A long-time Ashe County teacher and community advocate, Maude Evelyn (McNeil) Calhoun, died on Feb. 2, at Ashe Assisted Living and Memory Care.
Calhoun was born Nov. 30, 1934, in Ashe County to the late Smith and Bessie Turner McNeil. In addition to her parents she was also preceded in death by her husband, Bernard Calhoun and sister-in-law Jeannie McNeil.
She is survived by, her son, Bob Calhoun, and wife, Laura, of Lansing, her daughter, Brenda Day and husband, Bobby Joe of Shelby, her brother, Fred McNeil of Crumpler, her sister, Mary Dollar and husband, Joe, of Lansing, sister–in-law and caregiver, Imogene Ham, seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, several nieces and nephews
Calhoun was a member of Phoenix Baptist Church where she taught Sunday school for 66 years and was a 4-H leader for several years. She loved crafts, flowers, traveling, working in her yard and bird watching.
Calhoun’s legacy will live on as she is remembered for her impact on the children of Ashe County as a teacher, her energetic personality and her passion for the local arts community.
During the Ashe County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 3, Chairman Todd McNeill mentioned the passing of Calhoun, his aunt, during the commissioner comments.
At that time, he also mentioned Calhoun’s great involvement in the community.
“I’m not mentioning her in the comments because it’s my aunt, but rather because she was a champion of Ashe County for a lot of years. And it’s entirely likely, if not certain, if not for her efforts that the Ashe County Civic Center and a whole lot of other things would not have come,” Chairman McNeill said. “So aside from being my aunt, Ashe County lost one of our very best yesterday.”
Calhoun’s son, Bob, shared his memories of his mother and commended her for her persistance. He also described how his father, Bernard, put all of the seats in and was responsible for all of the painting and landscaping work at the Civic Center.
“I don’t think anybody realized what an asset it would be to the community, but mom had that vision years ago and that’s why she pushed so hard to get it done,” Bob Calhoun said.
Jane Lonon, who served as executive director of the Ashe County Arts Council for 31 years, shared her memories of Calhoun’s personality and passion.
“Maude Calhoun was a bulldog when it came to her passionate desire to build the Ashe Civic Center. She had a vision and she poured her heart and soul into bringing it to fruition,” Lonon said. “Ashe County is so fortunate to have a facility the caliber of our Civic Center; it was a long time coming and Maude was at the foundation of making it happen. Ashe County was fortunate to have had Maude Calhoun.”
She fondly remembers being in the presence of Calhoun, who always had a smile on her face and an infectious laugh.
“I enjoyed being around Maude and Bernard. He was always at her side and their partnership was such an inspiration,” Lonon said.
Eva Ingle has also contributed much of her life to service. Some local organizations which Ingle has been involved in are the boards of the National Committee for the New River, the Paul and Florence Thomas Memorial Art School and the Ashe Civic Center.
Ingle has also played a large role in organizing the Blue Ridge Brutal Bike Race.
In the late 1990s, Ingle worked with Calhoun because she served on the board for the Civic Center.
A group of people in the 1980s wanted a theater in the county to have Broadway shows and they wanted a small space to hold 300 seats. According to Ingle, something happened where the group had raised money and then had run out of funds.
During this time, Calhoun was on the Civic Center’s committee and a new group formed and she was put in charge of fundraising.
Ingle said that Calhoun owned the new position and she held a Christmas holiday house tour and a Benny Parsons golf tournament, where golfers could come and play golf with Parsons.
Ingle recalls Calhoun asking everybody she could for money because she was determined to get the Civic Center up and running.
According to Ingle, Calhoun was always on the lookout for fundraising opportunities, and during this time she met a man from Florida. He suggested hosting a charity bike race, which would be timed but would have no winners or prizes.
Calhoun took his advice and in August 1990 she set out to start what is now known as the Blue Ridge Brutal.
“She started this on her own, not being a biker or knowing anything about bikes. And she enlisted the help of Dr. Elam Kurtz,” Ingle said.
Kurtz was a physician and avid biker who was responsible for designing the first 100 mile course which began in Glendale Springs, followed the Blue Ridge Parkway into Virginia, and returned on Highway 16, including the old steel bridge on Highway 16, then back to Glendale Springs.
Ingle also wrote a story in 2010 about the history of the Blue Ridge Brutal to commemorate its 20th anniversary. The story titled “Early Days of the Blue Ridge Brutal Bike Ride” gives a detailed the efforts of Calhoun and Kurtz.
In the early 2000s, Calhoun resigned from her position at the Civic Center but did not retire. Instead she became a substitute teacher at the local elementary schools and the middle school.
“Her spirit, oh my goodness, it was just great. And another thing I loved about Maude is she always looked wonderful. She dressed beautifully, she always had her hair done, she always had on matching jewelry. I mean she looked great,” Ingle said in her recollections of Calhoun.
According to the news story written by Ingle, some people refer to the Ashe Civic Center as “The house that Maude built.”
The LED sign, which is used to announce shows and is located near the top of the building and faces Hwy. 221 featured a special message.
The message read “Thank You Maude 1934-2020.”