Steve Mason and the Alleghany Wellness Center

While there are exceptions to any rule, few things in life are free.  In fact, most of the things we desire do not come our way without varying degrees of effort.  Sometimes the effort is minimal, but other times it can take us a ways outside our comfort zone.

Steve Mason left his home in Florida in 1980 to attend college and play football at Appalachian State University.  There at ASU a young woman, Tammy Gambill, caught his eye.  As their relationship developed, the time came for Tammy to take Steve home to meet her family in Sparta.  Not too long into the visit, Tammy’s dad, Tam, suggested that Steve ride with him to check on Tam’s cattle.

They soon found a cow bawling and when they checked, they found her newborn calf dead.  Tam had Steve throw the dead calf in the back of the truck and they drove back to the gate.  Back at the gate, Tam told Steve to take the calf and skin it out, telling Steve he would be back shortly.

To that point the biggest critter Steve had skinned was a rabbit or squirrel.  Although he was a little uncomfortable with his assigned task, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.  In a while, Tam returned with Holstein calf.  They drove back to the cow.  As Tam tied the hide from the dead calf to the new one, he explained that sometimes the familiar scent of the hide would help the cow accept the new calf.  In this case it worked.  Even now, Steve isn’t exactly sure what  took place in that pasture – whether skinning the calf was an actual farm need or a test.  Either way, Steve was welcomed into the Gambill’s home.

Steve and Tammy Mason

Steve and Tammy Mason

Steve and Tammy have been married for almost 30 years.  They have four children: Rachel and husband, Graham, are missionaries with a church plant, Grace City Church, in Las Vegas, Nevada; twins, Rebekah and Rene, who will graduate from Liberty University this May; and son, James who is a freshman at the University of Charleston, West Virginia.

Steve spent the last 30 years in the auto industry.  He recently retired as a general manager from Manheim, Inc. in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  The Manheim group is the world’s largest auto auction by volume.

Steve and Tammy have a farm (they have Christmas trees and plan to raise poultry), and they are putting the final touches on a home they are building.  They attend Grace Community Church and their faith is central in their lives.  Steve is an avid hunter and outdoorsman.

Manheim allowed Steve to develop a long list of management and sales skills.  His degree work at ASU was in outdoor recreation with a minor in business management.  In an effort to give back to the Alleghany community, beginning on April 1st, Steve will utilize those skills as director of the Alleghany Wellness Center, Inc. (AWCI).

He moves into this role with three broad, interrelated goals.  First, he wants all the ACWI staff to engage with the community to ensure that the services offered match what the community needs.  Second, he feels strongly that those services should be accessible to everyone in the county.  Finally, he wants to promote the ACWI services so that the people of the county fully understand the entirety of what is available through the Center.

Steve also has a desire to continue and expand on the collaborative work with organizations such as the Alleghany Council on Aging.

Fitness and wellness are sometime tough sells.  It takes concentrated effort to overcome lifestyle choices that have a negative effort on our health.  As Steve points out, it is a matter of setting your sights on those things you view as important.  These seemingly minor choices often pay tremendous, long-term dividends.  Steve made one of those decisions in an Alleghany pasture many years ago and it changed his life.



Visit the Alleghany Wellness Center at 508 Collins Road, Sparta, NC or give them a call at 336-372-2944

Friends of the Alleghany Community Auditorium

In rural areas, life often revolves the local school.  Schools are the places where lifelong friendships are formed.  Piney Creek Elementary and Glade Creek Elementary are located in those respective communities at opposite ends of Alleghany County.  Sparta Elementary is located in Sparta.  All are K-8 schools whose students reflect the diversity of the county as a whole.  School activities pull together families that may not otherwise interact.  Administrators are quick to point out that the success of the schools rely heavily on community support.

photo by Charlie Scott

Alleghany County Auditorium photo by Charlie Scott

The Alleghany Community Auditorium is an example of the collaboration of the school system and community.  In 2010, the Friends of the Alleghany Community Auditorium partnered with the Alleghany County Schools to renovate and manage the auditorium.  The school system took care of some pressing structural needs such as roof repairs.  The Friend’s group has replaced the sound system and added a number of padded seats.

photo by Charlie Scott

photo by Charlie Scott

The auditorium has become the center for performing arts in Alleghany County.  The performances are varied and reflective of the people who call Alleghany home.  There have been plays by the Barter Players and the Alleghany Community Theatre (ACT).  The Hillbilly Comedy and Variety show is an annual favorite.  Musical acts range from the Highland Camerata which preformed Handel’s Messiah to the Western Piedmont Symphony to Alleghany’s Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM).  At some point during the year, there is something for everyone on the auditorium’s stage.

The next phase of renovations is the improvement of the auditorium’s lighting.  There will be a benefit concert on April 4, 2015 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm to raise funds for this next project.  The line-up is an all-star cast of local and regional musicians anchored by Wayne Henderson and Helen White, and the Loose Strings Band.  Local celebrity, Wes Brinegar, will serve as emcee.  By any measure it is an entertainment deal at $10 admission.  Emphasizing the family nature of this evening, children under 6 will be admitted free.

There is an adage that “the value of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.”  Our schools reinforce that notion as much by necessity as by design.  There is a vision by some that the Alleghany Community Auditorium can be more than most can imagine.  On April 4, 2015 we have a chance to get a glance at that vision.

Ronald Davis – Repurposed

In 2011, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education released a two-year study entitled Pathways to Prosperity.  The study wrestled with the question of whether the traditional four-year college education would meet the future needs of the U.S. workforce.  A Huffington Post article on the study reported that:

“While the number of jobs that require no post-secondary education have declined, the researchers note that only one-third of the jobs created in the coming years are expected to need a bachelor’s degree or higher. Roughly the same amount will need just an associate’s degree or an occupational credential.”

An Alleghany County resident could have saved the researchers a considerable amount of time and effort.  He knows firsthand the value of occupational training and the impact of professional credentials on one’s career.

Ronald Davis was a member of Alleghany High School’s first graduating class in 1968.  By his senior year he only needed an English class to fulfill his graduation requirements.  That last year, he rounded out his school days in carpentry class.  He left Alleghany High with skills that led to a prosperous career as a custom homebuilder.

After spending a few years honing his construction skills, Ronald stepped out and formed his own business during the 1973 economic downturn.   As with many small businesses, cash flow was often a problem.  He credits the local building supply companies with working with him during those lean times when money was leaving the business faster than as coming in.  Over the years, he had as many as nine employees and when things slowed down he had as few as two.  By the time he retired, Ronald had built approximately 150 homes, had completed numerous remodeling jobs and completed projects at a couple of local churches.  His work can be seen throughout Alleghany County.

Ronald Davis custom bench built without nails or screws

A Ronald Davis custom bench built without nails or screws

Throughout those years, Ronald tinkered with furniture building and cabinet making.  For the most part, he took on these jobs in conjunction with his building and remodeling work.  Since his retirement, he has spent more time “repurposing” items he and his wife, Chris, discover in antique and salvage shops.  Ronald credits Chris with being able to envision new life for common, everyday items.  He says that, “if Chris can see it, I can build it.”  He works with reclaimed wood in many of his projects.  His innovative use of old doors and beds is stunning.

Day bed from a repurposed bed - by Ronald Davis

Day bed from a repurposed bed – by Ronald Davis

Shelving from a reclaimed door - by Ronald and Chris Davis

Bookcase from a reclaimed door – by Ronald and Chris Davis

Ronald takes his mindset of “reclaimed, repurposed, and reusable” a step beyond his furniture making.  He can often be seen around Sparta and at cruise-ins in his 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport.


It would be a false assumption to think that Ronald Davis is somehow trying to relive the past through his work or while driving around town in his old Chevy.  The fact is that he is very forward thinking.  What he recognizes is that many of the old ways and ideas still have merit today, and that there is much beauty in the classic lines of old furniture and cars.

Maybe most important is that he and others in the county realize that “Pathways to Prosperity” mean different things to different people.  There is no cookie cutter approach.  Ronald has placed on his path back in an Alleghany High School carpentry class in the 1960s.  Alleghany High School and Wilkes Community College are still assisting students onto and along that pathway.

Chris and Ronald Davis

Chris and Ronald Davis

Prosperity is a somewhat subjective term.  Prosperity for one may be deemed failure to another.  As with many ambiguous concepts it is often more understandable when we see a living example.  We have to look no further than Ronald Davis.  He has experienced a fulfilling career and has left his mark throughout the county.  He is living an enjoyable and productive retirement.  Most importantly, he has the love of an adoring wife.  A picture of prosperity.


For more examples of Ronald Davis’ handiwork visit Studio Redwood on Main Street in Sparta or check them out on Facebook at Studio Redwood, Inc.

Custom table by Ronald Davis

Custom table by Ronald Davis

Brian Murphy – Sparta’s “Hot Dog Man”

Many big name restaurants spend a considerable amount of time and resources to develop their brand’s association with an individual.  Kentucky Fried Chicken, before it became simply KFC, was closely tied to Colonel Harland Sanders.  Dave Thomas named his fast food restaurant, “Wendy’s” after his fourth child.  Mr. Thomas later became the face of the franchise though Wendy’s image is still the official trademark.  And of course, Ben and Jerry’s would just be ice cream without its namesake founders and their innovative marketing.

Brian Murphy’s brightly colored cart is located just north of the Alleghany County Courthouse at the corner of North Main and East Doughton Streets.  He is a noticeable feature along Main Street.  While it may not have been an intentional marketing strategy, the Sparta resident has come to enjoy hearing children cry out, “Hey, Hot Dog Man!”


Born in Connecticut, Brian has spent his life almost evenly split in thirds between Miami, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; and for the last 17 years, Sparta, NC.  He spent years working the docks handling freight before landing in Alleghany County.


As KFC or Wendy’s will attest, a colorful and interesting personality may draw people in, but it takes good food to bring them back.  Brian serves up an all-beef, ¼ pound Nathan’s Jumbo hot dog that seems much too large for the bun.  In addition to the usual toppings, sauerkraut and jalapenos gives Murphy’s hot dog a big city flavor.  As the weather warms, smoked sausage along with steak and cheese brats will be added to the menu.  The cart carries a 96 point inspection rating and the health inspector stops by often to check that the temperatures meet the required levels.


A while back Brian faced competition from an unexpected source (it is an interesting story, but its Brian’s story to tell).  That experience left him awed by the loyalty of his customers.  This winter he faced some serious challenges in the form of single digit temperatures.  But, after the backing of a loyal customer base, Brian felt he owed them the loyalty of braving those cold, windy days to man the hotdog stand.

It would make the perfect story to report that Brian’s hot dog cart is wildly, monetarily successful.  The truth is a single rainy day eats into the week’s profit.  Like many small business owners, he works other part-time jobs to help make ends meet.  It ain’t easy being the Hot Dog Man.

Brian Murphy takes life at his own pace, on his own terms.  In true mountain fashion, he treasures his independence and is making his way one hot dog at a time.


Janet Tompkins and Speechpath Tools

Family members and caregivers of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can attest to the insidious nature of the symptoms of those diseases.  Memory loss and the reduced ability to communicate can result in anxiety and depression.  The recent death of legendary coach Dean Smith brought to light his struggle with dementia.  Singer Glen Campbell even recorded a song that describes his battle with Alzheimer’s.

Alleghany County native Janet Tompkins has witnessed these struggles firsthand and has set out to bring comfort to those wrestling with these diseases.

Janet Tompkins

Janet Tompkins

After graduating from Alleghany High School, Janet attended Appalachian State University where she received a graduate degree in Communication Disorders.  After an internship in Alaska working with the native population, she worked as a travel therapist which led her all across the United States.

Now, as owner of Speechpath Tools in Sparta, Janet continues to work with dementia patients as well as those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and strokes.  She describes the goal of therapy as to help the patients develop a greater sense of independence and to improve their quality of life.  The decrease in ability to communicate can lead to patients feeling isolated and alone.  To help combat these emotions, Janet has designed and developed Comfort Companions.


Comfort Companions are pillowy dolls that weigh approximately 2 lbs. and incorporate numerous tactile features that increase sensory perception.  The dolls are made from soft fabric to have a soothing feel.  There are brightly colored buttons, beads and ribbons that are designed to occupy fidgety hands.  Family photos and small memory books can be placed in the pocket on the front of each doll.  These photos and books are tools that caregivers can use to help stimulate memory and assist with higher level communication.  Each doll is scented with lavender which studies have found has a soothing quality that reduces anxiety and depression.


Janet expects her first delivery of 1,000 Comfort Companions in 6-8 weeks.  There will be three variations in hair color and she hopes to add additional ethnicities in the future.  Her marketing outlets will include hospital gift shops, drug stores, rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities, and through web-based platforms.  The projected retail price is $54.95.


Since she was 18 years old, Janet has worked as a model.  Photographs of her have appeared in Vogue and Glamour magazines.  A stereotypical view of fashion models is that they can be quite self-focused.  Janet credits growing up and living in a community where older adults are valued, and where there is an expectation to take care of your neighbors, as helping keep her focused on those things in life that truly matter most.

For more information contact Janet Tompkins at