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Henderson County Republican Convention

North Carolina House Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis was one of the featured speakers Saturday morning as  Henderson County Republicans gathered at Opportunity House for the annual Republican county convention. The yard was full of campaign signs and the Opportunity House main meeting room was filled with local Republican candidates, precinct officials, and party supporters.

Glen Engleram took over as the new county chairman of Republicans. Greg Newman served as convention chairman again. And the convention heard an array of speakers including county commission Chairman Charlie Messer, State Representative Chris Whitmire who represents Transylvania, Polk and parts of Henderson counties; Congressman Mark Meadows and State Senator Tom Apodaca.

All the Republican candidates involved in the local elections this year were there...many had tables set up with their campaign material. Most of them are facing no Demcoart challengers, so for them the election will be over after the May 6th primary.

There was a lot of enthusiasm and party loyalty at the convention, and especially for the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Kay Hagan.  Three candidate for that Senate seat attended the convention...and the annual Lincoln-Reagan lunch that followed.

One of the leading contenders for that U.S. Senate seat is the current Speaker of the North Carolina State House of Representatives, Thom Tillis. Speaker Tillis sat down with WHKP News after the convention on Saturday...and we asked him...1)about his top priority if elected to the U.S. Senate...which he said is fixing our ailing economy; 2)about Obamacare...which he said he will vote to repeal; and 3)about controversial education legislation passed, partially under his leadership, in last year's session of the North Carolina General Assembly...which he said has paved the way for substantial teacher pay raises and increases in state education spending in this year's "short" session of the legislature.  Be listening for the Speaker's comments on these issues and more in WHKP's local news on Monday and throughout the coming week.

By WHKP News Director Larry Freeman

Updated 1am 3/23/14

Photo at the top of the page by the Hendersonville Times-News








  • District Attorney Alex Bass confirmed for WHKP News late Friday morng that the plea bargain, that had been expected for over a week in the Vanessa Mintz homicide trial of Travis McGraw has fallen through.  Bass said McGraws's guilty plea offer was withdrawm Friday morning.  The Hendersonville Times-news reports...  

McGraw is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of his wife, Vanessa Mintz. A first-degree murder conviction carries a possible sentence of life without parole.

McGraw, who had been scheduled to plead guilty to second-degree murder, informed his attorney Friday morning that he had changed his mind.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Alex Bass from state judicial District 29-A, said there would be no more plea deals offered in the case, which is set to go to trial May 19.

Mintz, 53, was found dead of a gunshot wound at her family-owned Saluda Mountain Lodge on the morning of Feb. 19, 2011. McGraw, 47, was arrested four days later, accused of killing Mintz under the pressure of an ultimatum from his mistress to tell Mintz about the relationship. He was released on bond May 13.

After three years of delays in the case, Mintz's family held a prayer vigil last month to advocate for the families of homicide victims forced to wait for justice in a clogged judicial system. They asked for prayer that McGraw's trial, originally set for Jan. 20 and postponed until May 19, would take place as planned.

The last postponement in the case was granted after McGraw's attorney, Tony Dalton, was forced to seek medical treatment for high blood pressure and was advised by doctors to take it easy.



The Asheville Citizen-Times reports on Friday that Western North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson is safe to sing another week on “American Idol.”


The rocker, who sang Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” on Wednesday’s live performance show, was not the singer with the lowest viewer vote total, who was eliminated on Thursday’s results show.

That singer was MK Nobilette, who sang Pink’s “Perfect.”

Johnson, 22, has consistently been among the best singers on the competition, although as the field narrows he is no longer guaranteed to be the one most lauded by the judges.

On Wednesday, although judge Harry Connick Jr. graded his rocking rendition of “Glory” and A or A-plus, he added, “I’ve seen you do better.”

Judge Keith Urban was even less complementary. Although he said that Johnson is sure to “deliver every week,” Urban compared the singer’s driving rock singing style to a locomotive and said that Wednesday’s performance was “lumbering instead of motoring.” He also commented on its “imbalance.”

Jennifer Lopez said she didn’t think Johnson was connecting with the lyrics of the song. “It was lacking the feeling for me,” she said.

Fellow contestants Alex Preston, Malaya Watson, Majesty Rose (also from North Carolina) and Sam Woolf got judges’ comments that were at least as positive or more laudatory than those Johnson received.

The Top 9 contestants will next sing at 8 p.m. March 26 on a two-hour live show. The voting tallies will be reviewed on a results show shortened to 30 minutes, from an hour, and airing at 9 p.m. March 27.




Education Hall of Fame inductees honored 

Henderson County School Board Chairman Ervin Bazzle was one of the new members were inducted Thursday into the Henderson County Education Foundation's Hall of Fame at the annual awards dinner. They will join others honored since 2003 for their contributions to the county's public schools.

The Hendersonville Times-News reports that Foundation Secretary Tracy Young introduced each inductee, stating before the speeches began, “There is no telling the impact these people have had on generations of students.”

Of the nine honored, all are still living except Julia Trimble Redden, who is considered one of the earliest female principals in North Carolina, serving at the helm of Valley Hill School in the 1920s. Born in 1878, she began teaching in 1902, and taught grades fifth through seventh and later high school before becoming Valley Hill's principal officially in 1927. She died in 1951, six years after her retirement.

Other inductees are: 

• Ruth Sass, the county's first child nutrition supervisor, serving from 1973 until 1995. Under her direction, menus were standardized, leading to improved nutrition and a cost savings and earning the county the distinction of having all its schools receive state awards of excellence for meal operations for several years.

• Dr. Dan Lunsford, the superintendent who oversaw the merger of city and county schools in 1993. He has been lauded for, among other things, alternative school, Junior ROTC at East and West Henderson high schools, the requirement that athletic directors be assistant principals and not head coaches, and a food service warehouse. He has served as president of Mars Hill University since 2002, with recent years seeing the school listed among top regional colleges in the South.

• Rick Wood, a history teacher who coached boys' varsity basketball for 40 years, spending the last 17 years at West Henderson. He retired in 2006 and continues to serve the education system as a school board member.

• Drew Brannon, a teacher and coach who estimates he has attended more Falcon events in the last 50 years than anyone. He taught at Mills River and Dana elementary schools. He has been the county Soil and Water Conservation District chairman for 40 years.

• Bobbie L. Caldwell, a teacher for 30 years of language arts, history, science, math and home economics. She taught home economics for 14 years at Rugby Junior High/Middle School. She started Rugby's award-winning parliamentary procedure teams, which foster leadership.

• Madeleine C. Duncan, a teacher for 36 years at Balfour Elementary, East Flat Rock Elementary and Flat Rock Middle. One of her objectives was developing an appreciation for literature by young readers, and she put together books of her students' poetry.

• Linda B. Flynn, who taught for 31 years, mostly fourth grade at Mills River Elementary. She arranged to have a B-17 crew of World War II veterans, including her father, talk to her students to make history more personal.

• Sara Lee Nickell, among teachers said by author Robert Morgan to have influenced and inspired him. She taught at Flat Rock High and retired as head of the English department at East Henderson High, after teaching there for 31 years. There she led students to a win in a statewide United Nations speaking contest in the 1960s.

The TD Bank/HCEF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is the foundation's main fundraiser, helping to pay for scholarships and grants. Last year more than $140,000 in scholarships was given out to area students.

(Times-News photo and story)



Saluda Arts and Music Festival

The festival will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 17 in downtown Saluda. Media represented will include paintings, pottery, woodworking, sculpting, pottery, fiber, jewelry, metal and more.

Those still interested in participating can download an application at or get one by contacting Susie Welsh at 749-3900 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Stoney Lamar, the festival’s music coordinator, has lined up performing artists for the McCreery Park Pavilion throughout the afternoon. Headliners will be The Deluge, described as “a whirling dervish of a band with a kinetic energy that leaves audiences swooning long afterwards.”

The band blends roots rock and soul on its debut record, “Cryin’ on the Vine.” Its song “Strange World” won best R&B song of 2010 from the international John Lennon Songwriting Contest. For those who can’t wait until May can hear The Deluge Saturday March 15 at the Purple Onion restaurant, 16 Main St. in Saluda. Learn more at or call 749-1179.

The festival also welcomes back The Danberrys, whose folk-bluegrass-Americana was featured at the 2012 event. The band plays original tunes featuring strong harmonies and dynamic musicianship. Their self-titled CD is available through

Also playing will be Sweet Claudette, which combines four- and six-part harmonies, Motown-inspired backup vocals, and an unusual combo of acoustic instruments: cello, banjo, melodica and guitar.

The festival will offer plenty of public parking and public restrooms plus a Children’s Art Tent.

Volunteers are needed and sponsorships available. Contact Patty Martin at 817-9518 to volunteer or Beth Carson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to learn about sponsorship.


recycling sign with images of nature - eco concept -

In December 2013, the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) along with the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) proposed the idea to the City of Hendersonville of donating the “old recycling bins” to our local schools and non-profits. The City recently replaced all of its recycling collection bins with new rollout carts to increase recycling and the old bins became surplus.


On March 6, the Hendersonville City Council approved a resolution allowing the donation of the recycling bins. Beginning today, members from the City of Hendersonville’s Environmental Sustainability Board and members from Environmental Conservation Organization will distribute more than 550 recycling bins to 21 Henderson County Public Schools and the Henderson County Boys and Girls Club.

According to Public Works Director Tom Wooten, the two groups reached out to schools and other organizations and found there was a need of additional recycling bins. The City is pleased to respond to this need and is grateful for the opportunity to participate in increasing recycling efforts.

For questions about this project, please call the Public Works Department at (828) 697-3084.







 A letter from 51 teachers at West Henderson High School at least temporarily changed the mind of the local school board...and stopped the state's so-called 25 per cent contract and pay plan.

This came as State Representative Chuck McGrady, who co-chairs the state House Education Appropriations Committee, was hearing emotional stories of concern and hardhsip from teachers and administrators in the Henderson County Association of Educators.

The Hendersonville Times-News reported Tuesday that the Henderson County School Board voted unanimously Monday to table a second reading and vote on a state-mandated plan to select which teachers will receive four-year contracts and raises in lieu of “career status,” or tenure.

The General Assembly passed a budget bill last year that abolishes tenure, enacted in 1971 to protect educators from being dismissed or demoted without due process, and requires schools to identify 25 percent of their teachers to receive four-year contracts and $500 annual raises in its place.

School board members reluctantly Ok'd a draft plan to implement the state law last month, but tabled a second vote required for passage Monday after hearing a letter from 51 teachers at West Henderson High that was read aloud.

“We do not wish to participate in a law that seeks to divide and conquer, rather than unite a group of adults who work together every day to help young people prepare for their futures,” the letter read. The signees asked the board to follow the lead of other systems that “are choosing to fight the law.”

Last week, the Buncombe County School Board passed a resolution that requests the General Assembly “rescind all provisions of the Appropriations Act that eliminate career status for those teachers who already have been awarded” tenure. It further asks to use the state’s allocation for 25 percent contracts toward recruiting, retaining and rewarding “excellence in teaching.”

On Monday, Henderson County school board members asked that a similar resolution in opposition to the state’s mandate be drafted for consideration at their next meeting. It wasn’t clear whether board members intend to pass the resolution in place of the “contract selection plan,” or in concert with its adoption.






Mills River Logo

Fundraising is no walk in the park, but that didn't keep Mills River Town Council from tackling some tough issues about fundraising for Mills River Park last Thursday night.  Key items for discussion included recommendations from the Town’s Park Committee. Those recommendations impact how the nonprofit, Mills River Recreation Foundation, pursues funding for future phases in the park.

“Mills River Recreation Foundation is a nonprofit separate from the Town created to fund-raise for the Mills River Park future phases.  We have been generating ideas for how to raise money in support of the park this summer, but we wanted to make sure that the methods we use would be acceptable to the Town so that our partnership is able to better benefit the community,” Mills River Recreation Foundation President, Jollene Austin said. 

The Mills River Park Committee made two key recommendations about fundraising that were considered at the Town Council meeting and supported by Council.  The first was in support of having commercial sponsor-ships in the park.  The second was not to allow fundraising events in the park that include alcohol.  The park rules currently prohibit alcohol and tobacco use in the park.

“The Town’s Park Committee is charged with making recommendations to Council about anything park related.  We highly value their advice on how we make use of and plan for the park.  Our Town Council sought their guidance in these decisions so that they could better inform Mills River Recreation Foundation on their fundraising strategies.  Ultimately, all three groups have the same goal of seeing the park develop for our citizens,” Mills River Town Manager Jamie Laughter said. 

The Mills River Recreation Foundation is encouraging any individual, business or organization with fundraising ideas or opportunities for the park to contact Jollene Austin at (828) 699-7575

For more information regarding this press release, please contact Jaime Laughter at (828) 890-2901 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


After many years of indecision on what to do with the "city owned" Grey's Hosiery Mills property on Grove Street, City Council decided Thursday night to allow the property to be marketed by a group with a successful track record of marketing historic properties.

The Hendersonville Times-News is reporrting Friday that by a 4-1 vote, Hendersonville City Council approved a plan to allow Preservation North Carolina to market, sell and profit from the sale of the city’s last historic industrial building Thursday night.

Council members Jeff Miller and Steve Caraker noted that they were running out of time to secure a developer for the Grey Hosiery Mill with the sunset of a state tax credit looming on the horizon.

Councilman Jerry Smith preferred to try to sell the property through an auction first and said that if the city didn’t get any respectable bids, it could always allow PNC to take over the land at that point.

City Manager John Connet said three developers have expressed interest in the property. He said PNC has a national reputation for successfully taking historic parcels threatened by demolition or disuse and connecting them with developers who protect the site’s historical integrity.

He recommended the city maintain ownership of the property, but give PNC “the option to receive the property as a donation, if they were able to find a suitable project. So ultimately they would be like a real estate agent. They would market the property, vet any proposals and look for the best option of using the property. They would suggest that we give them one year… to market the property and evaluate all proposals.”

He added, however, that the council would have “limited control” of the project and any proceeds from the sale of the property would go to PNC to support the nonprofit.




The Henderson County Education Foundation on March 20 will enshrine nine more into its Education Hall of Fame, for exemplary contribution to local public schools.


The nine are former Supt. Dr. Dan Lunsford and these retirees: principal Julia Trimble Redden; basketball coaches-teachers Drew Brannon and Rick Wood, first-ever Child Nutrition Director Ruth Sass; and teachers Bobbie L. Caldwell, Madeleine C. Duncan, Linda B. Flynn and Sara Lee Nickell. All but Redden are living.


“The Class of 2014 is a very diverse class,” HCEF Executive Director Dr. Don Jones said. “We have a college administrator (Lunsford), who was our superintendent for the merger. We have a 40-year coach (Wood), who has contributed on the school board, History Initiative (as current chairman) and Kiwanis Club. Drew Brannon has taught, coached, and he’s served in Soil and Water Conservation for 40 years. Ruth Sass was our first child nutrition director. The teachers inducted have made distinctive contributions. And Julia Redden was the face of Valley Hill School for 43 years.”


The keynote speaker is eloquent Board of Public Education Chairperson Ervin W. Bazzle.


The 12th annual TD Bank/HCEF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies will be Thursday, March 20 in Hendersonville Country Club. A half-hour social time begins at 5:30 p.m. Dinner starts at 6 p.m., also downstairs in the large Horizon Room.

This is HCEF’s main fundraiser, to help pay for scholarships and grants. Park Ridge Health and Selee Corp. return as banquet sponsors, joined by retired banker J.W. Davis and three universities Lenoir Rhyne, Mars Hill and Wingate.


Each inductee, as plaques note, has shown “measurable influence or made significant contributions to the growth and development of education in Henderson County.” To get nominated a person normally must have served at least 10 years in local schools, and be retired from local public schools for at least five years or else be deceased. Lunsford was superintendent for eight years, not quite a full decade locally. But he garnered such support that he was chosen, in Category III as “other contributor to education.”

The hall is one of merely a handful across the state on such a scale and the only one in western North Carolina, State Supt. June St. Clair Atkinson said as banquet keynote speaker in 2006.


Here is more on each upcoming inductee:


Dr. Dan Lunsford shepherded in the merger of city and county schools in 1993, despite much objections initially. His innovations include requiring athletic directors be assistant principals and head coaches, alternative school, Junior ROTC at East and West Henderson, lighting at baseball fields, and a food service warehouse. Supplemental teacher salary was uniform, in his era. He has been president of Mars Hill since 2002. Mars Hill expanded into a full university last August. Lunsford is the most recent superintendent to join the HCEF Hall of Fame.


Julia Trimble Redden (1878-1951) has the earliest legacy of 2014 inductees. She is considered among the very earliest female principals in North Carolina, going back nearly a century to the Twenties. She was Valley Hill School principal officially by 1927-28, but as early as 1923-24. She was at Valley Hill for 43 years, starting as a teacher in 1902. In earlier years she may have been classified as more of a lead teacher, when actually acting as a headmaster. She is described as authoritative. She taught grades 5-7, then high school grades by the mid-Twenties. She retired in 1945.


Rick Wood is still involved in education, as a school board member. He coached boys’ varsity basketball for 40 years, the last 17 with West Henderson until retiring in 2006. Previously, he coached at Edneyville for two years. His Falcons were unbeaten before falling in the 1992 state title game. The 1994-95 squad produced current boys varsity basketball coaches Joey Bryson at North Buncombe and Ronnie Coren at North Henderson, and Luke Manuel who is West’s athletic director. Wood emphasized teamwork, sportsmanship, citizenship and academics. He taught history, most enjoying going over Civil War battles. His autobiography is 40 Seasons: The Life of a High School Basketball Coach.


Drew Brannon has also contributed to local education in various ways. He taught for 10 years at Mills River Elementary, and coached boys’ basketball and track. Previously, he taught and coached at Dana Elementary for two years. He was in Mills River High School’s last class, of 1960, before high school students went to then-new West Henderson. Brannon helped commemorate Mills River School, via the local History Initiative. He is a longtime major booster of West Falcon athletics. He helped Wood start recreation basketball on Saturdays, for seventh and eighth grade youth. Brannon has much impact in local farming, having served as county Soil and Water Conservation District chairman for 40 years.


Bobbie L. Caldwell taught for 30 years, mostly home economics in Rugby Junior High. She started in Fletcher High School in 1957-59, as among merely five teachers there. She next taught in Fletcher Elementary for eight years, starting in 1965. Then she shifted to Rugby Junior High/Middle. She taught language arts, history, science and math as well as entry-level home economics “exploratory.” Finally, she focused solely on home economics at Rugby for 14 years, from 1978-92. Skills included cooking, sewing, child care and interior decorating. Caldwell started Rugby’s award-winning parliamentary procedure teams, molding leaders.


Madeleine C. Duncan taught sixth grade for 30 years combined, at East Flat Rock Elementary then Flat Rock Middle School. She taught at Balfour Elementary for six years. After the school burned on her wedding night in 1971, classes were held in trailers. At Flat Rock, she mostly taught language arts. Students read the novel that spawned a hit movie, often preferring the book and thereby appreciating literature. In both schools, she put together a book of her students’ poetry. She has volunteered since retiring in 2006, such as in helping monitor state testing locally.


Linda B. Flynn taught for 31 years, mostly fourth grade in Mills River Elementary School in 1986 to 2007. She was very comprehensive about a subject, such as by researching the Wright Brothers’ historic flight in person at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. She personalized history, getting a B-17 crew of WWII veterans including her father to talk to students. She shared values of her youth, working hard on a farm. She’d call on a struggling student to answer questions, to get that youth more involved. She rewarded her class daily with “story time.”


Sara Lee Nickell is among teachers cited by noted author Robert Morgan, a local native, as his most influential educators. She taught English and world history in Flat Rock then East Henderson high schools. She also taught drama at East. She was among longest-serving teachers at East Henderson, for 31 years from its opening in 1960 until retiring in 1991 as head of the English department. Her first year, 1955-56, was in East Flat Rock Elementary. She led East Henderson to victory in a statewide United Nations speaking contest in the Sixties, winning a week-long trip to the U.N. in New York City.


Ruth Sass was the first child nutrition supervisor, in 1973-95. Previously, she was a hospital dietician then child nutrition consultant for schools statewide. She served both city and county schools in a joint service, for 20 years leading to the 1993 merger. Her menu analysis revealed half of schools were not meeting basic requirements. She standardized menus, improving nutrition. She saved money with bulk purchases. The local system gained an unusual honor when all of its schools received state awards of excellence for meal operations, and for several years.


The banquet price is $40 per plate. “We again anticipate a sell-out,” Dr. Jones said. Paid reservations are available through March 15, and can be made online at, or by calling Nancy Brackett at 698-8884.