ASHE COUNTY — In just more than seven days, Ashe County went from free of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) disease to four confirmed cases.
AppHealthCare announced the first Ashe case’s confirmation Friday, April 3, a second positive Tuesday, April 7, a third the next day and the fourth Friday, April 10.
In a release to the public, AppHealthCare encouraged those who attended a funeral service operated by Boone Family Funeral Home or visited the establishment between March 19 through April 2 to contact public health staff by calling the AppHealthCare office in Ashe at (336) 246-9449 for an interview to determine whether or not guidance about the possible need for self-quarantine would be required.
As of Monday, April 13, there have been 43 COVID-19 tests done in Ashe, according to AppHealthCare.
The next day, there were 5,024 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, according to NC DHHS. This includes eight cases in Watauga County, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in 93 counties across the state.
The number of positive cases statewide has rapidly increased since the first confirmed case in Wake County on March 3, reaching 3,000 just more than one month later.
Organizations from the international to the local level are encouraging people who feel sick or are symptomatic to stay home and receive medical treatment.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order March 14, mandating the cancelation of events of 100 people or more, because, he said, venues were not heeding guidance recommending this. Cooper later ordered March 17 the barring of dine-in options for restaurants. Takeout and delivery orders will continue.
On Monday, March 23, Cooper announced more mandated closures including gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair and nail salons, barbershops and massage therapists beginning Wednesday, March 25. In the same order, Copper barred any gatherings of more than 50 people.
Friday, March 27, Cooper issued a stay-at-home directive ordering citizens to avoid contact and slow the spread. The executive order forces the closure of businesses deemed non-essential, while essential business such as food stores, healthcare offices and home improvement stores will be allowed to stay open. The order can be read HERE.
The most recent order took effect at 5 p.m., April 13, which limits the capacity of a business to 20 percent of its maximum. The order also requires businesses to mark off a six-foot distance, the recommended distance between persons by the World Health Organization, in areas that might cause people to get close together, such as in line for registers.
Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22. The county was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.
An amendment to the county’s state of emergency declaration shortly after banned short-term rentals in the county, with the goal being a reduction in travel by non-residents. The town of Jefferson however, will not be banning short-term rentals in town limits.
The Ashe County Courthouse will remain open as usual, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office.
North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced in a press conference March 13, they are recommending all cases at the District and Superior Court levels be continued for at least one month. Beasley said it is in the public’s best interest to reduce large gatherings, and this was how the court system can support that.
The Ashe County Airport will remain open, but no public visitors are allowed. The landfill and convenience sites will remain open to the public.
A full list of county office closures and procedural changes can be found HERE.
The Town of West Jefferson announced March 16 it would be closing Town Hall to the public from March 17-31. Utility payments can still be made via the drop box located inside the first set of double doors at Town Hall using check, correct change or mail payments, and other business with the town, where possible, can be done by calling the town offices at (336) 246-3551 during normal business hours. The West Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 6, was officially postponed on March 30.
At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. As in West Jefferson, Jefferson Town Hall will continue to operate and fulfill its normal duties, and can be reached at (336) 846-9368.
According to Lansing Town Clerk Marcy Little, Lansing Town Hall has been closed. She added it is being recommended people do things over the phone at (336) 384-3938 or via the drop box located out front. The town also closed the public restrooms in the Lansing Creeper Trail Park.
Meanwhile, meetings of local government boards including different boards of aldermen and the Ashe County Board of Commissioners have seen their meetings cancelled.
On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.
Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.
Margate announced they are limiting visitation, making exceptions for cases involving significant issues, emergencies and terminally ill residents.
Forest Ridge Assisted Living announced that all visitation has been restricted, at any Ridge Care Senior Living’s assisted living and memory care communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Exceptions to these restrictions will only be made for extenuating circumstances and must be approved and scheduled by each community’s executive director. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
Joel Yates DDS, Amato Dentistry and Mountain Dental announced they would be closing for two weeks, following a recommendation from the N.C. State Board of Dental Examiners March 18.
The N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27.
Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.
These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.
The Ashe County Public Library has closed for the foreseeable future, announcing March 28 that curbside pick-up options would also be shut down.
The Ashe County Arts Council announced they have closed the Arts Center to the public. The “Young at Art” exhibit will be on display at the Gallery of the Ashe Arts Center until April 27. If anyone wishes a private viewing please contact the Arts Council at (336) 846-2787. The Arts Council has canceled all events in the foreseeable future, and are hoping to find dates to reschedule to. The Ashe County Little Theatre has postponed their next production, “Who’s On First?,” with no new date yet set.
The Florence Thomas Art School announced through June 1. The annual Flapjack Breakfast Fundraiser, all classes and scheduled events have been postponed.
Ashe County Parks and Recreation has suspended all sports leagues until further notice, refunds will be considered if leagues are eventually canceled. At the same time, Ashe Park will remain open, with extra cleaning measures put in place and visitors being encouraged to practice social distancing.
In line with major sports leagues around the world, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced Thursday, March 12, it would suspend high school athletics until at least Monday, April 6. The NCHSAA later extended the suspension until May 18.
Family Central’s park office will be closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.
MerleFest 2020 was canceled Friday, March 13, a decision made in collaboration with the town of Wilkesboro. Additional information can be found at www.merlefest.org/merlefest-2020-cancelled/ or by contacting Wilkes Community College organizers at email@example.com or by phone at (800) 343-7857.
At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive. With the exception of attorney-client meetings, all visitations at the jail are done via video call.
Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, asking for pictures to be sent and reports over the phone as a way to cut down on potential infection. Officers have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside.
According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.
Schools across the state at every level are shut down, following the executive order from Cooper. All public, K-12 schools are closed for in-person instruction until May 15.
Before Cooper’s order, the University of North Carolina system had already begun closing colleges around the state, transitioning to an online-based curriculum.
For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.
Bailey Little and Thomas Sherill contributed reporting to this story.
An overnight storm, which began during the evening hours of Easter Day, April 12, dumped several inches of rain onto Ashe County. Several residents were left stranded at their homes due to washed out or cracked roads, mudslides and downed trees.
Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill said the county received reports of most low-water bridges underwater, multiple downed trees in roadways and mudslides on Frank Dillard Road and High Drive.
According to Gambill, the fire department secured a propane tank which was floating on New River Bend South Road.
As a result of the storm, 14 low-water bridges in Ashe County are projected to be closed, to traffic from both directions, through April 15, according to information from the NCDOT Bridge Crew.
Four of the bridges are located in West Jefferson, five are in Jefferson and the other five are located in Lansing, according to data compiled by the NCDOT Bridge Crew.
Roads in West Jefferson experiencing the closure of one of these bridges are Brown Road, Methodist Camp Road, Bare Road and Hartzog Ford Road.
Roads in Jefferson experiencing the closure of a low-water bridge are North Fulton Reeves Road, Low Water Bridge Road, Mcneil Road and Campbell Road.
In Lansing, roads with the closure of a bridge due to storm damage and flooding include Roundabout Road, Lue Jones Road, Ed Little Road, Clifton Road and Teaberry Road.
All bridges, which were closed on the morning of April 13, are projected to remain closed until April 15 according to the NCDOT. The bridges located on Roundabout Road, Lue Jones Road, Ed Little Road and Teaberry Road are projected to remain closed until noon while the others are forecasted to reopen at 9 a.m.
NCDOT Highway Maintenance Engineer Ethan Osborne said on April 15 there are currently four road closures in Ashe County.
Railroad Grade Road, located 300 feet West of New River Bridge Road is currently closed while DOT forces are repairing a large mudslide.
Frank Dillard Road, located 500 feet East of Dishman Road is closed due to a large culvert being washed out.
Cranberry Springs Road, located 0.5 miles from US-221 S is closed due to a large culvert being washed out.
Dick Phillips Road, located 0.4 miles from Phillips Gap Road, is also closed to traffic because of a culvert being washed out.
The Red Cross sent out a release on April 13 regarding its response to the damage caused by the overnight storms.
The Red Cross serves 51 counties, 47 of which are in North Carolina and four in South Carolina.
According to communications director Caroline Fountain, disaster responders began answering calls at 2:40 a.m. on April 13 and had virtually responded to 10 incidents and assisted 40 individuals by 9:15 a.m. Fountain said the individuals they responded to were located in Buncombe, Macon, Henderson, Gaston, Forsyth, Catawba, Davison and Stanly counties.
“Calls continue to come in across the region and our teams are actively responding to assist displaced families. We’re also working closely with Emergency Management in Watauga County and supporting evacuations,” Fountain said in the release.
According to Fountain, disaster responders are assisting impacted families virtually due to enhanced precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
If someone has been displaced due to the storm and needs assistance, please contact 1-800-REDCROSS.
In addition to damaged roads, several Ashe residents lost power due to the storm. Blue Ridge Energy line technicians were still restoring power to several Ashe and Caldwell county residents on April 13.
According to the outage update provided by Director of Public Relations Renee Whitener, 21 locations were damaged and 429 members were affected. The outages began at 1:45 a.m. on Monday and as of 3 p.m. crews were still working to restore the remaining 11 members without power. The primary areas affected were Creston, Beaver Creek, Baldwin, Shatley Springs and Obids.
According to Whitener, locations of outages in Ashe and Caldwell counties had lengthier outage times as crews had to wait for flood waters to recede in order to gain access to damaged power lines. The causes of outages across the system were caused by high winds and fallen trees outside of rights of way tearing down power lines.
Oscar Graydon “Grady” Lonon passed away on March 29 at Kindred Hospital in Greensboro. His legacy will continue to live on in Ashe County as he is remembered for his talents as a singer, actor, director and attorney who made a difference in the lives of the community.
Lonon is survived by his wife, Jane Chapman Lonon, and their two sons, James and Matthew Lonon. He is also survived by his sister, Julia (Jim) Mathews, as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Lonon was born in Marion, to the late Oscar Graydon Lonon Jr. and Irma Louise Johnson Lonon. He was raised in Charlotte by a family that nurtured and supported his musical leanings. As a student, he was an active member of Myer’s Park High School’s music program and honed his early theatre skills by participating in their musical productions. While in Charlotte he was also part of a Jug Band with high school friends. According to Jane, his instrument of choice was the wash tub bass which he loved playing.
Lonon majored in music education at UNC-CH and he loved all things Tarheel. He spent two summers working at the Farm House Restaurant in Blowing Rock where he met his wife of 49 years. They sang and entertained together while waiting on tables for the clientele.
After college, Grady was accepted into the Air Force Band’s Singing Sergeants. He was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., but traveled extensively with the band as a part of the military’s outreach to communities all across the United States.
After his service in the military, the Lonons moved to Los Angeles where Grady worked in the entertainment industry as a publicist and business manager for TV personalities. This career is what led him to law school in order to better serve his clients.
The Lonons moved back to the mountains of North Carolina in 1981 after the birth of their first child. They fell in love with Ashe County and became involved with the community.
“Grady was a sole law practice practitioner working primarily in real estate and estate planning. As an attorney, Grady helped many people, but he also shared his time and skills helping those in need,” Jane said.
He was an active supporter and volunteer with both the Ashe County Arts Council and the Ashe Civic Center; he served as president of the Arts Council Board in the mid-1980s. Lonon was also a past board member of Habitat for Humanity and the Ashe County Community Foundation.
Music played an important role in Lonon’s life. He served as director of the Ashe County Choral Society for many years and served as Chancel Choir Director at Bethany United Methodist Church for 35 years. He also was a member of the Bethany Ding-A-Lings Handbell Choir, which is directed by Jane.
The Rev. Dan Money, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, said that although Grady was not ordained, he had a minister’s heart and loved to help people experience God through worship.
Money said Lonon brought out the best in all of his choir members, musicians and congregants.
He said upon finding out that he was being appointed to Bethany, people started to tell him what a wonderful church it was and about the wonderful worship services held there.
According to Money, he quickly realized that Grady and Jane were the inspiration behind the church’s great reputation. He said Grady helped people experience God’s grace through music and Bethany members loved him for his expertise and talent.
Money said that although he cannot sing well at all, watching Lonon’s warm and inviting smile as he directed the choir made him believe that he could.
“It goes without saying that there is a big hole left in Bethany church and we are all very saddened by this great man’s passing. He has made us better by his presence with us and we will forever be indebted to Grady for the many ways he has ministered to us,” Money said.
Rebecca Williams, who serves as the program director at Ashe County Arts Council, said she was fortunate to work with Grady through the Ashe County Little Theatre.
Williams said as the costumer for his musicals, she was always challenged to be creative and think outside the box, while still honoring the musical theatre tradition because that was “Grady’s way.”
“Grady’s love of music was evident in the shows he directed. For several years he and Jane directed and produced some of the biggest ACLT summer musicals, ‘South Pacific’, ‘Sound of Music’, ‘Music Man’ and the perennial favorite ‘Annie,’” Williams said. “Grady always had a director’s eye with a vision for every show.”
Williams herself directed Grady in “Into the Woods,” which was her directorial debut for ACLT in 2007. “He was so much fun to direct and gave a wonderful nuanced performance as the Baker. His influence will be felt in the Ashe County Little Theatre for many years to come and he will be missed,” Williams said.
Michael Bell, a local musician who was a good friend of Lonon’s, shared some fond memories from when they worked together in the Ashe County Choral Society and in Little Theatre musicals.
The two shared a wonderful partnership that lasted decades during the time that Lonon directed the Ashe County Choral Society and Bell accompanied it.
“At rehearsal, I would pound out the vocal lines to get the singers’ notes correct. Then Grady brought in the sensitivity and interpretation that made mere notes come alive into music, often with a twinkle in his eye,” Bell said.
Bell said Lonon directed many Little Theatre musicals where he was in the pit conducting the orchestra. Bell described working with him as a pleasure and said Lonon’s combination of skills always helped mold the musicals into fine shows.
According to Bell, Lonon could visualize the future and act to advance it, whether it was an estate plan for a client, a vision for establishing an art school, or possibilities available to further business and the arts in Ashe County.
“Grady’s strength, humor, integrity and his talents as an attorney, singer, conductor, actor, director and friend will be sorely missed,” Bell said.
WEST JEFFERSON — Buster “Frank” Turnmire will celebrate his 100th birthday on April 16. Turnmire is currently a resident at Ashe Assisted living where he enjoys having visitors and recounting stories about his life with friends.
Turnmire was born on April 16, 1920, in Ashe County to Alice and Rufus Turnmire of West Jefferson. He had two siblings who are both deceased, a sister, Myrtle Mae Turnmire Miller and a brother, Acey Turnmire.
Turnmire was born and raised in Ashe County, where he has resided his whole life. He grew up during the Great Depression, which taught him at a young age to be conservative and also taught him about the value of being flexible, creative and working hard. These are all values which he has always carried with him throughout life.
He attended West Jefferson school and was married to Dorothy Glea Swinney Turnmire for 62 years. Together the couple had three children, Ronald Turnmire of West Jefferson, Ruth Herold of Hudson and Barbara Revis of Lansing.
Revis provided some insight about her father and his long life spent serving others.
He worked for the town of West Jefferson for 42 years, retiring at age 65. The work entailed doing whatever needed to be done, working on the streets, repairing and putting in new water lines, taking care of the wells that supplied the town’s water supply or pushing snow to clear the streets.
Revis recalls her father telling the story about the 1960 snow often. He slept in the theater at night and worked pushing snow all day for weeks until he was finally able to get home on a bulldozer to clear his own road and bring groceries to his family.
After retiring, Turnmire did not quit working. He worked in landscaping, gardening and continued to work from his workshop. His favorite activity has always been cutting firewood, and he was always known to have more than a winter’s worth of supply on hand at one time.
According to Revis, her father refinished and restored antique furniture long before it was the fashionable thing to do. Revis said he would go to auction sales and buy old furniture, occasionally carrying it out in pieces, before putting the pieces back together and refinishing them. He would then resell them to make extra money for his family. Revis said Turnmire also performed custom metal and mechanic work out of his workshop.
“If someone needed something built, no matter the material, wood or metal, Frank could make it from scratch,” Revis said speaking about her father’s hobbies including farming and cutting firewood.
“Cutting firewood is by far his favorite hobby,” Revis said.
Ashe Assisted Living’s Food Service Manager Joy Houck said Turnmire has sat at the entrance of their facilities almost every day since he became a resident.
“Staff, families and visitors alike have enjoyed his greetings and smiles. He is always kind to everyone, but his smile is infectious,” Houck said.
Houck said Turnmire laughs frequently and enjoys reading magazines. He also has a sharp mind and quick wit.
“I love Frank and believe he has been and hope he continues to be a great asset to our community,” Houck said.