Larry Adams – Piney Creek VFD

IMG_4605For Piney Creek resident Larry Adams, long days are just a fact of life.  As the owner of Adams Building Supply just north of Independence, Virginia, Larry’s work days begin at 7:00 am and wrap up sometime after 5:00 pm Monday through Friday.  He finishes off the week with a half day on Saturday.  As if 54 hours a week wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also serves as the chief of the Piney Creek Volunteer Fire Department.

Larry grew up in Piney Creek and attended Piney Creek Elementary School.  He graduated from Alleghany High School in 1987 and went away to Lees-McCrae College.  While in college, he worked weekends at Lowes Hardware in Sparta.  The building supply business appealed to him and after spending a full summer at Lowes, he decided to forgo college and work there fulltime.  When the Sparta store closed, Larry transferred to the Lowes in Galax.

Larry’s roots stretch from Piney Creek across the New River into Mount of Wilson and Volney, Virginia.  His parents grew up in that community so when Larry had an opportunity to buy Volney Building Supply, it was as much a homecoming as business decision.  He laughs as he recalls countless telephone conversation trying to get vendors to understand the correct pronunciation of Volney.  After one too many of those exasperating conversations, he changed the business name to Adams Building Supply.  He ran that store for six years before moving to his current location in 2009.

In 1991, a friend convinced Larry to volunteer at the Piney Creek fire department.  Larry says that it only took a few calls for him to be bitten by the “fire bug.”  Lowes allowed him to leave work when the department received a call and Larry would make the 15 mile trip from Sparta back to Piney Creek to join the rest of the responders.  His dedication was noted by the members and in 1994 he was elected chief, a position he held for the next 20 years.


In 2008 the county asked Solutions for Local Government to conduct a capital assessment for public safety needs in the county.  That report stated that, “Piney Creek VFD must begin preparing to service what from all accounts is expected to become one of, if not the largest residential communities in the county.”  The report continued, “The current fire ‘station’ essentially consists of an assortment of buildings, none of which was ever intended for its current use. The department needs a fire station that will adequately house its vehicles and service the needs of volunteers and the community.”

In part because of that report, a local developer approached the fire department and offered to buy a new tanker for the department.  The annual payments would be spread out over a ten year period. This offer addressed one element of the problems outlined in the public safety assessment.  Piney Creek VFD would receive a new truck which would allow them to focus their fundraising efforts toward building a new firehouse.

As the national economy faltered in 2009, the developer who had purchased the firetruck declared bankruptcy.  The department was stuck with an $18,000 per year payment for the next nine years.

Larry is once again chief and a question he continually ponders is how generate the funds needed to serve his community.  With a roughly $82,000 operational budget, adequate funding is always an issue. They receive approximately $45,000 in appropriations from the county and around $12,000 in grants from the state.  But, those funds fall far short of their needs.

So, in addition to working fulltime and answering calls, volunteer firefighters are also fundraisers.  Piney Creek VFD is no exception.   In good years, Piney Creek raises approximately $25,000 through a variety of events.  While this seems like a substantial amount, for the past nine years $18,000 a year of those funds went to cover the default loan on the truck.  Very little could be saved in their building fund.  On top of their building needs, their fleet of trucks is aging.  Their “1st truck out” is almost 30 years old.  A replacement will cost between $350,000 and $500,000.


The Piney Creek VFD Drawdown.

In addition to their emergency response capabilities, Piney Creek VFD furnishes financial benefits to the community.  Piney Creek is a Class 9 SE department.  Because of this classification, any homeowner within six drivable miles of the firehouse receives a 30% discount on their home insurance.  The Piney Creek fire district has the second highest number of homes of any district in Alleghany County.  This insurance discount saves homeowners thousands of dollars.


Piney Creek Volunteer Fire Department

Across Alleghany County there are well over 100 volunteer firefighters and rescue squad personal who train many hours each month for emergencies they hope will not take place.  But when those events arise, they leave their jobs or homes at all hours, in all types of weather, to serve their communities.  Most of those volunteers, if pressed, may have a difficult time explaining why they take those calls.  The rest of us shouldn’t question why.  We should just be glad that they do.



Monica Santos Torres


Monica Santos Torres

What determines individual success?  Perhaps an even more difficult variation of that question is, “How do we define success?”  Those questions haunt sociologists, school administrators, politicians and anyone who desires to see positive development for individuals and communities.  With so many variables that can influence growth, we have to wonder if there is a “magic bullet” that can truly impact the success of the people in our communities?  While the question may befuddle the experts, a key component of the answer may be found right here in Alleghany County.

As a young girl, Monica Santos was a fixture on the regional fiddlers’ convention circuit.  The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program at Piney Creek Elementary School uncovered her guitar skills.  Her mother, Tina Jordan, understood the quality of Monica’s musical gift and bolstered her JAM lessons with private instruction with Bob Desanto of Galaz, Virginia.  The results were 15-20 competition wins.

A change in family dynamics took Monica and her mom from Piney Creek when Monica was in the 5th grade.  They spent a period time with Monica’s grandmother in the Whitehead community before they moved to Sparta.  While in 8th grade, Monica became sweethearts with her future husband, Leo Torres.

Monica played volleyball her freshman year of high school and enjoyed the game.  But, in her sophomore year volleyball gave way to work and she began waiting tables at Mis Arados, a restaurant in Sparta owned and managed by Leo’s family.   Monica worked  with the Torres family all through high school and until she completed college.

2014 was a pivotal year for Monica.  She graduated from Alleghany High School that summer, and she and Leo were married in July.  That fall, she began the nursing program at Wilkes Community College (WCC).

monica 1 (1)The WCC schedule and course load were challenging.  Monica began her days with a one hour commute to the WCC campus in Wilkesboro.  She simultaneously took prerequisite and nursing classes before wrapping up the school day with another one hour trip home.  Once she was back in Sparta, it was off to Mis Arados for a shift of waiting tables.  After her shift she headed home for 1-2 hours of homework.  These days she shrugs off a full-time class load coupled with a 30-40 hours of waiting tables. But while in the throes of that grinding schedule, the thought of quitting college crossed her mind many times.  She credits Leo with encouraging her through those rough spots and giving her the motivation to stick with her dream.

While Monica was balancing all those elements of life, Leo was also taking classes through the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at WCC.  When he graduated and became a deputy with the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, Monica was able to scale back her restaurant work to what she describes as a more manageable 10-20 hour week.

Monica completed the nursing program in May of 2016 and passed her state exam a couple of weeks later.  That June, she went to work as a floor nurse at the Alleghany Memorial Hospital (AMH).  Once again, she felt overwhelmed.  As she talks about those first weeks as a hospital nurse, the description is stacked with the sense of responsibility and accountability she felt towards her patients.  She often found herself questioning her abilities and whether she could handle the emergencies that were sure to arise.  And she wondered if she could deliver the kind of care she knew her patients deserved.  Once again, Leo stepped in to encourage her that she was on the right path and that he believed it her.

monica 1 (2)

These days a conversation with Monica offers no hint of self-doubt.  She says quite confidently that AMH is a perfect fit for her.  The size of the facility has given her a broad base of experience that would have taken months, even years, to attain in a larger hospital.  Monica explains that this small size also allows her to give patients more personalized care than they would get in a more urban hospital. And working at AMH is something of a homecoming for Monica.  Her patients are often surprised when she tells then she that was born in Alleghany Memorial Hospital.

Monica’s life journey to this point may offer us clues to that question of what determines success.  She was fortunate to find herself in a youth music program where hard work and practice were expected and rewarded.  Her mother recognized Monica’s musical giftedness and made sacrifices for private lessons to enhance that gift.  When her family faced personal challenges, Monica’s extended family provided a safety net as they regained their footing.  Her mother instilled and modeled a strong work ethic.  A small elementary school gave her personalized attention and an enhanced sense of community.  Wilkes Community College furnished the flexibility to balance work and education, while preparing her for a career of professional service.  She married into a hardworking family of entrepreneurs that produced her husband who understands how to provide her encouragement when she needs it most.  And now she works in an environment where she is supported by all levels of staff as she seeks to give back to her community.

A strong work ethic, a sense of delayed gratification, a safety net for life’s challenges, and a network of encouragers are crucial to individual success. As to the question of how we define success.  We don’t have to look further than Monica Santos Torres.


Alleghany Pop-Up Market

pop-up posterOn March 25 from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm the Blue Ridge Business Development Center (BDC) will host a “pop-up” market for direct sales vendors.  25 representatives will offer a variety of products at this event.  To limit the duplication of products, the event has only accepted one representative per product line.  These representatives are primarily home-based entrepreneurs that normally connect with their customers through parties or small events without the benefit of a traditional store front.  A recent method of supplementing that model is having the businesses “pop-up” at a location for a short period of time.

According to Dale Caveny, director of the BDC, the purpose of this event is threefold.  First, this will offer a physical location for customers to access a wide range of items.  There will be products familiar to many such as Mary Kay, Avon and Tupperware.  These will be joined by a variety of other skin care products, clothing such as LulaRoe, jewelry, handbags and accessories, children’s books, candles, and nutritional supplements.  A representative from Damsel in Defense will be offering basic personal defense items designed for women.  The Alleghany County Farmers Market will also have locally grown items for sale.  The Farmers’ Market is using this event as a means of spreading the word about the products offered each Saturday throughout the summer.

Second, this event is an opportunity for those interested in exploring business opportunities to connect with a product vendor. New representatives usually sign up with an experienced vendor who serves as a mentor for the new entrepreneur.  Caveny points out that many of these direct sales ventures can be quite profitable for the representatives.  And experience gained from these businesses often serves as a catalyst for other business opportunities.

Finally, Laurie Brintle-Jarvis, director of the Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College, will be on hand to talk with established and prospective vendors.  The Small Business Center  offers a multitude of classes for small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Those classes range from how to best market a business to accounting procedures.  Brintle-Jarvis also provides individual, confidential counseling for business owners.

This event is an opportunity for the BDC to explore new ways of supporting small business networks.  “In many ways these direct sales representatives provide a model for how business has to be carried out in a small community,” said Caveny.  “Each vendor has a customer network that they develop and grow.  Social media increasingly plays a role in maintaining those relationships.  At this event, we will bring those 25 networks of customers together for four hours.  That networking model is key to the success of all business in our community.”

“Many of the vendors and customers at this event will be from out of the county,” Caveny continued.  “It is our desire that this experience will introduce a new group of people to Alleghany County and that they take advantage of the dining and shopping opportunities after they leave our event.”


For more information contact Dale Caveny at the Blue Ridge Business Development Center.  336-372-1525 or

For more information on things to see and do in Alleghany County, visit the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce here.

Eric Murphy – Special Olympics of Alleghany County

IMG_4593It only takes a few moments of conversation with Ennice resident Eric Murphy to realize he is passionate about sports.  An avid reader of newspaper sports pages, he is an encyclopedia of statistics on individual players and teams ranging from basketball to NASCAR.  But Eric is much more than a casual observer, he is an active athlete through Alleghany County’s Special Olympics program.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany County High School, Eric became an integral part of Friday night football games when his parents, Larry and Velinda, had a Trojan mascot costume designed and made for Eric.  His contribution to rallying the crowds in support the players on the field helped earn him the Trojan Team Award during his senior year.

Eric 1

The Murphy’s involvement with Special Olympics began when they heard of a bowling program in Ashe County.  Larry is a bowler.  He thought it would be a good activity for him and Eric to do together.  Each Sunday, the family would leave church in Galax and make the drive to the bowling alley in Ashe County.  They came to enjoy the camaraderie with the other families and athletes. When a program was started in Alleghany County, they shifted back closer to home.


photo by Lillis Ward

There are approximately 25-30 athletes in the Alleghany program, ranging from 9 to 65 years of age.  They play Bocce ball (a sport originated in ancient Rome), basketball, bowling, and track and field events.  When asked why he enjoys those activities, Eric said, “I like hanging out with my friends and I love sports.”  He added, “I would be lost without Special Olympics.”

Eric is a fixture around the Sparta Square shopping center.  He is approaching his ninth anniversary of employment with Burger King where works as a cook and helps out with cleaning the dining area.  He said he loves his job and has a well deserved pride in the quality of the food he prepares for others.  Velinda hears from many people in the community that they frequent Burger King just to hang out and talk sports with Eric (Eric spends much of his days off just visiting in Burger King).  She said that Eric knows everyone at Food Lion and Hardees, and that they all know him.  Eric laughed and added that the employees at Hardees tease him by calling him a traitor when he stops by some mornings for gravy and biscuits while wearing his Burger King uniform.


photo by Lillis Ward

As Eric and Velinda describe his day to day life and activities, it is apparent that it requires a community effort to offset the challenges faced by many in our community.  When Eric receives his work schedule from Burger King, he forwards it to Alleghany in Motion who helps with his transportation to work.  The Alleghany Wellness Center welcomes (at no charge) the Special Olympians to their facility each Thursday for nutritional counseling and athletic activities as part of their Healthy Athlete program.  Former Alleghany School superintendent Kim Mattox awarded Eric a lifetime athletic pass to school events, a pass Eric fully utilizes.


Spin class at the Alleghany Wellness Center – photo by Steve Mason

On March 25th our community has another opportunity to assist these athletes.  The 2017 Polar Plunge will be held at Lake Louise in Roaring Gap.  This event is the primary fundraiser for Alleghany County’s Special Olympics.  Those willing to take the plunge or make a donation can do so by following this link.  Eric is looking forward to his first dash into the icy waters and has a goal of raising at least $250.


photo by Lillis Ward

Velinda sums up Special Olympics this way: “It is a blessing that we have this program in our county.  It gives these kids – I call them all kids regardless of age – a way to get together with their peers and have fun in an environment where they aren’t judged by what they can’t do.  Eric is fortunate.  If he didn’t have Special Olympics he would still get to bowl with his dad or go to ballgames.  Many of the others aren’t that lucky.  This program helps keep them active, and provides the social and physical outlets they need for healthy lives.”

polar plunge

Want to help?  In addition to registering for the Polar Plunge or donating online, feel free to contact the following volunteers to see how you can contribute to this program.

BJ Edwards     336-306-4555

Linda Tucker  336-372-5432

Lillis Ward      336-529-3133



Get Outside Mountain Relay

gomrJune 2, 2017 will usher in the inaugural running of the Get Outside Mountain Relay (GOMR).  Runners will be treated to scenic mountain backroads flanked by thousands of Frasier Firs and farms that have been tended by the same families for decades.  The winding route will cover 104 miles of Alleghany County landscape that ranges from the high ridgelines of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the New River bottom lands.

Teams will be comprised of 4 to 12 individual runners.  The 104 mile route will be broken into 18 separate legs with an exchange point at each leg.  Depending on team size, each runner will run 3 to 9 legs.  Teams will cover the course twice for a total of 208 miles.


So, what sets GOMR apart from similar races?  Other relays have a point to point route and requires teams to provide their own transportation during the race.  This leads to team members often being strung out along the length of the relay and spending little time together.  GOMR organizers will provide transportation to and from each exchange point, resulting in cost savings for the team.  Since GOMR has a circular route, teams will be provided a campsite that serves as a hub or base.  This base camp will have a festival atmosphere where runners can interact with local artisans, food vendors, volunteers and other teams.  The desire is to create a strong sense of community between the teams and local citizens as together they form the “GOMR Nation.”

“Community” is a word that comes up often when talking with race organizers Donny and Wendy McCall.  The course covers virtually all communities in Alleghany County.  The McCalls anticipate 300 Alleghany County residents volunteering to make this race a reality.  They want runners to get a feel for the varied landscape of Alleghany County and the warmth of its residents.

Donny is known by many for his appearance on the reality television show, Shark Tank.  As he pitched his idea to the venture capitalists, a recurring theme was his desire to use his business as means of adding to the economic vitality of Alleghany County.  That unwavering commitment to the community and Donny’s unwillingness to outsource production elements of his product frustrated the sharks who were focused on the company’s bottom line.  His refusal to bend led to numerous blogs, articles and this ABC report that debated the merits of his steadfast desire to have his product made in America.  Donny’s focus on social entrepreneurship have carried over to GOMR.

The McCall’s desire is for GOMR to provide an economic “shot in the arm” for Alleghany County.  Their goal is to bring 100 teams – 1000 runners – to Alleghany County for the weekend.  They hope those runners have such an enjoyable time that they return to bike those same backroads, take a float trip down the New River, start a business, or listen to some of the finest traditional music in the region.

The Get Outside Mountain Relay is much more that a race.  It is a chance to be a part of something new and a way to exchange the hot temperatures of the lowlands for cool Alleghany evenings.  It is a way to explore a mountain community up close and personal.  Most of all, it will be a weekend where a new running community formed.


For more information on the Get Outside Mountain Relay, visit their website here.  You can email them at or talk with them by phone at 336-363-4984.  Or you follow them on Facebook.

Click here for registration information and discount deadlines.

For more information on Alleghany County visit their website here.

Material for this blog first appeared in the Alleghany News.


Hannah Brady – Honey Bee Cuttery

img_4572Twenty-six year old Hannah Brady is continuing a tradition as old as the mountains of Alleghany County – the home based business.  Throughout the decades, rural women have supplemented the family income in a variety of ways.  For some it was as simple as selling surplus eggs or freshly churned butter.  Others took in sewing or sold hand-stitched quilts.  It was in this same spirit that Hannah launched her business, Honey Bee Cuttery, in January 2016.  In a short 12 months, she has seen it grow beyond her expectations.

Hannah’s family moved to Alleghany County from Beech Mountain when she was ten years old.  Her father, Troy Ward, is a carpenter and her mother, Andrea, owned a landscaping business and each fall she operated a pumpkin and Christmas tree lot in Wilmington, NC.  Both parents installed a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit in Hannah and her brother, Austin.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany High School, Hannah served as student body president, played volleyball and was on the swim team.  Her next stop was the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill where she received a degree in teaching.  She then returned to Alleghany County where she taught biology and general science at Sparta Elementary School before moving on to the high school as a biology teacher.  She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Appalachian State University.

Hannah’s mom became ill and battled cancer for 13 months.  Andrea had always been active so when she was sick, the family searched for ways to help keep her busy.  One item they used was a borrowed craft vinyl cutter.  Hannah and her mom spent valuable time together focusing their creative energies on intricate paper and vinyl designs.


T-shirt by Honey Bee Cuttery

Hannah’s mom passed away in 2011.  Hannah took over operation of the Wilmington tree lot for two seasons.  There she learned the value of developing networks within the community.  One repeat customer was former Boston Red Sox star, Trot Nixon.  Hannah remains friends with him and his family.  She also gained firsthand experience of the importance of marketing and customer service.

As she developed these business skills, she saw a possibility of taking her hobby of vinyl cutting to the next level.  She invested in a computerized craft cutter.  This enabled her to put her designs in an electronic format which are then sent to an automated cutter.  This process allowed her to do custom work in small quantities.  She began experimenting with apparel, decals, tumblers and Christmas ornaments.


Christmas ornaments by Honey Bee Cuttery


Easter totes by Honey Bee Cuttery

She knew from her days on the tree lot that having great products is only part of a successful business.  She also had to connect with customers.  To do that, Hannah formed an Etsy store so she can sell to customers online.  She pitched her products to the Alleghany High School Athletic Booster Club as a way for parents to promote the school and recognize their individual students. Because of the customized nature of her products, her Facebook page has become her biggest source of orders.  Approximately 90% of her sales are generated online.  10-15% of her customers are from outside Alleghany County and that number is growing.  She sums up her business strategy simply as her desire to, “Have a quality product at a reasonable price so that people can afford to shop local.”

Hannah is quick to give her husband, Chris, credit for much of her success.  Chris is a middle school teacher at Sparta Elementary.  He not only gives moral support to Hannah’s efforts, he often lends a hand to help with orders.



Custom mortar boards for graduates by Honey Bee Cuttery

There is a notion in rural areas that all the best and brightest young people have left for city life.  Hannah embodies the fallacy is that statement.  The former student body president, graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Alleghany High teacher, expectant mother, who will graduate with a master’s degree in education this spring, somehow still finds time to manage her growing business.

Those women who sold eggs and quilts paved the way for contemporary women like Hannah Brady to carry that entrepreneurial tradition forward.  Across our county, young women, as well as men, are taking over family farms and opening small businesses.  They are guiding canoe trips, pouring gourmet coffee, working as welding contractors and tending to our medical needs.  Where some see obstacles, they see opportunities.  These young people are making a difference in our community.  While many of our youth do leave, not all of the best and brightest have crossed the county line.  If we open our eyes, we will see that like Hannah, they have been here all along.


View Honey Bee Cuttery’s products on their Facebook page by following this link

Or contact Hannah Brady by email at


Mitzi Biggins – Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery


Mitzi Biggins

Mitzi Biggins has been baking her entire life.  The Alleghany native enjoys taking a variety of individual ingredients, mixing them together, subjecting the mixture to heat, and then seeing a customer enjoy the new creation. This October she decided to channel her passion for food and people into a business venture, Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery.  In hindsight it is clear that Mitzi’s life journey has set her up for success.

Mitzi grew up just outside of Sparta.  As is the case with many young people, she heeded the siren call to experience life outside her childhood home and ended up in California at age 17.  One day, a friend came up with free tickets to Disneyland.  They spent the day at the park where Mitzi met a young man from nearby Anaheim, Dan Biggins.  After a year in California, Mitzi decided it was time to head home to Sparta.  Dan came with her and they have been married for the last 34 years.

In 2000, Mitzi, began a culinary course through Wilkes Community College.  It seemed a natural fit given her love of cooking. When her father became terminally ill, she had to drop out of the program to help with her dad.  She then spent some time working with the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.  And many Alleghany residents may remember Mitzi from her ten years as the owner and operator of All Things Catering.  These experiences, along with helping Dan with his business, Roupe Brothers Electric, Heating and Plumbing, have given Mitzi and unique skill set to launch a business.  But, starting a new business always comes with challenges.


Rosemary Walnut Cake

First is the challenge of starting a retail business in a small community.  With a population of roughly 11,000 people, Alleghany County presents a retail business with a small customer base.  Second, her business is currently home-based. While working from home can create trials, Mitzi is quick to point out that Martha Stewart got her start working out of her basement.  Finally, Mitzi realizes that her product line contains items that may be new to some residents.  One of her favorite items is Baklava.  Since some people aren’t familiar with the Mediterranean dish, it is one of Mitzi’s staples when sharing samples with various organizations.



Even though she is faced with myriad challenges, Mitzi has well defined business goals.  She envisions growing into a Main Street business with repeat customers who feel satisfied and valued.  She plans to launch a gluten-free product line.  The Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College is helping guide her through the business end of her enterprise through classes, and individual, one on one business counseling.  And she has her eyes set on developing a customer base that extends beyond Alleghany County.  Luna Marketing, an Alleghany based marketing business, will help Mitzi develop her marketing strategy.


Apple Walnut with caramel glaze

A recent exciting development for Mitzi is an invitation to setup a display in Williams and Sonoma.  This national chain based in California, sells kitchenware and home furnishings.  Mitzi will be at the Winston Salem location on December 17 from noon until 3:00 pm in the Hanes Mall.

Baking is a fitting metaphor for how small communities like Alleghany County creates economic vitality.  The mixing of familiar, perhaps even common, individual ingredients to create something new doesn’t just apply to baking cakes – it describes what it takes to grow our local economy.  Both require experimentation and innovation to reach a broader audience.

Mitzi Biggins is doing more than baking delicious cakes and pastries.  She is modeling how to take smart risks and test new ideas.  It is a trait that is Absolutely Alleghany.


For current pricing or to place orders, call Mitzi at 336-830-3735.

Visit her Facebook page at Ms. Mitzi’s Bakery