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Remembering Gary Poe: County loses historic host and entertainer

WEST JEFFERSON — Gary Poe, host of WKSK’s famed Ole Time and Bluegrass Music Show, historian and beloved member of the Ashe County community, died Wednesday, July 21, in West Jefferson.

Though most know Poe through his passion for mountain music, many recall Poe’s time as an educator in the Ashe County Public School System.

Poe began teaching chemistry at Beaver Creek High School and moved on to teach science at Ashe Central High School. Following his retirement in 1995, he pursued a career in radio, devoting all of his time to the research and perpetuation of old-time string music, bluegrass and traditional shape-note singing.

Poe hosted the Ole Time and Bluegrass Music Show on Saturday mornings, which aired “just a little after 11,” he always said.

“Radio perfectly coincided with Poe’s huge love for music and teaching,” Marty Norris said.

Marty “IT” Norris was a producer on Poe’s show from its first day on air in 1998. Sitting across the control board from Norris, Poe relied on a team of WKSK producers to play the songs, while he gave insight into the history and origins of artists from Wayne Henderson to Herb Key.

“He was a walking encyclopedia of bluegrass and old time music,” Norris said.

Norris accompanied Poe to all of his live events from shows at the Ashe County Civic Center with local bands, such as Rock Bottom Bluegrass band to the fiddler’s convention in Galax, Virginia. Poe’s natural ability to build rapport with artists from was a testament to his friendly character. “He put a lot of those guys on the map,” Norris said.

In its earliest days, Poe’s radio show drew from his extensive personal collection of old time string and bluegrass music.

“My goodness, what a library he had,” Norris said. During the years, Poe contributed more than 5,000 musical selections to WKSK.

A true historian of the area and its ties to old-time music, Poe could tell anyone anything they wanted to know about mountain music, earning him an international audience.

“Gary didn’t just have these guys on as guests, they were friends with Gary and the way they worked together on stage; they could make everything flow,” Norris said. “You could sit and listen to it all day long.” Poe had listeners tuning in as far as Germany, according to Norris.

Poe’s colleagues at WKSK, West Jefferson’s local radio station, recall helping him transition from CDs to digital in the early 2000s. Always eager to learn something new, Poe took the technology well and was eventually able to manage the control system and the computers on his own. In 2002, Poe debuted a Monday night show in addition to his show on Saturday morning.

Poe spent as much time as an MC and radio host as he did being a friend to members out in the community. A familiar face, in Hardee’s and the Bantam Chef, Poe “never met a stranger,” Nathan Roland said.

Roland worked alongside Norris, prepping and producing Poe’s radio shows beginning in 1999.

According to Roland, Poe was instrumental in the preservation of the historic 1904 Ashe County Courthouse. Poe initiated a rescue of the facility; advocating for the rehabilitation and conversion of the building into the Museum of Ashe County History.

Poe later became a member of the county museum’s board, serving as chair of the events committee for several years.

Lonnie Jones, who knew Poe since the ‘70s and sat alongside him on the museum’s board, said Poe was a valuable companion over the years, helping to organize and arrange music for several events, many of which raised money for community members in need.

“Gary was a very generous person. He’d say, ‘I don’t have a lot of money, but I got enough to do this,’” Jones said, recalling the time Poe purchased two computers for the Ashe County Historical Society. One of the computers is used to store a collection of images of Ashe County.

In 2016, Poe was one of three people awarded the Governor’s Medallion for his volunteer work in Ashe County. He received similar recognition in 2011.

“His listeners were not only our audience, but our family, and he looked out for them,” Graham Caddell, who works at WKSK said.

Caddell recalls an event Poe helped organize during the winter months, which raised money for community members who struggling to pay their electric bill. He wanted to be sure that everyone was able to keep the heat on in their home during the colder season.

Jones said, adding that the pandemic had taken a toll on Poe’s social life; he had been lonely and was glad places were beginning to open back up.

“We’re going to miss his dedication and his dry humor,” Jones said. “He’s hard to replace.”

The Ashe County Museum board plans to honor Poe with the naming of one of the spaces in the facility, Jones said.

“He was a good friend and a wonderful person. Everybody that knew him, loved him,” said Don Long, curator of the Museum of Ashe County History and longtime friend of Poe. “He had a unique personality, and one that was very engaging. If you were around him for very long then you got to appreciate his humanity and his personality.”

Poe’s legacy will live on at WKSK, where staff plan to continue airing the Ole Time and Bluegrass Music Show on Saturday mornings.

Ashe Post & Times reporter Andrew Cole contributed to this story.

Fiddlers Fest: Ashe County Arts Council holds day of traditional music in Ashe County Park

JEFFERSON — Fun, sun and the traditional music of Appalachia were the name of the game on July 24, during the Ashe County Arts Council’s Fiddler’s Fest. The family friendly, all-day event was created by arts council to provide an outlet for local musicians following a year of hindered live performances due to COVID-19.

“Our purpose of doing it, was to help local bands and musicians get back to live performances,” said Rebecca Williams, program director of the Ashe County Arts Council. “We wanted to support the local music community by having a event where they could play.”

The Fiddle Fest — which was held in lieu of the annual Bluegrass and Old-time Fiddler’s Convention this year — was held at the Ashe County Park and saw performances from eight regional acts, such as the Cabin Creek Boys, Bryon Osborne and the Ashe Mountain Boys, Martha Spencer and Larry Sigmon and an outstanding opening performance by the Junior Appalachian Musicians Program’s (JAM) master band, the Ashe Mountain Ramblers.

“I’m very proud of them, they’ve come a long way. They have, in a lot of ways have started to surpass their teachers,” said Chris Testerman, a longtime instructor of the JAM Program. “It’s a good opportunity for the kids to be able to perform, see other musicians and maybe pick up a thing or two.”

Other musicians who performed during Saturday’s festivities were the Crooked Road Ramblers, Trish Kibly Fore & The Blue Ridge Wildcats, Cabin Creek Bluegrass and the Jeff Little Trio.

The talented crop of musicians performed at various times throughout the day, beginning around noon and continuing to 7:45 p.m. that afternoon. The festival also hosted a Live Radio Show with WKSK that morning, beginning just a little bit after 11 a.m.

“It’s great to see everyone, it’s great to be playing music. I missed everyone a lot this past year so its great to be out making some music,” said Martha Spencer, one of the musicians who performed throughout the day. “I grew up going to festivals like this, so I think it’s a really important thing. I work with JAM passing on the traditions, it’s a great thing. Just a real, live, cultural tradition we have here and I think its a real important thing to pass on.”

The Fiddler’s Fest saw an estimated 250 visitors stop by the event throughout the day, and raised around $2,000 which will benefit Ashe County’s Junior Appalachian Musicians Program.

Sponsors for the all day event included Blue Ridge Energy, Reeves DiVenere Wright Attorneys at Law, American Emergency Vehicles, The Ashe Civic Center, Scott Harris Guitar Shop, and Radio WKSK. The Ashe County Arts Council also expressed its appreciation to Ashe County Parks & Rec Department for allowing them to use the park’s grounds for their events.

“They maintain such a beautiful park out there,” said Williams. “They are so accommodating to us, they allow us to come out there to have a festival, or the fiddler’s convention, or the Friday nights in the park concerts, and they’re just wonderful to work with and so supportive of what we do.”

To learn more about the Ashe County Arts Council and its upcoming events visit ashecountyarts.org/.

Rendezvous with destiny: Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrated in annual dinner

LANSING — The Ashe County Democratic Party, along with members, local residents and special guests, filled the seats of the barn at the Lansing Creeper Trail Park on Friday, July 23, in celebration of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This annual dinner put on by the party has become a staple in Ashe County, around 71 people attending this year alone. It consists of a catered dinner, this year from Kristin’s Hook’d on Smoke, speeches from the party president and special guests and an all-around social for the party’s members.

To begin the dinner, party president Ralph Sorrell opened up with a few words on FDR.

“At the height of the great depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president and implemented the new deal which included social security, bank deposit insurance, established ledger laws such as minimum wage and an average 44 hour work week. There is so much more he has done as president and I could go on for hours and still not cover everything. Roosevelt recognized that everyone had skills and talents that contribute to a vibrant society and need to be employed.” said Sorrell.

“Here we are, 2021, still dealing with a worldwide pandemic that has seen the biggest help in economic setback the world has seen since the great depression. Now with our new president, we’re back to doing things to help average Americans get back to work and thrive. FDR would be proud, after all his second bill of rights included the right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation and he right for every family to have a decent home,” Sorrell said.

To continue, Sorrell then presented the inaugural FDR award which honors some of the “old guard” who have not only worked to grow the party, but Ashe County itself.

Delmus Parker was honored as the first recipient of the award. Parker is a lifelong educator after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Appalachian State University. He became a public school teacher in elementary, middle and high school, finding himself at Millers Creek Middle School for a good share of his career. Parker is also listed on the “who’s who” in American politics.

Parker was the Ashe Party chair for most of the ‘90s and ran for Congress in the 10th district in 2000. Currently, Parker sits as the vice chair for the Democratic party in Forsyth.

As a part of the award, the party donated $100 to the organization of Parker’s choice, which was the Ashe Historical Society.

“I deeply appreciate the honor you’ve given me here tonight,” said Parker. “I don’t know that I’m deserving of it, but I do appreciate it dearly.”

Parker went on to tell stories from when he was a kid, living during Roosevelt’s presidency. He also stated that the world we’re living in is requiring mankind’s help.

“This generation has a rendezvous with destiny. We’re at the tipping point. Climate change, the condition of our planet, racism, militarism. All these things are confronting us today and we can’t hide from them. We need to stand up to be good examples for other nations in the world.

“FDR cast a long shadow over this country. He couldn’t lift himself up out of a wheel chair: he lifted up a whole nation. He made us secure. These are some of the reasons in why I started again with the FDR dinners.”

Sorrell the introduced the keynote speaker for the night, NC House Representative Brian Turner.

“You can’t drive up here to Ashe County without seeing the good works of FDR,” Turner said. “WPA, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the roads and the bridges. You can’t miss the change he implemented on the way the world works. America invested in itself and it lifted millions out of poverty. It set the foundation to make this nation great.

“We need to think about tearing down those fences that prevent equitable opportunity for our citizens. We can’t have a fully functioning society and economy unless we have equitable opportunity. We can’t have a system that works when you can’t take a job because you can’t afford child care. We need to make sure we have a system where people aren’t afraid to follow their dreams and passions. There is so much potential in us and this country, we just need the political will to use it.”

BOC says public hearing for new middle school will be held on August 2

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners met in regular session on Monday, July 19 in the third floor courtroom of the Ashe County Courthouse.

Those in attendance were Vice Chair William Sands, Chuck Olive, Jerry Powers and Jonathan Jordan. Chair Todd McNeill was unable to attend due to previous time conflicts, therefore Vice Chair Sands led the meeting.

The meeting began with DSS Director Tracie Downer presenting a monthly departmental update, requesting approval for the Energy Programs Outreach plan as well as the reinstatement of an employee’s sick leave.

For the plan, approximately $100,000 is provided through federal funds and Downer stated that no county money will go towards the program. It was then approved by the commissioners.

Downer said that the number of foster children and wards are approximately the same which they continue to serve to lower the numbers. She also requested 67.6 hours of sick leave for a returning employee. The time was approved by the board.

Tax Administrator Chris Lambert then provided a monthly tax report to the board and stated that bills have been coming in since the beginning of July.

“We’ve had three thousand transactions and have collected over $2 million,” said Lambert.

County Manager Adam Stumb then presented the financing authorization resolution which will be the first step in funding for the new middle school. It will layout that there will be a public hearing at the next BOC meeting, August 2, at the Venue of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce.

Financing will be $47 million in addition to the $15 million of lottery grants provided by the Ashe County Board of Education. Stumb said the county is committed to paying that amount back over the next 20 years.

“We’re not locked in yet, but we’re getting closer as we move forward with the plan,” said Stumb. “The school intends to have bids back by mid August so we’ll have a better idea of what the final cost will be for the project.”

Powers said that they have looked into using some of their COVID-19 relief money to install the HVAC system, which was met with resistance from the Board of Education.

“I think that we should appropriate that money which can be used for that,” said Powers. “We should do everything in our power to see that the completion date is completed in a timely manner. The money needs to be set aside, intended for and encouraged for that project to keep the ball rolling.”

Approval for the final price will be set around mid September after bids are in.

The board then discussed the previous delays in the project and hope to resolve future situations in order to save time and money.

Sands said that supply costs and building materials have began to drop which he hopes will work in their favor.

The hearing and authorization resolution was approved by the board.