John Simmons – Recovery Peer Support Specialist

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John Simmons

For John Simmons, the effects of his drug addiction became unavoidable when he was confronted with an ultimatum given to him by his supervisor – attend treatment or face termination.  John chose treatment.  He entered a 28 day residential program and stayed 42 days.  With an easy laugh, he jokes, “I’m an overachiever.”  He has been clean and sober since 1983.

That tendency for overachievement will serve Alleghany County well in John’s new role as the Recovery Peer Support Specialist tasked with working with those in the criminal justice system.  He will be connecting with those who are incarcerated, or who are on probation or parole with the goal of serving as a guide to help steer them into the best treatment options.  The position is grant funded and managed by the AppHealthCare (Appalachian District Health Department)..

John was born in Japan, the son of an Air Force airman.  His lived up and down the east coast from Bangor, Maine to Homestead, Florida.  When his father retired from the military, he brought the family back home to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

At age 18, John took a job with a large manufacturing firm in Fayetteville. And his drug abuse intensified.  He describes his drug use as abusing whatever was available to inject, inhale, swallow, or drink.  For six years leading up to his supervisor’s ultimatum, John knew he needed help, but until he was faced with losing his job, he lacked the motivation to take that crucial first step.

That background alone makes John uniquely qualified to help others navigate the turbulent waters from addiction to recovery.  But for John, the issues surrounding addiction are even more personal.

In 2004 his middle son, Brian, came home on leave from the Coast Guard.  He went out with some old high school friends and they spent the evening in Wilmington.  As the bars closed, the police estimated approximately 300 people gathered in the streets.  An altercation erupted and a young man who had been using drugs and drinking alcohol fired into the crowd.  Brian was struck by the bullet and died from his injuries.  He was 25 years old.

John’s youngest son, Philip struggled with addiction his entire adult life.  He had just been released from jail in Florida when he called John and said he was ready to make a change in his life.  John offered him a room in his new home in Sparta.  Philip wanted to visit his mother in Fayetteville before traveling to Sparta.  John advised against this decision knowing that old friends presented deadly diversions.  Within a matter of days, John received a call that Philip had died of a drug overdose.

The effects of addiction have impacted virtually every aspect of John’s life.

When John retired from his job in Fayetteville he and his wife, Lynda, began looking for a new home in the mountains.  He was familiar with the Boone/Valle Crucis area but found that real estate in those communities was prohibitively expensive.  Someone suggested he try Ashe County.  The realtor gave him directions to travel up 421, but serendipitously John and Lynda ended up on Hwy 21 and in Alleghany County.  They quickly fell in love with the area and settled here in 2011.

In Alleghany County, John continues to offer hope to those trapped in addiction.  He works with the Alleghany Drug Abuse Coalition and delivers treatment materials to inmates in the Alleghany County Jail.  He is active in local 12 Step programs.  His combination of lived experience and his desire to help others makes him uniquely qualified for his new role.

This newly created position is a cooperative effort between the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office and AppHealthCare.  Sheriff Bryan Maines has said that much of Alleghany County’s criminal activity is drug related.  By addressing the underlying issue of drug abuse and addiction, Alleghany County becomes a much safer place for all citizens and visitors.

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Sheriff Bryan Maines and John Simmons

John is quick to point out that while the 12 Step methodology worked for him, the path to recovery is different for each individual.  For some it is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).  Others respond best to the structure of long-term residential programs.  John describes his primary goal as keeping people alive long enough to help get them into a program that moves them toward recovery.

The commonality between all of those recovery options is the value of one-on-one peer support.  Those in recovery need someone who understands what they are going through and can speak truth to what it takes to recover from addiction.  John Simmons personifies that role.

Drew Edwards Temple – Alleghany County Clerk

IMG_5178For Drew Edwards Temple, new administrative assistant to the Alleghany County manager and clerk to the county commission, her journey to that role followed a common path.  Starting here in Alleghany, she explored several options in our region before returning home.  Each step added a piece of life experience.

Drew grew up in the Twin Oaks community just outside Sparta.  Her parents, Bill and Debbie Edwards, are graduates of Appalachian State University.  Bill was an estimator with NAPCO and Debbie was a teacher.  The Edwards family tree has roots spread across Alleghany and adjoining counties. Her mother’s family came to the county in 1963. After a stint in the military and college at Elon, Drew’s grandfather, Jack Martin, took a job with Sparta Pipes where he later became president of the company.

After graduating Alleghany High School in 2005, Drew attended Surry Community College for one year before transferring to Appalachian State University (ASU). After a few semesters at ASU, she decided to set aside school for a while (she later returned and earned her associate’s degree from Wilkes Community College) and took a job with Ryder Truck Rentals in Hickory.

Ryder has one of North America’s largest fleet of trucks with over 234,000 vehicles in operation.  Drew worked as a customer service coordinator and helped ensure that customers were renting quality vehicles that were properly maintained and serviced.

Drew left Ryder and moved to Charlotte where she took a job with the Pennsylvania Steel Company.  There she worked in sales with a primary focus on recurring customers.  In 2013, she moved back to Alleghany County and continued to commute to the Charlotte area for her job.

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As Drew wound her way through college and jobs at Ryder and Pennsylvania Steel, her future husband, Mac Temple, was laying the foundation for his career.  Mac had attended Catawba Valley Community College and worked in automotive repair in the Hickory area.  Sensing a need for Asian and European import repairs in Alleghany County, Mac and Chris Lucas opened Modern Province Imports in Sparta.

Drew and Mac were married in 2014.

Drew’s transition back to Alleghany County has been challenging.  She took a job with Pioneer Eclipse in 2014 in inside sales where she marketed to governmental and school systems.  These contracts are often accompanied by a mountain of paperwork because of the guidelines of the numerous governmental entities.  She later shifted to field marketing to hardware stores that offer rental units to customers.  That job played out in September 2017.

Following Pioneer Eclipse, Drew worked for several months as a teller at Skyline Bank in Sparta before she took on her new role in the county manager’s office.

When asked about coming home, Drew offered several insights that may hold the key for creating an environment that is attractive to young couples.

Drew and Mac now have a 16 month-old son, Graham. As a family with two working parents, they are acutely aware of the value of having high quality day care in our community.  With the recent closure of the afterschool care program in our county schools, Drew is already thinking about how they will handle that issue of when Graham reaches school age.  Drew acknowledges that they are privileged to have parents who can help out with childcare needs.  She also realizes that many families don’t have that luxury.

Drew is quick to offer how fortunate she has been to obtain good jobs after moving back to Sparta.  She recognizes that that isn’t the case for everyone. She points out that having steady employment in good jobs is the key to attracting people like her to the county.  This includes supporting entrepreneurs like Mac as they seek to build businesses in the county.

Having grown up in Alleghany County, Drew and Mac knew what to expect when they returned.  They had experienced the big city and were looking forward to a slower pace of life in which to raise their son.  It is Drew’s opinion that we won’t attract young couple with more things.  Instead, the Alleghany lifestyle is appealing.  She mentioned spending time on the river and camping as attributes that appeal to her and Mac.

Perhaps most important in their decision to move back was the lure of being near family.  A theme of the importance of family is continually woven into conversation with Drew.

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Drew, Mac and Graham Temple enjoying the 4th of July parade

We often think of the arc of a person’s life as one of smooth lines and linear transitions.  But closer examination usually reveals a series of twists and turns coupled with peaks and valleys.  When taken in totality, these give us access to perspective, wisdom and insight.  These vantage points are what Drew Temple will bring to local government.  More importantly, it is what she brings to our community.

 

 

Bob Black – A Life of Service

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Bob and Carol Black

“I have been fortunate.”

Those words surface often as Bob Black recounts his life. Some would equate “fortunate” with “lucky” or “being in the right place at the right time.”  But, as the events of Bob’s life are examined, “fortunate” is a complex mixture of the right kinds of relationships, recognizing opportunities when they present themselves, and a strong personal work ethic.  Perhaps more important, it is the ability to take a long-term view of what can be accomplished when those three things intersect.

Bob Black 8Born in 1930, Bob spent his early years in the Piney Creek community of Alleghany County.  His parents, Emerson and Alma, were both teachers at Piney Creek School.  In 1933 or 34, Bob’s father became the county agricultural agent.

Bob recalls that in addition to serving as a liaison between local farmers and North Carolina State University, his father also filled the role of veterinarian, giving vaccines and tending to sick livestock.  In those days, in addition to cattle, Alleghany farmers raised and sold thousands of sheep. Emerson would coordinate the sale and shipment of lambs to markets up north, taking truckloads of lambs to railroad docks in Galax or Wilkesboro.  In 1938, his father was instrumental in securing a loan from the Rural Electrification Authority to setup an electric cooperative which brought electricity to Alleghany County.

During his early childhood, Bob’s family moved to Sparta.  Their first home was on Main Street between the homes of Dr. Thompson and Dr. Burgiss near the current location of BB&T Bank.  The family later built the rock house that still stands across from the current Alleghany County Fairgrounds.  To supplement their income, the Blacks took boarders into their new home.  Bob describes those boarders as primarily school teachers and recalls that the first park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway was also a boarder.

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Bob’s childhood was filled with rich mixture of contradictions.  He inherited a love of hunting and fishing from his father.  Bob recalls that when he was 12 years old, he killed 67 squirrels that fall with a single shot .22 rifle.  He then describes that same 12 year-old as checking out an “arm load” of books each week from the library.  He followed his dad on farm visits, even learning to give vaccinations.  He could mingle comfortably with farmers and doctors and teachers.  Bob lettered in football, basketball and baseball in high school while balancing farm chores.

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He followed his father’s example and went to college at North Carolina State where he was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).  After living in the dorm his freshman year, he spent his sophomore year living in the basement of the college gym.  His final two years were spent on the college farm where he rose at 4:00 am to work on the farm before heading out to classes.  During his time at Sparta High School, Bob was active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and participated in livestock judging.  He continued this at college and traveled the country judging livestock.

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Bob’s summer jobs gave him with valuable life experience.  A college friend told him of going to Kansas one summer to work in the wheat harvest.  The friend gave Bob the name and number of the farmer. That summer Bob hitchhiked to Kansas, called the farmer and asked for a job.  At the end of the summer, Bob planned to visit family in Nebraska.  The farmer drove Bob out to the highway.  It took two hours for the first vehicle to come by.  Bob hitchhiked on to Nebraska and then back home.

The next year, Bob worked as a seasonal ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  One night after his shift, he came into Sparta and spent the evening getting to know two men, Jim Lowe and Carl Buchan.  The two brother-in-laws owned Lowes Hardware and had opened a store in Sparta.

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After college, Bob entered the U.S. Army in 1953, fulfilling his two year military commitment made with the ROTC.  He was commissioned as a lieutenant and soon found himself the youngest company commander at Ft. Knox.  He arrived in Korea after the truce and took part in the prisoner of war exchanges.

After fulfilling his military commitment, Bob returned home and applied for a job as county agent in Cleveland County.  As he worked through that process, Carl Buchan sent word that he would like to meet with Bob.  Bob interviewed with Mr. Buchan and went to work for Lowes the next day.

Bob Black 1Bob started on the sales floor with Lowes.  He was successful in sales and was later moved to purchasing.  The work led him across the country to meet with manufacturers and supplies. He went on to become the vice president of purchasing.

Lowes was nationally known for its profit sharing plan.  Mr. Buchan felt that when employees owned shares of the company, they would be more engaged and productive.  As a result, many employees were financially able to retire after 20 years of service.  Bob followed this pattern, retiring in 1975 at the age of 45.  He viewed this as an opportunity to spend more time with his family and to spend more time outdoors.  It also begin a remarkable period of civic engagement.

Bob has been active in supporting NC State University.  He served on the Wolf Pack Club board for 16 years and was president of the alumni association.  He became close friends with coaches Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano.  Bob established two need-based endowments that supports six scholarships. He also supports four varsity sports scholarships, including the first for cheerleading.  In 2005, Bob was awarded the Watauga Medal for his “dedication and devotion to the advancement of North Carolina State University.”

In Alleghany County, there are few civic organizations or non-profits that haven’t experienced Bob’s touch.  He was a founding board member of the Chamber of Commerce and was instrumental in the recruitment of industry in Alleghany County.  Many of his private ventures such as joining investors in building the Alleghany Inn or purchasing the Alleghany News years ago, were driven more by a sense of civic duty that a desire for profit.  Bob views one of his greatest accomplishments as negotiating the donation of the current fairgrounds property from the Higgins family to the county. He is active in Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Piney Creek , a church his family helped found almost 200 years ago.

These days, Bob enjoys traveling with his wife, Carol – they have been married for 14 years.  They enjoy time with their families.  Bob reads four different newspapers and has maintained a subscription to Forbes magazine for over 50 years.

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Bob and Carol enjoying a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok

While Bob describes himself as fortunate, many others who can tie their good fortune to Bob Black and his family.  Countless students at both the college and high school level have been fortunate recipients of Bob’s generosity. Anyone who enjoys an event at the Alleghany County Fairgrounds can trace their good fortune to a conversation Bob had with Buck Higgins.  Local businesses who are assisted by the Chamber of Commerce are fortunate for the visionary leadership of Bob and others who had the foresight to form that local organization.

We are all fortunate that Bob Black is a part of our community.

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Trout Fishing in Alleghany County

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photo by John Caveny

April brings warmer weather to the mountains.  More important to anglers, April brings hatchery raised trout to the numerous streams in Alleghany County.  Below is a list of upcoming trout stocking dates for the month.  The names of the stream include hyperlinks that provide maps to these waters.

Be mindful that most of the streams are on privately owned land.  Be a courteous angler.  Use gates and be sure to close them behind you.  Pick up any litter you find and leave the area cleaner than you found it.

The dates are subject to change depending on conditions at the hatchery.  Checkout NC Wildlife for updates or changes.  Click here for fishing licence information.

Location                        April Stocking

Big Glade Creek                      10

Big Pine Creek                         23

Bledsoe Creek                          17

Brush Creek                             10, 23

Little River                                5, 17

Little River                                5         (Delayed Harvest portion)

Meadow Fork                          18

Pine Swamp Creek

Piney Fork Creek                    18

Prather Creek                          18

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Charity Gambill-Gwyn – A Life of Service

IMG_5159As Sparta Town Manager Bryan Edwards recounts the story, he begins with “Charity taught me to ride a bicycle.” He goes on to describe with a laugh of being led to the top of a hill where Charity gave the directions of “pick up your feet and keep the handle bars straight.”  She then gave him a push and sent a young Bryan barreling down the hill.

“Pick up your feet and keep the handle bars straight” could be the motto of how Charity Gambill-Gwyn has lived her life.

Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn was born in the Vox community of Alleghany County in 1941.  She recalls faint memories of her great-grandfather, “Big Charlie” Edwards.  Family history recalls that Mr. Edwards was purchased at a slave auction for $13.  Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn describes this in a matter of fact tone that offers no bitterness or excuses.

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Charlie Edwards

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Charity Gambill-Gwyn (left)

She describes segregated schools in a similar manner.  “We used to wait out by the road and would catch a ride with the mailman to our school at Cherry Lane.  We then rode the bus home in the afternoon.”  Cherry Lane School had grades 1st-8th.  High school for African American students in Alleghany County required a 60 mile roundtrip bus ride down the mountain to Wilkesboro to Lincoln Heights School.  That long daily trip and family financial needs led a teenaged Charity to leave school.  Even though she was out of school, she stayed connected to the educational system by driving a bus and working in the school cafeteria for many years.

Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn married and had four children.  When circumstances changed and she found herself a single mother, she dug in.  “I grew up working.  I hoed corn, milked cows and worked in the fields.”  As a single mother she often worked a public job and when she finished her day there, would work in people’s homes.  “I did a little of everything – ironing, cleaning, housework.  It was hard with four children.  I couldn’t have done it without my mother, Mattie Simpson Carter’s, help.”

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Mattie Simpson Carter

She worked at the Troutman plant until 1974 when he took a job at Dr. Grabow – Sparta Pipes.  In 1981 she was named the environmental health and safety manager coordinator at Grabow.  When she assumed that role, there was no organized safety program at the plant.  She developed programs for inspections and began safety training.  She also oversaw the installation of safety devices on the machinery.  When she began working there the company had over 350 employees.  As a result of their emphasis on safety and training, spearheaded by Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn, the company went ten years without a lost time accident.  She retired there in 2006.

And if her days weren’t full enough, Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn still found time to be involved in the community.  She laughs when she says that she “sold a lot of candy” for the PTA.  She was a charter member of the Alleghany County Rescue Squad which formed in 1969, and was one of three female members and the only African American on the squad.  She retired from the squad in 1999 after serving as the secretary/treasurer for 27 years.  In 1976, she was asked to join the Blue Ridge Electric (Energy) Board of Directors.  She describes Blue Ridge as one of the leading energy co-ops in the country.  “They believe in training, even for their board.  I gained more knowledge serving on that board than I would have gained in college.” She served with Blue Ridge until 2015.  Other service boards include:

In discussing that list, Mrs. Gambill-Gywn says that, “ ‘No’ is not in my vocabulary.”

This combination of work ethic and community orientation caught the eye of former Alleghany School superintendent John Woodruff.  He approached her and encouraged her to run for the school board.  She pointed out that she was a high school dropout.  Mr. Woodruff countered, “But you know the needs of our students.”  She won the party primary that spring and led the ticket that fall.  She went on to serve 16 years on the board.

After 16 years she decided to get out of politics, but the community saw value in her elected role – she was encouraged to run for county commission.  With her win that fall, she became the 1st female and 1st African American county commissioner in Alleghany County.  With the support of Commissioners Ken Richardson and Patrick Woodie, the board voted to begin observing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a county holiday.

charityRecognition for her work has come in various forms – from her selection to the State School Board in 1992 to the Nancy Susan Reynolds Award in 1994 to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (the State of North Carolina’s highest award) in 2002.  Alleghany County declared June 30, 2001 as Charity Gambill Day and she served as the grand marshal for the 4th of July parade.

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1995 Issue of Carolina Country

These days Mrs. Gambill-Gwyn remains active the community.  She teaches Sunday School and is the church clerk at White Oak Baptist Church, the oldest African American church in Alleghany County.  She loves the outdoors and tends two gardens during the summer.

Charity Gambill-Gywn is fond of saying, “One grows and blossoms where they are planted.”  Our community has reaped an abundant harvest of her being planted in Alleghany County.

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