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Local teacher earns title of Kenan Fellow, uses experience to promote local agriculture

ASHE COUNTY — This past year, an Ashe County educator earned the honored title of Kenan Fellow. Now, she hopes to not only apply her hands-on experience to the classroom, but to help promote agriculture as a top-notch career choice to her students.

In April 2020 Barbra Heufel, a third grade teacher at Ashe County’s Mountain View Elementary School, received word that she was selected as one of only 19 teachers from across the state to be a Kenan Fellow.

Since 2000 the Kenan Fellowship — an initiative of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at North Carolina State University — has helped addresses the need for high-quality professional development for educators in North Carolina.

Heufel’s selection, which was made possible through a partnership between the Kenan Fellowship, North Carolina Farm Bureau, the Ashe County Farm Bureau and the Alleghany County Farm Bureau has taken Heufel on a crash course into the state’s bustling Christmas Tree industry — an experience she says she was honored to be a part of.

“Ashe County is the largest Christmas tree producing county in the United States and North Carolina is the second largest state for Christmas Tree production,” Heufel said. “It’s just a really big honor to be in that role as a leader for educators and as a leader for our community; to encourage our students and show them that this is a great career opportunity that we’re missing.”

During the yearlong program, Heufel was given invaluable in-the-field training by farmers and other mentors that took on a journey to different Christmas Tree farms across the state. She also participated in an additional 80 hours of professional development courses focused on project-based learning, digital learning and leadership.

The program included elements of everything from insights into family farming culture to math and science. As well as conversations about diversity and race.

Heufel used her experience working with North Carolina farmers to create content for Christmas Tree Ag Mag, a magazine that teachers can use as a classroom resource. The magazine is currently in print and can be found digitally at www.ncfb.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/FINAL-ag-mag-christmas-tree-WEB.pdf.

“It was really exciting to get all the pieces and put it all in a resource that can be used to get kids excited about agriculture,” Heufel said.

With her family coming from a manufacturing background, Heufel noted that prior to her internship that she had no previous farming experience. The in-depth instruction received during her internship, however, has motivated her to promote the industry as a prime career decision.

“I got so excited that I couldn’t stop telling people everything I was learning. So, now I have those opportunities to share and to help other instructors and educators understand how we can promote agriculture to our students,” said Heufel. “We talk about college and career ready, well this is definitely a career that kids should look into for sure. It’s family based, it’s our culture and a lot of them do have that farming background but I think that sometimes we as educators seem to be pushing college.”

Now that her program is complete, Heufel will forever hold the title of Kenan Fellow. According to the Kenan Fellows Program website their are currently only 493 Kenan Fellows working across the state to improve STEM education in North Carolina.

For more information about the Kenan Fellows Program visit kenanfellows.org/.

Crowds gather for the 54 Annual Memorial Day Service

JEFFERSON — Warm rays of sunlight poked through a partly overcast sky on the afternoon of May 30, as crowds of Ashe County residents gathered at the Ashelawn Memorial Gardens for the 54th Annual Memorial Day Service.

The event was hosted by the staff of Badger Funeral Homes and Ashelawn Memorial Chapel and Gardens and featured an afternoon of prayer and reflection honoring America’s fallen service members. The event featured an honor guard made up of local veterans, a 21-gun salute and a live performance of the national anthem. The crowd stood in quiet contemplation as the roll of honor — a list of local veterans the community has lost the past two years — was read allowed.

Present for the afternoon’s service was U.S. Congresswomen Virginia Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s 5th district and served as as the event’s guest speaker.

“Wonderful crowd here for us today. As (Rep.) Foxx said here in her speech we’re blessed to have such a caring community for their veterans — those that we have living and those that are deceased,” said Josh Roten, owner of Badger Funeral Homes and Ashelawn Memorial Gardens. “We’re just blessed to be a host for this event. Really I couldn’t think of a better setting for Memorial Day than to be in the memorial garden to have that.”

“Josh, his family and the staff did an absolutely beautiful job of putting on this event. I am thrilled every time I’m here to be with the families of veterans and those who have passed away,” said Foxx. “This is such as patriotic place, as you can tell I get very emotional and it’s because I love this country just like they love this country.”

Though some of the event’s regular participants — such as students of the high school’s Junior ROTC program — were unable to attend this years service due to state protocols regarding COVID-19, Roten explained that he was pleased to see the amount of people who came out to pay homage to the fallen.

“I thought the turnout was exceptional,” Roten said. “If you really get to looking at it this is Ashe County’s first, large in-person gathering.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions the 2020 Memorial Day event was unable to be held.

This year’s event also featured members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the 1450th Transportation Unit of the National Guard and dozens of local veterans. The grave of each veteran interred at the Ashe Lawn Memorial Garden was decorated with an American Flag.

Also in attendance for the ceremony was North Carolina State Rep. Ray Pickett.

“This was a beautiful service and it was so nice that we were able to get back out and get together,” Pickett said. “My wife, her father served in the military and it’s near and dear to our hearts. So I want everyone to remember and take a moment to pause for Memorial Day for the people that have fallen.”

For more information about this event visit Badger Funeral Home at www.badgerfuneralhome.com/ or call (336) 246-7114.

Graduates take the final walk across the stage

The seniors who once walked the halls of Ashe County High School and the Ashe Early College stepped onto the stage to receive their diplomas on May 27 and 28, moving their tassels from right to left and finally becoming high school graduates.

On May 27 at Westwood Elementary School, 14 seniors took to the stage as the first graduates from the Ashe Early College, opening up just a few years ago in 2018. Led by senior speakers, Principal Elaine Cox, Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Wilkes Community College President Dr. Jeff Cox and special guest former Superintendent Phyllis Yates, the ceremony was intimate as families gathered around to celebrate the graduating seniors.

Senior Elizabeth Wallace gave her charge to the senior class, expressing her pride in being the first class to graduate from the Early College, despite the twists and turns that life threw at them. Wallace gave her classmates strong words of encouragement as they move on to bigger and better things along with thanking each and every one of them for aiding one another in their journeys.

Many of the AEC seniors will not only have a high school diploma under their belt, but an associates degree from Wilkes Community College as well. Dr. Eisa Cox, Phyllis Yates and Elaine Cox gave their highest remarks as many of the seniors graduated with a GPA higher than 4.0.

As the graduates will soon find themselves stepping into adulthood and larger parts of the world, all the speakers reminded the seniors to stay humble and kind, giving all of their gratitude and pride as they walked across the stage.

On May 28, more than 200 graduating seniors gathered in the gym of Ashe County High School along with a crowd of family, friends and teachers. This was the first in-person graduation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While social distancing has taken a step back in recent guidelines and restrictions, masks were still required upon entry.

The night held only student speakers and presenters, including Jake Reavis, Thomas Galloway, Autumn Blackburn, Jernee Ashley, Jadyn Trivett and Ashley Dollar.

Two charges to the senior class were given by both Galloway and Reavis. Galloway opened up with a presenter-like aura, giving the bittersweet ceremony a lighthearted energy.

Galloway encouraged his classmates to remain humble throughout their future endeavors and to always have courage, even through the toughest of times. He reflected on his last year with his classmates, saying how they excelled through, despite living in a worldwide pandemic.

Reavis gave the final words to the class, pushing them to reach farther than they could imagine and always hold God close within their hearts. He gave recognition to everyone, giving Blackburn a round of applause for also graduating with an associates degree and also to the class as a whole for making it through the last for years of a whirlwind high school career.

In closing, Dollar led the graduates and crowd in a prayer, thanking God for blessing them everyday.

Following the ceremony, the graduates headed over to Mountain View Elementary for the annual Project Graduation event, also the first in person since COVID-19. Seniors enjoyed their last few hours together as a group, something they will hold onto for the rest of their lives.

Commissioner of Labor joins Ashe County Commissioners in tour of AEV

JEFFERSON — The North Carolina Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson traveled from Raleigh to the mountains of Ashe County to meet with the board of commissioners and Ambulance Division Controller at AEV Greg Warmuth to tour the recently built facility, located in the old Gates building in Jefferson.

Those in attendance with the board of commissioners were Chair Todd McNeill, Chuck Olive and Jerry Powers along with County Manager Adam Stumb and Clerk Ashley Honeycutt.

The tour took place at the new location of AEV, 101 Gates Lane, Jefferson, which will soon become the main headquarters as the old building, occupied for 25 years on American Way in Jefferson, will soon move its facilities to the newer building.

Warmuth explained the different parts of the facility and how the job opportunities have increased to nearly 400 as the company continues to expand.

With the invasion of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warmuth and his team did not panic or shutdown. In fact, he said they’ve had their busiest year yet and have struggled with the current vehicle demand. The main manufacturer for AEV is Ford, which has recently cut back on its supply for the company, causing the struggle in meeting demands.

“Our facility is set up to build 1,300 vehicles every year. That’s one out of every four ambulances in the United States, meaning one out of every four ambulances come out of our Ashe County facilities,” said Warmuth. “We also have our vehicles on five continents.

“The expectations of our vehicles are also very high from our customers. I’ve seen people come in with head lamps and inspection glasses to make sure they’re perfect.”

Warmuth also touched base on the job shortage and how they’ve seen the impact, despite their 400-employee work force.

“We are very fortunate that we have been able to stay open, but we have had openings with no-show applicants,” Warmuth said.

AEV is also a North Carolina Stock Company, something Dobson said was honorary.

Warmuth took the group into the production line facility where there are modular units, van units and cell units along with a graphics department and paint department. Their operations include refurbishing, painting, designing, mechanics, CNC routing and more.

Dobson and the BOC got the opportunity to see line work including the graphic placement where workers hand place the tape and designs onto the vehicle.

The commissioners and Dobson expressed their amazement and gratitude toward the workers at AEV, saying their ethic and drive are what keeps the company floating and busy. With manufacturers and clients buying in high demand, the company is sure to continue its growth.