrofit the remainder.

Instead of the battery-operated scissor lifting stretchers, the power lift does the work “so (the crew) doesn’t have to pick them up and put them in the truck. It saves backs, we have people of different heights and sizes, so people must adjust for that.”

Patient and crew safety are of concern, so a longer nose may protect the cab from deer strike, as would the addition of grill guards. “We had a deer strike about three years ago and it rolled up the hood – it pushed the windshield in but didn’t break. Stokes and Yadkin say these grill guards work and they get a lot more strikes than we do.”

“We use Type III, the engine is a little bit into the cab area, and have a shorter front end,” Southern explained of the difference. “The box sits on the chassis itself and this led to complaints over the years.”

“It’s a box, on a frame with four bolts. No suspension, no ride system, and we do long distance transport so to Charlotte Mecklenburg, or Winston-Salem – you know the conditions of the roads. I got a “Y’all are great, this is not a complaint, but…” letter just the other day, because the ride was bad.”

A rough ride adds to anxiety for the passengers Southern noted, something they have enough of already. He wants the riders to feel more comfortable on long rides, but of late the need for the long-distance patient transport has fallen off.

“Thankfully right now we have been able to use other services. Before whenever we had transports for Hugh Chatham of Northern Regional, we were the primary services. If they had one, we took it.” Atrium and Novant have each been staffing an ambulance in the county and can take over some transport roles. “Those long-distance transports for the last almost month and a half, we have not done.”

Northern Regional also recently received approval from the commissioners to apply for their own ambulance franchise under a five-year charter. The move to allow for such charter was given strong support from County Manager Chris Knopf and Southern.

Northern would then be responsible for transporting their own patients for discharge or in transfer between hospitals. Commissioner Eddie Harris noted that bringing Northern Regional’s ambulance service online was no doubt “going to alleviate pressure on (the county’s) service.”

Southern agreed and recounted to the board again, as he had in February, how the hot time is 5 p.m. That is when discharges from hospitals put patients in motion, and the freeing up of beds creates opening for transfers. He said his crews were running transports and transfers until the pre-dawn hours and that has taken a toll on his crews.

Other highlights from within the budget are replacing end of life fire protection suits, “they do have a shelf life.” The new suits will be good to go for twenty years he said.

To be the prepared means to train for all situations. Improved training dummies can now “hook up to a heart monitor, generate a heart rhythm, even hear breathing – it really adds to the realism.”

The Marshal’s office needed gas monitors in the mobile data terminals – replacing ones that have aged out. The gas monitors support the department with carbon monoxide alarms and the mobile data terminals they use for inspection reports.

The county’s fiscal year begins on July 1 and final budget approvals will be forthcoming.

Spring cleaning is not just something to do around the house or yard, but also along local roadsides plagued by litter — which are being targeted by an annual program now under way in Mount Airy.

This involves the Community Clean-Up Campaign sponsored by the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department, Mount Airy Appearance Commission and Reeves Community Center Foundation.

It began Saturday and will run through April 30 in conjunction with the North Carolina Statewide Community Cleanup Campaign operating during the same period.

“This is a cleanup campaign in which a family, civic group, Sunday school class, business or any other group of people wanting to make a difference can claim a street to clean to help keep our community clean, attractive and inviting,” Appearance Commission Chairman Allen Burton explained.

A few streets already have been secured, but organizers say there are many more areas that can use a cleanup crew. Streets may be claimed by contacting Cathy Cloukey or Peter Raymer at Reeves Community Center (336-786-8313), who also can help provide trash bags.

“Currently, we need several more groups to chip in on the effort to match last year’s campaign of 20 streets,” Raymer advised Thursday afternoon.

Along with the group efforts that will be involved, there is a pride factor coupled with the campaign which city organizers hope will add a bit of motivation for individuals to tackle litter.

They are challenging residents to clean up a street in the city limits, with each participate encouraged to in turn challenge at least one friend, family member or co-worker to do the same.

Interested persons can call Cloukey or Luke Danley at the community center to reserve a street and identify a friend who is being challenged.

Also, as part of the two-week effort, a Mount Airy hashtag (#) trashtag challenge is encouraging participants to take before-and-after photos of areas cleaned up for posting.

“To help spread the word, we ask that everyone use social media and the #mountairytrashtag hashtag to challenge others to participate” and post photos, Mount Airy Parks and Recreation announced.

To get the ball rolling, on March 23 members of the Mount Airy Appearance Commission and city Parks and Recreation staff filled 57 bags of trash and collected two couches along Hamburg Street from H.B. Rowe Environmental Park to Mount Airy Middle School.

They logged two trailer loads during that effort, with Raymer mentioning that it is amazing how little time it takes to fill up one bag.

“If you, your family, co-workers, business, Sunday School group, service organization or anyone else would like to make a positive difference in our community by spending a couple hours in the sun, getting exercise and making your neighborhood and community cleaner and more inviting, please sign up by calling Reeves Community Center,” the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation announcement urged.

A member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners says budget misstatements he made during a public forum involve a simple error, while others believe this reveals a disturbing lack of familiarity with city finances.

In outlining how he wanted to keep property taxes low while providing good services to citizens during a meet-the-candidates event last Monday night, At-Large Commissioner Joe Zalescik erroneously referred to Mount Airy having a $30 million budget.

Zalescik also mentioned during the heavily attended event at the Historic Earle Theatre and Old-Time Music Heritage Hall that the municipal spending plan is funded by $15 million in property tax revenues — also incorrect.

Mount Airy’s adjusted general fund budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, totals $17.2 million, with property taxes projected at $7.3 million, according to figures from city Finance Director Pam Stone. The budget totalled $14.9 million when approved last year, with some spending additions occurring since.

Revenues come from other sources along with property taxes to fill out the general fund package, which is separate from a water-sewer budget of $6.5 million that is financed by user fees.

None of this adds up to a $30 million budget and $15 million in property taxes.

“It was my error to say $15 million,” Zalescik said Thursday afternoon. “All I would say is I made a minor mistake.”

The at-large commissioner, who has been in office for only about seven months — when he was appointed by the city council — chalked up the errors to the kind of verbal miscues one can make while speaking to a large audience.

“The $15 million was in my head the entire time,” Zalescik explained regarding the actual (unadjusted) budget total and its property tax portion. “And I really meant to say $7.5 million” for the latter, in round figures.

Since he assumed the at-large seat only last September — to fill a vacancy created when former Commissioner Ron Niland was appointed mayor — Zalescik further pointed out that he has not actually voted on a city budget. This usually occurs each June.

Zalescik said the message he was seeking to convey at the forum is that half of the general fund budget is supported by property tax revenues. “The point is, I would like for taxes to be lower.”

Although Zalescik presently is the city’s at-large commissioner, he is running for a South Ward seat now held by Steve Yokeley — who is in turn seeking Zalescik’s slot. This relates to a quirk in which the person winning the at-large race will serve only two years of Niland’s unexpired term while the South Ward victor will win a full four-year term.

Yokeley is a longtime councilman only wishing to serve two more years, while Zalescik desires a full term — which is contingent on both winning.

Zalescik is facing Gene Clark and Phil Thacker in a May 17 primary, with the two top vote-getters to square off in the November general election.

The comments at Monday night’s event raised the tentacles of another council candidate in a different race, John Pritchard.

Pritchard is campaigning for a North Ward seat in a contest also including Joanna Refvem, former city school board member Teresa Davis Leiva and Chad Hutchens. (Hutchens is a sergeant with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office working in a school resource officer capacity who incorrectly was listed as formerly serving as a Board of Education member in a previous article.)

Although he is not an opponent of Zalescik, Pritchard — due to his reputation as a city government “watchdog” — said he was compelled to come forward with a response to Zalescik’s statements.

“My first thought was not to comment because I didn’t have a dog in the match for the South Ward, but since I’m the budget watchdog I guess I do,” Pritchard advised.

“I’m concerned that Joe Zalescik may have a serious lack of basic knowledge about our city finances,” added Pritchard, who pointed out that Zalescik made the erroneous budget statements twice during Monday’s event. This was “an alarming difference” compared to the correct figures, in Pritchard’s view.

“I’m concerned because our board is now working on next year’s budget,” he mentioned, which Zalescik will have input on and vote for in June.

“It’s always good to serve, but being a good commissioner requires a basic understanding of our city finances.”

“That ain’t peanuts, Joe”

The budget figures voiced by Zalescik also drew a reaction from another local resident closely monitoring city government activities, Rebecca Harmon, who expressed her thoughts in a letter to the editor published Friday.

“Fiscal responsibility by commissioners requires a basic knowledge of the city budget,” Harmon wrote. “I strongly urge the city council to require all new commissioners – whether appointed (as Zalescik was) or elected – to familiarize themselves with the budget and budget process.”

Zalescik said Thursday that the wrong budget figures he gave do not detract from his worthiness to serve as a commissioner. Zalescik formerly was a member of the Mount Airy Planning Board and logged 35 years of local government experience in New Jersey, where he lived before moving to Mount Airy about three years ago.

Online postings by citizens to newspaper articles in which he is mentioned sometimes take aim at Zalescik’s “Yankee” background and ownership of a local business called Station 1978 Firehouse Peanuts.

Harmon referenced the latter in her comments taking issue with the faulty budget figures presented.

“Those numbers are off by about 100 percent — and that ain’t peanuts, Joe,” she wrote.

Zalescik acknowledged that everybody makes mistakes, and there are certain detractors in town who are going to jump all over any such misstep.

“They’re looking for anything to criticize me.”

It is a great invitation to “Start exploring North Carolina – one step at a time” on the website for the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Pair that with the classic from Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and you may be on to something, a couple million somethings in fact.

Approximated at 2,112,000 steps the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea trail is not for the faint of heart. Not to say that it is an impossible trek, but in 2021 only 25 completed the route. Two have accomplished the task already this year so do not surrender all hope at the trailhead, it can be done.

An official part of the state parks system, the trail traverses 1,175 miles that can be completed on foot, bike, saddle, and two sections via paddle. The MTS trail changes its composition and revises its route as new sections are completed.

Segment 6 of MTS in Surry County is a mixture of established trails and footpaths with markings to direct hikers. The segment also takes a stroll through downtown Elkin, then “heads east, following the Yadkin River, past farms, and forests to the historic village of Rockford.” MTS then connects with the existing Corridor Trail to enter Pilot Mountain State Park.

Two new sections were officially designated in Surry County in March. “Staff and volunteers worked exceptionally hard to acquire easements and construct the segments,” said Daniel White, director of Surry County Parks & Recreation.

The new sections have been opened off NC Highway 268 near Elkin one near Friendship Motor Speedway, while a second portion links Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery to the Burch Station River Access on Highway 268.

The Surry County Board of Commissioners recently approved a request from Parks & Recreation to purchase and deploy a 52-foot prefabricated aluminum foot bridge over Highway 268 near the Wayne Farms Feed mill.

“The bridge will span a small creek on Wayne Farm’s land about 3/4 mile west of the Mitchell River and just south of 268,” Segment 6 Task Force leader Bob Hillyer said.

“There is currently 3/4 mile of trail on Spice Farms which is directly across from the Wayne Farm Feed mill on 268. The bridge will allow the MST to cross from Spice Farms and connect with our current trail head on near the Friendship speedway and Gentry Road.”

White from Parks & Recreation added the bridge, “will be across the road from New Grace Baptist Church in the woods.”

The community in each region makes or renews the trails, and efforts are managed by crew leaders such as Hillyer. These Task Force Leaders are only one component of the squad when it comes to trail management as it takes scores of volunteers on teams across the state.

These teams will tackle new trail construction or maintenance of existing trails; the local leader determines the plan of action. Only a willingness to help is needed to volunteer with the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, although they said training will be required to operate a chainsaw even if it already feels like an extra appendage.

Each year, as new trail opens, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail adjust the current route to incorporate new trails and maintain a fully interactive map online to monitor changes.

With more than 700 miles of footpath completed and the addition of temporary routes on backroads and bicycle paths, hikers can blaze a trail from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains right through to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks.

Hikers may also choose to customize their route by taking to paddle with two alternative route options: 27.5 miles on the Yadkin River paddle trail between Elkin and Pilot Mountain State Park, and the much longer 170-mile Neuse River Paddle Route on the coastal plain.

The goal is to complete a continuous off-road trail across North Carolina, more than half the planned length is now successfully on natural surface or greenway trail, unpaved forest roads, or beach. Friends estimate they are opening around 15 miles of new trail every year.

It can take time to determine the correct path for the trails, and then acquire the land or the easements to allow for passage. The planned bridge is an example of the easements needed from private landowners, Wayne Farms had to give permission for the land they own to be used both by the county and the hikers.

Local communities help connect the trail through links to greenways and urban trails while land trusts help acquire land as needed. As MTS comes out of the high country’s state parks and national forests it passes through more privately owned land, so trusts or easements may be needed to connect new sections.

“We’d like to thank the property owners who provided the easements and worked with the county to turn this idea into reality,” White said. Wayne Farms, Duke Energy and Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery donated easements to the cause.

“This trail is something that will be enjoyed by all for generations to come,” noted Matthew Wooten, Dobson Complex manager for Wayne Farms LLC. “Partnering with Surry County on this important project has been a pleasure and something we were very excited to help with.”

September will mark 45 years since Howard Lee spoke about an idea that could “help us know a little more about ourselves and help us understand our neighbors a little better.”

Thanks to thousands of volunteer hours the trail continues evolving still today. Lee noted, “I didn’t really even think it would ever really come into being. I’m really just elated and flattered to have it take on a life of its own.”

DOBSON — For the benefit of those who might not have heard, an election is upcoming in Surry County and some key dates are looming for that.

These include the regular voter-registration deadline for the May 17 primary, which is next Friday, while one-stop early absentee voting will begin on April 28.

Meanwhile, the absentee ballot by mail process already is under way, having begun on March 28.

Concerning the voter-registration part of the equation, forms must be postmarked or delivered in person by 5 p.m. next Friday to the Surry County Board of Elections office at 915 E. Atkins St. in Dobson. Regular hours there are 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

That Friday deadline applies to those who intend to cast ballots on Primary Day, and not during the early voting period when someone can register and cast a ballot during the same visit.

Registration forms may be sent by fax or email attachment, but an original must be received in the Dobson office no later than 5 p.m. on April 27, according to a recent schedule update from Surry Director of Elections Michella Huff.

Generally, persons who have voted in recent elections have active registration, but one may check his or her status at the board’s website. The elections office can be contacted at 336-401-8225.

Citizens also may register to vote or update their registration using the website.

Next Friday additionally is listed as the last day to change one’s party affiliation before the May 17 primary, when citizens may cast ballots for candidates only if they are affiliated with the party those candidates represent. For example, a person registered as a Democrat can’t vote in a GOP primary, although unaffiliated voters may.

An exception is the Mount Airy municipal election, which is non-partisan.

In most cases with local offices that will be on the May 17 ballot, only Republican candidates are involved and no Democrats at all, thus giving the primary added significance.

Whoever wins then effectively will be the victor due to no Democratic opposition in the November general election, unless there is a successful challenge by an unaffiliated — which is being pursued in a small number of cases — or write-in candidate.

A number of state and federal elected offices also will be affected by the primary in addition to local ones, with a sample ballot available on the Surry Board of Elections website.

Four early voting locations will be in operation across the county beginning at 8 a.m. on April 28, which theoretically allows citizens to cast ballots ahead of the regular election date to avoid crowds or if they have something else planned that day,

These include the Surry Board of Elections in Dobson, a Mount Airy site at the Surry County Government Center on State Street behind Arby’s, in Pilot Mountain at the town rescue squad building at 615 E. U.S. 52-Bypass in the former Howell Funeral Home location and in Elkin at the rescue squad on North Bridge Street.

At one time earlier this year, there was a chance only one site would be involved, with the issue subsequently settled by the state elections board that approved all four.

While persons can register to vote and cast ballots on the same day during one-stop early absentee voting, they will not be able to do on Primary Day itself, to which next Friday’s regular registration deadline applies.

Voters will not be asked to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Early voting will be offered from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays during the one-stop period, which ends on May 14. No Sunday hours are on the schedule.

Huff indicated Thursday that the absentee ballot by mail process, which has drawn controversy in other areas of the country, is proceeding well in Surry County.

No excuse is required for voting absentee by mail, but all absentee requests must be submitted on an official state form, available on the Surry County Board of Elections website or by calling its office. Elections personnel cannot accept handwritten informal requests.

Would-be voters can mail signed completed official request forms to the office or hand-deliver them there.

May 10 is the last day for residents to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them.

“We have mailed out 149 ballots (per requests received) and have 26 returned to date,” Huff advised Thursday afternoon, adding that this is “much less” than the last local primary in 2020, a presidential election year.

At the comparable time for the primary held in March of that year, 1,059 ballots had been mailed in Surry.

The transparency of the local process includes the first absentee ballot meeting of the elections board, next Tuesday at 5 p.m., being open to the public. It will be held in the conference room of the Surry County Service Center (the elections office) in Dobson.

It also will be offered via the Zoom online platform, for which the link can be obtained by calling the elections office Monday, Huff mentioned.

The purpose of it and similar meetings set in the coming weeks is to approve an absentee report for ballots received as part of the tabulation procedure.

Also Thursday, Huff wanted to let voters know that local elections personnel perform daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annual and annual list-maintenance efforts for the registration database.

That involves checking for duplicates and the removal of deceased voters and felons.

Additionally in North Carolina, counties communicate with this data to help in the maintenance of voter-registration rolls, according to the local director.

Voter roll list maintenance is important because it ensures ineligible voters are not included on poll books, reduces the possibility for error and decreases the opportunity for fraud, Huff explained.

Mount Airy officials are mulling a list of projects proposed for funding from the municipality’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which total $2.9 million.

It mainly is eyed for major building and equipment needs in a list compiled by City Manager Stan Farmer, containing 18 line items altogether.

The $3.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding designated for Mount Airy was included in a $350 billion financial aid package approved last year for all 50 states at the statewide and local levels as a relief measure in response to COVID-19.

In addition to the $2.9 million eyed for city government projects, requests for ARPA funding were solicited earlier this year from local non-profit organizations to support various efforts.

That resulted in 16 different groups submitting requests for $2.4 million altogether, meaning some tough decisions are facing Mount Airy officials.

The biggest single expense on the city government’s to-do list is $400,000 for the indoor pool HVAC/air system at Reeves Community Center, new pickleball and multi-use courts at Riverside Park ($200,000), building repairs ($89,000) and bridge repairs on the Emily B. Taylor section of the Granite City Greenway ($100,000). It was completed about 20 years ago.

“That has been a need,” Farmer said of the bridge repairs during a recent budget planning retreat at which potential uses of the federal funding were discussed.

A big-ticket item, $470,000, targets City Hall, where building repairs are envisioned along with seal coating and striping of parking lots.

Farmer disclosed Wednesday that this does not include a proposal made last fall to upgrade the communications capabilities of council chambers, where the city commissioners meet.

It included possible high-tech additions such as multiple projectors, large wall-mounted and drop-down display screens, new microphones with integrated speakers, digital mixing equipment, ceiling tile speakers, new camera equipment, video-audio transmitters/receivers and more.

The expense was put at well over $100,000, which officials have said could be paid for with the federal funding since the upgrades would allow the public to better monitor meeting proceedings from homes in times of pandemic.

But Farmer advised Wednesday that he and Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis had reviewed the proposal “and do not recommend that costly scope of work.”

Instead, Lewis has launched a video improvement project involving an install which will happen soon within the present budget year, according to the city manager.

“We are not recommending audio improvements now,” Farmer added. “Our investigation revealed that if the public speaks into a microphone provided in chamber then the public listening at home, etc. can hear the proceedings just fine.”

Also on the list for consideration are building repairs and a street sweeper replacement at the city Public Works Building ($392,000), along with building repairs for the library, police station and the Mount Airy Fire Department, further proposed for new radios (a total of $612,000).

Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said the radios would update models now used, allowing better communications among department personnel.

The Surry Arts Council, meanwhile, is proposed for $265,000 worth of building repairs/restroom upgrades at its building and other restrooms for an amphitheater nearby.

“Those bathrooms are embarrassing over there,” Farmer said of the Surry Arts Council building.

“Probably we need two sets of bathrooms,” Mayor Ron Niland said of those proposed, since persons attending concerts at the amphitheater now must use facilities in the nearby Municipal Building and library which are inadequate for mass gatherings.

Commissioner Tom Koch questioned the Surry Arts Council funding proposal, pointing out that it has received hefty building-related sums from the city in recent years in addition to a yearly $87,500 allocation to support its general operations.

“I applaud Tanya, she’s incredible,” Koch said of council Executive Director Tanya Jones. “But we have to look at the big picture,” which could include examining the $87,500 appropriation, he added.

Farmer responded that the proposed expenditures on the list reflect the fact that the municipality owns the structures involved.

Koch also questioned another item included, $210,000 eyed for repaving/striping of the Franklin Street public parking lot downtown.

The North Ward commissioner suggested that parking lot needs should be funding through a special Municipal Service District tax levied on downtown properties to provide facilities benefiting all, including lots, rather than funding from the city.

Another $50,000 is proposed for wayfinding signage downtown to better guide visitors, although local travel/tourism revenues could be the best source for such items, based on discussion at the meeting.

Farmer also is proposing that $125,000 be aside for fire-suppression grants to provide for sprinklers and related needs in cases where the upper floors of downtown buildings are developed for housing, a proposal earlier floated.

Looking at the federal funding available and factoring in the requests from non-profits, Lewis, the assistant city manager, said further studies must be done before final decisions are made.

“We will have to prioritize some needs.”

There is still plenty of time for that, according to the discussion, since rules say the ARPA money must be spent by December 2026.

Creating a safe place for artists in Mount Airy was Donna Jackson’s goal, she called it a dream in her heart from God. The Blue House Art Studio was her creation and a gift to special needs artists of Mount Airy and their families.

Wendy Tatman made the announcement this week that Blue House is ceasing operations. After many years and a countless number of smiles, things happened quickly from the phone call last Thursday to the final dyeing of Easter eggs tomorrow with the result a sad one: the doors are closing on this artists’ space for good.

“We received a call from the Gilmer Smith Foundation informing us that the Blue House itself will be put up for sale,” Tatman said. “We do not yet know further details, but it seems that we will soon be displaced.”

To her students, volunteers, and supporters she broke the news as gently as possible. “This is a difficult letter to write, and it may be a difficult letter to read. Here is the bottom line first: the Blue House Art Studio is closing, and it is doing so much faster than any of us anticipated. “

“The Gilmer Smith Foundation has put the Blue House building up for sale and the Art Studio Board sees no other option other than to ‘dissolve’ our Blue House Art Studio. We had hoped to hold classes through the end of April, but the necessity of disposing of all our supplies and furniture makes that too difficult.”

“We are sad to learn the Blue House Teaching Studio will be closing. The studio has meant so much to its students and their families,” Melissa Hiatt, director of the United Fund of Surry said. “It is certainly a loss to our United Fund family.”

Founded in 2004 by Donna Jackson as a safe space for her son Ben, she told Wanda Stark in 2013 that it came to her in a dream where she saw Ben opening the door to his own gallery to welcome her in. “I woke up that morning and I told my husband ‘I now know what I have to do. God has put this dream in my heart.”

Jackson’s son John III said he heard the tales “about all of the hard work she and many others put into that place to make it shine.” He acknowledged the closure as, “The end of an era.”

“The Blue House has provided a safe haven that fostered artistic growth and nurtured their special population of students to proudly display their works of art,” Hiatt remarked. Blue House is one of the 26 member agencies which are assisted in their goals by the United Fund of Surry. “We are thankful for the years of service the Blue House has given to our community.”

Tatman said the interpersonal connections she has made over the year will be hard to replace. “Very hard, I will miss my students. I will miss the connections, and I hope we will retain those connections.” She will be hosting her students for a final picnic at her home in May, a chance to connect and remember fun times with her students.

She also is hopeful that art education need not end for the students either or hopes to work something out. “We are working with Rosie and Lee Bolin at the Groovy Gallery in hopes of arranging some art class opportunities there for any of our students who would like to try.”

In the short term though, some of the students may find they have no safe space to create and therefore may do so at home. She does not want supplies to go to waste, “All students are invited to bring a box to class and gather art supplies that you would use at home.”

The process of getting the studio out of the Blue House is a truncated one. Tatman said she in unclear of the timeframe she must exit but will rent a dumpster and hire helpers as needed to “finish this rather giant job.” Staff, volunteers, and board who wish to reclaim any items contributed over the years are welcome to take those.

Non-profit groups are subject to rules when they shut down so any specific grants issued or funds remaining when the studio closes will be given to United Fund or the Webb-Midkiff Foundation. Some specific items such as sculptures by Bill Maxwell will be offered back to their families.

The remaining sundries of the office will then be offered to the sister organizations under the umbrella of The United Fund. Tables, chairs, and even a stand-up piano will be looking for new homes with other non-profits before going to the landfill.

“It has been a joy to work with all of you and a delight to get to know you. We all treasure the friendships and memories we have made together,” Tatman said in the letter to students.

“On behalf of our founder, Donna Jackson, and all the teachers and board members and volunteers who have worked at Blue House Art Studio and Gallery Group over the years, we thank you for your amazing support and help and belief in our vision.”

Thirteen candidates are seeking four different council seats in Mount Airy, but they share some common ground including seeing a need for affordable housing and more economic development/jobs locally.

“Housing is a concern,” said Joanna Refvem, one of four people vying for a North Ward seat on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners now held by Jon Cawley, who is running for mayor.

That sentiment was echoed by many of the 13 office seekers gathered Monday night on the stage of the Historic Earle Theatre and Old-Time Music Heritage Hall downtown for a meet-the-candidates event. It drew a crowd to the auditorium that is mostly a venue for movies and musical performances.

Not only does the city need affordable housing, at-large council candidate Tonda Phillips said from the perspective of a real estate professional, but help for those who aren’t able to acquire a home at all.

“The city also should support homeless shelters,” Phillips said during the forum co-sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc.

Further concerns about housing were expressed by present At-Large Commissioner Joe Zalescik, who is running for the South Ward seat of longtime incumbent Steve Yokeley, who is campaigning for Zalescik’s post as part of a switcheroo agreed to by both.

Zalescik referred to the fact that the city government owns nearly 1,000 acres of property, both within and outside the municipality. “Yes, the city has a lot of land,” he said, “and we need to use some of that land for housing young people.”

The format for Monday night’s candidates — billed as an introduction of them to voters — differed from others in which office seekers have responded to prepared questions on relevant issues along with ones from audience members.

Each was simply given four minutes to detail his or her background and experience in addition to campaign platforms/visions for Mount Airy, the ways in which each believes the city is on the right path and the ways it is on the wrong path.

Candidates were grouped by the respective offices at stake in the city’s non-partisan election this year, venturing one by one to a podium to make their case to voters.

• Along with Cawley, the mayoral candidates include Ron Niland, the man now holding that post, and Teresa Lewis, a former at-large commissioner.

• Running against Refvem in the North Ward are John Pritchard and two former city school board members, Teresa Davis Leiva and Chad Hutchens.

• The South Ward candidates, along with Zalescik, are Gene Clark and Phil Thacker, who also has served on the school board.

• Joining Yokeley and Phillips in the at-large race is former twice-elected Mayor Deborah Cochran.

Monday night’s gathering was a prelude to a May 17 primary that will narrow the field to two candidates for each office who will square off in the November general election.

“Status quo must go”

Most of them had good things to say about the present condition of Mount Airy as it relates to city government decisions. These include its recreation programs and facilities such as the Granite City Greenway, arts and cultural offerings and a thriving downtown targeted for efforts to make it more pedestrian friendly through a master plan update.

Yet during his time at the podium, Clark pointed to the elephant in the room: The fact that 13 people are running for public office (believed to be a record for an election in Mount Airy) means citizens want change.

“The status quo has got to go,” Clark added.

He has long been a critic of city government efforts to redevelop former Spencer’s textile mill property it bought in 2014, which have been shaky at times — what Clark referred to Monday night as “boondoggles we’ve had in the last few years.”

The South Ward candidate was among others mentioning a need for better-paying employment opportunities in town.

They included Pritchard, who cited Mount Airy’s lack of “solid real jobs (that) give our young people the confidence to marry, buy a home and raise a family” and said he would vote to “go all out for new full-time jobs” locally.

“That keeps young people here and attracts new people.”

Pritchard framed his content around the theme of “what about us?” in terms of steps the city government should be taking to help the people.

He says other smaller communities in North Carolina have managed to attract major economic-development projects, including China Grove where Macy’s is building a distribution center and creating 2,800 jobs.

Pritchard attacked claims that this community lacks suitable buildings for businesses and a labor force.

“I say head to Winston about 7 a.m. and see our workforce leaving town.”

Pritchard said the city should make some of its land available for businesses by giving it to them at discount prices or even free, arguing that Mount Airy’s population must grow to avoid straining existing citizens.

Leiva, one of Pritchard’s opponents, also referred to the jobs issue in her comments, especially as it relates to younger people leaving town due to lack of opportunities.

Though she has deep roots in the community, Leiva moved away after graduating from college due to a lack of activities for young people but later returned.

While that has changed, more such activities are needed, said Leiva, who believes local officials should concentrate on economic development.

Thacker agreed. “I think we need to seek opportunities to provide new jobs.”

Mayoral candidate Lewis also mentioned a need for economic-development efforts along with more affordable housing.

“If I am elected mayor, I will be an agent of change,” said the longtime local businesswoman who in 1987 founded what is now the WorkForce Unlimited staffing agency employing thousands of people in three states.

Cawley also said the mayor can play a key role in luring new business by being the face of the community.

“Somebody has to tell the story — the story of what Mount Airy is — I think that’s what the job of the mayor is,” he remarked.

“We have a story to tell,” Niland concurred, also referring to plans to address economic development through a shell building concept. “I have the energy and drive to tell our story.”

He further said that downtown housing and entertainment are helping to attract the “national talent” companies seek.

Multiple candidates expressed concerns about Mount Airy’s property tax rate, which is now 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation due to a 25% increase approved in 2018, up from 48 cents.

“The top of the list, of course, is we need to reduce taxes,” Thacker said of his main goals if elected.

Cochran, as a former commissioner and mayor, says she has experience in doing just that,

“Everybody talks about cutting taxes — we actually did it,” Cochran said of how city officials slashed the rate from 63 to 48 cents during her tenure.

The former mayor also mentioned her efforts to bring jobs to town, including making a trip to Arkansas in a successful venture to lure a company that is one of the top local employers.

Zalescik expressed a desire to keep taxes low while seeking grants and other outside funding sources to support growth and not standing in the way of progress.

Some of the candidates used their time to highlight additional concerns, including Yokeley, whose goals encompass a need to improve the city’s aging water-sewer infrastructure, as do those of Phillips, and provide support for the police and fire departments.

“I am not running against anything or anybody,” Yokeley said, but to help Mount Airy.

In addition to concerns about police and fire operations, which are both understaffed, Phillips referred to the need to attack a related problem, drug abuse.

The Rotary Club of Mount Airy, of which she is president, has launched initiatives targeting that problem, she said. “This is just the beginning — we also can do more.”

Some candidates mainly expressed what they would bring to the table as elected officials.

Refvem said one of the main attributes she can offer is the ability to listen to citizens, based on her work as a licensed counselor for both youths and adults:

“What do you care about — what keeps you up at night?”

“I’m seeking this office because I have a passion for helping others,” said Hutchens, who along with previously serving on the Mount Airy Board of Education is a sergeant with the Surry County’s Sheriff’s Office involved with its school resource officer program.

“Community service should be done for the right reasons,” he commented in remarks directed toward citizens. “The bottom line is I care about Mount Airy and I care about working for you.”

A little more than two weeks ago, many of us got news we’ve all become familiar with, a tornado watch alert from the National Weather Service. That tornado watch turned into a tornado warning and an EF-2 tornado with winds reaching up to 122 miles per hour touched down outside of Hillsville, Virginia, in neighboring Carroll County, Virginia.

Like many families in the area that night, mine gathered in front of the television to watch the weather reports as we made plans about what to do if the power went out, roads were blocked, or a tornado actually touched down. Afterwards as I stayed awake listening to the wind snapping off branches outside, it hit me that tornado season had truly started.

Surry County actually ranks below average nationally in tornado occurrences, but we still have tornadic activity and a tornado season. Though spring is our official tornado season, they can happen any time of year. Surry specifically has a bit of history with late summer and fall tornados.

The tornado that touched down last month wasn’t the biggest we’ve ever had, nor was it the most powerful, the farthest traveled, or most destructive. But, to put it in perspective we didn’t begin keeping records of tornadoes until 1950 in the state of North Carolina (as well as much of the US). So, as we look back on the storm’s histories that have earned those accolades, recording weather history like this is still relatively new. I may not reference the biggest or strongest tornado that has ever occurred, but I can surely speak of the ones that we were able to record.

The only pre-database recorded tornado I could find for this area occurred in 1897. This particular twister hit the Mount Airy Furniture Co. which once resided where South Street is now. O. H. Yokley Sr. even recalled, “I remember that day; we had a privy (outhouse) next door to the packing room, and the storm blew it to the top of Bannertown Hill-about a mile and a half from here.”

Surry County is not prone to seeing very large tornados. EF-0 (40-72 mph winds) and EF-1 (73-112 mph winds) are the most frequent. The 2011 tornado that touched down in Cana, Virginia and destroyed a gas station on the side of U.S. 52 was an EF-0. Another local example of a small tornado is the 2010 twister that touched down on Highway 89 north of Raven Knob Boy Scout Camp that took down trees and caused minor structural damage.

One of the most memorable EF-1s happened in February 2016 when the community of Ararat, Virginia, just a few miles over the state line, was hit and hundreds of downed trees on the road along with multiple destroyed buildings were reported.

We every once in a while get an EF-2 (113-157 mph winds) like we did last month. Another example is the 2013 tornado that touched down in neighboring Stokes County on May 24, 2017, and left more than 900 homes without power. The September 2004 tornado in Henry County, Virginia (north of Martinsville) was also an EF-2 and arguably caused the most monetary damage of any tornado within this area, racking up $53.8 million worth of property damage to the city as it wrecked dozens of cars, hit a factory, and then barreled into a residential area.

EF-3 tornados (158 – 206 mph winds) are more of a rarity for the area. The closest ones we have had were three in the Winston-Salem area between 1985-1989, but the most historic happened an hour east in Rockingham County on March 20, 1998. This particular tornado was one of ten to drop in the state that day, and at roughly half a mile wide it traveled twelve miles reaching wind speeds of 170 miles per hour destroying 500-600 homes, countless businesses, and killing two people while injuring dozens more.

No reported deaths have been recorded due to a tornado in Surry County from what I’ve found, but we did have an out of season November twister in 1992 that resulted in 13 people being injured which set the record for the most injuries due to a tornado event.

There have been more than 40 reported tornados in Surry County since 1950 when we started truly keeping records, countless more before that, and all of our neighbors in surrounding counties have shared the same fate. The one thing they have always all had in common? They all thought it would never happen to them.

During the historic 1998 Rockingham County tornado their fire chief, Jake Hundley, was reported saying “The size and the magnitude of that tornado was just unexperienced around here. Nobody had ever seen anything that big.”

It’s an important time to remember that we may not have these events often, but they are a part of our history, and they can happen in our communities. So, the next time you get those National Weather Service alerts about tornados remember your history and stay safe.

Strike up the band and dust off the bunting because the sestercentennial events surrounding Surry 250 are preparing to resume after a prolonged pause due to COVID-19.

A full slate of activities for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Surry County was laid out and began last August with the launch event at Historic Courthouse Square in Dobson.

“We’re going to celebrate today,” Mark Marion of the Surry County Board of Commissioners said at the launch. “Surry County deserves it because we’ve been here a long time.”

A long time indeed from the meeting of the colonial assembly in Tryon Palace in 1770 that laid the groundwork for the final establishment of Surry County on April 1, 1771. Math skills have not been thrown away because of the pandemic, the sestercentennial had already been delayed from its initially proposed launch in the spring of 2020 that would have culminated with the actual 250th anniversary.

On what was described as a beautiful August day, the crowds gathered in Dobson to enjoy live performances by musicians, view displays by local community organizations, and see the sealing of an above ground time capsule.

These glimpses into the past can still draw much attention as evidenced by the excitement in Richmond last December over the discovery of not one, but two, time capsules under the former statue of the confederate general that had been erected in 1890.

Revolutionary War re-enactors arrived in Dobson for the event as well and Commissioner Eddie Harris, one of many history buffs in county government, heard the call for minutemen and arrived at the event with musket and tri-cornered hat.

Now, the long global nightmare of the pandemic has entered a new phase, one where personal choice is driving many decisions. Those who have wanted to have received their vaccines, some of the more vulnerable have had their second booster.

It is time to resume the plans to honor what U.S. House Representative Virginia Foxx called “fine traditions” at the launch. To that end, the bus tours and lecture series previously planned are resuming as well.

The lecture series returns first with “Surry Land Grants and Early Architecture” at 6:30 p.m on Thursday, April 21, at the Surry County Service Center, 915 East Atkins Street, Dobson. The lecture is being presented by architectural historian Laura A.W. Phillips and Marion Venable, a local historian who has had a strong hand in the Surry 250 plans.

Following will be “Surry’s Natural Heritage – NC Trail Days” in cooperation with the Elkin Valley Trails Association and presented by the Elkin Public Library to be held on Friday, June 3, at 4 p.m. Ken Bridle, ecologist/botanist with the Piedmont Land Conservancy will be speaking at the library, 111 North Front Street, Elkin.

Also in June, “Native Americans of the Yadkin Valley” will be presented by Dr. Andrew Gurstelle, professor at Wake Forest University. The lecture will also be held at the Surry County Service Center on Thursday, June 16, at 6:30 p.m.

The last lecture of 2022 will be held Friday, Nov. 18, at 6:30 p.m. with “Surry County’s Traditional Music Legacy” in cooperation with the Surry Arts Council. Paul Brown, musician, producer, radio host, and retired NPR reporter will be delivering the talk at the Earle Theatre, 142 North Main Street, Mount Airy.

One final lecture of the Surry 250 series is “Meshack Franklin – Western NC planter – Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of His Birth” which will be presented Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023 at 3 p.m. with presenter Rodney Pell, a retired Surry County educator. The event will be held at Edwards-Franklin House, 4132 Haystack Road, Mount Airy.

The Franklin – Edwards house is named in part for Meshack Franklin who married Mildred Edwards, and whose father Gideon built the home circa 1799. Franklin represented Surry County in the US House of Representatives for four terms.

If a lecture series is not your cup of tea, take a field trip courtesy of Black Tie Bus Charters Inc. who will be logging the miles behind the wheel of the Surry 250 bus tours. Tours depart from Surry County Service Center in Dobson and will leave promptly at 10 a.m., participants re asked to arrive by 9:45 a.m.

The cost of $25 per person will include a lunch. The tours are each scheduled from 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

On Saturday, May 28 Marion Venable will be the tour guide as the bus departs for the historical sites of Dobson and Northwestern Surry.

Keep on rolling to Elkin on Saturday, June 25 when local historian Jason Couch takes over as the tour guide for the sites in and around Elkin.

Venable reclaims the tour guide role for the final run through the historic sites of Eastern Surry County on Saturday, August 27.

More information can be found at:

Folks gathered at a court in Mount Airy’s Riverside Park appeared to be preparing to play tennis while taking advantage of a warm April day.

They certainly looked the part, wearing shorts, T-shirts and sneakers along with visors to shield their eyes from the noonday sun while trying to hit a familiar-looking yellow ball.

Wait! Those weren’t tennis rackets they were pulling out of their carrying cases at all, but something that more resembled oversized ping pong mallets instead.

And though the activity was similar to tennis — including volleying the ball back and forth over a net — that was not the game they were playing on the court.

What it was, was pickleball.

Yes pickleball, which made a casual observer even more confused because there definitely were no dills, sours or sweets and no bread and butter pickles to be found anywhere on the premises — not even a gherkin.

Similar to the observations of Andy Griffith in his monologue, “What It Was, Was Football,” about a naive man who accidentally happens upon a gridiron where a game is unfolding, the curious spectator at Riverside Park was witnessing a growing phenomenon.

It’s all part of what Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Director Peter Raymer portrayed as a “pickleball explosion” locally during a recent presentation to the city council, which he said is the fastest-growing sport in America.

Pickleball combines elements of badminton, ping pong and tennis, according to the presentation, whereby two or four players use the solid paddles to hit a “pickleball” — much like a wiffle ball — over the net.

One distinct difference between tennis and pickleball involves a lined-off area existing in front of the net on both sides where players aren’t allowed to be during a game — so there’s no charging the net to slam the ball into an opponent’s midst, as occurs with tennis.

That non-volley zone is commonly called the “kitchen,” but again, one that sadly contains no pickles, not even the sliced-up kind for a hamburger.

Research revealed that the name of the sport, by the way, originated with one of the men who created the game on the West Coast in 1965, whose family dog was called Pickles.

Fortunately at Riverside Park that day, the absence of tasty pickles also was accompanied by no canines being present to trip up the players.

The city parks and recreation director reported that pickleball has been embraced by the senior population because it is a lower-impact activity and presumably due to a compressed court that involves less movement than tennis or badminton.

According to Raymer, the big “dill” about pickleball (his words) is that it is a simple game, one easy to learn and which promotes fun and social interaction while also being a great form of exercise.

“And it’s a cheap sport that people can do,” Mayor Ron Niland said, not requiring expensive equipment.

Not only is pickleball being enjoyed locally at Riverside Park, three indoor courts with portable nets were set up in the gymnasium at Reeves Community Center to accommodate a growing legion of enthusiasts.

To better meet the demand in the face of limited playing areas, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted in March to launch a pickleball expansion project with an estimated cost of $200,750.

That was done at the urging of Commissioner Jon Cawley, an avid pickleball player as are other city officials.

“This is just something that needs to happen,” Cawley said in making a motion to approve the project. “I think this is really important.”

The parks and recreation director called that development “huge for our community.”

Plans for the expansion are to involve converting a basketball court adjacent to the existing pickleball space at Riverside Park into three additional courts for the new sport. The three already there were provided four years ago through a Disney Play Spaces grant to Mount Airy and are positioned near the basketball court in an area between a playground and skate park.

Hoops fans needn’t worry about the transition, since a new stand-alone basketball/multi-purpose court facility will be built in a field between a park picnic shelter and a convenience store at the corner of Riverside Drive and East Pine Street.

The projected expenses include resurfacing, fencing and equipment such as nets and goals for the new basketball area.

Money from the city’s $3.2 million share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help communities recover from COVID has been designated for the expansion.

However, Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis, former recreation director, is hoping leftover funds from a state grant awarded in connection with an upcoming greenway extension nearby can be used for the pickleball project.

While seniors are said to be the biggest age group enthralled with pickleball, it is increasingly being embraced by what Raymer described as a “youth invasion.”

That was evident at Riverside Park last week when Emily Bradley of Mount Airy arrived at the courts.

“I really just started playing,” said the young mom of four, adding that she got involved at the urging of a family member.

Bradley, who played tennis in high school, said pickleball is easier than that traditional sport.

Her children also love to play pickleball, which translates to an enjoyable activity for the entire family.

“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal for the elderly, who come out in the morning,” Bradley said of the participation by seniors, some who are in their 80s.

The existing space also is heavily used at times later in the day, she mentioned, saying one must choose an optimum time to play. “If we come after school, we have to wait for a court.”

Both Bradley and her playing partner that day, sister-in-law Sarah Bradley, are excited about Mount Airy officials’ decision to expand the pickleball facilities.

“They need to,” Sarah said.

Temperatures in the lower 40s Saturday morning, punctuated by a stiff wind, didn’t keep crowds away from Mount Airy’s annual Easter egg hunt.

Areas of the Granite City Greenway were invaded by legions of kids wielding baskets who seemingly combed every inch of ground in search of plastic eggs filled with goodies.

“I would guess easily 300 total,” Mount Airy Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Cloukey said of the event for which families began assembling well before its scheduled 10 a.m. start time.

They weren’t gathered in one spot, but at four different points along the greenway including behind the Roses shopping center, at Tharrington Park, at Veterans Memorial Park and an area behind Big Lots.

Cloukey and other city recreation staff members manned the location near Roses, where intrepid egg hunters eagerly anticipated the command to begin their quest.

“I would say at least 100 at that site,” she said of the number there.

Though the locales were different, the dynamics were the same for the hunt organized by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation with the help of longtime sponsor Carport Central, which donated 6,000 multi-colored eggs for the occasion also offering special prizes.

Kids scurried to explore nearly every blade of grass to gather the eggs, as adults accompanying them struggled to keep pace.

They seemed to relish the event as much as the youths.

That included Kent Moser of Mount Airy, who was there with his young grandson, Kyler Moser.

It was fun to spend some quality time with him during the event, Moser agreed, and overall “to see these kids enjoy it as much as they do.”

Mount Airy officials are hiring an Asheville law firm to pursue foreclosures on land where unsafe houses were torn down at taxpayer expense — a decision that didn’t come easy.

A vigorous debate preceded the city council’s 4-1 vote Thursday afternoon to have the Kania firm launch aggressive legal proceedings for six different sites in town representing demolition costs totalling $33,332 — accumulated during a span of nearly 10 years.

Instances of Mount Airy ordering the razing of dilapidated structures after owners failed to bring them up to code are a common occurrence. This has been accompanied by liens being filed on the land left behind which requires those expenses to be paid if and when it is sold — but often the property just sits there and the city doesn’t recoup its losses.

Thursday’s vote means that for the first time, the city government is going the extra — arguably drastic — step of proceeding with foreclosures to take ownership of parcels involved.

That will force sales of property from which the municipality can reap the proceeds, Mayor Ron Niland explained.

The locations involved are 335 Price St., 719 Worth St., 417 Nelson Hill Road, 140 Laurel Lane, 2261 Wards Gap Road and 2129 N. Main St.

But concerns were expressed Thursday afternoon by members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners about the costs surrounding foreclosures — although the majority did eventually decide to go that route.

After the board had opted during a previous meeting to explore this, City Attorney Hugh Campbell solicited bids from legal firms, with the one in Asheville emerging as the favorite.

“It specializes in local government foreclosures,” said Campbell, who mentioned that Kania handles such proceedings for Surry County, which results in auctions of affected property to the highest bidders on the courthouse steps.

“For the most part it’s fixed pricing,” the city attorney said of Kania’s charges for services — unlike some firms that bill according to hourly rates. “I thought that would be the best alternative for the city to use.”

The expense for a foreclosure case will range from around $3,000 to $5,000, according to Campbell.

However, Commissioner Jon Cawley said under his calculations — using a long list of itemized charges for services including sending demand/pre-foreclosure letters to property owners, title searches and filing court complaints for auctions — the city could pay $4,100 per case.

“What we’re going to be doing here is creating a large debt for the taxpayers,” predicted Cawley, who cast the dissenting vote Thursday not to forge the agreement with the Asheville firm. He based that on the money already owed to the municipality in addition to paying Kania.

Cawley said he would prefer to see collection proceedings undertaken by the city staff.

“I don’t think there is anything that says you have to be a lawyer to send a letter,” he remarked. “I won’t be supporting us using a law firm.”

But Campbell responded that the foreclosure services require a licensed attorney, and he does not handle such cases.

Meanwhile, city Finance Director Pam Stone said her department has mounted efforts to collect the money owed.

“We have tried, I’ll say that,” Stone added, saying all means available have been used.

“At one time we had one that we garnished some wages on,” she said of expenses for a site where a house had been demolished. “We have collected on one or two.”

Commissioner Tom Koch also expressed concerns about the legal fees to the city escalating once the Kania firm is engaged, saying he wanted to avoid a “blank check” situation.

“Attorneys don’t always have the best reputation,” observed Koch, who said he would like to see a $4,100 maximum per foreclosure.

This led to further debate about whether Mount Airy should see how Kania does with one case and proceed from there with the others, but council members were told that a single foreclosure could take four to six months to complete.

“I think we need to go with all six and see how that goes,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said of efforts to collect the debts.

“At least we get something back,” he reasoned. “I don’t think we need to wait four to six months.”

Yokeley mentioned that there is an added expense of land sitting vacant while producing no property tax revenues, which also can impact the values of neighboring homes depending on its condition.

The process opens the door for new houses to be built, Mayor Niland said.

And even if it can’t achieve a suitable sale price, the city government would be better off donating the property to the local Habitat for Humanity organization than what is occurring now, Yokeley contended. “I don’t think we need to sit on these properties.”

In subsequently agreeing to hire the Asheville law firm, Mount Airy officials say they will monitor the progress of cases as they wind their way through the system.

The process culminates with a judge granting a foreclosure judgment allowing an auction to occur.

A Mount Airy man was being held in the Surry County Jail Friday on 12 break-in, larceny and property damage charges stemming from three separate incidents in the city recently.

Eight on those charges filed against Quincey Monroe Johnson, 35, 0f 332 Eleanor Ave., involve a March 29 break-in at Running River Laundromat in the 1300 block of South Main Street near the Chase N Charli restaurant.

The crime, for which Johnson emerged as a suspect early on in the investigation, resulted in major property damage and the theft of an undisclosed sum of money from coin-operated devices. Police records indicate that damage put at $5,950 resulted, mostly to a Maytag washing machine and a claw machine.

Damage also occurred to a dryer door, a door lock, four LED strip lights and a glass window to a shed.

Johnson, who was arrested Thursday on all 12 charges, is accused of six counts of injury to personal property in the laundromat case along with two counts of breaking and entering a coin-operated machine.

He also is charged with larceny for allegedly stealing face masks Thursday at Dollar General on North Renfro Street, which police say were recovered on Johnson’s person when he was arrested on North Main Street near Virginia Street, but had been used, requiring restitution.

The incident at Dollar General led to Johnson also being served with outstanding warrants on two felonies in addition to the misdemeanor charges resulting from the laundromat case.

Those felonies include breaking and entering of a motor vehicle and larceny after breaking and entering, relating to a crime discovered on March 31 at Jantec Sign Group on South Main Street, where items were stolen from the bed of a GMC pickup and inside the vehicle.

Johnson attempted to do the same elsewhere on the premises, according to police records, leading to a further charge of misdemeanor attempting to break and enter a motor vehicle.

He is incarcerated under a combined secured bond of $25,000 for the dozen total charges. Johnson is facing appearances in Surry District Court on Monday of this week, April 18 and June 13.

Mount Airy officials are banning through truck traffic on a local street where busy conditions have resulted from a nearby expansion at Northern Regional Hospital.

This situation along West Haymore Street was triggered by the October closing of a section of Worth Street running alongside the hospital to accommodate $11 million in various construction projects, with work ongoing since.

That closing approved by the city council forced traffic normally using Worth between Rockford and South South Streets onto other connecting routes nearby, including West Haymore — the next street up from Worth.

Residents there have expressed concerns about the increased traffic resulting which is said to not always heed the posted 25 mph speed limit, with another complicating factor accompanying the presence of Andrews Street. It is a side street that runs into West Haymore, forming a Y-intersection.

However, surveys by the Mount Airy Police Department produced a recommendation by Chief Dale Watson last month that a three-way-stop configuration which had been requested for that intersection not be implemented as a way to slow down vehicles.

Speed bumps and a stoplight at West Haymore and Rockford also have been rejected.

But the idea of banning through truck traffic along West Haymore did gain traction, a move that was expected to be approved by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during a meeting Thursday afternoon. It was a response to neighborhood safety concerns, a city resolution voted on then states.

Plans called for “no through truck” signage to be installed at each end of West Haymore Street in conjunction with Thursday’s decision.

The truck ban is being applauded by Mark Morency, who lives on that street and has vigorously sought relief for the conditions posed by the increased traffic flow.

“That’s a positive to help with the bigger trucks,” Morency said Wednesday.

After the police chief made his recommendation in March, Morency continued to press the issue with Commissioner Steve Yokeley. This led to a meeting last week in the Municipal Building attended by Morency, Yokeley, Mayor Ron Niland, City Manager Stan Farmer and Watson.

The change involving trucks entered the discussion among city officials, which was embraced by the police chief as way to alleviate some of the traffic concerns.

“I told them I get semis up and down my road,” said Morency, who has made many observations there due to working from home.

Other tweaks also could be occurring on the street, he added, based on the discussion among local officials.

“I think they’re going to do some kind of calming,” Morency said of addressing the traffic situation by possibly painting lines on the street or installing curbing.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday afternoon to change the City Code of Ordinances to allow more downtown businesses to have outdoor dining areas — including sales of alcoholic beverages.

A demand for this surfaced when the coronavirus struck and related restrictions on indoor dining were imposed.

In illustrating that, city planning officials say that after outdoor dining at downtown restaurants was first approved in April 2015 — allowing this on public sidewalks/alleys — only two permits were issued afterward.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, staff and (the group) Mount Airy Downtown Inc. have fielded more requests for outdoor dining areas than in the previous five years combined,” a Planning Department memo states.

However, those requests have not been permitted due to existing language among the relevant municipal ordinances requiring the affected businesses to meet the qualifying definition of a restaurant — which the majority of commissioners agreed to alter Thursday.

“The primary change is to move from the definition of a restaurant to a food and beverage establishment,” Planning Director Andy Goodall explained at the meeting.

It was included among ordinance amendments that further will include the addition of “plazas” as usable public spaces for outdoor dining and the ability to expand that onto adjacent property with owners’ permission.

Mayor Ron Niland pointed out that the changes will benefit downtown businesses, especially should another pandemic strike.

However, not everyone was on board with the ordinance amendments, including Commissioner Jon Cawley, who voted against the proposal.

Cawley questioned Goodall at length on the plan, centering mainly on the implications for alcohol use.

“Will there be outdoor alcohol, too?” Cawley asked. “Are we going to create new spaces for more drinking?”

The planning director acknowledged that this could well be the case.

“They can also have alcohol in a designated area,” Goodall replied of food and beverage establishments,

Cawley wondered how this will be different than what goes on in the Market Street Arts and Entertainment District downtown, where alcoholic beverages may be consumed outside during the months when the district is in operation.

Goodall responded that only a small space generally will be available for that due to Thursday’s change — the area directly in front of a business — rather than an entire street.

An outdoor dining area must be associated with an operating food/beverage establishment under the ordinance changes.

The adage that the gears of government move slowly is a common complaint. For some though the gears have moved too fast and now will leave other gears and axles stationary, with some residents as well.

Last Monday, two citizens spoke at the meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners. Scott Needham and Rachel Collins, both commissioners themselves from Pilot Mountain, were there to speak as individuals and not representatives of the town. They did so knowing what many others did not, the end is near.

They both rose with articulated arguments against Surry County’s decision to exit PART, the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, which oversees intercounty commuter transportation for ten counties in this area.

“The need for rural public transportation has historically been linked with providing mobility and accessibility to essential employment, goods, and services for older adults, low income, and persons with disability. I believe it is an important amenity to people and new companies coming to our town,” Collins offered.

Unbeknownst to speakers of previous meetings who rose to offer similar objections, what Commissioner Eddie Harris once called a “divorce” is much closer to its completion than its beginning.

PART Route 6 will cease operation after Friday, June 30 — the federally funded park and ride lots in King and Mount Airy, along with the dual lots in Pilot Mountain will sit idle.

There may be a glimmer of hope for the King lot, but for ones in Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy, if the county no longer wishes to levy the car rental tax, and has previously rejected a fee atop car registration to cover the county’s contribution — there is no recourse.

“We had found out very recently in the last couple of weeks,” Collins confirmed Wednesday. “I received an email from PART because I was a rider in the past. It stated on that email that it was the end of June.”

A date not chosen arbitrarily, rather one that coincides with the end of the fiscal year to make for a quick end to a divorce almost no one saw coming.

Launched in 2005, PART was meant to alleviate the strain of excess cars on the road, provide ease of access to those who lack a vehicle or license, and to help with the inflated cost of gas. Needham himself reminded that during the George W. Bush years when the program launched, “gas prices were high then, we thought. They are really high now.”

A discussion in earnest on the transportation authority began back in the fall when a grant application from PART reached the commissioners. The board was asked to give their approval for PART to apply for more federal dollars to expand the bus services along Route 6, The Surry County Express.

The board declined to give their permission for the grant application to move forward, and then began a discussion on the county’s participation in the authority. The board noted a drop in ridership, an add on sales tax on rental cars, and that moving citizens out of the county for work may be hurting local economies as reasons to not spend more federal dollars on a service they felt was not as successful as it once had been.

They sought guidance, which the county attorney in conjunction with legal counsel from PART communicated. In response, PART wrote a resolution pleading the board reconsider exiting the authority and sent their emissary, Scott Rhine, to the Feb. 21 board meeting. The resulting question and answer session did not change minds, and the board moved forward.

PART quietly released the following in early March:

“On Feb. 21, 2022, the Surry County Board of County Commissioners took action at their scheduled Board of County Commissioners meeting by unanimous vote to withdraw their membership from the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART). The County has requested that their membership be removed from PART by June 30, 2022.

“This release is an initial public notification that PART Express Route 6 service will no longer be operating, effective: July 1, 2022….

“The decision of the Surry County Board of County Commissioners to withdraw their membership from PART directly impacts the PART Territorial Jurisdiction and restricts PART from operating PART Express service in Surry County.” It is that language that is the nail in the coffin for Route 6.

A common objection to PART was that ridership numbers had declined significantly over the last years, but Needham told the board he spoke to Rhine since the board’s vote to exit and was told that ridership numbers are increasing. Collins suggested that the best way to improve ridership is to offer more stops, a point Rhine made weeks earlier.

On sending workers off to other counties for work, Needham countered, “I have heard that maybe we are shipping our employees out of the county, if that is so — those employees are then taking those dollars and bringing it home to Surry County where they improve their property which we get the benefit with property tax. Also, they spend that money here in our county which employs people here.”

“This happened so quickly,” Collins pointed out. “By canceling you are taking away opportunities, not only for low income and those with no driver’s license, but any other citizen in our town. We are offering a service to these constituents now that they may not be able to get anywhere else.”

She went on to note that citizens’ federal tax dollars are going to continue to fund PART whether Surry County is a member or not. “We do not want to lose out to Greensboro and High Point. We are going to be paying for a service we no longer get.”

“Our citizens in town limits pay double taxes, so I would argue that we pay a lot to the county for services we don’t use. I’m not arguing that,” she continued. “I don’t have school aged children, yet my taxes go to the school system.”

Needham seized on the point of taxation, “My tax rates aren’t going to get any lower, and no one else here’s taxes are going to get lower by us not having that service, but we won’t have the service.

For Collins, it is more than dollars and cents and was a highly personal affair as she recounted utilizing the service for access to cancer treatment in Winston-Salem. “From November 2019 – April 2021, I was undergoing chemo. I personally was glad the PART bus was there.

“The bus stopped right in front of the cancer center, so I had the ability to go to my treatments and if someone was picking me up, I didn’t have to burden them to chauffeur me both ways. The busses were clean, well maintained and ran on time.”

“While you may have not personally never have needed public transportation, or wanted to use it, there are many in our area that do.”

The Granite City Greenway in Mount Airy is a popular venue for walkers, cyclists and runners, and on Saturday the list also will include legions of kids and families joined by a special long-eared guest.

This will unfold during an annual Easter egg hunt organized by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation scheduled to begin promptly at 10 a.m.

The city greenway system was selected to host the free event for the second year in a row after more than 350 people attended the first hunt there in 2021.

Seven different areas will be set aside for the seeking of plastic eggs filled with goodies, which have been donated by Carport Central.

For planning purposes, those interested in attending are being asked to acknowledge that intent in advance.

“We’d like for everyone to call ahead and reserve their spot,” Parks and Recreation Director Peter Raymer said in reference to the starting points, “so we can get kind of an equal amount at each location.” This can be done at 336-786-8313.

Among the entry points are the area behind the Lowes Foods/Roses shopping center, Tharrington Park and at Veterans Memorial Park.

The layout will include some locations where participants can go either right or left on the greenway, Raymer said.

Basket giveaways are planned at the hunt, which also will feature a customary appearance by the Easter Bunny.

The friendly rabbit is to be available to meet kids and pose for photos.

Members of the Parks and Recreation staff will oversee the event sponsored by Carport Central, a regular supporter of the city Easter egg hunt.

It was long conducted at Westwood Park, where huge crowds gathered around the softball fields, but after six straight years there the event was cancelled in 2020 as the coronavirus stranglehold began.

The change in location to the Granite City Greenway last year was a response to COVID-19, aimed at allowing participants to be more socially distanced while yet enjoying the thrill of the hunt.

Organizers decided to maintain the same setup for 2022.

“It went very well last year and was a big hit,” Raymer said.

Details are coming into focus on the grisly accident that occurred Tuesday morning on southbound US-52.

A West Virginia man was killed early Tuesday morning when a tractor-trailer travelling southbound collided with the rollback tow truck on site to assist his disabled vehicle.

Jeff Vickers was killed in the crash. Surry County Emergency Management Director Eric Southern informed the passenger and the tow truck driver were able to jump out of the way ahead of the collision.

Vickers had called for assistance from a local towing company after having a flat tire. The tow company reported that given the angle and position of the vehicle, their tow truck was partially in the roadway while on site assisting, when the wreck occurred.

According to Sgt. F.A. Pipes of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Vickers was atop the rollback truck bed while the tow truck driver and Vickers’ wife were on the ground.

The Highway Patrol report states a car carrier travelling southbound on US 52 “ran up the rollback ramp and hit Mr. Vickers who was standing outside his car, on top of the rollback bed.”

A truck driver who was first on the scene, but did not witness the accident, told The Mount Airy News, “The wrecker appeared to be sitting angled in the slow lane with the bed raised and maybe 1/3 of the bed over the white line pointed toward the shoulder.”

Based on his observation of the scene, “the semi apparently hit the wrecker directly in the rear but due to the angle of the wrecker, the semi used the bed of the wreckers as a ramp. It launched the semi into the air at an angle, causing the semi to go airborne and land on the driver’s side and skidded maybe 300 feet.

“The impact dislodged the disabled pickup and launched it another 30 feet into the woods. Cars were scattered and demolished everywhere both on US 52 and the road beneath with no occupants.”

There must have been a heightened sense of panic to the scene he said “looked like a war zone” as more vehicles than were involved in the collision littered the roadway, “Finally we realized that the semi was a car hauler, thank God.”

All the while there was a panicked search for Vickers, “(She) was frantically screaming for Jeff. Several of us searched all around for him but only later he was found under the semi cab with only a limb visible.”

The two-vehicle crash happened around 1:40 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to officials.

The tractor-trailer was hauling vehicles, and multiple vehicles it was carrying ended up on the highway during the collision. The tow truck driver was not injured.

US 52 had reopened in both directions by mid-afternoon, after being closed for much of the morning. Even the northbound lanes were closed for a period of time, as authorities brought in equipment to clear the wreckage in the southbound lanes.

Southern of Emergency Management confirmed Wednesday that there was an amount of diesel fuel that leaked, but that it was contained.

Despite other news outlet’s reporting, The Mount Airy News has not been able to confirm if any charges are pending.

They deal with different areas in the public safety realm, but Mount Airy’s fire and police chiefs share a common need: more manpower.

In what could be considered two tales of the same city, Fire Chief Zane Poindexter is seeking the creation of more full-time positions for his department while Police Chief Dale Watson is concerned with filling vacant jobs already existing.

No slots have been added in the Mount Airy Fire Department for more than 15 years, Poindexter said during a city government planning retreat in late March when both he and Watson updated their respective operations along with other department heads.

Since then, major annexations occurred which increased the territory covered while not boosting personnel.

Of the more than 40 employees in the department, 37 are devoted to fire suppression — but only 20 of those are full-time firefighters, with the part-timers limited to 36 hours per month.

Push comes to shove at times with having enough personnel available during a fire, Poindexter said, which can be a factor with a two-in, two-out policy of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

It requires two firefighters to enter a burning building together to monitor each other’s whereabouts while extinguishing a blaze or rescuing someone, and two others outside to act in case the first two are endangered.

While OSHA rules do allow for a “ready rescue” by fewer personnel if a someone inside can be easily reached, generally “that’s a risk we’re not going to take,” Poindexter said of acting with less than the prescribed number.

Another problem occurs with having enough people to operate the city’s ladder truck in a safe manner. “That is a two-man job,” the chief said.

“We’re going to need more full-time staffing,” Poindexter said in looking ahead.

The fire official is not seeking to add 10 employees in a single year, for example, indicating that the need should be met on a gradual basis.

Keeping jobs filled in the department was a major problem until 2018, when raises were granted to bring Mount Airy firefighters’ pay to the statewide average in response to heavy turnover.

Though sporadic vacancies have occurred since, “it wasn’t the revolving door it had been,” Poindexter said in follow-up comments last Thursday.

The personnel numbers aren’t thought to be putting citizens or their property at risk, but one key area that can be impacted by this is the city’s fire-suppression rating, which affects their pocketbooks with insurance costs.

Mount Airy was notified last month that a Class 3 rating for its coverage district was being maintained, as certified by the N.C. Department of Insurance/Office of the State Fire Marshal after a strenuous evaluation process.

“It’s been a three since 1997,” Poindexter said of the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating by which that entity classifies all fire departments in the country according to their suppression capabilities.

Poindexter has called Class 3 “a really good grade for a department our size.”

However, Mount Airy slipped to a score of 70.97 during its most recent evaluation, near the bottom end of the Class 3 scale that requires ones of 70 to 79.99. Its last grade from the process in 2014 was 72.3.

“Manpower is where we take the biggest hit,” the fire chief said regarding the certification procedure.

If Mount Airy’s fire rating drops to the next level, it would have a drastic impact on the cost of insuring both homes and businesses, but especially the latter due to the higher value of covering equipment or other assets involved.

Poindexter calculated one example in which a business in the city would face a $362 increase in annual insurance costs under the next-lowest rating (that would be a Class 4, with higher numbers meaning less proficiency and Class 1 the best available).

Both Mount Airy’s fire and police chiefs are devoting more attention to personnel recruitment and retention to stabilize their ranks.

During the planning retreat, Chief Watson mentioned that a departmental meeting recently was held among police personnel aimed at identifying “who we are and where we want to be,” he said.

“We’re focused on tomorrow,” Watson added.

One of the goals of the Mount Airy Police Department along those lines is to become fully staffed, the chief said, a condition that has eluded it in recent years.

At full strength, the department has 42 sworn officers and 15 non-sworn employees.

It presently has five vacancies in the Patrol Division, four in communications and two in the Criminal Investigations Division.

Meanwhile the workload of criminal cases and traffic accidents handled by the department remains high, including more than 800 in the latter category last year.

In outlining recruitment challenges, the police chief says his department encounters difficulty in hiring younger people of “Generation Z” — born in 1997 and after.

Those individuals generally prefer shorter-term jobs, with only a small percentage desiring to work more than five years for the same employer, according to Watson.

And once officers come aboard, some discover that a law enforcement career is not what they expected, he said, such as requiring much paperwork and unique stresses.

The chief pointed out that one recruit started work on the same day that an officer-involved shooting occurred within the department, which apparently proved to be more than he could handle. That officer never came back for a second day.

COVID and social unrest also have complicated the equation in the past couple of years, Watson said. “The police paradigm is constantly changing.”

To meet the personnel challenges through increased recruitment and retention, the chief said incentives for training and education will be pursued along with a succession strategy. It is aimed at preparing replacements to step in to key positions when resignations or retirements occur to maintain the level of service to the public.

It’s that time of year again — when Mount Airy residents get the opportunity to clear out attics, garages or basements and dispose of items that city sanitation crews normally don’t collect.

This spring, that annual two-week window initially will run from April 18-22, and pick up again the next Monday, April 25, before ending on April 29.

The special cleanup service is available citywide each year for residential properties only.

During those two weeks, crews will pick up these items in addition to regular trash collections:

• Tires, with a limit of 12 per residence (with or without rims)

• Building materials (generated by homeowners)

• Loose leaves (which normally are picked up only from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31)

• Limbs exceeding 3 inches in diameter (which must be separated from smaller-diameter brush)

• Old gas grills (without fuel cylinders)

Residents are asked to place extra items at the curb beside trash carts on their regular collection days.

Due to environmental regulations, city personnel cannot collect paint, pesticides, herbicides, solvents or chemicals. However, Surry County holds an annual event at Veterans Memorial Park (typically in the fall) when those substances are accepted.

Citizens are being asked to take certain steps in order the make the process run smoothly, Mount Airy Sanitation Supervisor Russell Jarrell said Tuesday.

One thing he mentioned was the importance of separating television sets from tires and not mixing those with the general debris being discarded. “Because we have to collect them separate,” Jarrell explained regarding the grouping of those items during the disposal process by municipal crews.

Another request to residents involves making sure not to pile items underneath utility lines due to the clearance needed for a truck used to pick up materials.

“This will make it a little easier on us,” the sanitation supervisor said, along with speeding up collections.

Jarrell also mentioned a third area that tends to cause problems, related to the disposal of building material that sometimes is piled up in a haphazard fashion by residential customers.

“We want to ask that they stack it neatly at the curb,” Jarrell said, as opposed to being strewn about.

“It just makes it harder to pick up,” he added regarding that scenario.

City officials are hoping this spring’s cleanup goes better than in 2021, when an equipment malfunction delayed pickups of the unusual items. “It was terrible,” Jarrell recalled Tuesday.

This involved a grapple truck — which contains a flexible crane that aids the retrieval of bulky objects such as sofas — going down on the first day of the cleanup period.

That led the municipality to contract with a local company, R & J Tree Service, which is equipped with a grapple truck, to supplement city sanitation crews’ efforts.

Despite the problems, 285 tons of trash/debris were transported to the landfill, more than any other recent year, according to a breakdown from Jarrell.

In addition, 401 rimless automobile tires were picked up along with 70 on rims, 38 appliances, 74 TV sets/computer monitors, 239 mattresses, 296 pieces of upholstered furniture, four bicycles, 111 tons of brush and 15 tons of leaves.

The list further included three upright pianos, three lawn mowers and five pieces of exercise equipment, among other unusual items.

The Surry County Board of Commissioners Monday were advised that there have been positive developments regarding county properties for sale. With the deed to J. J. Jones High School being transferred Monday, the acceptance of an upset bid on properties on Rawley Avenue, and the opening of upset bids on Westfield Elementary — the county may soon have three fewer properties on its ledger.

First, the property at 130 Rawley Ave. has been a topic of conversation going back to 2020. That process is at its conclusion now as the upset bidding process for the building and adjoining parking lot has been completed.

Commissioner Van Tucker expressed interest in finding out who the bidder was, and after the board approved the bid Tate & Son Plumbing Group was revealed to have been the winning party with a bid of $280,000.

Currently under lease by PQA Healthcare through September 2023, the building was appraised at $250,000 with its total tax value estimated at $405,410.

In January, the commissioners accepted an opening bid of $200,000 for the Rawley Avenue property and opened a period of upset bidding in which any other party may offer a higher amount and be considered the highest bidder.

Over the course of two months, Assistant to the County Manager Nathan Walls took several upset bids until the winning bid was secured. County Attorney Ed Woltz asked what the board intended to do with the county owned property such as office furniture and medical equipment that was not included in the surplus auction.

It was decided that consistency in the handling of surplus property was important, and the commissioner declined to take action on those items until such time as the current tenant’s lease is up. At that time, the board would seem most likely to enter those items into another surplus items auction.

The next surplus property which may be on the move is the old Westfield School. The board was made aware than an offer has been made by an unidentified individual who has placed a 5% bid deposit, or $7,500 down payment, against their offer of $150,000 for Westfield. The property was appraised at $243,000 and has a full tax value of $299,320.

County Manager Chris Knopf advised the board that if they approve this offer, it will open a period of upset bidding. As was the case with Rawley Avenue, this can take a matter of time and the price can change significantly once interested parties begin their bidding.

“Because the process has been started, you are not painting yourself into a corner. You never have to finally approve any sale,” Woltz reminded the board that they will have final approval, so if the offers are not to the county’s liking, they may all be rejected. The board accepted the offer and has opened the upset bid process.

– As mentioned, LaShene Lowe was in attendance as the board approved the historic title transfer of the former J. J. Jones High School to The African American Historical and Genealogical Society of Surry County.

– The board finalized the transfer of surplus property to the Westfield Baptist Church of artifacts from the former Westfield Elementary. Commissioner Tucker had been keeping the board abreast on this project and was keen to see the artifacts preserved for posterity.

– Daniel White of parks and recreation asked the board, and was approved, to wipe clean the slate of back fees from 2012- 2020 for shelter rentals. As the department is changing to a new software system and has done due diligence in collection, waving $2,595 allows for a full transition to the new system.

– LT Consulting was issued an additional $5,000 in funding from the board for the services of Bill Powell in oversight on school construction projects.

– Four positions were created under Mark Willis and the Substance Abuse Recovery Team. The posts are Intervention Team Coordinator, Intervention Team Peer Support Specialist, Recovery to Work Business Advisor, and Research and Program Support Specialist.

Willis has previously laid out the long-term spending plan for the opioid settlement money the county will receive. However, zero county dollars were requested for these four positions through the end of the fiscal year 2023.

Also on Monday, the board made a bevy of appointments and reappointments, as follows:

– Commissioner Larry Johnson was requested to join the YVEDDI board for another term, the board concurred.

– The board accepted the nominates of Neil Atkins, Elaine Habenicht, Daniel Poindexter, and Lindsay Moose to the Surry County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

– The county tax administrator’s two-year term expires at the end of June; the board approved another two-year term through June 2024 for Penny Harrison.

– An inspector was approved to join the North Carolina Building Inspectors Association’s Damage Assessment Response Team (DART).

– On inspectors, Assistant County Manager Sandy Snow introduced to the board the new lead county building inspector Keith Kiger. He has been with the county since 2019 but is new in this role. “I look forward to a bright future and I see Surry County blooming, growing, and most of all keeping everyone safe,” he said.

Commissioner Eddie Harris gave compliments to Kiger for the good reports he has heard coming from the inspections department, and said he has confidence in Kiger’s ability to lead the department.

Recognized for achieving the highest rank in Scouting, two new Eagle Scouts came before the county commissioners Monday evening for acknowledgment from the board.

Sam Gordon and Ethan Smith of Troop 553 received their honors and then addressed the crowd to give some explanation as to what they did for the service component of earning the rank.

Smith told the commissioners that a flagpole area was in disrepair at the White Plains Ruritan Club. It had been struck by a vehicle and needed a touch of TLC.

“I poured a concrete base and foundation to put both the granite benches that were previously there, and the granite border around it. As well as added new lights, and some darker gravel to show off the granite border a bit better,” Smith said. “This will help with future flag ceremonies, it will look better for people to have a picnic, and it will also help with cleaning.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson informed the repairs “look great.”

Gordon built planter boxes for the Helping Hands Foundation of Mount Airy. “I used 55-gallon barrels, we cut them open and made planters out of them so they would be reusable. We put them out front of Helping Hands Foundation so they can have reusable planters to grow vegetables, they can have flowers and it would make it more inviting for those who need food.

“If they needed help, they can go into Helping Hands and it be more welcoming – they wouldn’t have to be so nervous,” he explained of his service project.

Chairman Bill Goins expressed his satisfaction at seeing another set of Eagles come through the meeting and restated his long-term support for scouting and emphasized the significance of achieving Eagle Scout.

Not to be outdone on this evening, two teams from Surry County competed recently at the Northwest Regional Library’s Quiz Bowl event and represented themselves well.

The team from Mount Airy High School took first place and the team from North Surry High School took home second place.

The Mount Airy High School team includes Abby Moser, Andrew Myers, Tyler Utt, Angel Rivera, Nicholas Calvillo-Solis, Chris Lim, and adviser Rod Hosking.

The North Surry High team includes Sky Estrada, Max Barnard, Nathan Lattimore, Walker York, Colby Callaway, Colby Mitchell, Will Danley, and coach Amanda Smith.

Coach Smith said the contest is fun for the students and is as much about how fast you can recall and react as it is to know random trivia facts.

“Its so much more than just a library,” Chairman Goins said after the awards were handed out.

The stars aligned for such kind words as Anna Nichols of the Northwest Regional Library was in attendance on the evening to let the commissioners know that this is National Library Week. The theme of library week this year is, “My library connects me to ___.”

Among her favorite responses are that the library connects people to: hotspots, gardening, community/connections, and her personal favorite answer – the world.

“Think about it, little Surry County connected to the world through the library.”

Mount Airy Elks Lodge No. 261 have a commitment to giving back to the community. After being constrained by the pandemic from their normal slate of in-person events, the group is now getting back into the swing of things.

Last week, Lodge No. 261 was at it again as they presented a check to the Children’s Center of Northwest North Carolina, a repeated target of giving from the Elks. The Beacon Grant of the Elks National Foundation was awarded to the Children’s Center for $1,650.

“Over the last eight years the Mount Airy Elks Motorcycle Committee has used the Beacon Grant to support the Children’s Center of Surry and Yadkin counties,” Elks local secretary Mark Alderman explained of the grant’s goal. “Each year the Lodge received $3,500 to support the Children’s Centers by purchasing school supplies, coats, clothing, shoes, and other necessities for all the children. Also, making sure they have a good Christmas.

“They take them out on outings such as bowling, movies, and usually a meal at Thirteen Bones along with the counselors and staff. Last year, due to the pandemic they were only able to donate monetarily,” he went on. “This year after purchasing the needed items for all the children, and with the continuing aftermath of the pandemic, we closed out the grant with a monetary donation of $1,650.”

The Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and has a budget for program services in the 2021-22 fiscal year totaling $36.4 million. Their Community Investment Program (CIP) totals $14.9 million of the Elks overall charitable budget. Among the CIP grants issued by the National Foundation include the Spotlight Grant, Gratitude Grant, Impact Grant, Freedom Grant, and the Beacon Grant.

This year the Lodge received more than $ 7,500 in grant monies to provide for the community. The Gratitude Grant of $2,000 was split between three organizations the Maranatha Homeless Outreach Ministries, St. Andrew Lutheran Outreach Ministries and The Helping Hands of Surry these organizations provide meals and necessities to the homeless and needy throughout our community and surrounding area.

Local Elks Lodges can use the Gratitude Grants as they see fit. As they are the reward from the foundation for every Lodge that meets the National President’s per-member goal for giving. Alderman mentioned the phrase, “Elks care, Elks share,” and this grant bears that out: They can do more locally because their local members anted up when called upon to do so.

The Spotlight Grant of $2,000 was recently donated monetarily to the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter. Spotlight is appropriately named as the Elks denote that grant should be used to highlight an issue of concern for the community. As homelessness, and specifically the needs of homeless men, are issues that need attention the Elks targeted the newly formed shelter to shine the spotlight on the group, and the core issue of homelessness.

“The Elks are a very patriotic organization and have a solemn pledge that as long as there are veterans the Elks will never forget them,” Alderman said. His lodge has various programs that support veterans, around Veterans Day they have a have a free potluck meal for any veteran that comes. “The last two years the lodge has been involved in Fishing with Veterans Program where we invite veterans on a fishing outing at Cedar Springs Fish Farm, the lodge pays their fishing fees and provides them with a boxed lunch purchased from Aunt Bea’s.

“The lodge also supports The Veterans Home in Salisbury, visiting them at Easter and Christmas and recently purchased a 40-inch TV for the soon-to-open Veterans Home in Kernersville. The North Carolina Elks Association members provides TV’s, supplies, necessities, and handicap vans for all the North Carolina Veterans Homes,” Alderman said of the Elks’ focus on veterans.

Their Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in Chicago May 30, where three North Carolina youth will be one of 72 boys and girls competing for the National Title. Alderman also noted the Elks scholarship program give out significant amounts to students, totaling more than $4.5 million last year. “So, you see why Elks standout in communities all across the country.”

A West Virginia man was killed early Tuesday morning when a tractor-trailer travelling southbound collided with the rollback tow truck on site to assist his disabled vehicle.

Surry County officials say the multi-car crash on US-52 overnight resulted in a partial closure of the highway near Pilot Mountain.

Jeff Vickers of Brenton, West Virginia, was killed in the crash.

Vickers had called for assistance from a local towing company after having a flat tire. The tow company reported that given the angle and position of the vehicle, their tow truck was partially in the roadway while on site assisting, when the wreck occurred.

According to Sgt. F.A. Pipes of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Vickers was atop the rollback truck bed while the tow truck driver and Vickers’ fiancee were on the ground.

The Highway Patrol report states a car carrier travelling southbound on US 52 “ran up the rollback ramp and hit Mr. Vickers who was standing outside his car, on top of the rollback bed.”

The two-vehicle crash happened around 1:40 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to officials.

The tractor-trailer was hauling vehicles, and multiple vehicles it was carrying ended up on the highway during the collision. The tow truck driver was not injured.

US 52 had reopened in both directions by mid-afternoon, after being closed for much of the morning. Even the northbound lanes were closed for a period of time, as authorities brought in equipment to clear the wreckage in the southbound lanes.

Charges are pending in this crash.

Many times even the best-laid plans go up in smoke — but that’s exactly what one Mount Airy official hopes will occur regarding a sanitation-related proposal he has floated.

The city government is now paying Surry County about $40,000 per year to dump brush at the county landfill south of town after it is collected from Mount Airy residences.

Disposing of such waste has been an ongoing concern among municipal officials, surrounding both cost and logistical issues involving the use of a grapple truck to gather items such as tree limbs and other yard waste as a special service to citizens. Huge piles of cut trees and shrubbery sometimes are left along local streets, which are collected by workers manning the truck and hauled away.

A possible improvement in that process emerged on March 23 during a city government planning retreat to address budgetary and other long-range matters. This included department heads discussing their operations along with related facility, personnel and other needs.

As Public Works Director Mitch Williams was presenting information about his realm of responsibility, which includes trash collection, he relayed a suggestion by new City Manager Stan Farmer, who assumed that post on Jan. 31.

“Have you ever thought about burning your brush?” Williams said he was asked by Farmer as he was making the rounds of public works facilities with the manager.

“That’s one of the things we’re looking at as a cost-saving measure,” Farmer explained during the retreat.

Rather than making regular trips to the county landfill and racking up thousands of dollars in fees along the way, the city manager is suggesting that the brush be taken to some open area and burned.

One possible site identified so far for this is a large field adjacent to the city wastewater-treatment plant off U.S. 52 at the south end of town, which does not appear to be near any homes.

Farmer said this process is used in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, where he served as city manager for 13.5 years before resigning in October.

While saving money, the burning of brush could be viewed as creating other problems related to air quality, which Fire Chief Zane Poindexter commented on after that proposal was presented.

“Not with natural vegetation I don’t see any,” Poindexter said of disposing of such material in this manner.

“But if we were to get any complaints, we would surely address them,” the fire chief added.

Mount Airy Elks Lodge No. 2061 have a commitment to giving back to the community. After being constrained by the pandemic from their normal slate of in-person events, the group is now getting back into the swing of things.

Last week, Lodge No. 2061 was at it again as they presented a check to the Children’s Center of Northwest North Carolina, a repeated target of giving from the Elks. The Beacon Grant of the Elks National Foundation was awarded to the Children’s Center for $1,650.

“Over the last eight years the Mount Airy Elks Motorcycle Committee has used the Beacon Grant to support the Children’s Center of Surry and Yadkin counties,” Elks local secretary Mark Alderman explained of the grant’s goal. “Each year the Lodge received $3,500 to support the Children’s Centers by purchasing school supplies, coats, clothing, shoes, and other necessities for all the children. Also, making sure they have a good Christmas.

“They take them out on outings such as bowling, movies, and usually a meal at Thirteen Bones along with the counselors and staff. Last year, due to the pandemic they were only able to donate monetarily,” he went on. “This year after purchasing the needed items for all the children, and with the continuing aftermath of the pandemic, we closed out the grant with a monetary donation of $1,650.”

The Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and has a budget for program services in the 2021-22 fiscal year totaling $36.4 million. Their Community Investment Program (CIP) totals $14.9 million of the Elks overall charitable budget. Among the CIP grants issued by the National Foundation include the Spotlight Grant, Gratitude Grant, Impact Grant, Freedom Grant, and the Beacon Grant.

This year the Lodge received more than $ 7,500 in grant monies to provide for the community. The Gratitude Grant of $2,000 was split between three organizations the Maranatha Homeless Outreach Ministries, St. Andrew Lutheran Outreach Ministries and The Helping Hands of Surry these organizations provide meals and necessities to the homeless and needy throughout our community and surrounding area.

Local Elks Lodges can use the Gratitude Grants as they see fit. As they are the reward from the foundation for every Lodge that meets the National President’s per-member goal for giving. Alderman mentioned the phrase, “Elks care, Elks share,” and this grant bears that out: They can do more locally because their local members anted up when called upon to do so.

The Spotlight Grant of $2,000 was recently donated monetarily to the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter. Spotlight is appropriately named as the Elks denote that grant should be used to highlight an issue of concern for the community. As homelessness, and specifically the needs of homeless men, are issues that need attention the Elks targeted the newly formed shelter to shine the spotlight on the group, and the core issue of homelessness.

“The Elks are a very patriotic organization and have a solemn pledge that as long as there are veterans the Elks will never forget them,” Alderman said. His lodge has various programs that support veterans, around Veterans Day they have a have a free potluck meal for any veteran that comes. “The last two years the lodge has been involved in Fishing with Veterans Program where we invite veterans on a fishing outing at Cedar Springs Fish Farm, the lodge pays their fishing fees and provides them with a boxed lunch purchased from Aunt Beas.

“The lodge also supports The Veterans Home in Salisbury, visiting them at Easter and Christmas and recently purchased a 40-inch TV for the soon-to-open Veterans Home in Kernersville. The North Carolina Elks Association members provides TV’s, supplies, necessities, and handicap vans for all the North Carolina Veterans Homes,” Alderman said of the Elks’ focus on veterans.

Their Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in Chicago May 30, where three North Carolina youth will be one of 72 boys and girls competing for the National Title. Alderman also noted the Elks scholarship program give out significant amounts to students, totaling more than $4.5 million last year. “So, you see why Elks standout in communities all across the country.”

A plan by Mount Airy officials to acquire property in a troubled area was derailed Friday when it was revealed before a scheduled auction that the land already had been bought by another party.

This was the latest development in a strange set of circumstances surrounding the small lot on West Pine Street beside the former Koozies building and the old Mittman Paint and Body Shop located across the street, both facing possible demolition.

Both sites, owned by two sisters in Lewisville who are heirs of John Mittman — who ran that shop — were slated for a double-header sale Friday morning, but only the Mittman property went on the auction block and not the land on West Pine.

Bobby Koehler, the owner of Ultimate Towing and Recovery in Mount Airy, made the highest bid for the Mittman site.

Mount Airy officials had planned to bid on the quarter-acre lot nearby along West Pine, which previously was dealt a setback due to one of the sisters recently selling her half-share of the property to local businessman Wes Collins.

As Friday’s scheduled dual action got under way, attended by about 30 people, it was announced that the small site would not be part of the proceedings due to the second sister also agreeing to convey her share to Collins.

“I’m advised that that’s what the other property owner has agreed to sell to him,” said local attorney Fred Johnson, who was spearheading the auction of both properties pursuant to a court order. A commissioner’s sale was involved, which typically occurs to satisfy a debt.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners had voted 4-1 on March 17 in favor of having a bid submitted on the municipality’s behalf at the auction for the small lot, with the board’s Jon Cawley dissenting.

No specific use was identified for the property. But Mayor Ron Niland has said it could play a strategic role involving the Koozies building, a former private club by that name which the municipality has deemed unfit for occupancy along with Mittman’s and another dilapidated structure nearby.

In February, the commissioners voted 4-1 in directing the separate owners of the Koozies property, the Mittman facility and the so-called red building on West Pine Street beside Worth Honda to either bring the structures up to code or demolish them.

Their failure to do so by a 90-day deadline would open the door for the municipality to raze the buildings and possibly take ownership of the land left behind to cover the demolition costs.

Niland has said that having the extra lot available next door might make the overall site more attractive for redevelopment by the private sector due to providing space for parking or other needs.

Cawley objected to the bid plan because of the lot not being needed by the city government and his belief that it shouldn’t be competing with private interests.

Collins, meanwhile, already owns property containing a building next door to the West Pine Street lot, which Cawley said made sense for him to acquire because of that proximity. Collins has declined to comment on the situation, including any intended uses for the lot.

Cawley attended Friday’s auction along with City Attorney Hugh Campbell and commissioner candidates Gene Clark and John Pritchard.

About seven years ago, the three threatened structures and other property in the same vicinity were declared blighted by the now-defunct Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission amid plans for major changes including constructing a traffic roundabout as a downtown gateway.

Friday’s auction of the former Mittman Paint and Body Shop went smoothly, culminating with Koehler outbidding a handful of other prospective buyers in a back-and-forth affair lasting around a half-hour.

Those attending gathered inside the old shop building, maneuvering around puddles of water on the floor in a setting also populated by abandoned tires and paint cans reflecting its former use.

Koehler was not actually present, but bid by telephone while en route to Mount Airy from Charlotte to personnel of Rogers Realty and Auction Co., which conducted the sale.

Auctioneer Dale Fulk started the bidding for the building and land at 109 S. South St., which has a tax value of $48,000, at $50,000. And when there were no takers he reverted to the lower end of the scale at $10,000 and that gradually increased by $1,000 increments to the final uncontested offer by Koehler of $38,000.

It is subject to an upset bid procedure in which someone else interested in the property can offer more through the clerk of court, which also can be raised in turn during that process.

“Ten days have to go by without anyone filing a bid,” Johnson explained regarding how it culminates, also requiring court certification.

In addition to being subjected to the city’s directive to improve or demolish the building which the the new owner will assume, the attorney pointed to another possible complication.

Since the Mittman building involves what city zoning regulations define as a non-conforming use, the cost of any major renovation of the structure will be limited to 60% of its tax value of $19,950.

Koehler could not be reached for comment Friday regarding his plans for the property should he ultimately assume its ownership.

Several hundred area youth turned out Saturday for the Surry County Parks and Recreation Easter Egg Hunt at Fisher River Park in Dobson.

Divided into three age groups — aged birth up to 3, 4- to 6, and 7 and older — there was an opportunity for kids of all ages to find some of the 8,000 eggs hidden at the park. There were also games, face painting, and a chance to meet with the Easter Bunny.

There is an opportunity coming to explore the universe from the confines of Pilot Mountain State Park during the 2022 Statewide Star Party being held next weekend. Event organizers say it offers space enthusiasts an opportunity to “understand the universe” and will be held at locations around the state.

Thanks to grant support from the North Carolina Space Grant, the 2022 North Carolina Science Festival (NCSF) will again feature the Statewide Star Party as its signature initiative. The Star Party at Pilot Mountain State Park is being held Friday, April 8, from 7 – 10 p.m. at the Pilot Mountain Summit.

“We are looking forward to hosting Star Party as it is the first big event in over two years,” Park Ranger Maggie Miller said of the upcoming stargazing session.

The science festival is a month-long celebration designed to help spread education through exciting, educational, and fun events. This year the festival is comprised of 313 events across the state, a selection of which are being held virtually as not everyone is ready to be part of a crowd again. The complete list will be found at

This will be the tenth annual Statewide Star Party and 35 hosts will offer public sky watching events across North Carolina on both Friday, April 8, and Saturday, April 9.

The nearest local event is being held at Pilot Mountain, and a full listing of star parties can be found on the North Carolina Science Festival’s website: Note that Pilot Mountain is participating in the Friday event only.

“The ‘daytime’ astronomical activities will be at the picnic area located at the summit before it gets dark,” Miller said. “That is a very short walk away from the parking area. Otherwise, the event is located around the summit parking area to stargaze and look through telescopes.”

Other host locations for the Star Parties include colleges and universities, planetariums, science centers, nature centers, and libraries. About 3,500 visitors are expected to participate in events across the state.

The 2022 theme “Understanding the Universe” holds its focus on science and engineering related to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Party hosts are provided with a Star Party kit of activities and NASA resources on this theme to help guide the discussions and exploration.

Participants will get hands-on with interactive astronomical activities about the JWST. When the sky begins to darken, it will be time to put the amassed astronomy knowledge to the test through telescope use and star gazing.

JWST is the most powerful space telescope ever built and is considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), rather than its replacement. A joint project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency, JWST launched Christmas Day last year.

Upon reaching its destination JWST will obit the sun at 930,000 miles from Earth and is therefore not serviceable once deployed. Hubble meanwhile stayed closer to its home as it orbits the Earth at approximately 340 miles, while the International Space Station orbits at 200 miles above the Earth.

The images and information from JWST are still forthcoming as it finishes calibrations. However, if the results are even marginally as useful as those from HST, then students 20 years from now may have an entirely new concept of the universe and its origins.

Hubble allowed astronomers to see objects in space much clearer than before, but it had its limitations and when first brought into operation had a serious mirror malfunction. A series of successive repairs brought it into working order and the images have delighted astronomers and the layperson ever since. At around $11 billion JWST was twice as costly, even after the HST repairs are factored in.

What Webb can do that Hubble could not is capture images of objects through space dust by using infrared cameras that detect heat radiation coming from objects obscured otherwise by the space dust. In theory, Webb will allow astronomers to observe the birth and development of stars and planets to search for the answer to the origins of the universe.

Ranger Miller reminds that unlike in the vastness of space, on terra firma space is finite. “There will be approximately 70 parking spaces available, reduced from 90 for volunteer parking and telescopes. Carpooling is encouraged so more people can attend. When the lot is full, we will have to turn people away for safety concerns. We cannot have people parked along the roadside.”

Miller wants people to come an enjoy the event at the park, noting that “Friends of Sauratown Mountains will be there selling snacks and drinks, and there will also be a raffle for fun space-related prizes. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and enjoy the night sky on top of Pilot Mountain.”

In man’s ceaseless quest to seek out new life and new civilizations, the Webb telescope may indeed go where no one has gone before. A short trip to Pilot Mountain next weekend however may get you closer than before to the great unknown.

The general public has a chance to weigh in on the future of downtown Mount Airy during an upcoming series of workshops, the first of which will be held Monday.

It is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History in the heart of downtown at 301 N. Main St.

Other workshops are planned at the same times next Thursday and on April 19, also at the museum.

These sessions are coming on the heels of a November vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to allocate $67,000 in city funding for an update of a master plan for downtown Mount Airy. The goal is to enhance a previous plan completed in 2004 to incorporate the present economic climate and other factors.

When the update is completed this summer, it is expected to better guide future investments in Mount Airy’s central business district, both private and public, in a coherent and cost-effective manner.

In addition to the city government funding allocated toward the modernized plan, financial input from the group Mount Airy Downtown Inc. also is involved for a total commitment of about $125,000.

The upcoming series of workshops is considered a key part of the master plan update by the Benchmark consulting firm that already is handling planning-related services for Mount Airy through a privatization move started in 2011.

Monday’s initial gathering will focus on potential designs for North Main Street, including concepts for a “new” street to improve accessibility and functionality, according to a March 3 presentation during a commissioners meeting by Benchmark President Jason Epley.

Changes to downtown traffic patterns have been mentioned as potential outcomes of the master plan update, such as converting the present one-way system to two-way and removing stoplights.

The topics for the second workshop next Thursday include pedestrian connectivity, greenway connectivity and parking (including management and long-term strategies), along with tourism and development sites.

Meanwhile, the third workshop will provide a summary overview of the main ideas for downtown Mount Airy’s future.

City government officials are urging anyone interested in that to attend the workshops and offer his or her suggestions.

“We need your ideas and input to maximize the planning efforts for the downtown and surrounding areas,” states an announcement from Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis.

To this point the master plan process has included a survey to gauge downtown concerns of the public and listening sessions held over two days in February which included 55 people.

Updating the plan will be a nine-month process ending in July, according to Benchmark officials.

There are those big banner birthdays that are hard to get around, the ones that have a zero at the end – you know the ones. Try as COVID-19 may have liked to stop the hands of time, Surry County still had its 250th anniversary and then marched right on to the next anniversary as well.

Over the past two years there have been graduations, weddings, and all manner of events affected by the pandemic and, sadly, there were plans that got scrapped altogether that could not be rescheduled, those opportunities lost to the vicious virus.

Plans that had been designed to celebrate the sestercentennial, or the 250th anniversary, of Surry County, had to be put on hold too as the virus began its march around the globe. Now, as the world wearily looks to gauge if we may be approaching the end of the pandemic, aspects of life are bending back toward normal.

The masks have mostly disappeared, the Final Fours tip-off this weekend, the trickle of remote workers returning to their desks continues, in-person worship, and even up close and personal encounters at awards shows have resumed.

Of course, exceptions will remain, and some businesses may choose their own standards, but it seems people have grown accustomed to the potential dangers from the virus and precautions are now primarily left to the individual’s own decision making.

As the rates of infection and hospitalization across the United States continue their downward trend, Surry County is preparing to ramp back up sestercentennial events eloquently dubbed Surry 250 that were shelved due to the global health crisis.

Kate Rauhauser-Smith, history column contributor to the Mount Airy News, has in previous years wished the county a happy birthday on April 1. She provided the lesson that Gov. William Tryon signed the bill creating Surry County in January 1771. However, law required the act to be published and announced in various public places for a period of three months before it was enacted on the first day of April.

Part of the sestercentennial celebration will be to honor Jerry Atkins and Melvin T. Jackson for their creations from the American Bicentennial celebrations of 1976 that still adorn the likes of the Surry County Courthouse and all county documents.

In the fall of 1974, the Surry County Board of Commissioners authorized the Surry County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission to conduct a contest to select an official flag and seal for the county.

Jerry Atkins submitted the winning seal design, and Melvin Jackson won the flag design contest, “at the time we had neither,” Jackson recalls. The notice in the Mount Airy News for the contest noted a prize was to be awarded and he remembers, “I think we got a $50 savings bond.”

The tricolor Surry County flag design from Jackson carries the date of 1770, which represents the date of the act that formed Surry County which Gov. Tryon then signed in to law the next year. The original submission of the flag design is found in both the physical archives of Surry Community College, and their extensive collection of county artifacts online.

Atkins designed for Surry County’s seal a gold backdrop with “The Great Seal of Surry County” around its circumference. An outline of the county contains a picture of Pilot Mountain, a block of granite, a tobacco leaf, and a spool off thread with a gear.

Atkins chose those design elements not by accident as the granite block and Pilot Mountain Knob were chosen for their relevance to the area’s beauty and economy. The gear and spool of thread he said symbolize the area’s rich history in textiles and manufacturing. Finally, the tobacco he chose for his own family’s connection to the crop that was the cornerstone of many Surry County farms.

“When I saw his flag design, I knew it would win. He was proud of the flag,” Atkins said of his teacher. Being able to spot a winner, he hitched his horse to that cart, “When I saw his flag, I knew I should include it in the seal.”

Now years later, the seal and flag are approaching a milestone – their own 50th birthday. “I am happy that Jerry Atkins is finally getting recognized for his work,” he said of his reaction to seeing the flag still visible. “It is long overdue,” the teacher said as he deflected attention back toward his former student, his sense of pride in his student’s accomplishment still on display.

Atkins feels similarly “tickled” that the seal is still in use and that his design may have inspired elements of Mount Airy’s seal. After so much time, both men were thankful that their designs still garner attention and that they will be recognized by the county commissioners at a meeting for their work.

The sestercentennial events that were shelved such as a lecture series and the Surry 250 Bus Tour around historical sites of the county are being reworked now, and county public information officer Nathan Walls said when dates are finalized, word will be disseminated.

All that remains is to wish Surry County a happy birthday: you do not look a day over 230.

Flat Rock was the scene of a possible earthquake this week, but some additional rumblings have been shaking up the small community east of Mount Airy in the wake of a recent traffic change there.

Residents and other travelers in the area object to a new all-way stop configuration at the intersection of East Pine Street (N.C. 103) and McBride/Quaker Road near Flat Rock Elementary School, saying it is unsafe and impeding vehicular flow.

This has included launching a petition drive to have the N.C. Department of Transportation remove the four-way stop system implemented on March 10. It now requires motorists approaching the busy intersection from all four directions to come to a complete halt before proceeding.

Previously only those arriving at the crossroads from Quaker and McBride roads — which face each other at N.C. 103 — encountered stop signs.

“The new all-way stop on 103 has the main highway backed up, blocking businesses and the elementary school,” in the view of Shanny Chappell, who started the petition on the website —

As of Thursday, 904 people had signed the petition toward a goal of 1,000 on the website that provides the public with the ability to promote causes among potential signers. The Flat Rock effort garnered more than 500 signatures in the first four days it was established more than two weeks ago.

Drivers — especially of faster vehicles coming from either direction on N.C. 103 — don’t always notice, or heed, the stop signs, according to those opposed to the change DOT officials say was undertaken in the name of safety.

“Some blow right through the stop sign,” said Janice King, a longtime resident of Flat Rock who lives on McBride Road about a mile from the intersection. “People aren’t slowing down.”

King, a former employee of the Mount Airy Police Department and Surry County District Attorney’s Office, pointed out Wednesday that N.C. 103 is a truck route populated by big rigs hauling logs and other products from or to Virginia.

A further situation compromising safety involves motorists, particularly the elderly, being uncertain about how to react when reaching the four-way stop and thus creating dangerous bottlenecks.

“People are arriving at the same time and don’t know what to do,” King said.

“My biggest fear is a tractor-trailer is going to hit a family in a car and somebody is going to get killed.”

“People don’t even stop at the stop signs at night,” said another Flat Rock resident, Jamie Potts, who commented about the situation Wednesday while standing in front of a Citgo convenience store on the corner of N.C. 103 and Quaker Road.

Potts mentioned that motorists sometimes will cut through the store parking lot to avoid the all-way stop, creating another safety issue. “They come through about 25 miles per hour.”

“It’s too dang dangerous,” Judy Jessup commented in a post on the petition website.

“I don’t even go that way now.”

Added another petition signer, Jennifer Laws: “I don’t see how this is helping at all.”

Critics of the change say the situation is especially problematic in the mornings and afternoons as the school day begins and ends at Flat Rock Elementary.

When announcing the addition of the four-way stop sign system in early March, N.C. Department of Transportation officials explained that it was in response to an elevated crash rate at the site.

This included a study examining the five-year accident history of the intersection which revealed 14 dangerous-angle crashes, prompting crews to install the extra stop signs requiring all traffic to stop and warning signage.

“I’ll bet there’s been fourteen since since they put up the durn stop signs, or near misses,” King countered Wednesday concerning the accident rate.

​Economics also was a factor, with an all-way stop considered an effective and cost-efficient way to improve the safety of an intersection.

King said she and other residents in the area have long sought regular traffic lights there.

That idea was rejected by the DOT, with Division 11 Traffic Engineer Daniel Adams noting — in correspondence with Janice King and her husband Mark — that it is not a viable option.

“An evaluation was made to see if a signal was warranted,” added Adams, who is based in North Wikesboro, “however, it failed to meet the warrants for a signal.”

The intersection of N.C. 103 and McBride/Quaker Road was deemed “a good candidate” for the all-way stop, the traffic engineer advised. He added that studies show a 68-percent reduction in crashes when converting from a two-way to four-way stop situation.

Janice King said that for years small flashing lights existed there, and about two weeks ago a large flashing red light system was erected to provide an additional warning — apparently to quell concerns arising from the change made earlier in the month.

“If you can do all that, why can’t you put in a regular stoplight?” the Flat Rock resident said of the DOT, calling the four-way-stop format “absolutely ridiculous.”

King doubts that any local stakeholders were consulted before the change occurred, such as the Surry Emergency Medical Service, Four-Way Volunteer Fire Department, county commissioners or Surry County Schools.

Some residents reportedly are planning to attend a commissioners meeting to air the issue during a public forum.

The DOT issued these guidelines for all-way stops:

• The first vehicle at the intersection has the right of way.

• When two or more vehicles reach an intersection at the same time, the one to the right has the right of way and may go straight or, if legal and after signaling, turn left or right.

• When two facing vehicles approach an intersection simultaneously, both drivers can move straight ahead or turn right. If one driver is going straight while the other wants to turn left, the driver who wants to turn left must yield.

• Even with the right of way, drivers should remember to use appropriate turn signals and watch for pedestrians and other vehicles.

The Surry County Parks and Recreation will be holding their Easter Egg Hunt at Fisher River Park in Dobson this Saturday, April 2 from 10 a.m. – 1p.m.

Bradley Key, program coordinator for parks and rec said, “The event is more than just the egg hunt…between 10 and 1, community vendors, agencies, civil service groups along with their vehicles are on display. Families come, visit these booths, talk with representatives from these agencies.”

The Easter Bunny is expected to be on-hand to visit with children and the young at heart. There will also be face painting, arts, crafts, and other activities.

Best of all, Key said, the event is free — however organizers are asking those attending to bring a canned food item for donation, with the food going to area food banks.

Of course, the big draw — at least for the youth — is the Easter egg hunt. Key said roughly 8,000 eggs will be there.

“Each egg will be stuffed with candy or toys and there is a grand prize Golden Egg to be found in each age group’s area,” he said.

Key explained the egg hunting is done in three shifts, with kids grouped by age. At noon, those aged birth up to 3 will collect eggs, at 12:20 p.m. the 4- to 6-year-olds will be let loose on the field; and at 12:40 those aged 7 and older will have their chance.

“You don’t want to be late,” he said with a laugh. “They can clear a whole ball field of thousands of eggs in less than 5 minutes. It is amazing. Generally, each child collects at least 20 eggs.”

He does say children need to bring their own baskets, although the county will have a limited number available for those who may forget or need an additional basket.

“It’s a great fun healthy activity for the families to get back involved in. Folks may have not had as much opportunity to have fun over the past couple of years. We’re happy to offer this as a chance to get out for a fun, family activity.”

He said the event is outdoors, which will limit potential COVID issues, and the county will have hand sanitizer on hand for individuals to use. There will be ample space for people to spread out, observing social distancing practices, he advised.

Key said if inclement weather occurs and the event cannot be held, it will still go on — just in a drive-through format, with folks able to drive up for youth to get some goody-filled eggs.

DOBSON — If ever there was a time to watch every dollar, it arguably is now with inflation surging, and a local organization is planning a program to aid consumers in this regard.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Dobson has announced a one-hour financial literacy class as part of a virtual monthly series being presented in conjunction with an Extension and Community Association (ECA) component of the agency called “At Home with ECA.”

It is scheduled for April 7 from 11 a.m. to noon.

That program in the online learning series will be held in conjunction with the observance of Financial Literacy Month during April.

“The At Home With ECA session will focus on money management, as we discuss the importance of creating and maintaining a budget,” explained Carmen Long, area Extension agent for family and consumer education who serves Surry and Alleghany counties.

There is no charge for accessing that program and other workshops in the monthly series which are being coordinated through the Eventbrite website used for such presentations. But Long says those wanting to do so must register beforehand at

In addition to the financial advice to be offered in starting or refining a budget, a convenient benefit of the online program is that one needn’t be parked in front of a computer during the actual program time.

“Once registered, participants will receive a recording after the session which they may watch at their convenience,” Long mentioned, to be emailed.

The monthly class series is presented by family and consumer sciences agents of the North Central District of N.C. Cooperative Extension, covering 14 counties altogether.

“It’s a group effort,” Long has said.

The financial management program will be presented by N.C. Cooperative Extension personnel in Wilkes County.

Even those who don’t live in Surry or the other counties in the region can still join the April 7 session via Zoom, organizers say.

N.C. Cooperative Extension has sought to distribute information to people for more than 100 years, and the At Home with ECA workshop series involves a new means of providing such outreach — embracing both the realities and technical alternatives of today.

The 2022 series was spawned by a similar effort launched for 2021 in reaction to the coronavirus restricting public gatherings.

Participants aren’t required to sign up for all the programs in the monthly online series, held on the first Thursdays, and can pick and choose ones they are interested in, according to Long.

A separate N.C. Cooperative Extension initiative is focused on another timely consumer matter, nutrition.

It is an online home food preservation series that will begin on April 14 and run bi-weekly for six weeks, ending on June 23, aimed at teaching people how to accomplish that in the comfort of their own surroundings.

The bi-weekly sessions are scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., under these topics:

Those interested can register for free at

Participants will need to sign up for each session they wish to attend separately, according to Long, and upon registering will receive a recording after the session which they can view at their convenience.

For students to improve their understanding of letter writing skills, the mail, newspapers, and their sense of geography, the students of Kimberlee Montgomery’s class at Salida Elementary School were asked to send correspondence out across the country to newspapers.

The project was designed as an attempt to gauge how far one letter from California may reach, and who may write back. One fifth grader, Axeton B., selected the “Great State of North Carolina.” From there, the letter crossed the country and found its way here to Mount Airy.

The handwritten state of destination showed that the student who drew Iowa was going to have an easier time writing their envelope and letter. Classmates who drew Massachusetts or Mississippi however may still be addressing their envelopes at this very moment.

To Axeton’s great credit, the fourth time North Carolina was written out the handwriting suggested a much higher level of confidence in the spelling of Carolina. Ms. Montgomery can check that off the list, as that part of the lesson is now a success.

Axeton’s letter to the newspaper is as follows:

“Dear Editors of The Mount Airy News:

Would you please print my letter in your ‘Letters to the Editor’ of your newspaper? This would be a great help to me in completing my state project:

Dear People of the Great State of North Carolina,

Greetings! My name is Axeton, and I am a 5th grade student at Salida Elementary School in Salida, California. We live in the central valley located east of San Francisco. This year we are going to complete a state project. I picked North Carolina. I am asking for any and all information from you about your great state sent to me. If you would, please send me any postcards, articles, maps, pictures, pins, pencils, stickers, or pamphlets from North Carolina.

I really appreciate your help in making my project a success! I am lucky to learn about an awesome state like North Carolina.

The chance Montgomery knows where Mount Airy is, or for what this area is best known for seems minute. One would think it to be unlikely that young Axeton would know the tales of Mayberry, Barney Fife, or Aunt Bea’s dreadful pickles, but might the reach of “The Andy Griffith Show” extend to the West Coast — still these many years later?

Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Collins thinks the answer is still yes and said as much last week at the Excellence in Business Awards dinner. “My office is just outside of the visitors center and it is really quite amazing the people we meet from all over the country, and indeed the world, that love Mayberry and love Andy Griffith.”

A drive past the Andy Griffith Playhouse nearly any day will find a tourist or two posing to commemorate for posterity their brief visit to “a simpler time, and a sweeter place,” as the Andy and Opie statue’s plaque reads. The nostalgia for the show and the simple messaging of a quaint time still resonates with viewers and does not show signs of stopping.

The care package going back to the Salida Elementary with goodies and highlights from this area is being assembled. It already includes information regarding our favorite son Andy and his accomplishments, as well as the Bunker Twins. Facts on the history of farming, livestock, and tobacco are being included to further explain the importance of agriculture to this area.

Information about the state was requested, and not just Mount Airy, so info on Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers, the sit-in movement, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), The Lost Colony, and of course the state’s rich tradition of college basketball are being reflected. Of note. Axeton will not be required to choose a side in the UNC – Duke rivalry, which seems only fair.

A selection of postcards, pamphlets and visitor’s brochures have been assembled, with additional information on Pilot Mountain State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway added for good measure.

When the care package is complete and has been sent back to the West Coast, Axeton and Ms. Montgomery’s class will have a selection of interesting items to look over. Physical copies of this issue of the Mount Airy News will be included so this clipping can be added to the class’s collection of responses from around the country.

In a digital age where interpersonal connections are fewer and farther between, the sheer novelty of getting Axeton’s letter was a bit of nostalgia itself. With luck, a little knowledge about this corner of the country that is shared with fifth graders more than 2,700 miles away in California can lead to increased understanding of the world and their place in it.

A coach who guided Mount Airy High School to prominence nearly a century ago, the school’s all-time leading rusher and two championship volleyball teams are the latest inductees for a place of distinction in local sports history.

The selection committee for the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame began soliciting nominations for its 2022 class in December and now has unveiled what Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis calls an “outstanding” group of honorees.

Since 2016, names of prospective inductees have been accepted every two years for the recognition program spearheaded by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation, of which Lewis served as director until assuming his present post in February.

Entering this year, more than 80 individuals or teams had been inducted into the hall since its first class in 2003.

• George Underwood, a coach who was responsible for Mount Airy High School athletics’ rise to excellence, according to information provided by new Parks and Recreation Director Peter Raymer.

Underwood guided all four sports teams the school offered when he became a physical education teacher in 1928, and is credited as the first coach to win a championship in any sport for Mount Airy, with specifics of that — including the year — not available from Raymer.

Although Underwood’s coaching career spanned only five years, his teams appeared in four state championship games, winning two, based on the city bio information.

• Anthony Moore, whose 5,803 career rushing yards for Mount Airy High achieved in the mid-1990s remains the school record.

Moore accomplished this during three seasons as a varsity letterman from 1994-96, breaking the previous rushing record established by his father, Joe Ray Moore, in the 1970s.

After his high school career, Anthony Moore played collegiately at James Madison University.

• The 1986 and 1987 Mount Airy High School volleyball teams. Both squads were inducted into the hall of fame’s 2022 class as links to a legacy of excellence.

The 1986 unit was the first MAHS volleyball team to win a state championship and the 1987 team went undefeated and repeated as state champs.

Those athletes were coached by Ginger Crissman Ashley (now Ginger Hamric).

• Frank Sheppard was selected for inclusion in the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame as this year’s winner of the Granite City Award. It goes to someone who has contributed to the promotion of sports in the community in a special way.

Sheppard began his career as head baseball coach for Mount Airy High School while also coaching Mount Airy Middle School football. After several years of doing both, he focused exclusively on the middle school football team, amassing an overall record of 200-17.

“A lot of the success of the Mount Airy High School football team is credited to Frank’s contributions at the middle school level,” city bio information states. “Frank Sheppard touched many lives in his 37 years of coaching.”

An induction ceremony for the 2022 sports hall is scheduled on April 24 at 3 p.m., hosted by the Andy Griffith Playhouse. The unveiling of a monument near the Municipal Building reflecting the newly inscribed inductees will be held afterward.

The defined area of the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame covers the city limits, the Mount Airy City Schools District and the one-mile extraterritorial (ETJ) zone long in place for areas just outside town.

It honors those who’ve played a role in the entire sports history of the area, either living or deceased.

Mount Airy residents will soon have an opportunity to learn about and meet candidates for the 2022 municipal election season during a downtown event — to feature a different format than others in the past.

Billed as a non-partisan introduction to the 13 office-seekers ahead of a May primary, it is scheduled for April 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Historic Earle Theatre and Old-Time Music Heritage Hall.

The meet the candidates event is co-sponsored by Mount Airy Downtown Inc. and the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.

It is a prelude to the primary election on May 17, when the ballot will feature a total of 13 city residents seeking four municipal offices including those of mayor and three seats on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.

Invitations to the April 11 event were sent to the candidates last week, which produced a healthy response.

“From what I can see everyone has accepted,” chamber CEO Randy Collins said Tuesday afternoon.

“I think they’ve been responding to Lizzie as well as myself,” Collins added in reference to Lizzie Morrison, Main Street coordinator with Mount Airy Downtown Inc.

• For mayor — Ron Niland, who now holds that position and is running against North Ward Commissioner Jon Cawley and Teresa Lewis, a former at-large commissioner.

• North Ward commissioner — four candidates are vying for Cawley’s seat, Teresa Davis Leiva, Chad Hutchens, John Pritchard and Joanna Refvem.

• South Ward commissioner — the field includes Gene Clark, Phil Thacker and present At-Large Commissioner Joe Zalescik, who are seeking the seat now held by Steve Yokeley.

• At-large commissioner — Yokeley is among the candidates vying for Zalescik’s council slot along with Deborah Cochran, a former mayor and at-large commissioner, and Tonda Phillips.

All 13 will be on the ballot for the May primary as part of this year’s non-partisan municipal election process, which requires primaries for offices in which three or more candidates file.

The two top vote-getters on May 17 will square off in the November general election.

Candidates will be seated on the Earle stage grouped by their respective races.

Past city candidate events have included office-seekers responding to questions prepared by organizers or offered from the audience.

However, the one upcoming will involve the election hopefuls simply making pitches to voters.

Each candidate will be given four minutes to speak to the audience and asked to address four main points: his or her background and experience, campaign platform/vision for Mount Airy, the ways in which each believes the city is on the right path and the ways it is on the wrong path.

The office-seekers are to be called to a podium one by one to introduce themselves and begin their remarks and upon completion will return to their designated seats onstage.

A moderator will manage the schedule, signalling with a hand when there is one minute left in a candidate’s allotted time. A bell will ring after four minutes, and the moderator will thank each for his or her remarks and move on to the next candidate.

No debate or rebuttal opportunities are to occur onstage. No questions will be taken from the audience and the moderator will not ask any questions. All candidates and attendees are asked to be courteous of each other and not interrupt anyone’s remarks.

Once all candidates have spoken, a “meet and greet” session is planned at the UnCorked wine shop and boutique next door to the Earle, where citizens can approach them with questions or ideas.

“If folks are registered to vote in the city of Mount Airy, it’s a great opportunity to meet all these candidates,” Collins said Tuesday.

You just never know what is going to walk through the door at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. As a historian, it is like the biggest and most exciting session of show and tell.

Several years ago, Karen and Jimmy Sumner donated copies of the Miss Mount Airy Pageant programs, a competition that was presented by the Mount Airy Jaycees, a Junior Chamber of Commerce committee for years. While the main content of these programs displays the contestants and their talents, we can also learn so much about Mount Airy/Surry County from the ads and sponsorships. The donated collection ranges from 1956 to 1975 with a few copies missing in the span. The pageant itself ran into the 1990s when the Jaycees began to see a decline in membership.

The program of events usually consisted of a parade down Main Street, a swimsuit, talent, and evening gown competition. A judge’s luncheon would be held Saturday with finals that night. After the evening gown competition announcements would be made for the following categories: Miss Congeniality, Miss Runners-up, and for Miss Mount Airy, with a crowning to follow.

These mini time capsules capture an interesting time in history and commerce in Mount Airy. The 1975 program, like other programs before, has a title page for awards and donations. In that year the crowned Miss Mount Airy received $600 scholarship or $300 cash, a super speed toaster oven from Proctor Silex Corp., an official sterling silver Miss America charm bracelet, and an oil portrait by Stanley King.

Many merchants were also involved, donating items and offering services to contestants. In 1956 flowers were provided by Airmont Florists. The Miss Mount Airy Wardrobe was provided by Jackson Brothers, Harrison’s, and Ellis Clothing.

For many years contestants and judges were hosted by the Blue Ridge Hotel.

The W.E. Merritt Company, once housed at the museum’s current location, had a half page ad in the 1970 program as did Moody’s Funeral Home, Parrish Tire Company, and WSYD Radio.

Our region once boasted an Elkin Valley Pageant, Miss Western Piedmont Pageant, Little Miss Mount Airy Pageant, and I’m sure countless others. While some of these local competitions are no longer in operation, several companies and entities still exist giving young ladies a chance to compete for the crown. Modern day competitions continue to showcase talents and beauty but go further in displaying the philanthropic and educational triumphs of all women; our reigning Miss North Carolina, Morgan Romano, has a BS in chemical engineering and is striving to bring STEM education to children across North Carolina.

In honor of Women’s history month, we, here at the museum, want to thank all the women, seen and unseen, who work daily to better our communities for all.

An auction that was scheduled Friday in Mount Airy — of land beside a controversial building the city government could be demolishing in the coming months — wasn’t held as planned, with no reason for that readily emerging.

“Actually what they did was postpone it,” Mayor Ron Niland said Friday afternoon of organizers for the auction of a small parcel located along West Pine Street adjoining what is commonly known as the former Koozies property.

“And I have no idea why they did that,” added Niland, who was relaying an update from City Manager Stan Farmer.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners had voted 4-1 on March 17 to have Farmer or a designee submit a bid on the municipality’s behalf at the scheduled auction.

“It just came up kind of strange,” Niland said of what will be a one-week postponement, based on a text message he had received from the city manager. “But I was surprised by that.”

The former Koozies building at 455 Franklin St., which also is bordered by West Pine and South streets and is named for a private club once operating there, has been the subject of much debate in recent years over its dilapidated condition.

It is located in a section of town declared a blighted area about seven years ago by a now-defunct city redevelopment commission that eyed major changes there including installing a traffic roundabout for a gateway to downtown Mount Airy.

More recently, the city commissioners voted 4-1 in February to give the owners of the former Koozies building and two other substandard structures nearby 90 days to bring the buildings up to code or have them demolished.

If no action is taken by then, the city government can move forward with the razing on its own, and possibly end up seizing the land to recoup the demolition costs.

That has been stated as a reason for the city’s interest in the small parcel on West Pine Street, which would provide more space for a potential redevelopment of the Koozies property, the mayor has said.

While the parcel amounts to only about a quarter-acre, its possible acquisition by the municipality has attracted a disproportionate amount of criticism, including from Commissioner Jon Cawley.

Cawley voted against the city submitting the bid, saying he doesn’t believe it should be competing against the private sector that otherwise likely would buy the property.

He further pointed out that the city government has no clear-cut need for the small parcel owned by two sisters in Lewisville.

Cawley also had objected to the ultimatum issued to the owners of the three buildings in February.

Since the March 17 vote by the majority of commissioners to submit the bid, it was disclosed that local businessman Wes Collins had bought a half-share of the site from one of the sisters unbeknownst to city officials.

Collins owns property on West Pine Street which adjoins the land in question and contains a building.

Despite knowing this, Mount Airy officials still planned to send Farmer to Friday’s auction, which was to occur under a judicial proceeding known as a commissioner’s sale — typically done to satisfy a debt.

Mayor Niland did not know Friday what impact the sale of half the property might have had on the auction postponement.

“I’m just really not sure about that,” he said.

However, another source involved with the auction disclosed later Friday that an alleged notification issue was involved.

“Certain heirs stated that they had not received notice of the sale — that’s all I would say,” that source advised, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Collins, the neighboring property owner who bought the half-share of the land in question, declined to comment on the situation Friday afternoon.

Televised images of the devastation in Ukraine are especially painful for one Mount Airy resident who hails from that country and still has relatives there who are struggling to survive the Russian invasion.

“My heart is heavy — grieving for all the Ukrainian people suffering,” Irina Ilyasova said of the human toll accompanying the conflict that has now been raging more than a month.

The bombed buildings and ravaged streets are difficult enough to handle — there’s also the emotional fallout gripping citizens there and those in this country who are concerned about them.

“I cannot imagine how people have struggled,” said Ilyasova, a former longtime resident of both Ukraine and Russia whose fluent English is punctuated by a thick accent.

While she now is living a safe, though unsettled, existence in North Carolina that’s not the case for her family members in Ukraine who have been touched by the crisis.

They include her younger sister, Nyla, who recently fled the capital city of Kyiv, a brother and his two children.

“He is still in Ukraine,” said Ilyasova, whose relatives there also include an uncle in his 70s and that man’s family.

The local woman particularly was concerned about her sister due to her being in the large city suffering the brunt of Russian attacks.

Ilyasova managed to monitor Nyla’s well-being through sporadic Internet connections.

“She was in a bomb shelter for almost three weeks in Kyiv,” said the local resident, who was concerned for Nyla’s well-being due to the fact she would have to leave that facility to get food and thus be exposed to violence. “It was difficult for her.”

However, Ilyasova said her sister actually seemed to handle the ordeal much better than she, including sending Ilyasova periodic messages such as “I’m OK,” and “trying to calm me down.”

Nyla finally was able to leave Ukraine via a train and head to Lithuania, located to the north of Ukraine, with the nation of Belarus in between. Her daughter Diana lives in Lithuania.

“At first, people would spend weeks of waiting to get on a train,” Ilyasova said of the predicament faced by an estimated 10 million people displaced from their homes who have had to seek refuge elsewhere.

After taking the train, Nyla boarded a bus to complete her journey to Lithuania, where she and other refugees received a warm greeting including free food and cell phones.

“It took two days to make it,” Ilyasova said.

Meanwhile, her brother and other relatives are staying in Ukraine, advised the local resident, who is reasonably comfortable about their safety since they live in rural sections away from the main part of the fighting.

“You hope it will be OK, but you never know,” she said of uncertainties surrounding warfare. “You can’t really feel good, because it’s all over.”

Ilyasova painted a scenario reminiscent of that for farm families in this area, who grow produce that they then can or otherwise store in cellars — where people also are hunkering down now to be better protected from attacks.

It’s one thing for armies to engage in conflict in the traditional way — on remote battlefields with limited impact on the populace, but this has not occurred in Ukraine.

Civilians have inescapably been caught up in the struggle that has occurred street to street in some cases as combatants kill each other.

“People survived World War Two and now they’re dying in the twenty-first century,” Ilyasova observed.

Some regular citizens have taken up arms against the Russian invaders, and naturally suffered casualties as a result, but the local resident is finding it hard to deal with attacks waged on innocent, non-combative civilians in places such as theaters and shelters.

“It’s beyond war,” Ilyasova said.

Yet she believes Ukrainians will continue to stand their ground and resist Russian intrusions, with one key factor in their strong backlash so far involving the fact they are defending their homeland.

“Who wants to give up part of their land?” she said of one possible consequence of a takeover by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Seeing the after-effects of the conflict via TV coverage has been difficult for Ilyasova, who says the best news she has received out of Ukraine so far “was hearing that my relatives are alive.”

“Brother against brother”

Irina Ilyasova, a former pediatrician, has lived in Mount Airy since 2005, when her family moved here after her husband, also a doctor, accepted a position at Northern Regional Hospital. Ilyasova has a son who is 30 and a 23-year-old daughter.

The family relocated here from New York City.

But Irina’s story — as it relates to the present conflict — actually begins much earlier when she was born in Ukraine.

Ilyasova left there at age 15 to live in Moscow, where schools existed to launch her medical training, which was before the Soviet Union dissolved.

In addition to her relatives in Ukraine, Ilyasova knows many folks in Russia due to living in Moscow for 27 years.

While she firmly supports the cause of the Ukrainian people, to a certain degree Ilyasova’s loyalties lie on both sides in the conflict among similar people.

“I couldn’t believe how brother can fight against brother,” she lamented. While swayed mostly by the struggles of the Ukrainian people, “my heart is on both sides,” Ilyasova said.

“It breaks your heart.”

Ilyasova has been comforted by the support received from this community since the invasion began.

“I get a lot of phone calls,” she reported, along with people bringing her flowers.

Ilyasova is a member of the Rotary Club of Mount Airy, which has been supportive throughout the ordeal.

Also, a fundraising event is planned today at 1 p.m. on Miss Angel’s Farm, located at 252 Heart Lane, to aid efforts by Samaritan’s Purse. That organization provides assistance to persons in physical need as a key part of its Christian missionary work and now has teams on the ground responding to the Ukraine crisis.

“Bring comfortable shoes, as we will be walking the perimeter of the farm at 1:30 to show solidarity with Ukrainians abroad and at home,” says a Facebook announcement for Miss Angel’s Farm.

“Afterwards, we will have Ukrainians in our community speak on what’s happening and how you can help and cultural music will be provided by Gypsy Laurel to celebrate Ukraine,” the announcement adds. “Feel free to make posters and bring flags if you have them to this event.”

Irina Ilyasova greatly appreciates such gestures, but says the ultimate gift will be a breakthrough in the conflict that now shows no signs of waning.

“I hope it will stop,” she said. “I would love to have peace between countries.”

Parking on the grass may have been frowned on, but there was little choice as Cross Creek Country Club was packed Thursday evening for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Business Awards dinner.

A crowd of more than 170 gathered for networking and to give credit to deserving local businesses. After the hungry crowd of folks got dinner plates and procured a slice of cake — it was time to give out the hardware.

In a room full of movers and shakers of Surry County, there was something apt that the first award went to the Administrative Professional of the Year. Melanie Clark was recognized for her over 20 years of service at Rogers Realty & Auction Company by Wendy Guy of RidgeCrest.

“Take a minute, take a day, come by and you will be treated to one of the most loyal, and genuine people you will ever meet,” Deidre Rogers said. Clark called her time at Rogers “the most rewarding experience of my life. I am so grateful, and God has truly blessed me to be a part of such a great team.”

Todd Ennis of Wayne Farms presented the Agri-Business of the Year award to Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse Inc. Judy and Jim Mitchell, both NCSU alumni, started in 1979 on an extra lot before moving to their current location in 1993. Collins offered, “If you are frustrated by a tree or shrub, go ask them they are the experts.”

Their willingness to share information, as well as efforts to modernize the operation with environmental improvements to save energy and water, are admirable attributes to be sure. Jim Mitchell added though that growing the operation to nine full timers while staying married for 46 and in business with Judy for 43 years as one of his proudest accomplishments.

Mount Airy News Publisher Sandy Hurley presented the Ambassador of the Year Award to Joe Zalescik, owner of a business that people are simply going nuts over: Station 1978 Firehouse Peanuts. The Mount Airy City At-Large Commissioner regaled with two tight minutes of standup comedy disguised as his acceptance speech. Being a transplant to Mount Airy who started his business in the early pandemic days, he had no idea what to expect.

“I am really thankful to have gotten to know people through the chamber,” he said. “I also know that I can look through the chamber guide to find the services I need from another chamber member.” In a room full of members, the Ambassador of the Year was still hawking the benefits of the chamber: The U.S. Department of State should take note of such skill.

Wendy Wood of Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation explained that plant manager Rocky Killon of Shenandoah Furniture has opened their doors for field trips, mentoring, and internships for local students as she presented Shenandoah with the Business and Education Partner Award.

“Anything the school systems have asked; Rocky has responded yes without hesitation.” she said. “The impact Rocky and Shenandoah have had on kids in this area is tremendous.”

Killon spoke highly of student internship programs, “If you’re not in the intern system, or not working with the school system: get involved, you’ll enjoy it. You may hear it, about this generation but I promise you; we have great students today they are very smart, intelligent, bright, and willing to get involved.”

In an unintentional double dip, Rogers Realty & Auction was back to accept the Business Longevity Award. Founded in 1964 and Bracky Rogers and wife Wanda based the business on the golden rule. What stands today is a company that their employees refer to as family.

Treating customers with ethics allowed them to oversee “hundreds of millions of dollars” in transactions while building trust along the way. The fact that Bracky may “come in a little later and leave a little earlier” can be forgiven by his staff because he still makes a mean strawberry cake.

Rogers said he has a great staff, and the best agents around. That is an important thing as Realtors can be ambassadors themselves. Collins remarked, “Often they are the first impression of a new community on a buyer, and that can make all the difference.”

Reeves Community Center is one of the crown jewels of Mount Airy’s recreation options. However, the Reeves Community Center Foundation that formed in 2005 has a program that may be going under radar.

For kids who cannot afford activities, the foundation subsidizes partial or complete payment of membership fees or activity fees for recreational opportunities so they can share in the experiences. Lance Mueller presented The Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award to the Reeves Community Center Foundation for their ongoing support that allows more kids a chance to join in.

A new award for 2021 was the Entrepreneur of the Year. Betsy Tarn of Xtreme! Marketing presented Will Pfitzner of LazerEdge with Entrepreneur of the Year. Pfitzner, a graduate of Mount Airy High and NCSU who studied bio medical engineering, has been making a name for himself locally in short order.

His design business was meant at first to make gifts for friends during college, and that turned into a side hustle – just a way to make extra money. The pull of his passion, and an enterprising spirit called his name, and he threw himself into LazerEdge.

“The support of my family and this community means the world to me,” he said. “This is just the beginning for myself, and this is just the beginning for the youth of this community.”

The winner of the Excellence in Tourism Award, presented by Jenny Smith of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority, went to another spousal powerhouse. Chris and Pam Bastin of Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast have created a B&B experience here in Mount Airy that could be called legendary.

In the modern world of online shopping and more reviews to sort through than there is time, positive reviews certainly drive traffic back to Heart & Soul repeatedly. “With over 500 reviews in Trip Advisor, they have a 97% 5-star rating,” Smith read from a stack of reviews. “These reviews, I could read any of them: ‘Best experience at a B&B,’ ‘We feel like family when we visit,’ ‘We can’t wait to get back,’ are just a few.”

Recently, Darren Lewis has been busy changing roles within the city. A long-time employee of Parks and Recreation, Lewis was the assistant director from 2005-21 at which time he took over as the interim city manager. New City Manager Stan Farmer called Lewis, now the assistant city manager, “a dedicated public servant.”

“I love my job, not many can say that,” Lewis said as he also took time to thank his family for being so supportive of his work.” For his flexibility and continuing service to the community Lewis received the Outstanding Public Servant Award by Jennifer Laurel of Carport Central/Cibirix.

The chamber’s highest award went to an institution that for the last two years has been running at flank speed. The Surry County Economic Development Council presented to Northern Regional Hospital the 2021 Business of the Year, which CEO Chris Lumsden accepted calling it, “Quite an honor.”

Lumsden thanked the 1,000 employees of NRH for their tireless work during the pandemic. “I admire the people who serve every single day patients from this community and this region. We have a dedicated, compassionate, and committed group of caregivers.

“As I think about some of our successes over the last two years: we served 1,500 COVID inpatients and saw the highest acuity level of care in the history of NRH. That is an indication of how sick the patients are.

“We did 70,000 COVID tests, served over 500,000 patients in two years, had 60,000 visits to the emergency departments, and saw 20,000 patients at our Urgent Care that opened in November 2020.”

People-powered care means helping the patients but helping the employees as well. NRH has invested $1.5 million in employee assistance so they can go back to school, “because people are our lifeline,” Lumsden said.

The staff “has not missed a beat” while at the same time NRH has modernized patient records, achieved high marks in patient safety rating, and continued a two-fold focus: grow their people and grow their services.

“Just like many of you, if not all of you, NRH was tested. We were tested to our core again and again,” Lumsden offered in summation. “We are honored to accept this award on behalf of everyone who works for or who is impacted by the work we do at Northern Regional Hospital.”

Seeking to improve their own capabilities in order to offer the maximum service to residents of two counties, Westfield Volunteer Fire Department took advantage of training programs offered through Surry Community College to get an additional certification.

They are adding Light Rescue to services already offered in Fire Protection and First Responder, this will increase the capabilities of the department while offering potentially lifesaving services to Surry and Stokes counties. “With volunteer firefighter numbers on the decline, and calls going up, we’re always looking for ways to expand services,” Deputy Chief Matt Martin said.

Westfield Volunteer Fire Department has asked the county to revise their service contract agreement with the county to reflect the new service they will now be offering. This is a legal necessity for the department, as County Manager Chris Knopf said, “Their contract needs to reflect the services they are actually providing.”

Nine of Westfield’s firefighters have completed Light Rescue certification, with six more in the pipeline now taking free training classes at Surry Community College. These firefighters will have achieved more than 200 total hours of training in vehicular, technical, and agricultural rescue in order to get the Light Rescue certification.

Westfield Fire Chief Johnny Sutphin described the elements involved in rescues including the ability to use ropes to rappel, using heavy equipment to extricate trapped drivers, and cribs to stabilize vehicles.

With so many and differing types of farms agricultural rescue may mean more than a runaway tractor. The chief noted chemical sprayers and conveyor junctions as possible reasons his department may respond to a rescue call from a farm.

In the agreement with the county from 1986, Westfield VFD was established to “provide and maintain for the district fire protections services, facilities, and functions to levy a tax for the support thereof.” The county is divided into volunteer fire districts, with each levying their own fire district tax for maintenance and upkeep of equipment, fire houses, and to pay staff.

Each of the volunteer departments offer fire protection as their main service, but the agreements go on to outline Westfield’s responsibilities as first responders. It may be quizzical to think of them as anything but a first responders, but there is a designated difference as not all alarms they respond to involve an actual fire.

The agreement stipulates they “undertake first responder services under the supervision of the Surry County Emergency Services, and in compliance with the first responder programs and its rules and regulations.

“The purpose of the department participation is to reduce pain, suffering, and disability or death which may accompany prolonged delays in treatment in areas of the county not reachable by regular Surry County Emergency Medical Services units or rescue squads within four minutes.”

Surry County and fire officials are collaborating with the volunteer fire departments to develop a new plan to recruit and retain more firefighters. Surry County has also proposed a plan to station additional county resources strategically around the county to offer an additional county response element to emergency calls.

Adding on new services for Westfield means they have the opportunity to respond to more and different types of calls, and the county commissioners were informed this week by Westfield 2nd Lieutenant Glenn Lamb that, “We also have a contract with Stokes County, we are doing the same thing with Stokes.”

Chief Sutphin said that 42% of his fire district is over the line in Stokes County, and that approximately that percentage of his calls go that way.

Adding in these new strategic resources and having volunteer fire departments increasing their individual capabilities can have a direct impact on individuals when time is of the essence. “We’ll get there first, just based on the logistics and the location,” Sutphin said. “So, we can be there to provide rescue service until the county arrives, then we can work together from there.”

Progress is always a key to growth, and Martin said it is in the culture of the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department to look at their programs and services to find areas to expand. “Last year, we saw this as an area of improvement. It took twelve months, but we did it.”

The commissioners approved the new contract agreement, and County Attorney Ed Woltz added his desire to use the Westfield agreement as a template for departments who add services.

Another recreational resource has been added to those owned by the city of Mount Airy, which didn’t involve any construction or other major undertaking but the acquisition of one already existing.

“Graham Field now is officially a city facility,” Mayor Ron Niland announced Wednesday during a “visioning budget retreat” in which Mount Airy council members and department heads discussed numerous local issues including those in the recreational realm.

Many local citizens might have assumed the ballpark situated at the northern end of town near the old Jones School was already under the city government umbrella due to being within Mount Airy’s corporate limits.

But Graham Field, which was completed in 2002, actually has been owned by Surry County along with other former school properties and was leased to Mount Airy for recreational uses, mainly Little League baseball.

The city’s present 10-year lease was not set to expire until 2027, but a curve ball of sorts was tossed into the equation last July when the Surry County Board of Commissioners declared Graham Field surplus property along with the former school located across Jones School Road from the field.

This involved county officials attempting to sell those two sites along with the former Westfield School property on N.C. 89.

That provided an opportunity for Mount Airy to acquire Graham Field, a lighted facility that city officials unsuccessfully sought to obtain in conjunction with the expiration of the last 10-year lease in 2017.

Niland says this was a logical step for the municipality, since it has long been using the facility for recreation purposes including Little League.

“The county doesn’t really need to own it, because they don’t run the recreational program for the city,” the mayor reasoned. “So it just made sense.”

Meanwhile, the price for Graham Field also seems right.

“We’re going to end up paying $12,500,” Niland said Wednesday.

Mount Airy’s acquisition of the facility further will provide a sense of security, given that the county’s action to surplus it last year could have resulted in Graham Field’s ownership by another individual or entity.

“So we don’t have to worry about some future group taking it away,” Niland said.

A contingent of citizens in Mount Airy led by the late Scott Graham — who also served as a city commissioner about 10 years ago — developed the baseball field in the early 2000s. This involved sizable investments of money, time and other resources.

In the years since, the city government has maintained liability insurance coverage for Graham Field; undertaken renovations, alterations and other improvements to its buildings and grounds; and provided for the maintenance of those.

It reportedly once was declared the best Little League field within a 500-mile radius by officials of the Cal Ripken youth league.

After attempting to gain control of Graham Field in 2017, Mount Airy officials were met with resistance by the majority of county commissioners who didn’t see that as beneficial to Surry residents as a whole, based on previous reports.

A complication has emerged regarding an attempt by Mount Airy officials to buy land near West Pine Street adjoining the former Koozies property that has been cloaked in controversy in recent years.

The city council had voted on March 17 to submit a bid on the site — located near West Pine’s intersection with South Street in the area of Mill Creek General Store — which is slated to be auctioned today.

That 4-1 decision occurred after the matter was discussed behind closed doors.

The new development has come to light since last week’s action, which involves the owners of the vacant lot of about one-quarter acre, sisters Gloria Mittman McNeil and Amy White, both of Lewisville.

One of the two has decided to sell her share of that property, Mayor Ron Niland disclosed Wednesday during a budget retreat meeting of city officials.

“She sold her half-interest,” said Niland, who didn’t specify which of the siblings took that step. The mayor said the two apparently had differing ideas about who should end up with the property.

It was not readily known how this occurred from a legal standpoint, since one might assume that all owners of a parcel are require to sign off on such a sale.

The buyer was identified as local businessman Wes Collins, who owns property containing a building at 446 W.Pine St. next door to that of the sisters.

This complication prompted another closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of the city budget retreat, which was allowed due to a possible property acquisition being involved.

No new action was taken afterward to undo that of the March 17 session when the majority of commissioners authorized City Manager Stan Farmer or a designee to submit a bid at today’s scheduled sale.

“I think the way it stands is they’re still sending Stan to the auction,” Jon Cawley, the lone dissenter in the earlier vote, said Thursday.

This is being viewed as an apparent effort to further the city’s interests as much as possible regarding the land.

While Mount Airy’s plans have been publicly announced only within the past week, the interest by Collins is said to have been under way for about a year.

Cawley considers it only natural for a neighboring property owner to acquire land in such instances.

“Private enterprise may want that property for reasons that have nothing to do with the city,” he said.

Cawley voted against making a bid at the auction because he doesn’t think the municipality should be in competition with the private sector in these kinds of situations.

He also pointed to the fact that the city government has identified no specific use for the property sought.

The auction step is coming on the heels of another 4-1 vote by the commissioners in February — with Cawley also dissenting — targeting the Koozies building and two other rundown structures.

Those also include the so-called “red building” at 600 W. Pine St. beside Worth Honda and the former Mittman body shop at 109 S. South St., also owned by Gloria Mittman McNeil and Amy White. They are heirs to John Mittman, who operated the paint and body shop.

The three separate owners were given 90 days to bring the buildings up to code before the city proceeds with demolition, which would open the door for the municipality possibly seizing the land left behind to cover the tear-down costs.

Mayor Niland has described the possible acquisition of the small parcel adjoining the former Koozies property as a strategic move that might aid the future development of the property due to more space being provided.

About seven years ago, the Koozies building and other nearby sites drew the scrutiny of a now-defunct city redevelopment commission which identified those locations as being in a blighted area.

This sparked fears of property there being taken forcibly via eminent domain to facilitate a traffic roundabout forming a gateway to downtown Mount Airy and other plans.

That scenario evaporated after the 2015 municipal election when the majority of the commissioners voted to disband the redevelopment group.

LaShene Lowe has taken a stand or two against injustice and discrimination in her life and was not afraid to be found making another stand over something she felt so strongly about: legacy.

Monday evening was one of significance to the Black community of Mount Airy and the area in general. The African American Historical and Genealogical Society of Surry County and their ‘Save Jones’ committee appeared before the county commissioners to announce acceptance of the county’s proposal to take ownership of the former J. J. Jones High School, currently the L. H. Jones Family Resource Center

Over the past months as the future of J. J. Jones High has been discussed at meetings of the county commissioners, members from the society have been making regular pleas that the board do the right thing. They wanted their former school to be given to the Black community for its preservation, and the county agreed.

Thursday, Lowe was no less excited that on Monday when the alumni group did something, “I never thought we’d be able to do – convince those five men to give the school to us,” she said.

The date of transfer of the property is to coincide with the end of the fiscal year, Lowe said. The county’s goal has always been a timely transfer, and the transfer date was one of the only points of Save Jones’s proposal where the county and the group did not agree completely. To wait, as requested, until 2025 to make the final transfer was not an appealing option to county officials.

The Save Jones group has spoken to county officials since Monday’s meeting, and Lowe advised they sent a list of questions to the county for review. She said Thursday that she was aware of an offer that had been made for a tract of acreage that abuts the Jones School grounds from a private citizen after the surplus had been announced.

Monday was a day some did not think they would live to see, and sadly many of the Jones High alumni did not. Legacy, and the chance to preserve it, were the main goal of the Save Jones group. The history of the area’s first all-Black school with parts of it built by hand with the blood, sweat, and tears of its own students mixed into the bricks they the laid was at risk.

For all the complaints that local government is too slow or unresponsive, count Commissioner Mark Marion among those, as he just discussed his own thoughts on the speed, or lack thereof, of county government last week with students at North Surry High.

The case of J. J. Jones however may throw a few of those conventions out the window. Lowe is thankful to be in a position to disagree with that notion. “I felt it moved pretty quickly,” she observed. From the time of the surplus designation to the for-sale signage, to Monday evening’s meeting of the county commissioners was just over eight months.

“Save Jones committee was not even formed until Dec. 30, and we have been doing the impossible ever since,” Lowe said of the daunting task that faced the Save Jones group when the county sent a dispatch in late January.

At that time, the group was asked to join the county commissioners at their all-day planning session just a few weeks out. Scrambling as a team they put together a proposal including a video presentation on the Selma Girls School that had been successfully converted into a residential and multi-use facility.

There was some extra help in getting the presentation together, Lowe admitted. “There is a saying in the Bible that when two or more gather, I will be there. Well, there was 20 or 30 of us,” Lowe said with a chuckle. Strength in numbers among the alumni will be needed going forward as will some more help from above. “I know the Lord has blessed us and was with us to work a miracle.”

There was a feeling of concern expressed after the surplus decision that Jones would be forgotten, sold, or just cast aside even though the services of YVEDDI and other groups still call the aging building home. Having those community organizations on the new campus of Jones is something Lowe wants to continue. “We don’t want to put anyone out. We want YVEDDI to stay and evolve.”

For their part, the county commissioners let it be known several times throughout the process that they had no desire to see the building lost to time, or a wrecking ball. At no time did the county entertain any idea of demolishing the former school, which was a notion that made its way into the discussion every so often — to the bewilderment of a board comprised of self-admitted history buffs.

The county entertained a proposal from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council who wanted to develop an affordable rental community on the campus of the former school. The P3 plan (Public Private Partnership) would have seen the county pair with the PTRC to form their own limited liability corporation which would have overseen the redevelopment and later management of the new community.

Surplus properties are for sale outright, as the signage reflected, so the easiest path for the county to remove these buildings from their budget was to have them bought from the county. J. J. Jones High recently was appraised at over $300,000 so there is value beyond the sentimental value which does not translate directly into dollar signs.

There were no interested parties in buying the old school building outright.

The African American Historical and Genealogical Society and Save Jones were represented at Monday’s meeting by Lowe, president, and co-chairs of ‘Save Jones School’ Adreann Belle and Jackie Snow.

Also, in attendance to represent the AAHGS for the historic evening were Chaplain Brenda McCalop, Rebecca Hampton, Ken Badgett, Nevada Love, Alice Brim, Jewell Hauser, Rev Billie King, Sonya Dodd, Jamal Thompson, Beatrice Shoffner, Marie Nicholson, Maggie Hatcher, Cynthia Penn, and Rodney Galloway.

Folks often enjoy hiking wilderness trails — a chance for some exercise while getting away from the modern world, clearing their head, simply communing with nature.

Sharon Short uses such sojourns to plan murders. Or at least germinate a few deathly ideas she might put into practice.

No, Short is not a serial killer. She’s better known to many people as Jess Montgomery, author of The Kinship murder mystery series.

Short is scheduled to be in Mount Airy on April 2 for an author meet and greet at Mount Airy Public Library, where she’ll be discussing her latest novel — The Echoes — which is the fourth novel in The Kinship series.

The series is not her first foray into the world of novel writing and publishing.

“My first published novel came out 30 years ago,” she said. It was a three-part series known as The Patricia Delaney eGumshoe Electronic mystery series.

“She (Patricia Delaney) was a woman who used computers to solve crime. It was very high tech at the time, now it would read historical,” she said with a laugh.

She has since penned the six-part Josie Toadfern Stain-Busting humorous mystery series about a laundromat owner and stain-removal expert who happens to solve crimes, along with stand-alone novels, poetry, and a collection of her columns.

Even before her first novel, Short was a writer and journalist and, she said, one in a long line of story tellers, having grown up with parents, grandparents, and extended family who all loved to weave tales for whoever would listen.

“I’ve been a writer essentially my whole life, since I could write as a little girl,” she recalled recently when talking about her career and her impending visit to Mount Airy.

After earning a bachelor of arts degree in English from Wright State University and a master of arts degree from Bowling Green State University, she spent ten years writing a weekly humor and lifestyle column for The Dayton Daily News. She still writes for the paper as a literary life columnist, and pens a regular column for Writer’s Digest called Level Up Your Writing.

But it is storytelling that she loves, though she struggled early on to find her place in the literary world.

“In my 20s, I tried my hand at writing a romance novel.” At the time, the romance genre was hot, filling the best-seller lists, but she said she struggled. Then came what she calls her “light bulb moment.”

She was sitting with a collection of mystery novels she was getting from the local library when her husband shared an observation.

“You’re writing a romance novel, but the only thing you’re reading is mystery novels. That seems to be what you are most drawn to as a reader.”

That, Short said, changed her life. She set to work penning a mystery novel. Once completed, she attended the Antioch Writers Workshop in Yellowstone, Ohio. There, a young Sue Grafton — just before she hit the best seller list with her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, gave Short a detailed critique of the first few chapters of her work.

“She was great, she was just such a good teacher, she reviewed the book I had worked on, the opening pages. She told me it had a good plot, the characters were interesting, but she said ‘You haven’t really done as much research as you need to in police procedure and your dialogue is a bit stilted.’”

Getting encouragement, as well as detailed pointers on where she needed improvement, from someone already with a few publishing credits under her belt was the final push for Short. While that first novel was never published — she said it was more of a learning experience — she soon published her first Patricia Delaney novel, and has been publishing ever since.

Her latest work, The Kinship Series, had its genesis when she and her husband were getting ready to go on a hike with her youngest daughter.

“She majored in outdoor education. She likes to do outdoor things, so we were going to visit her, do some hiking. I started doing some research on that part of the state, hikes that would be interesting to her and doable for us.”

In doing that research, she stumbled across the real-life accounts of a woman named Maude Collins, who in 1925 became the first female sheriff in Ohio history. She inherited the post when her husband, Fletcher, was killed in the line of duty. A year later, however, she ran for re-election and won.

“There have only been five female sheriffs in the state’s history,” she said, with the next one not winning the office until 1976. It wasn’t until after the turn of the 21st century that another would take the office in one of the state’s 88 counties.

“I found that really remarkable, that she was able to win election. My imagination was inspired. I wondered what if Maude didn’t know who killed her husband?” While the killer of the real-life Fletcher Collins was well-known at the time, Short said the idea of the mystery of solving such a crime took root and grew in her imagination into the Kinship series.

She said during her library visit she will be making a more detailed presentation on the series, with particular emphasis on the fourth installment, which is set to be released March 29. She said she would be glad to take questions from the audience, both on the series and about writing in general.

“I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to chatting with readers and meeting the good folks of Mount Airy.”

More information on Short and her Kinship series can be found at Her talk at the local library is scheduled for April 2 at 11 a.m.

Spring forward is now behind us, the early blooms of the cherry trees have been seen, and the first pollen spores already in the air. While spring allergies may not be welcome back, the 2022 Budbreak Wine and Craft Beer Festival will be a welcome sight to be sure.

Budbreak is moving back to spring where it belongs after having been unseated by COVID last year to a date in August, and a cancellation the year before. Residents of the Yadkin Valley and beyond can begin planning for Budbreak 2022, tickets are on sale now for the event which will be held on Saturday, May 7, from 12 – 6 p.m. in downtown Mount Airy.

If it ain’t broke

The festival itself will see little change. Organizer Bob Meineke said he hears back from guests and participants how well the format works. In one change to this year’s event however, a portion of the proceeds will be going to support the Rotary and Rotaract clubs of Ukraine during their time of crisis.

For every ticket sold online through the end of March, $2 will be donated to the relief efforts in Ukraine. The Budbreak Festival will donate $1 per ticket, which will be matched by District 7690 to total the $2 per ticket donation. Meineke said from there donations may be matched and grow even more, but one ticket yielding $2 for those in distress in Eastern Europe is no small thing.

All the tastes, smells, and sounds of Budbreak will be back where they belong with more than 16 vendors sampling craft beers and wine. Tasty eats from 13 Bones will be on site, along with favorite downtown eateries.

Wine & Beer Tasting Tickets cost $20 in advance and gets you a commemorative glass for tasting wine and craft breweries from the plethora of vendors. On the day of the event, the cost will be $25.

General Admission Non-Tasting Tickets will allow access to the festival which includes the music and food providers for $4.99. Children 12 and younger are free with a paid adult, and because food and beverage are being offered, no pets are allowed.

Music will be provided by B-Dazzle Productions, the festival’s Hometown DJ, who will start the event with tunes to set the mood from 12 – 3 p.m. Meineke also advised that Craig Southern and The Phoenixx Band “promised three solid hours of a mix of beach, R&B, country and some rock and roll.” Southern and The Phoenixx band will take the stage from 3 – 6 p.m.

The Budbreak Festival is the primary external fund-raising event for the Mount Airy Rotary Club and has afforded local Rotarians the opportunity to donate more than $193,000 locally to groups such as The United Fund, Surry Medical Ministries, and The Surry Arts Council. “Through the success of the fundraiser we have been able to provide extraordinary service to our community and the world,” the organizers said.

The Rotary Club in the United States was founded in 1905 for the purpose of bringing business and professional leaders together in order to provide community service. Its basis as a non-political and non-religious organization have helped it to steer clear of politics and social movements to focus rather on its 46,000 clubs worldwide and the difference their members can make in each community.

The existence of Rotary Clubs outside the US may not have been known. Indeed, there are 62 Rotary clubs with about 1,100 members operating inside the Ukraine. There are also 24 Rotaract clubs, these are community service clubs for people over age of 18, think of Rotaractors as the Rotarians of the future.

District 2232, comprised of clubs in Ukraine and Belarus, formed a committee to help people affected by the ongoing Russian invasion. It has launched an appeal to Rotary members worldwide for funds to provide basic necessities.

Lviv has had an influx of people displaced from other cities around Ukraine. The Rotary Club of Lviv, working with local authorities and major hospitals, created an online wish list of relief items that can be accessed by people who want to help. Members arrange for the donated items to be delivered to hospitals and coordinate storage with local warehouses.

Rotarians in Kisvárda, Hungary, are coordinating contributions and mobilizing members to donate necessities and deliver the items to where they’re needed. In Romania and Moldova, they have created a central fund for contributions and set up WhatsApp groups that organize food donations and coordinate shelter for refugees. Clubs in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic have partnered with a railway and cargo company to offer transportation to nearly 2,300 refugees.

While Rotarians across the globe are finding ways to help their sisters and brothers in the Ukraine, local organizers remind, “As we prepare for spring and celebrate our freedoms, we are reminded of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We are inviting you to take part in helping with that need.”

For tickets, including a Hampton Inn by Hilton festival package, visit:

Citizens benefit when water and sewer lines in their neighborhoods are replaced, but there’s a downside: the work isn’t pretty and leaves scars behind in the form of damaged streets dug up during the process.

However, Mount Airy officials have acted to remedy that where a major water-sewer rehabilitation project was completed last year in the area of Maple and Merritt streets.

The multimillion-dollar utility project there included replacing aging lines.

During a meeting last Thursday night, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved a resurfacing contract for the streets that were affected in a 5-0 vote. In addition to Maple and Merritt streets, the list includes Pippen Street, Porter Street, Rawley Avenue, Sydnor Street and a portion of Willow Street.

Mayor Ron Niland said he was especially concerned about the bad condition of the Willow Street section involved, running from West Independence Boulevard to some railroad tracks.

A local firm, Sowers Construction Co. of Mount Airy, was awarded the job, which constitutes the city’s annual resurfacing contract for 2022.

Sowers had the lowest of four bids submitted for the paving project after it was advertised in February, offering one of $258,416 which drew an observation from Commissioner Joe Zalescik about the final tallies resulting.

“I see that these bids are very interesting,” Zalescik said in commenting on the wide disparity between the lowest and next-lowest proposal, submitted by Carl Rose and Sons of Elkin, $321,083. The highest bid received provided even more of a contrast, a $488,971 offer from Adams Construction Co. of Jefferson — which was $230,555 higher, or nearly double, the winning bid.

“That happens sometimes with construction contracts,” city Public Works Director Mitch Williams responded regarding figures that can reflect a lack of interest by a particular company for whatever the reason. “That’s typical — they just don’t want the work as well as the winner.”

Rounding out the four bids was one submitted by Tri-County Paving, also of Jefferson, for $451,936.

The total budget allocation approved by the commissioners for the project is $284,258, which includes a 10% contingency figure to cover possible cost overruns in addition to the $258,416 low bid.

Williams pointed out that along with its bid, he recommended that Sowers Construction be awarded the contract based on its past performance on resurfacing contracts and an “excellent working relationship” with the city government.

The job is expected to be completed by the end of June.

Money for the project was included in the city budget for the present fiscal year that ends on June 30.

It is coming from the N.C. Department of Transportation, which awarded more than $300,000 to Mount Airy in 2021 in the form of State Street Aid to Municipalities, also known as Powell Bill funds.

That money is derived from state gas tax revenues that are given back to municipalities across North Carolina based on a formula set by the Legislature.

Mount Airy has devoted its Powell Bill funding in recent years to resurface clusters of streets in various parts of the city based on a priority list that addresses those with the greatest needs.

The funding formula includes the number of locally maintained street miles. Mount Airy is responsible for the condition of 73 miles of streets on the municipal system.

© 2018 The Mount Airy News