George Gentry, simply known as “Tobe,” has many stories to tell: 22 total years of military service took him through France and Germany in World War II, peacetime Korea and Vietnam.
Gentry was born in 1928 in Maben, a small, unincorporated community in West Virginia. His family moved to Ashe County when he was young, partly due to family in the area, but mainly because it offered a warmer climate.
Gentry is a United States Army man through-and-through. The 90-year-old is one of six family members to have served in the Army, and takes a great deal of pride in his more than two decades years of service.
“It means a lot,” Gentry said. “It’s like a family business. My brother and I served at the same time. We actually ran into each other once in Saigon. Can you imagine that? I’m in Vietnam, and just see him across the street!”
Gentry joined the military when he felt the call to action after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He said he was about 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed only 127 pounds, but it wasn’t stopping him.
Gentry spent a few years out of service after the Korean war, before coming back into active duty when the U.S. engaged in the Vietnam War.
One of Gentry’s favorite moments from his career was when he was stopped by a soldier in Vietnam.
“A young soldier walked up to me and said, ‘Do you know who I am,’’ Gentry said. “I had to tell him I didn’t, couldn’t remember him at all. He said, ‘You were my second drill sergeant when I was in training. I just wanted to thank you and say hello. Me and those 12 (soldiers) are going home tomorrow.’ I didn’t realize at the time that he thought I saved his life. He was going home, and wanted to thank me for it.”
In his career, he became a platoon sergeant, a senior drill sergeant, a first sergeant before retiring in 1969 as a master sergeant. He retired with two Bronze stars and pride he carries with him to this day.
Since retiring, Gentry said he’s just spent time enjoying life and writing poetry.
JEFFERSON — Mirroring the Charters of Freedom in Washington, D.C., the words of the United States Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights are etched in bronze, encased in brick and enshrined behind unbreakable glass for generations to come outside the Ashe County Courthouse.
Foundation Forward, a nonprofit based in Morganton, gifted the setting of these integral American documents — collectively known as the Charters of Freedom — to Ashe County amid ceremonies in front of several dozen children, citizens, veterans and public servants, serenaded by the Ashe County High School Band in the courthouse on Monday, Nov. 5.
According to Foundation Forward Founder Vance Patterson, Ashe is the 17th community across the United States to receive such a setting, with the other 16 residing elsewhere in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois and as far west as Carson City, Nevada. Patterson said the nonprofit’s long-term goal is to place as many Charters of Freedom settings as possible across the United States’ 3,142 counties, boroughs, parishes, independent cities and census zones.
“We believe this gives us a direct link to our founding fathers by helping to preserve what it is they gave this country — a government to serve and protect we the people,” Patterson said. “From the beginning, this has been about education.”
Construction began on Ashe County’s setting, built to last between 300 and 500 years, in August, Ashe Post & Times previously reported. At its core, the setting is made of reinforced concrete buried roughly three feet underground, weighing more than 19 tons, Patterson said.
A vault in the back of the center setting will soon be sealed off, containing a time capsule to be opened along with the other Charters of Freedom settings on the 300th anniversary of the United States Constitution Sept. 17, 2087.
“This is not a memorial — this is an active, hands-on educational supplement for your schools’ curriculum,” Patterson said. “Imagine if you will, teachers bringing their third, fourth and fifth grade classes down here for annual field trips to learn a little about our founding fathers, a little about the documents and some about the government — federal, state and local — and while they’re here they can learn about local heroes.”
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and members of N.C. congress Deanna Ballard and Jonathan Jordan spoke prior to Patterson, along with West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price, all introduced by acting Ashe County Manager Adam Stumb, singing praises of the new structure.
Prior to closing the ceremony by reading off the U.S. Constitution’s seven articles to the drumroll of Sabrina Brooks and booming bass drum of Ethan Grooms, Patterson gifted the setting’s certificate of title to Ashe County Board of Commissioners Chairman William Sands, providing Ashe County with an entirely new attraction at no cost to its taxpayers.
“Let’s do this — you take your son, your daughter, your grandchildren, your niece, your nephew or other family member over here to your Charters of Freedom setting, and you have ‘the talk,’” Patterson said. “Tell them about their freedoms and their rights, and how those freedoms and rights give them an advantage over most of the rest of the world to pursue their passion, to follow their dreams and to accomplish in life what it is they want to get out of it. You do that, and we’ll call it even.”
ASHE COUNTY — Election Day for North Carolina’s 2018 midterm elections was Tuesday, Nov. 6, and voters continued turning out to the polls at each of Ashe County’s 17 precincts, as they had been since early voting began in mid-October.
By noon on Election Day, West Jefferson precinct chief judge Henry Doss said the Ashe County Arts building had been busy all morning.
“This is the highest turnout I’ve seen during an off-season election in 10 years working the polls,” Doss said.
Around 2 p.m., Jefferson precinct chief judge Kathy Bower said turnout was good at the Jefferson Fire Department.
“We’ve had 434 that have voted, which is pretty good,” Bower said. “We know that this precinct had over 1,200 vote early, so when you think about 1,200 who already voted and then 400 who voted here, we’re at half of our voters — I think it’s about like what we would expect, and we’ve got several hours left.”
Bower said she expected between 800 and 1,000 to vote before the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
Warrensville precinct chief judge Warren Miller said, “We have around 1,240 voters registered in this precinct, 429 of them voted early and 260 have voted here today, getting closer to 50 percent with several hours to go.”
Miller said the Warrensville precinct had seen steady turnout through 2 p.m.
“There’s only been one or two times for a couple minutes when there wasn’t anybody in here,” Miller said. “Everything’s going smooth.”
One-stop early voting ended Saturday, Nov. 3 for North Carolina’s 2018 midterm elections, with much higher early voter turnout than usual for a midterm election cycle, according to Ashe County Board of Elections Director John Shepherd.
According to Shepherd, 5,619 Ashe County voters submitted their ballots at the Ashe County Board of Elections Office during the 15-day early voting period. Including mail-ins, military and overseas absentee voting, the total Ashe County ballot count ahead of Election Day was 5,865 — a total turnout of more than 30 percent, much higher than most midterms after the early voting period, Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he did not know why early voter turnout was so high this midterm, but added that the other 70 percent of registered Ashe County voters who waited for Election Day would ultimately determine voter turnout figures.
“I don’t know how the higher turnout here is going to affect the precincts on Election Day,” Shepherd said. “We’ll know whether it’s really a higher turnout on Election Day based on the total number of voters.”
The 2014 midterm election saw more than 52 percent Ashe County voter participation, according to North Carolina State Board of Elections data.
For full Election Day coverage and live results, visit ashepostandtimes.com.
TODD — A house in the Todd community is a total loss after a Nov. 5 evening fire that kept crews on scene for approximately five hours, according to Ashe County Fire Marshal Bob Davis.
Davis said the call came in at 6:08 p.m. Monday for a house fully engulfed in flames at 320 Todd Railroad Grade Road. The owner of the home, Ricky Penley, according to Davis, and a woman weren’t home at the time of the fire. Davis said the two were the only two living in the home. No injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, Davis said. Part of the home was at least 100 years old with pieces built on over time, he said. Davis added that his office would be investigating the incident and may be able to find a cause by sometime next week.
According to Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, the American Red Cross is assisting the family at this time.
Multiple crews responded to the scene including Todd Fire, Fleetwood Fire, Deep Gap Fire and Ashe County Rescue.