WEST JEFFERSON — In celebration of her 38-year commitment to the arts in Ashe County, hundreds gathered to honor the now-retired Ashe County Arts Council Executive Director Jane Lonon on Sunday, June 30, at the Ashe Civic Center.
The celebration began at 2 p.m. with a reception in the main lobby and live music performed by Wayne Henderson and Helen White on the lawn. Following the reception, a program was held in the auditorium of the Ashe Civic Center.
Ed Perzel, President of the Ashe County Arts Council, welcomed guests at the start of the program, saying that the day served as an opportunity to publicly thank Lonon for almost four decades of involvement in the Arts Council.
Perzel then read a letter from Gov. Roy Cooper recognizing Lonon for her dedication.
“North Carolina is proud to have people such as you who are committed to doing their utmost for the betterment of our communities,” the letter read. “Thank you for your leadership and your many contributions to the arts in our state.”
Lonon also received recognition from the North Carolina state legislature as Rep. Ray Russell read a proclamation from the N.C. General Assembly.
“Whereas, Jane Lonon’s vision, leadership and diligence has created a legacy organization that will have lasting impact on the economy and culture of Ashe County and its residents,” the proclamation reads.
Russell added that Lonon’s example goes beyond her involvement with literary, visual and performing arts.
“She has inspired us because of who she is,” Russell said. “She has inspired us with her dedication and her creativity — and her sweet spirit.”
A number of notable speakers took to the stage during the program to thank Lonon and share memories they’ve made with her throughout her lengthy career serving in the community.
Aside from her previous role as Executive Director of the Arts Council, Lonon also serves on various boards and committees throughout the High Country. Perzel listed each committee and board, including the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, Ashe Memorial Hospital Foundation, West Jefferson Business Association, Boone’s Appalachian Theater, Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center and others.
“Meanwhile, she performed her day job — making arts a fundamental and highly visible part of the daily life of Ashe Countians,” Perzel said.
West Jefferson Alderman Stephen Shoemaker also spoke of Lonon’s impact on West Jefferson and Ashe County as a whole. He noted not just her influence on the arts in the county, but also on the economy.
“Jane turned the light on,” Shoemaker said. “Ashe County and West Jefferson have become a destination.”
Chairman Todd McNeill of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners also recognized Lonon’s impact on the community, sharing how he has watched Ashe County and West Jefferson grow because of Lonon’s efforts.
“I have personally made a commitment that I will never complain about having to circle the block for a parking space,” McNeill said, “because I can very well remember the days when you could parallel park a tractor trailer downtown with no trouble.”
McNeill added that Lonon’s work in the Arts Council created a ripple effect through the economy of the entire county.
“While we’re all excited for Jane, Grady and the family, and her days of leisure ahead,” McNeill said, “she will certainly be missed in her role as director.”
Wayne Martin, Executive Director of the N.C. Arts Council, also took to the stage to share remarks about Lonon and her impact on the arts community across the state. Martin spoke of the many arts council in North Carolina, but he said that Ashe County is unique.
“This arts council — Ashe County — is the gold standard for arts councils,” Martin said, “and we all know why. It’s all about leadership.”
Lonon is one of the longest serving directors in the state, Martin added, saying that she has always been an effective leader, whether it be on the local, regional or state level.
Following Martin’s remarks, the program featured a music performance from The Smart Ashes, as well as a music tribute from Connie Hardison, Kathy Howell, Sharon Kasel and Becky Marsten.
After the music performances, Wayne Johnson, treasurer of the Arts Council, announced the Jane Lonon Legacy Fund, which will award a grant of up to $2,500 a year to a project that features the fine arts and heritage arts of the Appalachians.
At the end of the program, Lonon was asked to share a few words. She thanked the transition team, Board of Directors and Arts Council staff.
“I’ve hugged most of your necks. I’ve shaken your hands. Some of us have cried together — we’ve laughed together,” Lonon said, “and I just wanted to officially say thank you.”
Lonon’s plans for retirement include traveling with her husband Grady Lonon, reading and gardening.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Lonon wrote in a letter included with the program. “I’ll still be here enjoying all that Ashe County has to offer.”