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Mike Featherstone

Turning rocks into diamonds

By Kathy Blake

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra
Before he ever saw the inside of a dugout, Mike Featherstone saw his future. He felt the ball roll in his left hand, got the grip just right, and hurled a good cutter 90 miles an hour, straight to the mitt. Little kids dream like that, sometimes.
What Featherstone actually held was a hand full of rocks, in a back yard, with a fan club of two.
“I guess my parents noticed, because I liked to throw rocks as a little kid, and they got me into the Mount Holly Optimist League, made up of the local churches,” he says. “I started playing Little League and played for the Castena Presbyterian Church on Highway 16 up near Mountain Island.”
Being a lefty, he says, made it a natural fit to be a pitcher.
He pitched in middle school, in high school, in front of scouts who promised summers in Arizona, and for a team whose antics rivaled the Bad News Bears. He pitched in college, and had his pick-off moved filmed as a training video. He pitched for a summer league team that somehow made it to Kansas in a bus – engine probably held together by Scotch tape and prayer – that didn’t make it back home no matter how many times they clicked their heels. He pitched in a Cape Cod League and in the pros, in the Braves organization, and found that, in baseball, always knowing where you’re going leads to cherished memories of where you’ve been.
Featherstone, 56, of Lincolnton, ends his baseball ride in the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honor. The first thing I thought about when they told me was that if my dad were still here, he could participate,” he says. “I’m just honored. I appreciate the acknowledgment.”
It was Earnest Featherstone who taught his son about aiming high, but taking the right road to get there.
“My dad was my mentor, and I looked up to him and respected him,” Featherstone says. “He made good decisions.”
A year before Featherstone graduated from East Gaston High School in 1982, Major League scouts were regulars at games. Particularly Vern Benson, then with the St. Louis organization. Featherstone was All-Southwest Conference as a junior and senior, conference co-Player of the Year in 1981 and pitched four one-hitters. Benson called to say the Cardinals planned to take him in the sixth round and plant him in Arizona. Earnest Featherstone said no.
“I wanted to go play ball. That’s really kind of a low point between me and my father. I didn’t talk to him for six months,” Featherstone says. “I would have gone to (Class) A ball or rookie ball, but he was all about education. It was absolutely the right move. Fathers know best. I was only 17. But we mended fences, and I got my degree from Wake Forest.”
Featherstone was the winning pitcher against Shelby in the playoffs his senior year at East Gaston, the year Wake was in the market for a left-handed pitcher. Wake coach Marvin Crater, the ACC Coach of the Year in 1982 – who played in the Yankees farm system and was roommates with Yogi Berra – was in the stands. “He offered me a full ride,” Featherstone says. “He had the paperwork with him.”
But before college, there was that certain summer league.
The 1983 semi-pro Winston-Salem Indians placed sixth in the National Invitation Tournament in Wichita. “It was a talented team; the guys, the starting line-up had played some level of minor league professional baseball. They were in their late 20s, early 30s, kind of a rag-tag Bad News Bears,” he says. “The owner was an interior decorator. We had a shortstop named Ron Fowler, and during the game he would be smoking a cigarette and he would never drop an ash when the ball was hit to him. He could turn a double play smooth as silk.
“They had a cooler in the dugout and they loved Bud Lite. And the more beer they’d drink, the better they’d hit. There’s a lot that goes on that the fans don’t have a clue.”
Like, when the umpire is a little tight on the strike zone, and the catcher has to have a talk, send a message. “So, you get a runner on first and we’d have a pitchout, where we’re going to pick the runner of first. And sometimes, you get the signals crossed and I throw it right over the plate, and sometimes you hit the ump in the shin guards,” he says. “One time, I kind of hit him in the midsection and he kind of went down, and the catcher told him, ‘You need to loosen up the strike zone, or we’ll do this all night long.’”
But back to the W-S Indians…
“We ended up going to the national semi-pro tournament in Wichita, Kansas, and ended up finishing sixth. We were playing in the Triple-A ballpark, and the crowd was chanting for us. Ron never dropped an ash the whole tournament. We rented a Greyhound bus, and it smoked like a freight train, so when we left Winston-Salem, instead of going on I-40 through Knoxville and a straight shot to Kansas, we had to go through Atlanta because that thing would not make it through the mountains. I called my dad and said it wouldn’t make it back to North Carolina. Could he get me a plane ticket? Four other guys did the same thing.”
Next summer; different team.
“My sophomore year, I got a chance to go to the Cape Cod League, and that was a great experience,” he says. “It’s a summer league put together by college coaches, to invite the upper tier of talent to play together. I played with the Falmouth Commodores. It was loaded with scouts at every game.”
Featherstone played 52 games in four years at Wake Forest and in 1986 had the second-most strikeouts in the ACC. He pitched 73 innings in 16 games his senior year, with 54 strike-outs.
He was drafted by Atlanta and played for the Pulaski (Virginia) Braves in the Appalachian League, and won the Rookie League Championship.
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” – Yogi Berra
Featherstone’s last game was in 1987. He tore the rotator cuff on his pitching arm and had surgery in the winter. By spring training in Bradenton, Florida, the arm didn’t cooperate. “There wasn’t enough time to rehab, so I got released. My wife and I, we never looked back.”
He and Lisa were married in July 1987. They have three daughters – Brittany, Mackenzie and Kassidy. Today, Featherstone works for Duke Energy, as manager of the IT enterprise help desk. He has about 60 employees.
“Sometimes, I remember the camaraderie with the guys, and playing the game and the love of the game,” he says. “And those minor league road trips, travelling on the busses…good times. Those are some good memories.”

East Gaston High School (1980-1982):
Sophomore – 22 1/3 innings, 28 strikeouts, 0.94 ERA. Junior – 63 2/3 innings, 97 strikeouts, 7-3 record with 3 saves. Senior – 71 innings pitched, 97 strikeouts, 8-2 record with 2 saves.
All-Conference, 1981 and 1982. 1981 Southwest Conference co-Player of the Year. Intended 6th-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. Signed NLI with Wake Forest.
Wake Forest University (1983-1986):
1983 – Sixth place, National Invitation Tournament, Wichita, Kansas with the summer league state champions Winston-Salem Indians semi-pro team. 1984 – Cape Cod summer league, Falmouth Commodores. 1985 – Pitched a one-hitter in win over Georgia Tech. 1986 – Team co-captain. Led Atlantic Coast Conference with most first-base pickoffs. Drafted by Atlanta Braves.
Played for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves of the Appalachian League. Won Rookie League championship.

After having had to cancel the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to announce that the 2021 event will be held on August 21, 2021 at the Mount Holly Municipal Complex at 6pm. Tickets are available for $20 at Moose’s Pharmacy and David’s Detailing.
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Bobby Brown

Belmont Historical Society names late Bobby Brown 2019 Citizen of the Year

The Belmont Historical Society recently held a special presentation  and named the late Bobby Brown as its 2019 Citizen of the Year. 
Over 75 friends and family members attended the event to honor Brown. Phil Tate honored his friend, Bobby Brown, giving the remarks about his life here in Belmont. He was one of the founders of the BHS. He was born and raised in Belmont and always kept his love for the town and the area. Those attending enjoyed refreshments, touring the museum buildings and visiting with each other.
Here is a tribute to Brown written by local author and former BHS president Stan Cromlish.

By Stan Cromlish

Robert Dallas Brown, better known as Bobby to his friends, lived a lot of life from November 15, 1938 through June 4, 2017. During his life, he was an avid reader, teacher, mentor, writer, friend, promoter, encourager, and someone who lived life completely. He was an eternal optimist believing that like everything else he could overcome Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a rare lung disease, that really made it difficult for him to breathe and have the energy to participate in the many hobbies and causes that he loved dearly.
Bobby had a zeal for life that has been rarely equaled by anyone in the community and from his earliest childhood to his final years, he continuously strived to give his best in everything he did and his best was better than most because he had more energy than two normal men. After 30 years of work in the teaching field and at Summey Building Products, Bobby retired and with the support of his loving wife, Gail Yount Brown, he really got busy.
Music, writing, automobile restoration, and philanthropy were just a few of Bob’s many talents, and he put them to good use over the years. He bought a 1930 Model A Ford because it reminded him of the good ole days in Belmont when life was slow and easy. He was an award winning writer with his three books which all won North Carolina Society of Historians awards. Guy Brown is Back! is a biography about his beloved brother and local boxing legend, Guy Brown. Laughin’, Living, and Learning and Some Things That Come With Life are anthologies that contain short stories, epigrams, and poems about life in Belmont. Bobby loved Belmont and its people and it showed through in everything he did. In 2005, with the help of seven like-minded men, Bobby promoted the foundation of the Belmont Historical Society. The Belmont Historical Society museum was founded by these men to preserve the past for the sake of the future.
Several years ago, he was approached by Art Shoemaker to join the board of directors of the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame. There were no half-measures of support with Bobby; he used his high-octane energy and every promotional tool he had to promote the annual Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremonies. His promotional prowess made most of these events a rousing success.
People always remarked that Bobby seemed to be in a constant state of motion whether it was running errands for the Historical Society, promoting the Sports Hall, or visiting patients for his beloved Mended Hearts Chapter 379. His Mended Hearts involvement gave him an outlet to share that heart disease and heart surgery were not the end of life as the patient knew it but a new beginning. When his application for the Guinness Book of World’s Records was approved for the “Longest Surviving Double Heart Bypass Patient”, he used that not to shine a light upon himself, but to promote the fact that you can live and live well with heart disease. He often spoke that he would love to be able to congratulate the individual who broke his record of 40 years and 216 days because he would have one more way to help others who suffered from heart disease.
Bobby gave full measure of himself in all his endeavors and should be remembered for his “Service Above Self” attitude. Bobby may be gone from the earth, but his contributions and the love he showed everyone he came in contact with will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those people who cherished this man of unwavering energy and devotion. A friend in a remembrance said, “Go rest high on that mountain, Brown. Your work here is done, but the results of your work will never be forgotten.” This legacy of Robert Dallas Brown is only exceeded by the love known by his beloved children and grandchildren.

End of Watch riders visit Mt. Holly

By Alan Hodge

Last Tuesday saw a solemn yet uplifting occasion occur in Mt. Holly when members of the Beyond the Call of Duty End of Watch Ride to Remember motorcycle group and their support staff visited the Municipal Complex and police headquarters. The event was part of a nationwide tour the riders are making honoring members of law enforcement who gave their lives in the line of duty during 2020.
As everyone recalls, on December 11, 2020, MHPD Officer Tyler Herndon was killed as he responded to a breaking and entering call.
The riders are based in Yakima, Washington. For the 84 days between May 28 and August 19, the caravan is traveling over 22,000 miles across the United States visiting cities and police departments. Last year, the group honored 146 fallen officers across America in 2019. This year, the number is 339 from 2020- over twice the previous year’s figure.
The 40-foot support trailer for the group has the faces and names of all 339 officers on its sides. Herndon is among them. Just seeing the display is stunning and really drives home the fact that police work is serious business.
MHPD chief Don Roper was among the crowd of officers and city employees who came out, saw the display, spoke with riders and their crewmembers, and stood in solemn little groups taking in the scene.
“It’s very humbling when you see the overwhelming support most people have for law enforcement,” said Roper. “People really care about our guys and this display is a major part of the healing process.”
The ride was organized by Jagrut Shah. He explained its purpose.
“I felt it was important for police departments to realize their hurt is not just in their city or county,” he said.
Shah pointed to the faces on the trailer.
“All of these beautiful men and women are heroes,” he said. “We want their survivors to know we are not going to forget them.”
Lincoln Jorden, 12, from Spokane was among the support crew. His father was one of the riders. Lincoln explained what spending his summer taking part the ride meant to him.
“A lot of the families don’t get the support they need and we are trying to show that support,” he said.
The riders stayed in Mt. Holly for about an hour then left for their next stop in Concord to honor Officer Jason Shuping who was killed December 16, 2020- just five days after Herndon.
For more information on the riders and their mission visit

The Mt. Holly Community Garden is having
a great summer

a huge undertaking. The new beds should last ten years.”
The rebuild was funded by the Mt. Holly Community Development Foundation, the Gaston County Farm Bureau, and local donations.
Another upgrade planned will be a water feature in honor/memory of longtime garden advocate Carol Golden.
In addition to being a place for folks to grow flowers and vegetables, it’s also proving to be a teaching tool. Last week, students from Ida Rankin Elementary were pitching in to help weed, trim, and in general learn about gardening. Two of the kids were fifth graders Madelyn Sanders and Addison Shuler. It was hot work but they seemed to be enjoying the agricultural experience.
“I love it,” said Madelyn. “It’s very unique.”
Addison agreed.
“It’s just fun,” she said.
Denison pointed out the fact that the garden has become somewhat of a destination in downtown Mt. Holly.
“People bring their coffee or lunch and sit on the benches and enjoy the beautiful flowers and plants,” she said. “Folks are welcome to come any time, but harvesting is for members only.”
Incidentally, the garden shares it extra produce with the Mt. Holly Community Relief Organization (CRO).
Now that Covid is on the run, the garden will be getting back to having special events. Cooking demonstrations are still on hold for a while, but Denison says the annual Christmas Enchantment event will take place on December 11.
“We will have food trucks, music, and luminaries,” she said.
Meanwhile, summer is in full swing and the garden is fulfilling its traditional role as a vegetable paradise for birds, butterflies, and people.
For more information on the Mt. Holly Community Garden, visit
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Principal Jessica Steiner

Stuart Cramer High’s new principal Jessica Steiner is all about building relationships

By Alan Hodge

Stuart Cramer High has a new principal, Jessica Steiner, and she’s eager to begin forging strong relationships with students, staff, and the community. Steiner replaces Audrey Devine, Cramer’s first principal, who retired in June.
Steiner brings plenty of experience to her new post. Before embarking on her new job, Steiner had served as assistant principal at Cramerton Middle School beginning in 2018. From 2014-2018, she was principal at Holbrook Middle in Lowell. From 2009-2014 she was assistant principal at South Point High. From 2007-2009 she taught fourth grade at Springfield Elementary in Fort Mill, S.C. She also taught fourth grade from 2006-2007 at Winget Park Elementary in Charlotte. From 2002-2006 she was an EC and fourth grade teacher in Largo, Florida. From 2000-2002 she taught second grade at Bardmoor Elementary in Seminole, Florida. Apollo Beach Elementary in Florida saw her work as a Learning Language Disabilities teacher from 1999-2000. In 1999 she taught emotionally handicapped students at Turkey Creek Middle School in Plant Coty, Florida.
Steiner graduated from the University of South Florida in 1999 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education with a Minor in Elementary Education. In 2000 she earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC.
So, what got Steiner interested in becoming an educator?
“When I was in college I worked part time in a doctor’s office at the front desk and always enjoyed talking to the kids,” she said. “In high school I worked in a day care and loved interacting with the children. That experience let me see kids grow and learn.”
Now that she’s been on the job for about a month, Steiner has had a chance to meet the Stuart Cramer staff and has high praise for them.
“They are great,” she says. “They work together for the common good of helping students. They are a very cohesive group and have a strong sense of teamwork.”
School starts August 23, and Steiner is eagerly anticipating the coming scholastic year.
“I am looking forward to getting to know the students,” she said. “My leadership style is to meet, greet, and observe. I want to work alongside the teachers.”
Steiner also plans to be out and about in the Cramerton community.
“We border schools rich in history,” she said. “Community involvement and support is very important.”
Steiner knows that Stuart Cramer is a special place.
“We have a strong athletic program and many extracurricular activities available,” she said. “In addition to traditional classes like math and English, there are also a variety of vocational career classes such as welding and culinary arts where students can begin a career path.”
Overall, Steiner is bringing a high level energy and enthusiasm to Stuart Cramer High and is obviously dedicated to continuing the good work Audrey Devine began back in 2013 when it first opened.
“I’m very excited be here!” she said. 
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Congratulations to Gaston Business Association member Bansen Farms Event Space and Airbnb on celebrating their opening with ribbon-cutting. Located near New Hope Elementary School, Bansen farms is a boutique wedding venue and Airbnb farmhouse that offers a boho vibe for celebrations - weddings, birthdays, corporate events.
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Another great day at Shining Hope Farms. Karleigh Faulk - Horse Leader, Ashley Seal – OT, Autumn Bishop - Side Walker, Courtney Farmer – Patient ,and Epic the horse. Photo by Lauren Faulk

Shining Hope Farms
busier than ever helping folks on horseback

By Alan Hodge

There’s so much excitement these days at Shining Hope Farms even the horses are kicking up their heels.
Headquartered near Stanley, with branch locations in Charlotte and Conover, Shining Hope Farms is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to enable children and adults to reach their full potential through the use of equine assisted activities and therapies. Programs provided include physical, occupational, and speech therapy utilizing equine movement as a treatment strategy called Hippotherapy.
Shining Hope Farms serves a total over 250 individuals weekly. There are 30 horses at the Stanley location. There are over 40 staff members consisting of occupational and physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, PATH Intl. certified riding instructors, and administrative staff, plus literally hundreds of volunteers.
In addition to physical therapy, Shining Hope Farms added a new program last year designed to help veterans with conditions such as PTSD. The program is called Saddles and Salutes. Currently, eleven veterans are taking part. The goal is to eventually have sixty participants.
One veteran enrolled in the program is Shante Roseboro who served in the U.S. Army.
“The Saddles and Salutes program is awesome,”
she said. “It has decreased my PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia. It also helps me relate better to others.”
In addition to veterans, Shining Hope Farms is also expanding its mental health outreach to include first responders and law enforcement.
With the growth in its clientele and staff, Shining Hope Farms felt the need to undertake a capital improvements program. Facility upgrades at the Stanley location includes a sprinkler system for the arena to help keep the dust down. The arenas are also getting graded and new sand laid down.
Shining Hope Farms has a couple of fundraising events slated in the coming months. On September 11, there will be a 5K and 10K Salute Trail Run starting at 8am at 6347 St. Peters Church Rd. in Conover. Proceeds will provide sponsorships for the Saddles and Salutes program. Register at
On October 4, look for the 2nd annual Shining Hope Farms golf tournament. It will take place at Verdict Ridge Golf Course in Denver. To register for the golf event go to
Another fundraising program at Shining Hope Farms lets folks “adopt a horse”. Believe it or not, horses eat a lot of food and need to be in tip top condition to do their work. People wanting to help Shining Hope Farms keep their herd rarin’ to go can donate funds for that purpose. To find out more call 704-827-3788 or visit
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of Shining Hope Farms by Milinda Kirkpatrick. A gala dinner event is planned in May. In the meantime, what started out as a dream keeps growing and growing and touching more lives in a positive way from the back of a horse.
Overall, the future of Shining Hope Farms is as bright as the flowers blooming beside the barn.
As Shining Hope Farms director of development Patrice Gibson puts it- “We are setting ourselves up for another twenty years.”

More About Shining Hope Farms
Shining Hope Farms is a Premier Accredited Center of PATH Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International) and member of the American Hippotherapy Association. Shining Hope Farms is also a GuideStar Exchange Gold participant, a leading symbol of transparency and accountability among nonprofits. For more information, visit or call 704-827-3788.
See more photos in the July 22, 2021 issue of Banner-News (Page 3)
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Fortner woking the bag, back in the day.

Mt. Holly Sports Hall of Fame - Donald Fortner
Dancing with Gloves On  

By Kathy Blake

As far back as Donald Fortner’s daughter Elizabeth can remember, music floated through the house. Jazz music … Dixieland Jazz.
And her father danced.
He was the youngest of 12 children, all of them blessed with moves to accompany a trumpet melody and cornet-trombone improve.
“Oh, they were all good dancers, some more than others, but they all loved dancing to the music,” Elizabeth Hall says. “If you had any kind of get-together, there was always dancing. They’re all gone, now, all the brothers and sisters.”
The last, Aunt Mary, was 95 when she went to be with Lord in July of 2019.
Don Fortner’s story, which started in Mount Holly in January of 1931 and had segments in South Carolina and Texas, isn’t solely about jazz tunes, which filled the CDs scattered about his home and car. He was, Hall says, “multi-faceted.” A college graduate, war veteran, car salesman, Christian.
He also was a champion boxer – “not a fighter, a boxer,” Hall says. A successful one, which has earned him a spot in the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame.
“I wish my father were alive to be able to receive this award,” she says, “but I know he’s looking down, and he’s so proud that he’s a son of Mount Holly.”
The music is a glimpse into who Donald Fortner was, when he wasn’t a student-athlete, or working man.
“He was a Renaissance Man. He taught at Arthur Murray to make money during college,” says Hall, who lives in Delaware now. “He was not your typical handyman. You weren’t going to ask him to rebuild an engine or build a playset, but he could show you how to do the foxtrot, or waltz or the tango, which was a lot more interesting. He taught us in the living room. As a young child, you’re not always that interested, but it was there if we wanted. And he would always go to the Chattanooga Jazz Festival with a cousin. That was something he looked forward to.”
It was the boxing that fascinated Fortner while at Mount Holly High School. He boxed for the school team and won the 1948 Mount Holly Golden Gloves title as a middleweight. There was a two-story building on Main Street, with a drug store downstairs and room upstairs, where the boxing club met to train. He won the 1949 Charlotte Golden Gloves title, the ’49 Concord Golden Gloves and 1950 Golden Gloves in Mooresville and Silver Gloves in Gastonia.
His name made the papers a lot, and though there’s a difference between a fighter and a boxer, sportswriters’ Webster’s are known to fluctuate, slightly.
From the Mount Holly News, of Friday, January 6, 1950:
“Two Mount Holly pugilists were slated to fight in the semi-finals of Gastonia’s 10th annual Silver Gloves at the Gastonia Armory last night. The two boys on the evening card were Don Fortner, popular local fighter and loser in a raw decision at the Gloves last year, and Jack Carpenter, representing the Cramerton team in the ring. Don is one of the best boxers to come out of Mount Holly in many moons and his loss in the Silver Gloves last year was the subject of much debate since most fans agreed that Don had easily beaten his opponent.
Fortner was slated to mix with Lee Godfrey last night in an open division welterweight battle royal. Results were not available as The News went to press. Fortner was fighting unattached.”
His talent got him a ride to Belmont Abbey, where he earned an associate’s degree in general studies before getting a scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where he was a welterweight champion in 1950, ’51 and ’52.
The Korean War came, and Fortner was stationed in Tokyo. His South Carolina diploma says B.A. in Education, January 1953.
Fortner had a buddy, a fellow boxer, named Jim McManus. They met in sixth grade and were friends forever, until Fortner died in April of 2013. McManus is 90 and lives in Myrtle Beach. He still talks of his friend in present tense.
He called Fortner “Fuzz” because of the way his haircut stood up straight.
One day in eighth grade, McManus signed a school paper with his initials – J.A.S. Fortner saw it and, perhaps with a five-piece band bebop’n in his head, said “Jazz.”
“And now,” McManus says, “everyone knows me as Jazz. I have friends who still call me Jazz.”
The two boxed together in high school, under Coach Dick Thompson who did boxing and football, and McManus said he’d have gone to South Carolina and been a Fightin’ Gamecock, too, if the place hadn’t been so big. “It was so huge, I had nightmares. I backed out and went to Western Carolina and got my degree,” he says.
He has stories, lots of them, about him and Fortner’s adventures. Like the one about the mansion.
“We were living in the same village in Mount Holly, and we were just walking along the road one day and there was a big home, we called it the mansion, and they had what you call a servant’s house, and we looked and there was smoke coming out of it,” he says, “and the two of us rushed into that house, and there was one lady. And we carried her out, and the flames took over and my gosh, we went and got the furniture out, and Boom! It was gone.”
They worked out at the boxing club on Main Street, across the street from Charlie’s Drugs, “then moved on up the Stanley road, to that community building.”
After college, the two men went separate directions. But they never lost touch. Fortner had car dealerships in Texas. “But before that, he was selling these high-priced cars at a dealership in Charlotte,” McManus says, “and I’d call the dealership and say, ‘I want to speak to Fuzz.’ And they’d give him the phone. He was quite a fellow, and quite a blessing.”
McManus went into the television broadcasting business and got stations on the air in Ohio and Greenville, S.C., where he was president of the Greenville Broadcasting Corporation. When he moved to Myrtle Beach, he started the city’s FOX affiliate.
There’s another part to the bond between the men. McManus pastors The Lord’s Chapel in Myrtle, an interdenominational church. He’s been doing mission work for 38 years, he says.
He calls Fortner “an athlete for Christ.”
“I was blessed to serve as a Christian minister to Don for a number of years,” he says.
 “I think it’s remarkable, the friendship they had,” Hall says. “There aren’t too many people who can say they had that long of a friendship, with someone they’ve known since childhood. They came together over a sport, growing up in the same town, and went so many different directions and are still close. It’s a remarkable bond.”
Hall says that, among her father’s many trophies, were some that showed his character, too. Most Popular Boxer showed up a lot, on the name plate.
“He never met a stranger,” she says. “He was very talkative, very likable. And very, very friendly. Like a Teddy bear.”

Tournaments won:
1948 Mount Holly Golden Gloves (middleweight)
1949 Charlotte Golden Gloves
1949 Concord Golden Gloves, by knockout
1949 Charlotte Golden Gloves
1950 Mooresville Golden Gloves
1950 Gastonia Silver Gloves
Boxing scholarship to Belmont Abbey
Boxing scholarship to University of South Carolina
Univ. of S.C. welterweight champion, 1950, ’51, ‘52

After having had to cancel the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to announce that the 2021 event will be held on August 21, 2021 at the Mount Holly Municipal Complex at 6pm. Tickets are available for $20 at Moose’s Pharmacy and David’s Detailing.

Rocky Branch Park grand reopening right around the corner

By Alan Hodge

The grand reopening for Rocky Branch Park at the end of Woodrow Ave. in Belmont is set for August 7 at 12 pm. The park has been closed since last January while a major renovation project was underway.
Employees of Chapel Hill based Nature Trails have been hard at work in the Rocky Branch woods tackling tasks like bridge building, brush clearing, and trail blazing.
According to Parks and Rec. director Zip Stowe, the purpose of the  major upgrades was to make Rocky Branch  a more walkable and a family friendly oasis of outdoor area just a couple of blocks from the heart of downtown. The cost of Phase I of the project was $94,650.
“The City funds amount to $46,000,” Stowe said. “The remaining funds came from the Trailblazer’s by way of grants and donations.”
So, what has the project entailed?
“The trail was widened to give it multi-purpose use,” said Stowe. “Several of the old bridges got taken out and replaced with seven new ones. The trail will be a lot better for walking. There is also a new split rail fence.”
Improved drainage and erosion control was also included in the work.
The improved trail is nice and wide and covered in crushed gravel. The new bridges are sturdy and cross the creek at several scenic locations where the water flows over large and small stones. The overall feel is like being in a deep and lovely forest despite the fact that downtown Belmont is barely a mile away.
“We hope to bring groups to the trail for activities such as nature walks,” Stowe said. “It’s nice and peaceful in the woods.”
The trail will link up with another section of the Carolina Thread Trail and go all the way to Cramerton.
Rocky Branch Park has primarily been a mountain biking/hiking trail park. It first opened for use in July 2013 with a couple miles of biking and hiking trails.  It was carved out of the woods at the bend in the road where Sacco St. and Woodrow Ave. meet. The initial construction was done mainly with volunteer labor and free land making it one of the city’s best park deals ever.
In other Belmont Parks and Rec. news, a new program will kick off on August 14 starting at 9am.  It is a speed and agility competition for boys and girls grades 7 to 12 at Gantt Field in East Belmont. It will test the 40 yard dash, the vertical jump, football passing skills, and the box drill.
“We will bring in an outside company to test everyone,” aid Stowe.  “The scores can be used to put on participants sports resume’ for high school and colleges. No other town in our area has an event like it.”
The cost is $20 for folks inside the Belmont city limits and $25 for outside residents.  An overall winner in each event will be announced and someone will be awarded Belmont Athlete of the Year.  You can register online at  For more information call the Belmont Recreation Dept. at 704-913-2910.
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Stanley’s Boyce Mckinney working on the Coke mural in downtown Mt. Holly.

Stanley mural artist Boyce McKinney completes another masterpiece

By Alan Hodge

Stanley mural artist Boyce McKinney has added another masterpiece to his already impressive list of local works.
The newest creation is a large replication of a vintage Coca-Cola advertisement on the side of a downtown Mt. Holly building at 123 N. Main.
McKinney estimates the original mural was done in the early to mid-1950s.
Former mayor Bobby Black and city planner Greg Beal, and the late Carol Golden helped get the ball rolling about a year ago for the project,” said McKinney.
Once the paperwork and permission got sorted, McKinney went at the project with his trademark enthusiasm and talent.
“It took about three and a half weeks to do the painting,” he said.
With its striking red and white vintage Coke logo and lad wearing a bottle cap for a hat, the mural gets plenty of notice in person and online.
“It has been very well received,” McKinney said. “It had 1,500 hits on the City of Mt. Holly facebook page.
The Coke creation isn’t McKinney’s first Mt. Holly mural. Just across the street at the Community Garden, another one he did last year beams forth with bright colors of flowers and the sun. That mural is like a beacon drawing folks to the garden.
Up in his hometown of Stanley, McKinney’s work is represented by a large mural along the whole side of the building at S. Main and W. Plum streets. The mural depicts a very real looking steam train pulling into Stanley. The mural is so lifelike that from a distance it’s hard to tell from the real thing.
McKinney created the work as a free gift to the Town of Stanley.
The work it took to carry out the Stanley project was very real, and challenging as well.
“I was on the Beautification Committee in 2009 and the idea came up to do the mural,” McKinney said. “I was working freelance at the time so I started the project that March.”
Before he began painting, McKinney did many weeks of research into what the mural would depict.
“The depot represents one that burned down in 1929,” he said. “The locomotive is a 1920s era Baldwin. I saw a photo of it in the Brevard Station Museum. It’s the type that would have come through town in that time period.”
The mural is painted with latex house paint donated by Lowes. McKinney mixed the colors so that they really pop. Trackside wildflowers in the mural and the red caboose stand out in bright contrast to the rich dark green of the locomotive and the lighter green of the passenger cars. Above the train  and station, an azure sky and billowing white clouds are all depicted in detail.
“Everybody talks about how real it looks,” he said.
To do the two-year project, Boyce enlisted the help of his brother Joe. Together they climbed ladders and scaffolding, and endured all types of heat, cold, and rain.
Incidentally, Joe has his own mural claim to fame. He painted two murals in Cherryville. One shows the famous Cherryville New Years shooters and the other one has Cherryville landmark scenes and “Welcome to Cherryville” in large lettering.
The McKinneys have art in their blood.
“I won my first art contest when I was three-years-old,” Boyce said.
McKinney credits a local Stanley physician, Dr. Bailey Graham Weathers, and his East Gaston High art teacher Robert Moody, with helping develop and guide his artistic talent.
“They were a huge influence,” he said.
The Mt. Holly and Stanley murals are a big feather in McKinney’s cap, but he has a plethora of other professional artist credits to his name as well. Just a few include Art Director for Heritage USA, Scenic Designer for the dark ride in Hong Kong  “Rise of the Dragon”.  He also was Scenic Designer for the “Magnificent Adventure”, a motion-based simulator ride at the same location in Hong Kong, Assistant Art Director for E.T.’s Adventure Ride at Universal Studios Florida,   Art Director for the Italian project “I Corsair, The Legend of Jason Montague” at a  pirate-themed dark ride in Gardaland, Italy.
He was Senior Designer for Richard Crane Productions on the New Orlando Science Center, Paramount Parks as a Show/Set Designer.   In 1998, he joined Paramount full time as the Scenic Construction Coordinator, and was Exhibits Director/Designer at Discovery Place in Charlotte.
McKinney also created the sets for the Easter cantata art his church, Stanley Pentecostal Holiness.
Now that the Coke mural is complete, McKinney is heading to Columbia, S.C. where he’s creating two murals at a school
McKinney, 62, shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to his mural work, he takes part in long distance charity motorcycle rides. He’s always looking for an artistic challenge, but draws the line when it comes t subject matter.
“I won’t paint naked ladies or demons,” he said.

Boyce McKinney Murals

Scenes from Stanley Fest...

The Town of Stanley held its first street fest and car show last Thursday. Folks showed up in droves to have fun and let it all hang out. The Cat5 band and car show was a big hit. Thanks to Rec Dept. head Tug Deason and Town Manager Heath Jenkins for coordinating, Mayor Steven Denton and council for approving, PD Chief Summey, and FD Chief Withers for facilitating crowd control and safety. Here are some scenes from the jolly affair.

Photos by Bill Ward


KNOLL America Inc. to build headquarters here

The Gaston County Economic Development Commission is pleased to announce that KNOLL America, Inc. has agreed to purchase approximately 12 acres within the Apple Creek Corporate Center and will construct a 60,000 square foot headquarters operation and production facility.
The new facility will also include a state-of-the-art training area, showroom, warehouse and distribution center. KNOLL America plans an initial investment of more than $7.89 million and intends to create approximately 31 new jobs at this location.
“We are excited to have another global manufacturer choose North Carolina for its headquarters,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “This decision affirms our state’s reputation of having a strong manufacturing workforce and great quality of life.”
 KNOLL America is the U.S. subsidiary for German-based KNOLL Maschinenbau GmbH. Founded by Walter Knoll in 1970, the company is family-owned and operated by second generation Matthias and Jürgen Knoll and globally employs more than 1,200 people. KNOLL engineers, manufactures, and distributes premier conveying, filter-systems and pumps for chips and cooling lubricants used in the metal processing industry.
Their flexible assembly and transport systems complete the KNOLL product portfolio. KNOLL serves customers of all sizes from OEMs to end users to smaller distributors.
 “We felt immediately very welcomed. Gaston County provides an excellent manufacturing environment for our needs. The close proximity to major interstates and airport allows us to service most customers within a day. We can engage with Gaston College in developing young skilled talent for our operation and support their apprenticeship program. The small-town community feeling is like the area where our Germany Headquarters is located,” said Lothar Burger, CEO of KNOLL America. “This investment is made possible because our owners Matthias and Juergen Knoll believe in our local team and the strength of the North American market. This venture is part of their international initiative within the KNOLL Group.”
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Reggie Ballard

Reggie Ballard:
Owner of the End Zone

By Kathy Blake

Reggie Ballard has the newspaper clippings, highlighted in yellow, describing his success at Mount Holly High in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“Reggie Ballard scored three of the Hawk tallies,” one says, about a 40-0 win over Cramerton.
Then, in a 27-13 win over the “invading” Mount Pleasant Tigers: “Friday night, Reggie Ballard scored two touchdowns to make a shamble of the area scoring race.” And, “He intercepted a Tiger pass and scampered to pay dirt.”
Ballard, who is being inducted into the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame, had 91 points before his last high school game, when the papers let fans know he would be “aiming at the century mark.”
He finished with 104 points scored his senior year, including extra points.
“I’m not intentionally trying to toot my own horn,” Ballard says, “but I scored maybe 10 touchdowns my junior year and 17 my senior year and was third in the state in scoring, and nobody at Mount Holly High School has ever done that, far as I can find out. And that was on a nine-game schedule.”
Ballard began competitive football in seventh grade, when his friend Jimmy talked him into trying out. At Mount Holly, Ballard started all four years – at center his freshman season, then a “lonesome end” as a sophomore and in the backfield his last two years.
He got a full ride to UNC-Chapel Hill and offers from a few other colleges before attending Castle Heights Military Academy in Tennessee, serving in the military stationed in Germany and finishing his football career at Western Carolina.
“And I’ve got an elephant memory,” he says. “I remember all of it, my childhood and all.”
Ballard was born in Mount Holly, at home, in March 1944. His twin sister, Rheba, grew up to marry a preacher and move to Macon, Ga., where the couple started a church. He lives in Forest, Virginia, now, a small town just southwest of Lynchburg.
“I remember we did very well in the conference championships my junior and senior years,” he says, “but we got a bad rap. We went on to the 3A playoffs, and we got killed in the state playoffs by Winston-Salem [James A.] Gray 68-0. The next year, Winston-Salem moved to 4A and we were 2A. After that, we got to play some of the smaller teams.”
He remembers the team being invited to play up toward Brevard in a 3A game, “And I was opposed to going and getting killed again. So I voted against it. The other co-captain did, too. That was [2007 MHSHOF inductee] Delmer Wiles,” he says. “So we didn’t go.”
Ballard never missed a football game in high school. At 6-foot-2, he also played center for the basketball team. “And even though I can’t prove it, and it’s probably irrelevant, I probably grabbed the most rebounds in school history,” he says. “I could stick my hand 6 or 8 inches down inside the basket. I could stuff the ball. Back then, we could only do that in practice, though. We couldn’t do it in games; it was against the rules.”
In addition to UNC, the University of Tennessee and University of Virginia recruited him, and he had a connection through Wiles that could have put him at Indiana, he says.
“I should have gone to Tennessee,” he says. “They played the single wing at the time. I didn’t have perfect enough grades to get into Chapel Hill.”
He chose, instead, to play for Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame member Stroud Gwynn at Castle Heights. “He was a legend,” Ballard says. “Knoxville flew a plane to the last [high school] game I played, and they wanted me to fly to the campus and visit, and they’d fly me back home. But I wanted to go to Chapel Hill and play for Jim Hickey [who coached from 1959 to 1966]. But my dad had just died, and I made a few mistakes, and I went to Castle Heights, then back home to go to work, over in Gastonia. I knew I was going to get drafted, so I joined the Army.”
Ballard was in Germany from September 1964 to December 1966. The post had a pee-wee football team, and Ballard was asked to coach it. “We had no offense the first four games. I wrote home and asked Coach Wiles to send me some plays,” he says. “I’ve never seen little kids take to the single wing like those kids did. We won six in a row and finished 7-4, lost the last game in a snow storm. I mean a snow storm.”
About 13 years ago, Ballard got the idea to contact one of his players, who was living in Tampa. They reminisced a bit, then the player asked Ballard if he remembered a certain kid from that overseas team…and asked if he ever watched Star Trek. That kid, his player said, played Geordi La Forge – guy named LaVar Burton.
“And that’s ‘the rest of the story,’” Ballard says.
After returning to the states, Ballard attended Western Carolina but an injury forced him to leave football behind. He came home to Mount Holly, married, and worked for Duke Energy for 30 years, leaving the company in 1997. He has two daughters and a son.
He’s divorced, but has rekindled a relationship with a woman he knew in high school, who lives in Virginia, also. To make the trip back for the Hall of Fame, he says, “is an honor.”
These days, Ballard can be found flying his 1953 Piper Tri-Pacer, a four-seater short-wing plane that, he says, “is a lot of fun.” He doesn’t mention if he’ll drive or fly to return to Mount Holly for the ceremony, but he does mention the name of the airplane organization he’s joined. It’s called Sentimental Journey.

Reggie Ballard
Mount Holly High School football: 1959-1962
Top scorer in county, senior year: 104 points
Recruited by UNC-Chapel Hill, Tennessee and Virginia
Standout at Castle Heights Military Academy
Finished playing career at Western Carolina

After having had to cancel the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to announce that the 2021 event will be held on August 21, 2021 at the Mount Holly Municipal Complex at 6pm. Tickets are available for $20 at Moose’s Pharmacy and David’s Detailing.


Local Civil Air Patrol members receive prestigious awards

By Sue Buetler

Several members of the Gastonia Civil Air Patrol group recently received a number of recognitions.
During a regular meeting of the Gastonia Squadron of Civil Air Patrol, Cadet Chief Master Sergeant Brianna Smith of Mt. Holly was presented with the Daughters of the American Revolution Outstanding Cadet Medal. This award is presented to a cadet of outstanding ability and achievement in a non-ROTC military-affiliated cadet program. The recipient must have distinguished him or herself through outstanding leadership, honor, service, courage and patriotism. Despite the challenges of a year of Covid lockdowns and cancellations, C/CMSgt. Smith stuck with the program, participated in online meetings, and continued to advance and meet goals even when that required stepping outside of a comfort zone. C/CMSgt. Smith has been a member of Civil Air Patrol since 2018. She was formerly the First Sergeant and now serves as the Squadron’s Cadet Executive Officer.
Squadron Commander, Lt. Michael Hadrick said of C/CMSgt. Smith “she been active within the squadron since the day she joined. She consistently steps up when volunteers are needed, and is persistent in her quest to advance her Civil Air Patrol education and training. C/CMSgt. Smith is a valued asset to the squadron, and I have no doubt that she will soon reach her next goal of advancing from the cadet enlisted ranks to becoming a cadet officer”.

The Gastonia Civil Air Patrol Squadron is also proud to announce the promotion of William Smith to the rank of Cadet 2nd Lieutenant. Cadet Smith was promoted and was presented the General Billy Mitchell Award, which is earned after the completion of the first eight achievements of the cadet program. In addition, the cadet must pass a comprehensive 100-question examination covering leadership theory and aerospace topics. To further highlight the significance of this accomplishment, only fifteen percent of cadets nationwide earn the Billy Mitchell Award. The rank of Cadet 2nd Lieutenant marks the progression to the cadet officer ranks. The Billy Mitchell Award was presented to Cadet 2nd Lieutenant Smith during the squadron’s June leadership meeting by Civil Air Patrol Group One Commander Lt. Col. Carlisle Lincoln.
The General Billy Mitchell Award has existed since 1964. This award honors the late General Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer, advocate, and staunch supporter of an independent air force for America. This is the first milestone of the Cadet Program. Any cadet who has received this award is eligible for advanced placement to the grade of E-3 (Airman First Class) should they choose to enter the US Air Force. They are also eligible for advanced credit in AFROTC, various CAP scholarships, and CAP special activity opportunities.
C/2nd Lt. Smith joined Civil Air Patrol in October of 2016. He currently serves on the Squadron’s cadet staff. C/2nd Lt. Smith is a graduate of Highland School of Technology, and is currently working toward a commercial pilot’s license.

During a meeting of the Gastonia Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol, Cadet Major Ben Heckel was presented with Civil Air Patrol’s Amelia Earhart Award, named for the record-setting aviator and one of the first female heroes of aviation. The Earhart Award marks completion of Phase III of the CAP Cadet Program, recognizing sustained excellence in all four areas of cadet life: leadership, aerospace, fitness, and character. Further, Earhart Award cadets must have passed comprehensive written examinations on leadership and aerospace topics. In granting Civil Air Patrol permission to name this milestone award in Amelia’s honor, her sister said that it would’ve been, “the kind of award Amelia would have chosen for herself.”
Having earned the Amelia Earhart Award, Heckel was promoted to the grade of cadet captain. He has since further promoted to the grade of Cadet Major. Since joining Civil Air Patrol in 2016, C/Maj. Heckel has grown to be respected among the cadets as well as the senior members. He has participated in not only local events, but state and national activities as well, most recently attending the week long Civil Engineering Academy at Tyndall Air Force Base. C/Maj. Heckel currently serves as the Cadet Commander for the Gastonia Squadron. He is a rising senior at Gaston Day School and member of the school’s cross country team. C/Maj. Heckel is also a member of the GCP Lacrosse team.
The award was presented by Lt. Col. Focke, North Carolina Wing Vice Commander. Squadron Commander Lt. Michael Hadrick said “I have watched Cadet Heckel progress steadily up the enlisted ranks and into the officer ranks, and he’s still climbing. He stayed focused on his goals and worked hard during the pandemic to reach this level and continues to advance and take on more responsibility. As Cadet Commander he is a role model for the entire cadet corps and directs and coordinates a team of cadet officers and NCOs.”

The Gastonia Civil Air Patrol Squadron is also proud to announce the promotion of Cade Caudle to the rank of Cadet Lieutenant Colonel. Cadet Caudle was promoted and was presented the General Ira C. Eaker Award, which is earned after the completion of Phase IV of the cadet program, recognizing sustained excellence in all four areas of cadet life: leadership, aerospace, fitness, and character. Further, cadets will have graduated from an academically-intensive leadership academy to qualify for this honor, which is especially appropriate considering that today, the Air Force celebrates Gen Eaker’s legacy by naming the service’s top school for commanders in his honor – the Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala. To stand in General Eaker’s shadow is to study leadership carefully and serve others. The General Ira C. Eaker Award was presented to Cadet Lt. Col. Caudle during the squadron’s July leadership meeting by Lt. Col. Focke on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Region Commander.
The General Ira C. Eaker Award is the CAP Cadet Program’s second most prestigious award and honors one of the forefathers of an independent Air Force. In 1929 Eaker remained aloft aboard The Question Mark, a modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2A, for nearly a week, to demonstrate a newfound capability of aerial refueling. During WWII, Eaker rose to the grade of lieutenant general and commanded the Eighth Air Force, “The Mighty Eighth” force of strategic bombers. Even as a general, Eaker preferred to lead from the front, personally flying B-17 precision bombing missions over occupied France and Germany.
C/Lt. Col. Caudle has been a member of Civil Air Patrol since 2015. He has served on the Gastonia Squadron’s cadet staff, including as Cadet Commander.  He has also been a member of the Color Guard, and served in staff positions at many state and regional Civil Air Patrol events. Squadron Commander, Lt. Mike Hadrick remarked that “only about 2% of cadets rise to this level of achievement. They are the best of the best. C/Lt. Col. Caudle fully immersed himself in the cadet program, took advantage of many of the opportunities the program offers, pursued his goals, and has grown into a fine young adult. As he heads off to college, we will certainly miss him and the leadership, abilities, and fellowship he brought to the squadron. We wish Cadet Caudle all the best and know that he has a bright future ahead of him.” C/Lt. Col. Caudle will be attending California State University - LA this fall where he plans to major in psychology and nursing with a minor in fire science.

About the Civil Air Patrol
Established in 1941, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessna aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) and performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 130 lives in fiscal 2020. CAP’s 54,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Members also serve as mentors to over 20,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs. One of the premier public service organizations in America, CAP benefits the nation with an estimated economic impact of $209 million annually. For more information on the local squadron, visit

Mt. Holly council approves FY2021-2022 budget

By Alan Hodge

The Mt. Holly city council has approved the municipality’s FY2021-2022 budget and submitted it to the state.
Here are the particulars.
Overall Budget
Tax rate will remain the same at $0.485 per $100 of value.
Water and sewer rate will enter into Year 3 and will be increased based on the City Council adopting the Five (5) Year Water / Sewer Rate Study during Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 – 2020.  This new rate is reflected in the proposed Fee Schedule.
The current proposed budget includes a salary study and a COLA tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for employees not affected by the salary study. During the 6/4/2020 City Council Budget Work Session, Council unanimously approved that the COLA would be tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Health Insurance will experience a 19% increase and the City will change to a new provider, Cigna.
Liability Insurance will increase approximately 10%, which includes General Liability, Buildings, Automobile, Crime, Workers Compensation and Cyber.
Mandatory retirement contribution to the North Carolina retirement system (ORBIT) has increased to 11.41% (10.15% in FY 20-21) for regular employees and an increase to 12.04% (10.9% in FY 20-21) for Law Enforcement Officers.
No new positions are funded.
 Employee longevity remains funded in the salary line item for both General Fund and Enterprise Fund.  This item is included in the Employee Recruitment and Retention Policy. This totals $106,900.00
 The overall budget increased from $19,856,515 in FY 20-21 to $24,060,938 for FY 21-22 equaling 17.47% but in comparison to FY 19-20 it only equals 7.46% of amended budget but 5.47% less that adopted FY 19-20 budget.
 No Unassigned Fund Balance was used to balance the General Fund budget.
General Fund
Total General Fund $14,626,149, or 12.00% increase from last Fiscal Year.
 Factors that are contributing to this increase are mainly property taxes and sales and use tax; we reduced these last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No change to Council compensation.
Beautification is funded at $12,500.
Tree City budget line funded at $7,500 (ordinance states $2/capita, equaling $30,000 total budget).
Election Expense increased due to Bond Referendum.
Historical Society budget funded at $2,000.
Operational expenses only. $127,159.00 Capital.
Administration – Information Technology (IT)
Contract Services includes all software, webhosting, webpage maintenance, telephone maintenance, internet access.
Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) includes hardware and maintains a replacement schedule for desktop and laptop computers.
Administration – Maintenance (Building Maintenance)
All in-house and contracted maintenance activities funded through this Department.
All utilities (electricity, gas) will be processed through this Department.

Tree City budget line funded at $7,500 for Grounds Maintenance.
 Phase I 273 Landscaping was budgeted at $54,700.
 Capital includes the purchase of 2 handheld radios at $9,827, (4) vehicles & Equipment $161,000, (3) new car camera systems $17,075, and (4) mobile Car Radios $16,000.
 Capital includes replacing the large diameter hose $5,000, and parking lot sealcoat & markings $12,500.
Normal operations increase.
Streets and Solid Waste
Capital Automated Garbage Truck $330,000, Dump Truck $140,000, and (2) replacement trucks $70,000.
Community Development
Normal operations increase.
No Capital Items (all were Powell Bill).
Parks and Recreation  
 Capital is funded with the ABC Fund Balance proceeds $621,000.
Enterprise Fund
Total Enterprise Fund $9,434,789, or 25.67% increase over last Fiscal Year.
 Factors that are contributing to this increase are the 3rd year rate study increase and an increase in Stormwater fee.
Utility Administration
Professional Services line is proposed at $318,000.  $50,000 is budgeted for the Water Distribution Study for Downtown, $200,000 for the Dutchman’s Creek lift station and force main preliminary engineering evaluation, $10,000 for surveying, $8,000 for AutoCAD Services and $50,000 for various shared services.
Utility Administration – Maintenance (Building Maintenance)
The Building Maintenance Department is responsible for building upkeep only, no Water Treatment or Waste Water Treatment activities or equipment maintenance associated with the plant functions.  Items include cleaning, waste management, landscaping, fire alarm monitoring, security intrusion alarm monitoring, extermination, fire suppression, elevator contract, HVAC maintenance.
Utility Administration – Information Technology (IT)
Contract Services includes all software, webhosting, webpage maintenance, telephone maintenance, internet access.
Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) includes hardware and maintains a replacement schedule for desktop and laptop computers.
Downtown Water Distribution Design $150,000, Sandy Ford Water Line loop $50,000, aerial Structural Design $50,000, Water replacement/Upgrade Program $1,200,000, Lagoon Dredging $215,000, Generator/Auto Transfer Switch $75,000.
Waste Water Treatment
 Contract Services is budgeted at $455,000, in which $200,000 of this line item is land application of sludge.  No capital items are budgeted.
Field Services
Maintenance, repair and replacement of water and sewer lines is budgeted at $540,000. Capital – Pull behind compressor $22,000, Combination Jet-Vac Truck $413,000, 4WD Truck $33,000. Also, for sewer system improvements which includes downtown sewer lining at $200,000.
Projected to receive $339,000 through collection fee.  Yearly expenditures to equal revenue, so in essence, no Unassigned Fund Balance implications. New vehicle $20,000.

Town of Stanley July 4th Celebration scenes

The Town of Stanley held its July 4th event Friday night at Harper Park. Folks flocked in for the fun and fireworks. Here are some scenes from the festive event.

Photos by Bill Ward

City of Mt. Holly July 4th festivities...

The City of Mt. Holly held its July 4th event on July 2nd. Heavy masses of folks came out for the fun and fireworks and to celebrate freedom and the right of non-Covid restrictions liberty.

Red, White, and
Belmont was a blast!

The City of Belmont held its July 4th Red, White, and Belmont event last Saturday. A huge crowd turned out for all the festivities.

Photos by Alan Hodge
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Mt. Holly’s Willie Bert Rhyne celebrates his centennial birthday

By Alan Hodge

One of Mt. Holly’s most beloved citizens, and a member of the Greatest Generation, Willie Bert Rhyne observed his 100th birthday on July 6.
Rhyne was born on a 150 acre farm on what is now Mt. Holly Huntersville Rd. He graduated from Paw Creek High in 1938 and never missed a day of class. In 1939 he went to work for Duke Power at the Riverbend Steam Station.
Two years later, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the lives of millions, including Rhyne’s, changed in a flash.
“I enlisted in the Navy on December 8th,” Rhyne said.
Thus began four years of high adventure and action for Rhyne as a crew member of the USS O’Bannon destroyer.
The USS O’Bannon (DD/DDE-450), a Fletcher-class destroyer, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon (1784–1850), the Marine Corps’s “hero of Derna”.
O’Bannon was the US Navy’s most decorated destroyer during World War II, earning 17 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. During WWII the ship saw action all over the South Pacific including- five major surface engagements, assisted in sinking three cruisers and six destroyers, sinking a submarine, taking part in 21 shore bombardments, and shooting down 13 aircraft. Rhyne took part in it all.
Rhyne recalled his time on the O’Bannon. On board, he was a Machinist Mate 1st Class operating the steam turbines that powered the ship.
“I was gone for four years and only came home once for a few days,” he said. “We didn’t see land for weeks at a time. We were on the go constantly shelling islands or fighting other ships.”
The O’Bannon got around.
 “After the war I was told we had had crossed the equator 46 times and traveled 300,000 miles,” Rhyne said.
 Even though he faced danger time and time again during WWII, Rhyne shuns being called a hero.
“It was a team effort,” he stresses. “We all tried to do our part.”
After the war, Rhyne returned to Mt. Holly and married Ruby Johnson on November 11, 1945. They has two sons Willie E. and Edward J. both of whom also joined the Navy. The Rhynes were married 70 years when Ruby passed away in 2015.
On the career front, Rhyne resumed his job at Riverbend and retired from there as a supervisor in 1982.
In his retirement Rhyne stayed busy. He and Ruby hit the road.
“We traveled all over the U.S., Mexico, and Canada,” he said. “We took several cruises.”
To keep his hands busy and use some of the abundant energy he still possesses to a large degree, Rhyne began building grandfather clocks.
“I’ve built twenty eight of them from kits,” he said.
He also has an interest in stained glass and his home on Walnut St. in Mt. Holly has many of the beautiful pieces he crafted on display. Until recently, Rhyne also raised a large vegetable garden in his back yard every year.
Rhyne has not forgotten his fellow veterans and was a member of Gaston County’s WWII Last Man Club. The group not only gave veterans a chance to get together socially, they also attended funerals for local veterans and presented U.S. flags to the family.
“I helped fold and present six hundred flags,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne credits many things for his long and rich life especially his faith. He’s a long time member of Mt. Holly’s First United Methodist Church.
“I drive myself to church every Sunday,” he said.
Talking to Rhyne, it’s obvious that gives him peace.
“I know I’m going upstairs,” he said. “The Lord has been good to me.”
A final bit of wisdom?
“Don’t sit around,” he said. “The rocking chair will get you.”
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The City of Belmont held its July 4th Red, White, and Belmont event last Saturday. A huge crowd turned out for all the festivities. Dennis Conners was in a festive July 4th mood. See more scenes on page 10.

Catawba Riverkeeper to open new
headquarters in downtown McAdenville

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will become the anchor tenant of Dynamo 31, the soon-to-be redeveloped 1940’s-era Pharr Yarns mill building at 102 Main Street near the lake in downtown McAdenville.
Catawba Riverkeeper’s new headquarters will include offices, a conference room, a water testing lab, classroom, public-facing retail space, and a taproom.
The relocation from Charlotte to McAdenville is part of Catawba Riverkeeper’s strategic decision to make its home base along the river. From the new headquarters space, Catawba Riverkeeper will be able to work more efficiently, host more educational programming, and engage the community in its mission to protect local water quality. Creating new revenue streams from fee-based educational programming, field trips, kayak rentals, retail operations, event space rental, and the sale of local craft beer and wine will help sustain the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation as it enters its next chapter.
“We are thrilled to be realizing one the dreams of our founders – to have an ‘on-the-water’ headquarters,” says John Searby, Executive Director of Catawba Riverkeeper. “To have a partner like Pharr who is committed to adaptive reuse of this historical mill and developing McAdenville around our natural resources of the river and trails makes it even better.”
Catawba Riverkeeper is grateful to the donors who’ve made this game-changing opportunity possible, especially to Xylem for funding the lab and Duke Energy for funding the 40-person capacity classroom.
C.L. Helt and Myers & Chapman are the design and construction leads, respectively, of the Dynamo 31 development. The project is expected to be completed in fall 2021.
About Dynamo 31
The name “Dynamo 31” is an homage to the late 1800s direct current electric generator used to light McAden Mills. In 1884, Colonel RY McAden commissioned Thomas Edison to install a dynamo (his 31st), making McAden Mills the first electrically lit textile mill in the world, according to historian Robert Ragan. Dynamo #31 was in use from 1884 into the 1960s, and is currently on display as part of the permanent Carolinas Textile Exhibit at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History.
Bill Carstarphen, CEO of Pharr, says “The name calls to mind the spirit of innovation and competitiveness that will power our community into the future. We hope the building name will inspire its new tenants to be innovative, creative and original, enabling them to launch new opportunities for growth in McAdenville.
In other Catawba Riverkeeper news, the organization has opened  its Riverkeeper Boathouse  in McAdenville.
 The Boathouse is at the South Fork River Trail and R.Y McAdam Canoe and Kayak Launch at 115 Willow Drive in McAdenville. In addition to restrooms, a taproom offering beers from breweries along the Catawba River and an outdoor apparel and gear retail shop, the large building houses temporary offices for the Foundation, which has relocated from Charlotte.
 At the Boathouse grand opening, Riverkeeper Foundation Executive Director John Searby made comments along with CRF Board Chair Tyler Richardson, Montcross Area Chamber President Marc Jordan and Michael Applegate, executive director of the Gaston County Department of Travel & Tourism. Searby also accepted a $1,500 contribution from the Mount Holly and Huntersville Sunrise Rotary Clubs presented by Dana Hicks.
 Boathouse hours are Thursday and Friday, 4 – 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
 The Catawba Riverkeeper is the only non-profit, on-the-water advocate for the entire 8,900 miles of waterways in the Catawba-Wateree River Basin, providing accurate, science-based information about the water and the issues affecting it.
 For more information on the Foundation, the Boathouse and plans for the new office building, visit or call 704.679.9494.
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Miss Mount Holly Anne Marie Hagerty is announced as the first runner-up during the 2021 Miss North Carolina competition.

Anne Marie Hagerty walks away with $16,000 in scholarship money
Miss Mount Holly is first
runner-up at Miss N.C. pageant

Special to The Banner-News

She got as close as a contestant can to winning without coming home wearing the crown.
Anne Marie Hagerty, 25, the current Miss Mount Holly, finished as the first runner-up in the 2021 Miss North Carolina competition.  She was edged out by Carli Batson, a 21-year-old ballerina from Wilmington, who will represent the state at Miss America in December.
But, not all was lost. Hagerty walked away from the pageant experience with a total of $16,000 in scholarship money that she will use to pursue a master’s degree in management from Harvard University’s online business school.  Her scholarship total includes a $10,000 prize for placing second.
“I feel so grateful for the whole experience,” said Hagerty.  “It was more fun than I ever expected, and to win $16,000 in scholarships, I praise God for every moment.”
Hagerty entered the state contest as a favorite, thanks to her strong communication and interview skills.  A 2018 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism, Hagerty has worked in television news – most recently as a reporter for WBTV in Charlotte – and traveled abroad as a freelance journalist and concert pianist.  Last year, she ventured out to establish a communication and public speaking business.
For the talent competition, Hagerty performed her own arrangement of “Fur Elise” on the piano.  During the on-stage interview portion, she was asked about “fake news” and whether Miss North Carolina should engage in politics.  She also had an opportunity to share about her “A Higher Purpose” community service program that is designed to provide support for people who have been affected by addiction.
“My program is about finding the highest purpose each life has when free from addiction,” explained Hagerty.  “I developed a 12-week program that focuses on life after recovery.  The curriculum covers how to handle job interviews, manage personal relationships, and rebuild various aspects of your life.  I have taught the curriculum at a local recovery center, and we have seen progress and success as a result of it.”
More than 60 young women across the state competed in the pageant, which was held June 24-26 at the High Point Theatre in downtown High Point.  It marked the first time in more than 40 years that the event was held outside of the state capital.  Raleigh Memorial Auditorium had been the pageant’s home before the move to High Point, which is referred to as “North Carolina’s International City” because it attracts more than 70,000 visitors from around the world for its home furnishings trade shows in April and October.
Gaston County was well represented in the state competition.  Miss Gastonia Julia DeSerio placed in the top 10, and Miss Gastonia’s Outstanding Teen Keelie Jones won the preliminary evening wear/on-stage question competition and finished as the third runner-up in the teen division.  Other contestants with ties to the Gaston area include Miss Gaston County Mariana Linares; Lexi Foy, Miss Gaston County’s Outstanding Teen and a recent graduate of Stuart W. Cramer High School; Sophia Kellstrom of Kings Mountain, a former Miss Gastonia who competed this year as Miss Mecklenburg County; and Belmont’s Maddy Wilson, who competed as Miss Charlotte.
DeSerio, 24, said competing in the pageant gave her the chance to become a local celebrity, make connections in the community, and promote the importance of the fine arts.
“Being able to represent the Gastonia community has been so special,” said DeSerio, who sang “Memory” in Italian for the talent competition.  “In addition to winning scholarship money, being in the spotlight, and having the opportunity to compete for Miss North Carolina, I have grown as a person and gained so much through this experience.  It really has changed my life.”
Gaston’s five pageant winners have had an extended reign because of the pandemic.  DeSerio, Jones, Linares, and Foy won their crown in November 2019, and Hagerty was crowned Miss Mount Holly in February 2020.  When last year’s state pageant was postponed and later canceled, the young women agreed to keep their title for another year.  Although competing at Miss North Carolina technically marked the end of their reign, they have the option to continue making public appearances until their successor is crowned.
Delores Cox, executive director of the Miss Gastonia Scholarship Association, said she is “extremely proud” of what Hagerty, DeSerio, Linares, Jones, and Foy accomplished at the state pageant and during their two-year stint as titleholders.  She praised them for their hard work, commitment, and perseverance as they upheld their pageant responsibilities while navigating the pandemic.
“To have the young women representing your program win awards and scholarships is wonderful,” said Cox.  “You sit there in the auditorium and beam with pride when they get recognition in front of a statewide audience.  It brings positive attention to our program and our community.”
Organizers of the annual Miss Gastonia/Miss Gaston County/Miss Mount Holly competition are turning their attention toward planning the next pageant, which will likely be held in January 2022.  Young women ages 13-25 who live, work, or attend college in Gaston and surrounding counties may enter.
Contestant recruitment begins in September, and information will be posted on the Miss Gastonia website and Facebook page.
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Graphic provided by City of Belmont

Belmont Council approves Del Webb development

At a Special City Council meeting on Monday, May 24 the Belmont City Council unanimously approved the Del Webb age restricted development. With direction and input from the City Council, City staff have worked with the developers for over two years to develop this extensive plan that includes:
• 2.7 miles of greenway trail along the South Fork River.
• Age-restrictions that result in no school impacts.
• Age-restrictions that result in less traffic than a normal development.
• Transportation and intersection improvements in 7 locations.
• Construction of the South Fork Parkway at no cost to taxpayers.
• A 21-acre natural waterfront park on the South Fork River.
• Enhanced stormwater measures to protect the South Fork River.
• A neighborhood commercial center centrally located with convenient access to neighboring residents.
• A neighborhood commercial center centrally located that supports jobs and 
economic development while bringing goods and services to nearby residents.
To learn more about this project visit:
To view the May 24, 2021 Special City Council meeting go to:
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Dignitaries prepare to break ground for the new CaroMont Hospital near Belmont.

CaroMont Health kick-off construction for new hospital, medical campus in Belmont

By CaroMont Health

Last week, CaroMont Health marked the beginning of construction of a new hospital and medical campus in Belmont. Part of CaroMont Health’s commitment to invest more than $300 million in new and expanded facilities in and around Gaston County over the next three years, CaroMont Regional Medical Center-Belmont is scheduled to open in mid-2023.
“We are building more than a hospital, more than a medical campus, we are building the future,” said Chris Peek, President and CEO of CaroMont Health. “In three short years, this will be the site of so much hope and promise – where new life is welcomed, where patients heal and where the next generation of healthcare professionals find their purpose.”
Located off Interstate 85 in Gaston County, the 28-acre medical campus will include a 66-bed hospital (54-acute care beds and 12 observation beds), 16-room emergency department, labor and delivery unit, operating rooms and surgical capabilities, and robust diagnostic testing and imaging services. Also planned is a medical office building and parking deck. Early estimates suggest the hospital alone could create as many as 150 new jobs in the region and see as many as 16,000 patients in the first year.
“With the insight and guidance of medical and clinical leadership, CaroMont Regional Medical Center-Belmont has been designed with an intense focus on the patient, both their care and their experience,” said Richard Blackburn, Vice President of Facilities and Support Services. “This medical campus, and the hospital that will anchor it, will extend our clinical network to better serve communities in the eastern part of Gaston County and continue to provide exceptional medical care to the region.”
In September 2020, CaroMont Health and Belmont Abbey College entered into a long-term partnership to allow CaroMont Health to build the new hospital and medical campus on land owned by the college and monastic community since the late 1800s. The proximity of CaroMont Regional Medical Center-Belmont to the college campus will offer educational opportunities for students in Belmont Abbey College’s health science programs.
“Belmont Abbey College exemplifies the true spirit of our community – one of progress, integrity, excellence and virtue – and shares many of our core values,” said Peek. “Much like healthcare, education has the unique ability to enrich and support not only the recipient, but all who surround them. A highly regarded institution like Belmont Abbey, focused on the advancement of others, strengthens our community. We are proud to be part of such a historic moment.”
Dr. Bill Thierfelder, President of Belmont Abbey College, echoed praise for the partnership.
“Bringing together two remarkable and storied institutions, the partnership between CaroMont Health, a leading healthcare provider, and Belmont Abbey College, a leading institution of higher education, is a game changer for the region and beyond. We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with CaroMont Health to provide the highest levels of medical care and academic excellence,” said Dr. Thierfelder.
In May 2019, CaroMont Health announced plans to build the Belmont hospital, expand critical care services with construction of a four-floor tower at the main hospital in Gastonia, and complete several renovation and expansion projects in its medical group. The more than $300 million commitment was the largest in the history of Gaston County. All projects are aimed at expanding CaroMont Health’s clinical network to prepare for anticipated population growth across the region.

Caromount Health Kick-Off Construction

Scenes from CaroMont Health kick-off construction for new hospital, medical campus in Belmont
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Mt. Holly Parks and Rec. Sole Patrol members LaJean Wyatt (left) and Betty Grotts say they are glad the program is getting back to its pre-Covid activity level. Photo by Alan Hodge

Mt. Holly Sole Patrol
is back up to speed

By Alan Hodge

The Mt. Holly Parks and Rec. Sole Patrol senior citizens activity program is back up to its pre-Covid schedule and inviting previous, current, and prospective members to return for more fun and fraternity.
The Sole Patrol is for folks 55 years and up. It meets at the Tuckaseegee Community Center in Tuckaseegee Park. Last week, the City of Mt. Holly lifted Covid restrictions for its facilities and that means Sole Patrol folks can show up Mondays-Fridays 10am to 12:30pm just like they did before the pandemic. Masks and temperature checks are not required.
Mt. Holly Parks and Rec. specialist Kent Womack talked about what the Sole Patrol has on tap physical activity-wise.
“Participants can walk in the gym, or play cornhole, shuffleboard, or use the fitness center equipment,” he said.
Parties and lunches were part of Sole Patrol action pre-pandemic and those will return, but not right now.
“We are working on bringing those back,” said Womack.
Some Sole Patrol members have come trickling back.
“We had eight the other day,” Womack said. “We want to get the number back to the forty or so that used to show up.”
Last Tuesday saw long-time Sole Patrollers LaJean Wyatt, 89, and Betty Grotts, 85, meeting up at the Tuckaseegee Center. They each talked about what being in the Sole Patrol meant to them.
“It’s amazing,” Wyatt said. “I love it. I have been waiting and praying for the reopening. I need the exercise and it’s a blessing to play cornhole, shuffleboard, and socialize. I drive myself here and try to come every day.”
Grotts is from Iowa and relatively new to Mt. Holly.
“We didn’t have anything like Sole Patrol there,” she said. “I like to get out and meet people. I’ve been cooped up during the pandemic and it was horrible. It’s nice to come here and take that mask off and see happy faces.”
Interested in joining the Sole Patrol? For Mt. Holly residents 55 and older it’s free. For non-resident’s it’s $10 a month. You can just show up at the Tuckaseegee Center and sign in. For more information call 704-951-3006.
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Catholic News Herald story/photo

Record number of men
graduate from St. Joseph College
Seminary in North Belmont

Andrew Templeton from Gastonia (second from left in photo) is among nine 2021 graduates of St. Joseph College Seminary – the largest graduating class since the Diocese of Charlotte founded the program to cultivate potential priests from western North Carolina to serve across the diocese.
Seven of the nine men earned undergraduate degrees from the Benedictine-run Belmont Abbey College May 15. They join the ranks of nine other men who previously graduated from the program – a total of 18 men in the five years since the seminary began.
The Catholic college seminary is the only program of its kind between Washington, D.C., and Miami.
St. Joseph College Seminary, located in North Belmont, enables young men to discern a possible vocation to the priesthood while earning undergraduate degrees at nearby Belmont Abbey College. Upon graduation, most go on to major seminaries elsewhere to pursue graduate degrees in theology and receive more specific training before being ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
With a Catholic population that has grown by double digits in the past decade, the Charlotte diocese launched the college seminary in 2016 with eight students. The program has proven a magnet for young men wanting to discern the Catholic priesthood, and enrollment has grown  faster than anticipated. The diocese fast-tracked construction on a permanent home for the college seminary in Mount Holly, about 15 miles west of Charlotte, and the new 30,000-square-foot building opened last fall.
The nine graduates spent only a year in the new building, but their formation over the past four years has been pivotal, they said.
“On a practical level, the establishment of St. Joseph College Seminary made going to seminary much more feasible,” said graduate Kolbe Murrey, whose home parish is St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Tryon. “Instead of traveling across country right after graduating high school, I have stayed in North Carolina and in the heart of the diocese. This has been a great blessing and given me a unified and focused first four years of seminary formation.”
At a special baccalaureate Mass for the graduates, the seminary’s rector encouraged the nine young men to keep growing in their relationship with Christ.
“I think the greatest compliment I can say to you in front of those who are here – in front of your brother seminarians and your families – is that (God) abides in you and you abide in Him, that you are a friend of God’s,” said the Rev. Matthew Kauth, during the May 9 Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte. “I don’t know of any title in the world that is more desirous to have, than to say someone is a friend of God’s.”
The graduates are moving on to major seminaries in Cincinnati and Rome to continue their formation as future priests for the Diocese of Charlotte.
Joseph Yellico, Nicholas Kramer and Kolbe Murrey will study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Christopher Angermeyer, Anthony del Cid Lucero, Luke Martin, Noe Sifuentes, Andrew Templeton and James Tweed are headed to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As its largest graduating class moves out, St. Joseph College Seminary is preparing to welcome another large incoming class next school year.
At least eight new men are expected to enroll this fall, joining 18 others who are continuing their studies at the college seminary.
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Truist Bank serves as sponsor for
Excellence in Education awards announcement
Gaston County Schools names
‘Of the Year’ winners for 2021-2022

Six employees received the most prestigious honors presented by Gaston County Schools during the 2021 Excellence in Education awards announcement.  Truist Bank sponsored the program, which was held on Tuesday, June 1 at the new CaroMont Health Park, home of the Gastonia Honey Hunters baseball team.
The ‘Of the Year’ winners, who were named during the 9:00 a.m. ceremony, include:
Teacher of the Year: Staci Nezezon of Pinewood Elementary School;
Principal of the Year: Tyler West of Pinewood Elementary School;
Assistant Principal of the Year: Bridgette Best of Pleasant Ridge Elementary School;
New Teacher of the Year: Maddison Szucs of Robinson Elementary School;
Teacher Assistant of the Year: Wanda Marlowe of Catawba Heights Elementary School; and
Central Office Administrator of the Year: Brett Buchanan, director of Career and Technical Education, Academic Services Department. Here are the award recipients:

Gaston County Teacher of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Teacher of the Year is Staci Nezezon from Pinewood Elementary School.
After working for six years as an English as a Second Language teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Nezezon joined Gaston County Schools in 2019 as a third grade teacher at Pinewood.  She has served as Pinewood’s literacy teacher and taught virtual classes this year for second grade.  Nezezon obtained a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and a master’s degree in education – literacy specialist from the State University of New York at Buffalo.  
The finalists for Teacher of the Year included Savanna Abernathy, Bessemer City Central Elementary School; Natalie Childers, Gardner Park Elementary School; Bethany Hartley, Hunter Huss High School; and Casey Miller, Stanley Middle School.
Gaston County Principal of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Principal of the Year is Tyler West from Pinewood Elementary School.
West joined Gaston County Schools in 2005 as a third grade teacher at Rankin Elementary School where she was nominated for Gaston County New Teacher of the Year in 2005-2006 and named the school’s Teacher of the Year for 2007-2008.  She was promoted to assistant principal at Bessemer City Middle School in 2012 and was appointed principal of Sherwood Elementary School in 2014 before transferring to Pinewood in 2018.  West holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in education leadership from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for Principal of the Year included Kevin Doran, Cherryville High School; Jill Payne, Hawks Nest STEAM Academy; Loretta Reed, Woodhill Elementary School; and Torben Ross, Robinson Elementary School.

Assistant Principal
of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Assistant Principal of the Year is Bridgette Best from Pleasant Ridge Elementary School.
Best joined Gaston County Schools in 2016 as an instructional facilitator.  She was promoted to assistant principal at Woodhill Elementary School in 2017 and transferred to Pleasant Ridge Elementary in 2019.  Best obtained a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in education from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Wingate University.
The finalists for Assistant Principal of the Year included Cassie Bryson-Evans, Brookside Elementary School; Miranda Buchanon, Springfield Elementary School; Jennifer Cabe, Holbrook Middle School; Michael Dermott, Mount Holly Middle School; Adair McKay, Grier Middle School; Janet Ramsey, Forestview High School; Lynn Stamey, Robinson Elementary School; and Jada Warnock, Cherryville High School.

New Teacher of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools New Teacher of the Year is Maddison Szucs from Robinson Elementary School.  The award is named for the late Linda Israel Rader, who began the school district’s professional development program for teachers.
Szucs, currently a first grade teacher, joined Gaston County Schools in January 2018 as a fourth grade teacher at W.A. Bess Elementary School, and she completed her student teaching at Page Primary School in 2017.  Szucs earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for New Teacher of the Year included Hayley Bigelow, Holbrook Middle School; Elizabeth Inzana, Hunter Huss High School; Vekiza Williams, Woodhill Elementary School; and Olivia Wylie, Stanley Middle School.

Teacher Assistant
of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Teacher Assistant of the Year is Wanda Marlowe from Catawba Heights Elementary School.
After serving as a volunteer with Gaston County Schools for 16 years, Marlowe accepted a job in 2017 as a teacher assistant at Catawba Heights, working in the second grade.  She currently is a teacher assistant for kindergarten.  Marlowe attended Central Piedmont Community College.
The finalists for Teacher Assistant of the Year included Jenny Emerson, Cherryville Elementary School; Dana Hannifin, Springfield Elementary School; Giana McGuire, Pinewood Elementary School; and Peyton Walls, Stanley Middle School.

Central Office
Administrator of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Central Office Administrator of the Year is Brett Buchanan, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE).
Buchanan joined Gaston County Schools in 2014.  He began his career in education in 1999 as a CTE teacher in Burke County.  Under his leadership as CTE director, Gaston County Schools currently ranks first in the state for the number of CTE credentials earned by students and first in the state for the percentage of students earning more than one CTE credential in a specific career field.  Buchanan obtained a bachelor’s degree in technology education from N.C. State University and a master’s degree in educational media from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for Central Office Administrator of the Year included Chad Duncan, director of athletics; Shannon Hullett, director of elementary instruction; Curtis Poplin, technology network systems manager; and Alan Sprout, technology operations manager.
The Gaston County Schools Human Resources Department organizes the annual awards program and facilitates the ‘Of the Year’ selection process.  The Excellence in Education ceremony pays tribute to the school district’s most outstanding educators for their exceptional leadership and many contributions to the public schools in Gaston County.
Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker said, “The Excellence in Education program gives us an opportunity to bring attention to the extraordinary efforts of our teachers, administrators, and others, who go above and beyond expectations to inspire success and a lifetime of learning in our students.  We congratulate the award recipients and salute all educators in Gaston County Schools for what they do to support children.”
Dr. Booker added, “We would like to thank Truist Bank for sponsoring this important employee recognition program.  For years, BB&T – now Truist – has been a significant business partner for Gaston County Schools, and we sincerely appreciate the bank’s support of this year’s Excellence in Education event so we could honor our outstanding educators with a special ceremony at the new CaroMont Health Park.”
As the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year, Nezezon and West will represent Gaston County in the regional competitions for 2021-2022.
While it is unusual to have the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year from the same school in the same year, it has happened before in back-to-back years.  In 1997-1998, South Point High School’s Sheri Little was named the Principal of the Year and Mamie Chisholm was selected the Teacher of the Year.  The next year (1998-1999), Ashbrook High School’s Trip McGill was named the Teacher of the Year and Gary Short was chosen the Principal of the Year.
In addition to Truist serving as the event sponsor, Courage Kia in Gastonia presented prizes to each ‘Of the Year’ winner, including a $100 gift card for dinner at The String Bean restaurant in Belmont and a free oil change at the Kia dealership on Wilkinson Boulevard.
The awards announcement was recorded, and it will air on Spectrum Cable Channel 21, the Education Station for Gaston County Schools, the week of June 14-20 at 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. each day.  The video will air at other times during the summer, and it will be available for viewing on the Gaston County Schools website and YouTube channel.
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National Trails Day!

Hike, bike, paddle and play on National Trails Day with Carolina Thread Trail. Join in on June 5, 10 am-2 pm at Catawba Riverfront Greenway and Tuckaseege Park for a free day of fun for the whole family. Pre-registration required to maintain safe event capacity. Visit for details.
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Edith Mack (left) and Margaret Johnson have been lifelong friends. They both celebrated big birthdays recently and are looking forward to their centennial celebrations.

Mt. Holly ladies Margaret Johnson and Edith Mack are best friends forever… and ever and ever

By Alan Hodge

True friendship between two people is a beautiful thing and when the bond has held firm for decade after decade it is super special.
That’s the case of Margaret Johnson, 95, and Edith Mack, 98, of Mt. Holly who have known and cherished each other most of their lives. Folks, that’s a combined total of 193 years.
First a bit about each one of the lovely ladies.
Johnson was born April 27, 1926 and grew up on the Morrison farm in Lowesville near Stanley. When she was 11 years old, the family moved to Mt. Holly and lived in the area near present day River Park.
“It was a big neighborhood then and integrated,” said Johnson.
Johnson attended Rollins School in Mt. Holly then went on to Reid High in Belmont. Later, she took sewing classes and got a diploma as a seamstress.
She and her husband Jacob were married in 1946 and had one child.  She put her sewing skills to good use.
“I made my husband a pair of pants,” she said.
Time marched along and Johnson sampled other employment.
“I did domestic work, worked in the cafeteria at Mt. Holly High, the worked for Perfection Spinning,” she said. “I retired from there in 1988.”
Johnson recalled early days in Mt. Holly.
“It wasn’t bad,” she said. “Daddy worked for the railroad and we lived in a three room house. We were happy and didn’t suffer for anything. In the summers we would visit our cousins in Washington, D.C. We enjoyed each other.”
Johnson recollected some more.
“We would go to corn shuckings and camp meetings at Tuckers Grove,” she said. “We would spend a whole week there. People would come from all over. We always had a big family reunion in August.”
Johnson shared her thoughts on long life.
“Live the best you can and do right,” she said. “God will reward you.”
Edith Mack was born on May 4, 1923. Like Johnson, her early years were spent in a rural environment before moving to Mt. Holly.
“We lived on a farm on Kelly’s Farm Rd. until I was four or five years old then we moved to Mt. Holly, she said. “Daddy worked for Duke Power and we lived in a company house.”
Like Johnson, Mack attended Rollins School and Reid High. Even before she graduated from Reid, she was holding down a job.
“When I was 13-years-old I went to work for Dr. Stroupe as a babysitter,” she said. “I worked for him in his home for fifty three years until I retired in 1977.”
Along the way, Mack married her husband William in 1947 and had five children.
Mack also enjoyed growing up in Mt. Holly.
“We walked to school,” she said. “We would go to carnivals and camp meetings. We had a Model T car and would pack and big lunch and drive to the camp meetings in Denver.”
Mack attributes her longevity to what she called “good genes.”
The friendship between Johnson and Mack is a long, a very, very long, one. Johnson believes it started at Burge Memorial UMC. From that root, a mighty oak of oneness grew.
“We’ve known each other all our lives,” said Johnson.
The pair have done many of the same things. The list includes Burge Memorial UMC Meals on Wheels, going to River Park on First Night Out, and senior dinners at the Mt. Holly Municipal Complex. They are also part of the Reid High Class of 1966 reunion group.
The fact that they live more or less next to each other keeps them close too. Either one can look out their window and see the other one’s house.
“We talk on the phone every night from eight to nine o’clock,” Mack says. “We give each other advice.”
So, what’s in the works for their 100th birthdays?
“We are going to have a big party,” said Mack.
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Stanley Parks and Rec. director Tug Deason in front of the recreation center named in his honor. Photo by Alan Hodge

Stanley Parks and Rec. gearing up for summer excitement

By Alan Hodge

Exciting things are going on at Stanley Parks and Rec. not the least of which is the much deserved honor bestowed upon the department’s director Tug Deason who recently received the Centralina Regional Council’s Region of Excellence Award.
Deason was honored during an online ceremony on May 12, 2021 and received the James D. Prosser Excellence in Leadership Award.
Deason was nominated by Town Manager Heath Jenkins for his steadfast leadership and being someone who positive, encouraging to others, and a go-to person where staff, citizens, and others outside of Stanley call upon as a trusted source of information.
“The Town of Stanley congratulates Tug on receiving this prestigious award Town Manager Heath Jenkinssaid.  “Tug loves the Stanley community and works every day to help others without being asked to do so. His work ethic and contagious humor are an inspiration to all who work with him. From day one when Tug came to work for the Town of Stanley, he had a vision where the Town would have a park of its own. He had a vision of a parks and recreation program where the focus is on the children and instilling values of sportsmanship and fairness. Tug has achieved his goals but continues to work toward new goals that help the community. It is an honor to work with Tug and an honor to see him receive this well-deserved award.”
Deason, in his usual self-effacing manner, had this to say about the recognition.
“I am very honored and humbled about receiving the award,” he said. “The whole town deserves it as well.”
During the pandemic, Deason guided the Parks and Rec. department through some challenging days. When festivals and other events that his staff would normally have been involved in producing were called off, he and his folks did other valuable work.
“We repaired and painted playground equipment and did other maintenance,” he said. “We helped out with the senior Christmas dinner and took 140 plates of food to seniors at their homes. On Valentine’s Day we gave out 200 candy bags to seniors. We also took children Christmas shopping with a $20,000 grant from S.C. Johnson Co. We stayed busy the whole time.”
But now, with most Covid restrictions lifted, Stanley Parks and Rec. is planning a number of activities in the coming weeks and months.
Baseball will be returning to Harper Park.
“We will be hosting the Dixie Youth District 4 tournament,” said Deason. “It will begin at 6pm on June 18th. Teams from Charlotte, Kannapolis, and Gaston County will be playing.”
July will bring more action.
“We will be having a big event on July 2nd with fireworks, a live band, corn hole, and more,” Deason said. “It will be an old time Fourth of July event at Harper Park.”
There’s more.
“On July 8th we will have our first concert series,” he said. “The other dates will be August 5th and August 26th. The time will be 6-9pm.”
Looking ahead, the annual Stanley Countryfest will return for the first Friday and Saturday in October.
“There will be plenty of rides and other fun,” said Deason. “We are looking forward to seeing everyone.”
Overall, the mood is upbeat at Stanley Parks and Rec. and Deason is eager to get everything back to a fun and “normal” round of activities.
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Maia McElvane (right) painted a lot of faces at a past Juneteenth including cute Avery Martin. See Junteenth 2021 celebration details inside on page 4. Photo Alan Hodge

Belmont Juneteenth Celebration – 10 Years of Culture

It began as a new Belmont festival with an unfamiliar name – “Juneteenth.” The festival and the name were new to Belmont, but they were not really new at all.  Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, specifically the  June 19, 1865 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas.
The Belmont Juneteenth Celebration was born in 2012, when the City of Belmont recruited a group of volunteers to help plan and execute the first event. Since then, the volunteer group has become the nonprofit organization Elements of Empowerment, Inc., and the celebration has grown to become a festival of music, art, and culture. The traditional format features musical performances throughout the day,  a D.J., African drum circle, and steel drummer before ending with a finale jazz concert. A curated group of vendors offer artistic, culturally inspired merchandise and food. Free family-friendly activities abound, as well as free information and diagnostic services in the Atrium Health Village.
As partners, the City of Belmont and Elements of Empowerment, Inc. mark the 10th Anniversary of the Belmont Juneteenth Celebration, the first and oldest such event in Gaston County. Juneteenth is now more familiar and more widely observed in Gaston County. Bessemer City began collaborating with Elements of Empowerment, Inc. 2019. They continue to do so with their festival scheduled for June 18, 6 - 9 pm. The City of Cherryville and City of Gastonia are issuing Juneteenth proclamations. All will be represented in the Belmont Juneteenth Celebration Parade.
As last year, the 2021 format is modified for the relaxed COVID restrictions. The 10th Anniversary Belmont Juneteenth Celebration Parade will include floats and a rolling African drum circle.
 Juneteenth Sunday - June 13, 2021: As designated by proclamation. Faith Leaders are invited to acknowledge Juneteenth during services.
Virtual 2K Family & Friends Freedom Walk - June 13 through June 30, 2021: Register your family or friend group for this noncompetitive walk to promote unity and wellness. Just one fee for your entire group!
Belmont Juneteenth Celebration Parade - June 19, 2021 at 2 pm: Join the parade or watch from the Montcross Area Chamber webcam. Families are welcome to register.
Belmont Juneteenth Celebration Concert - June 19, 2021 at 7 pm: Enjoy the steel drum stylings of Minsky Delmonte  and food by Tony T’zzz Grill on Wheels in Stowe Park.
Celebration Sponsors: Help support and sustain the Belmont Juneteenth Celebration. Parade space, Facebook promotion, and media recognition are included.
Virtual Vendors: Artisans, crafters, food truck owners, etc. get noticed in the parade, on Facebook, and  in the media.
Complete Event Details:
Book Online:
Phone: (704) 755-5210

Belmont Memorial Day event

Belmont American Legion Post 144 annual Memorial Day ceremony. May 30, 2021  -  2:00 pm  -  Greenwood Cemetery  -   Belmont, NC. Honor Guard provided by Gaston County Sheriff’s Department.
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South Point’s
Matthew Dalton setting his sights on outer space

By Alan Hodge

Graduating South Point High senior Matthew Dalton has stars in his eyes- and planets and constellations and solar systems. That’s because Dalton has his sights set on a career in the aerospace industry after he finishes his upcoming years at Georgia Tech University where he was awarded a prestigious Albert G. Myers Scholarship to attend.
Dalton is a Belmont native and the son of Sheila and Bryan Dalton. He grew in the local school system attending Belmont Central Elementary and Belmont Middle school before heading to South Point.
Dalton traces his intense interest in outer space back to third grade when he picked up a book about the planets. He followed up by buying a book about our solar system. Later, he watched YouTube videos about space. He was hooked.
“Space has many mysteries,” Dalton said. “For instance, we don’t know how big the universe is. There’s an inexhaustible range of subjects to study. There are many stars and many planets out there. We have only started to scratch the surface about what there is to know.”
Even though he is fascinated with apace, Dalton thinks he might hold off on actually traveling there and focus his attention on the aerospace engineering aspect.
“I am especially interested in satellites,” he said. “I would like to work for NASA or Space X building them or rocket ships.”
Dalton has already gained some experience in that regard. He has attended several summer programs at Duke University where he studied nuclear and electrical engineering as well as computer programming. He’s also big  into physics and math- all skills that will come in handy designing outer space craft.
But Dalton is a multi-faceted lad. He exercises his body as well as his mind. He’s a member of the South Point varsity track team.
“I started running when I came to South Point,” he said. “I really enjoy cross country. Coach Kubbs makes it enjoyable and fun.”
Coach Cody Kubbs had this to say about Dalton.
“Matthew Dalton is a tremendous student and an even better young man,” said Kubbs. “I had the privilege of teaching Matthew in my AP US History course his junior year and I also was able to coach him on the cross country team. Matthew is an incredibly bright and gifted student that excels as a combination of his natural abilities and his unwavering work ethic. Matthew is never satisfied with anything less than his absolute best; that was also true of Matthew as a cross country runner. Matthew is a conscientious student that values learning and has a natural curiosity that he allows to guide his personal educational journey. I’ve really enjoyed getting to teach and coach Matthew and will miss our random conversations in the hall between classes next year; but I am excited to see and share in all of his future achievements and successes!”
Dalton is also an avid soccer player. He started playing soccer at the tender age of three years. Teams he’s played for over the years include Gaston United, Carolina Rapids, and Charlotte Independence. He plays outside defender position.
Other activities Dalton has enjoyed at South Point includes being a member of the chess club, Quiz Bowl team, Science Olympiad, Beta Club, and National Honor Society.
Talking to Dalton, it’s obvious he’s enjoyed and cherished his South Point experience.
“The teachers are high quality,” he said. “Many that were students here returned when they became teachers because of their love of the school.”
Ever thoughtful, Dalton wanted to share these musings with students coming along behind him.
“Have a goal and focus on it,” he said. “Also, take classes for what you want to do for a career.”
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East Gaston’s
Deshaun Corry loves soccer and singing

By Alan Hodge

Starring on the soccer field or belting out a song in chorus are just two of the many things that graduating East Gaston senior Deshaun Corry excels at.
Corry, 18, was actually born in San Diego, California and moved with his family to Mt. Holly when he was three years old. His mother is Sylvia and his father is Orlando.
He attended Pinewood Elementary and Mt. Holly Middle schools before he began his time at East Gaston.
Soccer captivated Corry’s attention at at early age. He began organized play in a church league when he was just six years old. From there, Corry climbed the soccer ladder. He played in the Mt. Holly Parks. and Rec. league, the Lake Norman Soccer Club, the for the Strikers of the Gaston County Soccer Association and the N.C. Youth Soccer Association.
At East Gaston, he has been a leading member of the soccer team and has been named to the All Conference team three times.
Corry’s expertise on the soccer field has earned him a scholarship to Belmont Abbey College.
“I feel very excited and blessed to have been recruited by Belmont Abbey,” Corry said.
So, what about soccer attracts Corry?
“It’s a very easy sport to get involved with,” he said. “You just pick up a ball and play. Not only that, but you make a lot of friendships too.”
At the Abbey, Corry will study Business Administration.
“I want to start my own business some day,” he said. “My mom owns a daycare center and I guess I inherited some of her entrepreneurial spirit.”
Another of Corry’s passions is chorus. He’s been an active member of the chorus at East Gaston and explained how he first got started singing.
“In sixth grade I was taking music appreciation class at Mt. Holly Middle School and Mrs. Carpenter pulled me aside and urged me to join the chorus,” Corry said. “My favorite music is hip-hop and rap but I enjoy Christian music too.”
Another activity that Corry has enjoyed at East Gaston is the time he has spent as a media center (library) assistant.
“I enjoy helping other students do research for their projects,” said Corry. “I also take part in producing podcasts on subject such as school life during the Covid pandemic.”
The Student Council is an important aspect of East Gaston and Corry takes part in that activity as well.
“I am the historian and also take notes during meetings and help plan events,” said Corry. “Being on the Student Council has taught me a lot about leadership skills and responsibility.”
Corry’s outgoing nature and bright smile brought him a great honor this school year.. He was named Homecoming King. In that respect he carried on a  family tradition.
“My sister was Homecoming Queen in 2009,” he said.
Corry is much beloved by his fellow students and the staff at East Gaston. Here’s what his Social Studies teacher Edward Craig had to say.
  “I have known Deshaun Corry for about three years,  serving as his social studies teacher and mentor,” said Craig.  “If I could create a student in a laboratory, he would be that student. Deshaun possesses a mature intellect and a well-rounded personality. He has the respect of his classmates  and the faculty at East Gaston.   I will miss his presence in our halls and classrooms. However,  ‘one man’s loss is another man’s gain’.”
So,  now that his days at East Gaston are drawing to close, what advice does Corry offer those students coming along behind him?
“Enjoy your time at East Gaston,” he said. “Try not to take things for granted. Cherish every moment that you have.”
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Stuart Cramer High’s Alexis Granados is an inspiration to all

By Alan Hodge

If anyone, anywhere, deserves to be called inspirational, it’s Stuart Cramer High graduate Alexis “Lexi” Granados who has not only overcome odds that would have bowed a lesser person, but risen to great heights in the process.
Granados and her family moved to our area from Prescott, Arizona in 2018. Her father Gabriel took a job in Charlotte and her mother Sarah stays at home. At first, Granados was trepidatious about starting in a new school in a new town, but those fears faded fast.
“I was a little worried about fitting in but everyone at Stuart Cramer was so friendly and welcoming,” she said. “They met me with open arms.”
That moral support has come in handy given the healthcare challenges that Lexi has faced at home. Her mom has a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are a group of hereditary disorders of connective tissue that are varied in the ways they affect the body and in their genetic causes. The underlying concern is the abnormal structure or function of collagen and certain allied connective tissue proteins. 
They are generally characterized by joint hypermobility (joints that move further than normal range), joint instability (subluxation (partial separation of the articulating surfaces of a joint)) and dislocations (full separation of the surfaces of a joint), scoliosis, and other joint deformities, skin hyperextensibility (skin that can be stretched further than normal) and abnormal scarring, and other structural weakness such as hernias and
organ prolapse  through the pelvic floor. In the rarer types of EDS, there is also weakness of specific tissues that can lead, for example, to major gum and dental disease, eye disease, cardiac valve and aortic root disorders, and life-threatening abdominal organ, uterine, or blood vessel rupture.
In Sarah’s case it means she needs a transplant of her entire digestive system. All five organs must come from a single donor.
“We are waiting on a call from Miami Transplant Institute,” Granados says. “The call could come tomorrow or five years from now. We just don’t know when. So far, we have waited over 230 days for a call.”
In addition to helping take care of the family, including her younger brother and sister, Granados also holds down a job at Buffalo Wild Wings. In other words, she has all the responsibilities of an adult at eighteen years of age. But she has had a good role model.
“My mother is the strongest person I know, she says.
As her quick smile and lively personality attests, none of those challenges have dampened her spirit or kept her from achieving good things at school. In addition to focusing on her nursing classes (she will attend Appalachian State this fall with the goal of a degree in Biology), Granados is also active on the track team, and a member of the National Honor Society.
“It is a challenge to balance things,” she said in a classic understatement.
Granados is also a diehard fan of the Storm football and basketball teams.
“I love going to the games and pep rallies, “she said. “They are so much fun.”
Her strong and upbeat spirit gets Granados notice from fellow students and teacher alike.
“Lexi is one of those students I will never forget, said teacher Caroline Jessen.  “She has the most beautiful and infectious smile that can brighten anyone’s day. Many are unaware of the personal struggle Lexi deals with on a daily basis-  such as her mom being sick. Honestly, I was shocked when I learned about it because she is always so upbeat and positive.  I often thought to myself,  ‘how does she do it all?’ She plays sports, works part time, takes AP and honors level courses, and deals with family challenges.  My prayer is that this difficult road she has traveled will one day lead to a beautiful destination. She is an amazing young woman.”
It’s a fact that Granados has a level head on her shoulders and she offered this advice for her under classmates.
“Stay motivated and get to know your teachers,” she said “They will help you not only to set goals and prepare for college, but with personal things as well.”
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Gaston County Schools Administrative appointments and transfers, 2021-2022

During the Board of Education meeting on Monday, May 17, the following administrative appointments and transfers were approved for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Principal Appointments
Beverley Bowman was appointed to serve as principal of Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences.  She currently is the coordinator of professional learning and instructional technology for York School District One in York, SC.
Jenny Cabe was appointed to serve as principal of York Chester Middle School.  She currently is the assistant principal at Holbrook Middle School.
Laura Clark was appointed to serve as principal of W.A. Bess Elementary School.  She currently is the interim principal at W.A. Bess Elementary School.
Dr. Adair McKay was appointed to serve as principal of Gaston County Virtual Academy.  She currently is an assistant principal at Grier Middle School.
Page Willis was appointed to serve as principal of Lingerfeldt Elementary School.  She currently is an assistant principal at Hunter Huss High School.

Kevin Doran was transferred to serve as principal of Cramerton Middle School.  He currently is the principal at Cherryville High School.
Dr. Amy Holbrook was transferred to serve as principal of Grier Middle School.  She currently is the principal at York Chester Middle School.
Audrey Hovis was transferred to serve as principal of Cherryville Elementary School.  She currently is the principal at Holbrook Middle School.
Shawn Hubers was transferred to serve as principal of Cherryville High School.  He currently is the principal at Cherryville Elementary School.
Torben Ross was transferred to serve as principal of Holbrook Middle School.  He currently is the principal at Robinson Elementary School.
Jessica Steiner was transferred to serve as principal of Stuart W. Cramer High School.  She currently is the principal at Cramerton Middle School.

Central Office/District Leadership
Dr. Chris Bennett was appointed to serve as the executive director of middle school instruction.  He currently is the principal at Burns Middle School in Cleveland County Schools.
Dr. Bobbie Mills was appointed to serve as the director of middle school instruction.  She currently is the executive director of elementary education in Scotland County Schools.
Dr. Jill Payne was appointed to serve as the executive director of student support services.  She currently is the principal at Hawks Nest STEAM Academy.
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Teachers earn National Board Certification, rank among the best in the nation

(May 6, 2021 Issue) 

Twelve outstanding teachers in Gaston County Schools have earned National Board Certification, which is the highest standard for the teaching profession.  The certification is made available through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
To rank among the best in the nation, teachers earning National Board Certification must demonstrate their knowledge and skills through an extensive series of performance-based assessments.  The teachers spend time examining and reflecting on all aspects of their teaching methods and classroom management.  Going through the National Board Certification process is one of the most difficult things a teacher can do.
“Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher was a rigorous, but rewarding experience,” said Sara White of Southwest Middle School.  “The process allowed me to show my students firsthand the importance of one’s education and achieving long-term goals.  Throughout my journey, I became a stronger teacher, leader, and mentor for my students.”
White added, “Being a teacher is an important part of who I am.  The certification process helped me to refocus and ensure I give 100 percent to my students daily.”
Teachers pursuing National Board Certification have three years to complete four different components.  One component is a computer-based assessment on the content knowledge within the certification area.  The other three components are portfolio requirements.  Teachers submit written reflections, student work samples, two videos of teaching and student interaction, and evidence of accomplished teaching in the areas of differentiation in instruction, teaching practice and learning environment, and being an effective and reflective practitioner.
For Angela Molla of Catawba Heights Elementary, obtaining National Board Certification was the next step for her in the teaching profession.
“I pushed myself to achieve this goal through hard work and reflection so that I could be a better educator for the students I teach,” explained Molla. “The pandemic delayed my opportunity to submit my portfolio components in the spring, but  with the support of my principal and coworkers, I was able to submit my portfolio in the fall.  It is wonderful to achieve such a feeling of accomplishment in my career.”
Teachers in North Carolina who achieve certification receive a 12 percent salary supplement and are awarded eight continuing education credits.
Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker stated, “We are extremely proud of our National Board Certified Teachers, and we would like to congratulate each one of them for achieving this milestone in their professional career.”
Dr. Booker continued, “National Board Certification is an assurance to parents, students, and the community that the teachers being honored have met the profession’s highest standards for accomplished practice.  National Board Certified Teachers not only strengthen the teaching profession, but they also help our students to be more successful and achieve at higher academic levels.”
Currently, 178 teachers who are working in Gaston County Schools have met the rigorous standards to achieve National Board Certification.
The following teachers achieved National Board Certification during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.  The list includes the teacher’s certification area.
Savanna Abernathy, Bessemer City Central Elementary, Literacy: Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood
Brittany Beam, Bessemer City Central Elementary, Career and Technical Education/Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood
Jennifer Gerow, Forestview High School, English Language Arts/Adolescence and Young Adulthood
*Kody Kubbs, South Point High School, Social Studies-History/Adolescence and Young Adulthood
*Kerri Luksa, Cramerton Middle School, English Language Arts/Early Adolescence
*Natalie Mackey, McAdenville Elementary, Literacy: Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood
*Angela Molla, Catawba Heights Elementary, Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood
Karen Palomino, Sadler Elementary, English as a New Language/Early and Middle Childhood
Matthew Renegar, Highland School of Technology, Mathematics/Adolescence and Young Adulthood
Victoria Sain, Gaston Early College High School, Mathematics/Adolescence and Young Adulthood
Lacey Walters, Bessemer City Central Elementary, Literacy: Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood
Sara White, Southwest Middle School, Career and Technical Education/Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood
In addition, Gaston County Schools had 39 teachers to renew their National Board Certification.  Certification must be renewed every 10 years.
North Carolina continues to lead the nation in the number of teachers (more than 23,000) who achieve certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  The Tar Heel State accounts for nearly one-fifth of all teachers nationally who obtain the certification.  Florida, Washington, South Carolina, and California round out the top five states for National Board Certification.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gaston County Schools has not been able to recognize the teachers achieving National Board Certification during an in-person reception, which has been a tradition.  The plan is to hold an in-person ceremony in spring 2022 to honor the outstanding educators earning their certification since the 2019-2020 year.
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Mt. Holly PD issues annual report

(May 6, 2021 Issue) 

By Alan Hodge

The Mt. Holly Police Department has issued its 2020 Annual Report. The information is in the form of a colorful and informative 29-page booklet that lays out not only statistical information about the department’s activities last year, but also states its philosophy and approach to community law enforcement.
Chief Don Roper explained how the report came about.
“We formed a committee of members from the MHPD to produce the annual report,” he said.   “We vetted the document by having review sessions which had all the members of the department, other Mount Holly staff members, and select community members provide feedback. Mary Smith was also part of the committee that developed the annual report.”
The report will also be posted on the MHPD website and Facebook page.
The report goes right to the point with the PD’s mission statement and remarks from Chief Roper.
“We wanted to give the community a snapshot of where we are as a police department, what our priorities are, and where we hope to advance,” Roper said. “This annual report is a snapshot of where the Mount Holly Police Department is today, what our priorities are, and where we hope to advance. We hope it starts an exchange of ideas and feedback between members of the Mount Holly Police Department and our community. We are grateful for the support given to us by our community, and I hope this shows our commitment to continuing a high level of service to them. I would also like to thank the mayor, city Council, and city manager for providing us with the tools and training we need to make sure we are well equipped to provide the level of service to our community they deserve.”
The report kicks off with a chronological look at the MHPD, tracing its start back in 1907 and highlighting some of its milestones such as the first MHPD vehicle (1930), the establishment of 911 (1994), the first female Captain (Shannon Harris 2004), and the new department badge (2019).
The report also features a chain of command and organizational chart outlining the different divisions and their roles. These include everything from clerical staff to SWAT and K9 teams.
A statistical chart lists crime trends from 2015 to 2020. A pie chart shows how the department’s 2020 $3,750,037 budget is divvied up.
But the report is more than facts and figures. It also shows the “heart” of the MHPD. Pages in the report touch on how deeply the department is involved in community activities and programs such as Coffee with a Cop, Meals on Wheels, National Night Out, Christmas for Seniors, Toys for Tots, and more.
A special two page section in the report looks back at the life and legacy of Officer Tyler Herndon who was lost in action in December 2020. The headline “Officer Tyler Herndon, you will never be forgotten” sums up the profile of his service and memory to the department and everyone who knew him.
Positive public relations are an important part of MHPD ops and the report shows the variety of ways that end is achieved through program such as Resources En Espanola, Safe Meet Up Spot, the PD’s website, Chat with the Chief, School Resource Officers, and social media.
Training is high on the MHPD’s list of priorities. The report examines the variety of ways the department accomplishes this through deescalating training, cultural sensitivity classes, use of force training, and law enforcement driver training.
The report also looks at how the MHPD has availed itself of grant monies which were used to improve technology, buy equipment, and even obtain a boat for river patrol.
Overall, the MHPD 2020 Annual Report is a concise and comprehensive profile of a modern police department focusing on keeping its citizens safe and at the same time staying involved in a wide variety of community activities.
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This artwork by Emily Andress “When Masks Were Still Fun” is just one of the ones that folks will see at the gallery crawl event. Photos provided

Mt. Holly to showcase local arts scene

(May 6, 2021 Issue)

By Alan Hodge

The already lively Mt. Holly cultural scene is going to get even livelier on Friday, May 21 when “The Art of Mt. Holly: A Collaboration!” event kicks off at 6pm.
The evening will feature a variety of fun and fantastic activities along Central Ave. and Main St. in the downtown district highlighted by an art gallery crawl. Galleries open for visitors to view incredible art works in a variety of genres will include Awaken Gallery that will be celebrating its third anniversary, the  grand opening of Dark Side Studios and Tattoo Boutique, open studio night at Studios@107 West, Arts on the Greenway opening reception, and an opening reception at the Bae Hive Gallery 424.
Among the artists that will have their work on display are-
Meghan Berney: The Studios @107 West
Mike McCarn: The Studios @107 West
Luis Ardila: Awaken Gallery (Sacred Flowers)
Christine Kosiba: Awaken Gallery (Lunar Hares)
Andy Smith: Awaken Gallery (Pottery Piece)
Mark Doepker: Dark Side Studios and Gallery
Bae Hart: Bae Hive Gallery 424
Nancy Kennedy: Arts on the Greenway
Other Art of Mt. Holly activities will see several downtown businesses pitching in. Action will include The Art of Fashion at Catalyst Mercantile, The Art of Furniture Renewal at The Vintage Nest, The Art of Theater at Talent, Inc., The Art of the Perfect Cigar at Smoke and Barrel, and The Art of Craft Beer at The Summit.
Galleries will be greeting guests and offering refreshments of various types.
Even more action is on tap. There will be a photo contest prior to the evening and selected pictures will be projected onto the side of the Arts on the Greenway building. The mural at the Mt. Holly Community Garden will be the backdrop for folks who want to have their picture made there.
Awaken Gallery owner Emily Andress has seen the Mt. Holly arts scene grow by leaps and bounds since she opened up in 2018.
“This is exactly what I hoped would happen,” she said. “Artists are bringing more artists and it’s fantastic.”
A note regarding Covid masks. Indoors, participants will be asked to wear them-but they need not be dull.
“People can decorate their masks and make them walking art,” Andress said.
Arts Mt. Holly, an incubator group funded by the Mt. Holly Community Development Foundation is the event organizer and was created to foster the arts and arts education in Mt. Holly. For more information call Andress at 704-560-4463 or email at
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Volunteers pose for a shot in front of the Baltimore School in Cramerton. The hard working group spent last Saturday sprucing up the historic building.

Volunteers pitch in to preserve Cramerton’s Baltimore School

(April 22, 2021 Issue)

By Alan Hodge

Work to have the circa 1925 Baltimore School in Cramerton preserved for future generations is moving forward.
Last Saturday saw Cramerton Community Committee members and other volunteers doing repair and maintenance work on the school building. Folks of all ages were pitching in planting  flowers, spreading pine needles, clearing vines and underbrush, cutting grass, cleaning out the inside of the one room school, and generally working hard to help with preservation of the place.
“Oh man, it’s amazing,” said Baltimore School building owner Fred Glenn of the work day. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step like this.”
Glenn, is a Vietnam vet. He was born at 555 Patterson Street in Baltimore and currently lives in Charlotte. He comes back to Baltimore and tends a garden there.
Glenn’s deep love of Baltimore led him to buy the school building from Burlington in 2003 and is currently driving his desire to see it preserved.
“There are a lot of memories here,” Glenn said. “My mom Mary Lucinda Adams and aunt Helen Falls Holmes went to school here. When I was growing up in the 1950s, we used to come see movies on Tuesdays at the school and sit on the benches that are still inside. Fred Kirby (WBTV singing cowboy star) would come and put on shows for us. He would park his horse trailer at the end of the street and ride Calico to the neighborhood. We also had fish fries.”
Where and what is the Baltimore section of Cramerton and what purpose did the school serve?
Baltimore is a tiny corner of Cramerton wedged between the base of Cramer Mtn. and the South Fork River. It is where the town’s African-America citizens mostly lived. Baltimore St. is not much over 100 yards long and with a couple of even shorter side streets branch off and dead end. There are just a couple dozen small homes on the narrow pavement, most of which were built during the 1920s by Stuart Cramer. These days, a flock of free range chickens forms a cackling and crowing welcoming committee as you drive along.
The Baltimore School served African-American children first through eighth grades. From there, the kids went to Reid High in Belmont. The school continued to operate until integration came along. Once that happened, the African-American students from Baltimore were transferred to schools in Belmont and Cramerton.
The school was nothing fancy. A potbellied stove provided heat. Students sat at wooden desks. There were no steps. Kids had to jump off the porch and get pulled back up by classmates. Books were second-hand ones from white schools.
Today, the Baltimore School is an abandoned wooden building with basically one large room. There’s a porch on the front corner. Inside, there are several original benches, one desk, and a couple of old washing machines. The windows are blacked and there’s soot on the ceiling. On the bright side, the original clapboards and foundation are in good shape. The roof was replaced several years ago. In other words, a solid core is there for a restoration project.
Glenn has a dream for the future of the Baltimore School. Possible uses for the building could include a small museum or a community gathering place.
“If you think about it, the school was our community center,” he said.
Last year, the Town of Cramerton Commissioners passed a resolution giving the school a local historic designation.  The historical significance of school has also received approval from the North Carolina Dept. of Archives and History. The Baltimore School has also officially been designated as a Historic Site in Gaston County.  It’s the first Gaston County Historical Preservation Site in Cramerton. A plaque was recently placed on the side of the school proclaiming its historic status.
The next step for the preservation of the Baltimore School will be raising funds through donations and grants. To get things going, a Go Fund me site has been set up at

See more photos in the April 22, 2021 issue of Banner-News
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Martha Page with the Belmont Historical Society’s antique spinning wheel from the Armstrong ancestral farm.

Belmont Historical Museum
to reopen

(April 22, 2021 Issue)

By Alan Hodge

After over a year being closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Belmont Historical Society Museum at   40 E. Catawba in downtown Belmont will be reopening with a bang to the general public on Saturday, May 1 at 9am.
The grand reopening will be celebrated with a Living History Day event on the museum grounds  and inside the museum building (the 1899 R.L. Stowe, SR. House).
“We are very excited to be open again,” said BHS member Elizabeth Atterberry. “We are looking forward to a big Living History Day event.”
There will be a plethora of displays and demonstrations at the Living History Day. Outside, visitors can view a display of Native American artifacts collected locally by Jack Page (a BHS founding member). World War II reenactor Al Kirby will have his display of uniforms, arms and equipment where folks can see what our fighting men wore and used back then. Piedmont Fiber Guild members will show how folks made cloth and other textiles way back when. Smitty Hanks will have beekeeping display set up. Leigh Ford will have information of the historic Smith Cemetery.
Wait, there’s more. Basket making by Nancy Duffie, miniature steam engines by Bob Atterberry, lead casting figures by Greg Edel will also be on site. The Elements of Empowerment and Southern Piedmont Chapter of NC Native Plants groups will be represented. In addition, Gary Griffin and Jean Stowe Humphrey will talk about what their ancestors did during the Great Flood of 1916. Also look for plant sales pickups by Keep Belmont Beautiful.
Indoors, the BHS Museum has several new and exciting items on display. One is an antique spinning wheel from the Armstrong ancestral farm on South Point Rd. Another item is the antique medicine cabinet that was once used in Belmont Drugstore. The piece was donated by Dr. Charles McAdams III. In addition, there will be a display of NC pottery.
Mask wearing and social distancing will be at the discretion of attendees.
About the BHS
The Belmont Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of the city of Belmont, NC and its immediate surrounding area. The BHS records the places, the people, and the times from the past that have made Belmont the community that it is.  The BHS traces Belmont from the early days, (even before its original name of Garibaldi), through the years as a textile manufacturing giant, to the current days of a growing community of interesting people and places.  Belmont, NC has a well documented history via the written word from books, photographs and stories passed on by word of mouth…some not yet captured for the citizens of the future. Come in and see the huge collections of photos, videos, books and artifacts obtained from the citizens of the Belmont community.
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City of Belmont’s Main Street Program wins three State Awards

(April 22, 2021 Issue)

The City of Belmont and its Main Street Program were awarded three out of a total of twelve state awards during the North Carolina State Main Street Conference on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Former City Councilman Ron Foulk was also honored during the ceremony as a 2020 Main Street Champion for his volunteer contributions to Belmont. The Belmont City Council recognized the Main Street Board, staff members, and volunteers for their outstanding contributions to Belmont at their regular monthly meeting on Monday, April 5, 2021.
Awards included:
Organization Award – Best Economic Recovery Plan – “Keep The Lights On” Campaign Organization Award – Best Public-Private Partnership – TechWorks Gaston Promotions Award – Best Retail Promotion – Al Fresco Dining in Downtown Belmont An Award of Merit was presented to the City of Belmont Main Street Program and Downtown Belmont Development Association for the “Keep The Lights On In Belmont” campaign for Best Economic Recovery Initiative.
On March 12, 2020, Gaston County declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The City of Belmont Main Street Program and the Downtown Belmont Development Association (DBDA) created the “Keep The Lights On” campaign to encourage the community to support downtown businesses through the pandemic. A “Keep The Lights On” video brought stark awareness to the effects COVID-19 could have on small businesses and captured 31,588 views on Facebook. A specific Keep The Lights On webpage was created, which became a one-stop shop for customers to find out the operating status of businesses, changes to business hours,
Ten-minute curbside pickup signs were also distributed to increase customer accessibility to downtown businesses. A follow-up “Signs” video showing owners of retail businesses and restaurants with hashtag signs was also produced as a reminder to the community to keep supporting downtown businesses and drive people to the City’s webpage.
The Main Street Program also worked with City leadership to create a $400,000 small business emergency loan program that immediately offered $10,000 loans to downtown businesses. Several fundraisers were held that raised over $20,000 for a relief fund to help downtown businesses keep their lights on. Because of this campaign, businesses were able to keep their doors open and maintain operations through a devastating time. As a direct result of the initiative, new retail shops and restaurants are locating in downtown Belmont because of the support they saw small businesses receive during the pandemic.
An Award of Merit was presented to RAH Construction Consulting, Redline Design, Momentum Construction, National Mills, LLC., Gaston County, City of Belmont, Alliance Bank, Zander Guinn Millan, Open Broadband, and TechWorks for the Best Public-Private Partnership for TechWorks Gaston.
Located in a renovated textile mill in Downtown Belmont, TechWorks Gaston features gigabit fiber and state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities in a 14,000 square foot, digitally connected, learning center of office and co-working space, conference and training rooms, and a large event space. TechWorks provides a place for leaders, entrepreneurs, and students to collaborate.

An Award of Merit was presented to the City of Belmont, Belmont Main Street, and Creative Solutions for Best Retail Promotion for Belmont’s Al Fresco Dining event and promotion.
The City of Belmont traded vehicle traffic for foot traffic last summer when it closed Main Street on weekend evenings to take dining out under the stars. Belmont is a culinary destination, and the Al Fresco Dining promotion was created to continue and bolster that status throughout the unprecedented challenges of the past year.
The Belmont Main Street program received permission to close Main Street to vehicle traffic on Friday and Saturday evenings during May, June, and July 2020. The City and restaurants partnered with Creative Solutions, a wedding and event business located in downtown Belmont, to decorate downtown with lights, fencing, tables, and chairs. An “Al Fresco” logo was created for use by the City and restaurants to promote a safe eating environment for the community. On each night of the event, Belmont Main Street volunteers set up a station to collection donations to support downtown businesses and raised over $20,000.
Many communities created outdoor dining spaces during the pandemic, but Belmont created a retail promotion to fortify restaurants and retail businesses. Retailers extended their hours to capture foot traffic generated by the restaurants, and the event organizers created an outdoor dining experience for the community. As a result of the successful Al Fresco Dining promotion, restaurants and retail establishments received much needed business through a complicated season.
The promotion successfully filled tables and allowed restaurants to continue to provide the culinary experiences that make Belmont such a special place to dine. One restaurant owner commented that the al fresco setup restored the seating capacity of the business back to 100%, enabling it to bring in additional serving staff on busy weekend evenings.
Many community members expressed gratitude toward the City for creating a safe space to eat and relax during the summer.
One of the Main Street volunteers was also named a Main Street Champion at the NC Main Street Conference. Ron Foulk from Belmont is the personification of a Main Street Champion. Few realize the quiet work Ron does every day to make Belmont’s downtown the best it can be. In the past year alone, Ron could be found working to connect volunteers, find vendors, and share information for every project happening in downtown. He is the first to volunteer, whether the task is selling tickets at the Friday Night Live concerts, working at the Christmas Village, or literally climbing a tree in Stowe Park to add some extra sparkle for the Festival of Trees.
When asked about Ron Foulk’s contributions to the Main Street Program and to Belmont, Downtown Director Phil Boggan stated, “the most visible contribution Ron made over the past year was his pulling together of talents, pushing forward, and managing the renovations to Stowe Park, a centerpiece of downtown Belmont. Ron gives to the Belmont community in numerous ways, not only through his work for the Main Street organization, but also in what he does for so many others. A conversation with Ron is likely to end with him saying, “Let me know how I can help.” Ron Foulk is the epitome of a North Carolina Main Street Champion!”
City Manager Adrian Miller was thrilled with the success of Belmont’s Main Street Program over the last year.
 “Our vibrant, historic downtown won three statewide awards during the 2021 NC Main Street conference, highlighting the hard work and innovation of our local businesses, Main Street board and volunteers, and city staff. I am glad that the TechWorks renovation project is receiving recognition since it has the potential to create new businesses in our community, but I am especially proud of our awards for how our community responded to save our existing businesses during the height of the COVID crisis. Our “Keep the Lights on in Belmont” program highlighted the seriousness of the economic crisis in late March 2020 and then the overwhelming response of our community in supporting local businesses. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, but Belmont showed it was even tougher than the challenges we faced.”
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The City of Belmont’s CityWorks Center is now officially open for business. Photo by Julie Bowen

Belmont’s CityWorks Center officially open

(April 15, 2021 Issue)

The City of Belmont recently celebrated the grand opening of the magnificent CityWorks Center with an official ribbon cutting. This building is now home to the following city departments: Administration, Planning & Zoning, Public Works, Finance, Customer Service & Utilty Billing*, and Parks & Recreation. The City Hall building in downtown is now home to the Main Street staff and the Montcross Chamber of Commerce. All city buildings are now opened back up to the public.
“After two years of construction and a year of being closed to the public due to COVID-19, I am excited that our new CityWorks Center is officially open to the public,” said Belmont city manager Adrian Miller. “We opened the building for city staff in October 2020, and it has provided much-needed office and meeting space for our operations.  Mayor Martin and the city council wanted to meet in person so that our residents could continue participating in their local government, and our Community Room allowed 30 people to safely attend meetings over the past six months. We have missed seeing our residents over the past year, so we are glad to welcome them back into our buildings and especially the new CityWorks Center.”
The CityWorks Center is a 1980s era building, which was formerly occupied by Woodlawn Mills and Beltex Corp.  and had been used by the City of Belmont as its public works headquarters for the past several years. A major remodeling project  transformed it from a huge concrete cavern into a modern, state of the art, efficient, spacious, and comfortable complex for the city’s business and its administrative staff.
The building has a lot of space including 55K sq. ft. that will retain its use as a warehouse for city equipment, supplies, and vehicles, as well  as a 21K sq. ft., three level portion that will serve as the administrative office complex side of things.
Offices have been painted in soothing tones of green, gray, and blue with matching carpeting. Other flooring is done in grey-toned hardwood laminate. The colors compliment the view that employees will enjoy of sky, water, and trees  as they look out the windows towards Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park across the road. There is a nice lunch room for employees as well as a kitchen and lockers.
The project included building a three story glass and steel elevator and staircase tower on the outside of the front of the building.
  Parking will be plentiful at the renovated complex with 85 spaces.
The remodeling job also included LED lights throughout. The LEDs are automatic. When a person goes into a  room, they come on automatically. A few minutes after the room is empty, they go off. Another energy saving feature of the new building is tinted glass for the windows.
Cost of the renovation  work was estimated at $4.8 million. The city bought the building and 30 acres ten years ago for $2.5 million.
*A note about utility bills - City facilities are now open to the public, but will no longer accept in-person water payments.  There are multiple ways for customers to make their water bill payments: online, mail, automatic draft, or physical drop boxes. There is currently the dropbox located behind City Hall and another one will be installed outside the new CityWorks in the upcoming weeks.  Customers do not come inside to pay their water bills as staff will not accept the payment and customers will be instructed use one of the alternate payment methods.
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River Hawkins received the 2020 Southwestern 2A Conference Coach of the Year award after guiding the Warrior’s soccer team to a 7-5 record in 2020.

Coach Hawkins shows
a special kind of wisdom

(April 15, 2021 Issue)

By John Wilson

As a society, we rarely look for wisdom from that group of Americans known as Generation Z, or Gen Z for short. In a nutshell, the Gen Z crowd is made up of those Americans born after 1996.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that if you hadn’t been around during Y2K, Bush v. Gore or the September 11th attacks you probably aren’t very world savvy.
Funny thing about conventional wisdom. Sometimes, it’s just dead wrong.
East Gaston soccer coach River Hawkins, 21,  is an example of conventional wisdom turned upside down.
Hawkins is a young man who has experienced some real highs and some tough lows over the last two years. How he dealt with those challenges is impressive, to say the least.
For starters, Hawkins recently guided the Warriors men’s soccer team on a successful 7-5 run for the 2020 season.
That record coupled with a positive coaching outlook resulted in Hawkins being honored by his peers with the Southwestern 2A Conference Coach of the Year Award.
In addition to the conference award, Coach Hawkins was also honored with being named the Regional Coach of the Year as well.
While Hawkins was pushing his players to live up to their potential on the field the coach was also dealing with more personal matters off the field.
A terrifying battle with cancer.
The tale of how Hawkins got to that point is an interesting one.
River Hawkins comes from a family with a rich history of involvement in East Gaston athletics.
His father, Roger Hawkins has been the Warriors swim coach for 16 years.
River’s older brothers, Tanner and Hunter were both soccer standouts at East Gaston.
Hunter was an All-state goalie, while Tanner received regional honors as a striker.
River never attended East Gaston, instead, he played varsity soccer at Stuart Cramer graduating in 2017.
After graduating high school River landed a scholarship playing lacrosse at Belmont Abbey College.
Hawkins’s lacrosse career was cut short when in 2018, he broke his femur and tore his ACL and meniscus in a game against the Citadel Bulldogs.
With his athletic career all but over, River regrouped and decided to go to work with the East Gaston Volunteer Fire Department while also studying to be an EMT/Firefighter.
For the most part, Hawkins thought he was about done with sports when in the summer of 2019 he learned from his Dad that East Gaston was in need of a soccer coach. Originally the school had hoped for Tanner Hawkins to take the spot. As it turned out, Tanner was unable to do it so River threw his hat in the ring. East Gaston athletic director Ryan Resendez decided to give the youngest Hawkins brother a shot.
In River’s first year as head coach, the Warriors went 5-14-1 during the 2019 season. In 2020 coach Hawkins’s role was expanded and he took on the coaching duties for not just the men’s team but the EG Lady Warriors soccer program as well.
In the spring of 2020, the Lady Warriors started their season off well jumping out to an impressive 2-1 start. Sadly we will never know what could have been because just as things started rolling the season was cut short due to COVID.
COVID not only devastated the women’s season, but it also threw a wrench in the scheduling of other high school sports across the state. Normally, men’s soccer is played in the fall. However, due to COVID, the 2020 season was pushed back and soccer didn’t get underway in January of 2021.
Just as January tryouts were getting started and the Warriors were preparing for a new season, Coach Hawkins was hit with some tough medical news.
“On the first day of tryouts I was diagnosed with testicular cancer,” Hawkins said.
News like that can be devastating. It’s fair to say that all kinds of thoughts can run through a person’s mind as they try to process what they have just been told. River Hawkins was no different.
While sorting things out Hawkins definitely thought about himself, but he also took a moment and thought about how his diagnosis could impact the soccer program.
 “I remember the first three things I thought about,” Coach Hawkins recalled. “I was thinking, okay now what? What are we going to do about tryouts? And, can I have kids?”
The fact that he thought about his players shows what kind of a person he is.
After his diagnosis, Hawkins was scheduled for surgery on January 19th. After surgery Hawkins had no desire to remain idle. While still recovering Hawkins did all he could to get back to work. With a lot of help from assistant coach Jayce Bass, Hawkins was able to be on the sidelines after only missed three days of practice. Not only that, but Hawkins even made it to the season opener on January 26th.
“I sat on a lawn chair so I could watch,” the coach explained. “My assistant coach was great in helping me get back.”
Little by little the coach gained his strength back and before long he was back in full swing. Medically things turned out all right and River found out that he was cancer-free.
The last two years have taught coach Hawkins a lot.
Hawkins is very grateful that despite his youth, EG took a chance on him because he has come to believe that coaching is a truly special job.
Connecting with the players and trying to make a difference in their lives is something the coach strives to do every day.
“A coach can be a good role model for someone that may not have one,” Hawkins said.
More than anything, Coach Hawkins wants his players to learn to appreciate what is important in life. He wants them to seize the moment because he understands that tomorrow is never guaranteed.
“I like to win,” Hawkins laughed. “But I’m also guilty of not caring as much about the X’s and O’s as I am about the progression of the players. I try to tell the players that they’re only athletes for four years, but the relationships they can develop during that time will last a lifetime.”
Coach Hawkins is also very open when talking about his battle with cancer. In fact, he looks at the situation as a teachable moment.
“Many guys my age don’t think it can happen to them,” Hawkins added. But it can.”
Coach Hawkins hopes that his experience and the challenges that his players have endured while dealing with COVID will help them learn to better cope with the everyday challenges of life.
“I don’t want them to ever give up,” Hawkins went on to say. “I want them to know that even with COVID and someone getting hit with cancer that the only person that can stop them is themselves.”
Coach Hawkins’s outlook and life perspective is refreshing and a source of hope for the future.
When you break it down it would seem that many of us really do have something to learn from the younger generation.
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Belmont Parks and Rec. director Zip Stowe (right) and recreational specialist Alex Godette with the mobile fun trailer. Photo by Alan Hodge

Belmont Parks and Rec.
launching exciting new program

(April 15, 2021 Issue)

By Alan Hodge

Back in the 1960s the British rock group The Who had a hit song entitled “Going Mo-bile”. Taking a note from that, the Belmont Parks and Recreation Dept,. is going mo-bile with a new program that will see staff members traveling out into parks and neighborhoods with a trailer full of fun.
The idea revolves around the concept of loading  a former Belmont PD enclosed trailer with a wide variety of recreational activity equipment,  and pulling it to parks and neighborhoods, and letting the kids there avail themselves of the stuff for free.
The activities will include spikeball, ladderball, basketball, badminton, dodgeball, wister, soccer, cornhole, checkers, chess, waterpark at Stowe Park, fishing and paddleboats at Loftin Riverfront Park, and tumbling mats to name a few.
Academy Sports donated  a lot of the equipment and supplies for the programming.
Parks and Rec. director Zip Stowe says the idea was hatched after he talked to some parents.
“I was at Davis Park and some of the moms were talking about ways to take recreation to the people,” Stowe said. “This new program will be a great way to see that happen.”
Parks and Rec. employee Alex Godette will be one of the staff involved in getting the equipment out there.
“This will be a great opportunity to go to all areas of Belmont and give the community more recreational choice,” he said.
Stowe says that in addition to Parks and Rec. employees, he’s also looking for volunteers to help with the program. Call him at 704-901-2069 to find out about volunteering.
A tentative schedule of places the trailer will go and activities it will provide has been drawn up. June 19- Linford Park; June 26- Reid Park; July 10- Rodden Ball Field; July 17- Davis Park; July 24- Stowe Park; July 31st- Loftin Park; August 7-Peninsula; August 14- Back to School cookout Loftin Park.
In other Belmont Parks and Rec. news, April 28 at 6pm at the CityWorks Center meeting room downstairs will be the date for citizen input on a Skate Park. The park is planned to be located behind the CityWorks Center.
Also, Belmont will be part of a photo contest with the cities of Belmont, Mass., Belmont, Cal., and Belmont, New Hampshire. The contest is being called “Capturing Connections” and includes the categories Connection with Nature, Connection with Others, and Connection with Self.
The year 2020 highlighted the importance of connections for many, so take and share a photo of a connection that’s meaningful to you. Photos will be judged by representative for all four “Belmonts”.  Submissions are due May 31.
Here’s a link

North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine
eligibility now open for all adults

(April 15, 2021 Issue)

Governor Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. gave an update last week on the state’s current data, trends and vaccination progress and announced the opening of vaccine eligibility for Group 5. This means anyone 16 years and older who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is eligible to get one.
“We remain focused on getting people vaccinated as quickly and as equitably as possible and continuing to slow the spread of the virus,” said Governor Cooper. “The more people we vaccinate, the more we can safely do.”
North Carolina continues to focus on distributing vaccines quickly and equitably. To date, the state has administered over 5.2 million doses. 39 percent of those 18 and up is at least partially vaccinated, and 26 percent of those 18 and up have been fully vaccinated.
“These tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will help us get back in control of our lives and back to the people and places we love – like safely hugging a grandmother, traveling to see vaccinated family or friends, or having a potluck dinner with your vaccinated neighbors,” said Secretary Cohen.
State health officials are continuing to monitor the presence of COVID-19 and its more contagious variants in North Carolina, which is why it is important to continue to follow the state’s mask mandate and practice safety precautions, including the Three Ws—wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart, and wash hands often.
Dr. Cohen also provided an update on North Carolina’s data and trends.
Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days- North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing.
Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days- North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is level.
Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days- North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is level.
Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days- North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level.
In addition to these metrics, the state continues building capacity to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread in testing, tracing and prevention.
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Chronicle Mill developers John and Jennifer Church.

Chronicle Mill project going great guns

(April 8, 2021 Issue)

By Alan Hodge

About a decade ago John and Jennifer Church first launched their dream of  transforming Belmont’s oldest standing cotton mill building, the 1901 Chronicle, into a showcase living and commercial space. Now, after many stops, starts, and delays, not the least of which has been the COVID pandemic, construction workers are on the E. Catawba St. site and pitching in with a passion.
Last week saw crews from firms such as RCI Demolition and the Church’s partner Virginia Beach-based Armada Hoffler Construction, busy with everything from heavy equipment to hammers toiling to transform the mill’s brick shell, wooden beams, and heart of pine floors into a modern residential and commercial landmark.
John Church smiled as he looked at the work taking place.
“What’s exciting is the amount of energy and the tremendous resources being focused on finally making it
happen,” he said. “It’s amazing what’s going on here.”
According to Church, when completed in the autumn of 2022, the $50 million project will have 238 apartments as well as 9,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. Studio and one bedroom apartments, which will comprise about seventy percent of the residential area, will rent for around $1,000-$1,600 a month. Units will feature open and airy lofts, have exposed brick walls, and boast expansive windows amplifying tons of natural light. Modern upscale finishes and high-tech features will also be part of the package. There will be plenty of amenities such as a clubhouse and pool.
The entire mill site is about seven acres.  The land behind the mill will have a new 150-apartment building while the mill itself will have around 90 apartments plus parking.
There will be greenspace along E. Catawba St. in front of the Mill.  It will be called Chronicle Green.  A walkway in front of the building will connect the greenspace to E. Catawba and to N. Main St.
There will be a parking deck for about 80 spaces at the east end of the property near First St. There will be a total parking 240 spaces.
Church believes the Chronicle Mill apartments will be a financial boon to Belmont.
“Each family in the community spends around $19,000 annually,” he said.
“The project will have nearly 240 apartments. That’s five million dollars in the local economy.”
Church expressed an appreciation for the support he’s had on the project.
“I found a really good partner in Armada Hoffler,” he said. “They appreciate the location and the historic aspect of the project.”
He also gave a nod to his wife.
“I could not have done it without her support,” he said.
In addition to the Chronicle building proper, Church also has plans for the adjacent property he owns straddling First St. on E. Catawba. Subject to approval by the City of Belmont, those lots will see the construction of between seven and fourteen townhomes. In addition, Church has bought the office building and parking lot at 85 E. Catawba directly across from the mill and that will become 6,000 sq. ft. of office and retail space.
The bottom line? Church is eager to see the dream finally become reality.
“We are hustling to get this thing done,” he said. “It’s full speed ahead.”
A brief history of Chronicle Mill
The 110,000 sq. ft. Chronicle Mill was built in 1901 by R.L. Stowe and other investors. Workers who laid the bricks for the imposing three-story structure earned $1.75 for every thousand they put down. Timber and other lumber used in the building cost $13 per thousand board feet delivered to the site. The mill’s name was chosen to honor a Revolutionary War patriot from Gaston County, Major William Chronicle, who had lived near the mill site and was killed in the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780. The first bale of cotton was fed into the Chronicle Mill’s steam-powered machinery on Feb. 28, 1902. By 1908, the mill was powered by electricity, a move that doubled production. In time, countless cones of cotton thread would be spun at the Chronicle Mill until it finally shut down in 2010.
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Belmont Yoga Ribbon Cutting

(April 8, 2021 Issue)

Owners Michelle LoSardo and Cory Miller cut the ribbon at the grand opening of Belmont Yoga at 37 Glenway Street in downtown Belmont. Belmont Yoga is the first business to locate in the new North Main Station retail center. 

Montcross Chamber photo
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Gaston Hearing Center PLLC Ribbon Cutting

(April 8, 2021 Issue)

The Montcross Area Chamber celebrated Gaston Hearing Center PLLC with a ribbon cutting last week. The office is  located at 19 Myrtle St. in downtown Belmont.

Montcross Chamber photo