For a complete list of honorees from past years, go to the bottom of this post.
The 2017 honorees were named at the Fall Rally on Saturday, September 30:
James Patrick Morgan
Many of you will remember that Pat Morgan spent 11 years on the Watauga County School Board. You may not know about his other volunteer activities for school kids, both before his multiple elections to the school board and after his retirement. He feels a dedication to the nurturing of school children that has marked his entire life.
Pat grew up in Raleigh, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in the Class of 1962. He spent four years in the US Navy, attended the Ole Miss School of Law, and then spent three years in Hazard, Kentucky, working with the Christian Service Ministry and the old Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1973, he and Mary Sue moved to Boone. Pat went to work with Dr. Jim Jackson in Community and Regional Services at ASU before moving full-time into the political science department where he taught until his retirement in 2003.
In the spring of 1974, Pat organized Watauga County’s first Spring Festival — the justifiably famous Spring Festival — held on the ASU campus in Varsity and Broome-Kirk gyms. That festival brought together community and church groups, university clubs, and local non-profits for two fun days of grilled meats, sugared sweets, displays, demonstrations, and a running stage show of local young talent. The Spring Festival ran for over a decade and was an inspired vehicle for bringing together the entire community. Many of us miss it and fear we’ll never see its like again!
Back in 1976 — over 40 years ago — Pat began going to Mabel Elementary School each week to read to the kindergarten class. Soon he included time for the first and second grades at Mabel, and after about ten years, he added reading time for K through 2nd graders at Cove Creek Elementary and then also at Bethel Elementary. That’s not just a lot of reading. That’s a lot of driving! This fall Pat is beginning his 41st year as a volunteer reader. According to Mary Sue, Thursdays and Fridays are his favorite days of the week.
In 2004, Pat and Mary Sue went to the Watauga County Public Library’s Friends of the Library Board with a new idea. Because so much of the county is rural, there were many families who were unable to bring their children to the library during the summer months. Pat wondered aloud, what if volunteers brought books to the children? The idea took off and has been successful now for 14 years. This summer just ended, 18 volunteers made four deliveries each to 53 young readers. That’s the spirit that Pat Morgan embodies. Just a year ago in the fall of 2016, the Friends of the North Carolina Public Libraries awarded the Frannie Ashburn Volunteer of the Year Award to Pat Morgan for his dedication to supporting young readers in Watauga County.
Pat, we are so very pleased to honor you among the 2017 inductees into our “Hall of Fame”!
Christine Agnes Behrend
Chris Behrend, our current Director of Operations and a key player in why the Watauga Democrats win local elections, was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the eldest of ten children. She grew up working on the family dairy farm outside of Oshkosh. As the eldest of ten (and according to her son), she has always taken care of her younger siblings, which — as it turned out — was good training for managing, training, and nurturing our young staffers through the 2016 election cycle and forward through the upcoming 2018 cycle. As a single mother Chris worked to earn a degree in accounting and then worked in the health insurance industry for more than 15 years. She then pursued her Masters degree in psychology to become a counselor in 1996, working and volunteering at Green Bay’s Crisis Center for several years, handling family crises and suicide prevention calls.
In 2005 Chris moved to Boone to be closer to her son and grandchildren. From 2006 to her retirement in 2015 Chris worked at New River Behavioral Healthcare in both Wilkesboro and Boone as a substance abuse counselor. Over the past 12 years while living in North Carolina, Chris has done a great deal of volunteer work, helping people prepare their taxes, delivering meals-on-wheels, and becoming a dependable, dedicated, and indispensable volunteer and then staffer for the Watauga Democrats.
Chris did data management and phonebanking for both the Sue Counts campaign and the Watauga Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign in 2014, and by 2015 she was named Director of Data for the Party, handling much of the VoteBuilder work that we depend on for identifying, contacting, and persuading swing voters in our county. By early in 2016, she was promoted to Director of Operations as well as Data, and in that role she managed all the operations at Party headquarters and cracked the “velvet whip” over a corps of talented and committed young staff members. You all know that in that 2016 elections, we lost some but we also won some big ones in this county, and we would not have won what we won without the hard work and dedication of Christine Behrend. Since the 2016 election, Chris has been a key component in our training outreach to neighboring “red” counties. With her leadership, Watauga County will continue to export our “blue spirit” to other progressives yearning to live free.
Chris, we are so very pleased to honor you among the 2017 inductees into our “Hall of Fame”!
Percilla Sue Counts
Sue Counts has dedicated herself to lifelong service, not only to Watauga County but to our entire region.
Sue was born and raised about 100 miles from here in Sandlick, Dickenson County, Virginia – her family being the first white settlers in that part of Appalachia. She learned what service and sacrifice meant at an early age when her father, who landed at Omaha Beach and was taken prisoner of war at the Battle of the Bulge, took his own life soon after returning home.
Sue loved education and voraciously approached the task of learning more. She worked hard at her studies and became the first person in her family to go to college, taking advantage of the GI Bill’s benefits for “war orphans.” Sue attended Virginia Tech, where she attained bachelor and master degrees, and met the father to her two children at a time when the school’s ratio of male to female students was 50 to 1!
After spending more than a decade beginning her career further north Sue returned to the mountains of her youth, finding herself in our town of Boone that would become her adopted home. Sue’s first role in town was lecturing on foods and nutrition at ASU, and after a series of government jobs accepted her first position in Cooperative Extension coordinating the Southern Appalachian Leadership Initiative on Cancer, forming coalitions to educate and assist women to receive cancer screenings. Before long, she was promoted to Watauga County Extension Director where she assisted local agriculture in transitioning from tobacco to crops like organic fruits and vegetables and founded Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture.
In both 2014 and 2016, Sue was recruited to run a spirited campaign to take back House District 93 from Jonathan Jordan. Connecting with students and relying on long-lived relationships with the agricultural community, Sue was a top-tier challenger in both elections even while coming up short in the end.
Sue’s infectious optimism, energy, and desire to serve for the betterment of her community have informed an entire generation of young (and old) political leaders who have engaged in the tumult of Watauga County politics. Her grace under pressure and humble approach to the teamwork required of a successful campaign are the standard by which all future candidates will be judged.
Sue, we are so very pleased to honor you among the 2017 inductees into our “Hall of Fame”!
Grace Elizabeth McEntee
Before Grace McEntee became our most dedicated, consistent, capable, and indispensable volunteer in our annual (and now epic) plant sale, she spent decades as a dedicated, consistent, capable, and indispensable teacher of literature and writing at Appalachian State University. It might be said that Grace retired from teaching last year to spend more time with our plants.
The spirit of volunteerism is strong in Grace. She has been a volunteer reading tutor at Mabel Elementary School, and she has consistently helped our Field Team with voter registration and get out the vote efforts. She acts her values and she lives her values. She has made a point of investing in companies that match her conservation and social justice values, and she is an avid supporter of local farmers and businesses. The universal consensus about Grace goes like this: She’s the neighbor who will care for your dog or drive you to a doctor’s appointment or do anything else that needs doing. In short, she is the embodiment of what our Democratic Party has historically aspired to be.
Her spirit of helpfulness and selflessness stretches internationally. After Mexico mandated the teaching of English in the primary grades in their public schools, Grace was recruited to become a tutor and mentor to public school teachers in Mexico through many summers, helping them master teaching-of-English and research techniques.
Many of us remember reading her first-person account of the historic “Women’s March on Washington” the day after Trump’s Inauguration. She was there marching for the many of us who couldn’t be there, and she wrote about that experience with — shall I say it? — grace.
But just ask Pam Williamson about Grace’s contribution to the annual Plant Sale — but if you ask, be prepared to sit and listen for awhile. Grace does everything that needs doing and does it with skill and quiet grace (there’s that word again!). She helps plan the entire sale. She starts seeds … and winters over plants that need a little more time to develop … and transplants specimens out of the ground and into pots … and she spends hours grooming and tending. The annual Community Plant Sale has become more than just our biggest fundraiser. It’s become a tourist attraction, and Grace is one of the guiding spirits most responsible for that.
Grace, we are so very pleased to honor you among the 2017 inductees into our “Hall of Fame”!
Lonnie Ray Webster
Lonnie’s dear and lovely wife Ada says of him: “He has always looked for the best in everyone and his favorite saying is ‘most people are honest most of the time,’ and this has always worked for him in trusting people to do the right thing.”
Lonnie began his career with IBM as a customer service engineer and later went to work with Eastman Kodak. After he retired from Kodak he became for a while a locally sought-after landscape designer, and those of you who have seen the garden that he and Ada maintain in Blowing Rock know that he has a love of plants — especially our wonderful mountain natives — and a creative eye for garden design. But something else at Kodak may have rubbed off on him, because after retirement, he picked up the camera and discovered a whole new creative life in photography — which is , after all, another form of landscaping. He’s a member of the North Carolina Professional Photographers and The National Press Photographers Association. He has been published in National Geographic, Our State magazine and in many other publications including the Watauga Democrat and the High Country Press, where his coverage of local events enlivens the local news and provides in-depth documentation of everything from parades to contentious meetings of the Board of Elections.
He’s photographed historic events, community gatherings, landscapes around the world, and the people who inhabit those landscapes. He’s photographed President Barack Obama, and he’s supplied professional photography for most of our recent Democratic candidates for office. Lonnie has written on his own website, “I believe in immersing myself in other cultures to expand my own horizon and understand my own culture. I have traveled to Croatia, Cuba, Central America, Italy, Canada, and Alaska to capture amazing vistas, wonderful architecture, and enchanting faces.” Lonnie and Ada love train travel, and he likes to say, “a train going anywhere is worth riding.” For years now, Lonnie has been the more-or-less official photographer for the Watauga County Democratic Party, recording all of our local events. Thank God he finds our faces “enchanting” too!
Here’s a laudable and amazing fact: Lonnie and Ada will have been happily married — as of tomorrow, October 1 — for 52 wonderful years.
Lonnie, we are so very pleased to honor you among the 2017 inductees into our “Hall of Fame”!
Watauga Democratic Party Hall of Fame
Frances “Jean” Williamson
Everett Leo Mast
Russell Austin “Rusty” Henson
Eula Mae Coffey Fox
D. Glenn Hodges
Jesse Allan Presnell
Wade Franklin Wilmoth
Alvis Lee Corum
Margaret “Pinky” Bledsoe Hayden-Carpenter
Iva Dean Wilson Winkler
James Marvin Deal
Cullie Max Tarleton
Benjamin Stephenson Goss
Linda Kathleen Campbell
Marjory Estelle Holder
Len Doughton Hagaman
Betty Carol Barker Howe
Donna Snyder Duke
Ruth J. Laughlin
Alice Phoebe Naylor
Harvard Glenn Ayers