A Reluctant Fall in Rocky Mount, NC – A Reflection From My Main Street Bench

It has been a reluctant fall this year. At first, there was a yellow cast to things that never did reach fulfillment. Of late, the colors are far from flamboyant, as if they are uninterested in achieving any grandeur at all.  Each year I await the invitation to the fall gala that takes place along the roadside. Driving along Highway 64 from Nashville to Rocky Mount and beyond, it always reminds me of passing through a receiving line where lovely gowns in different hues are admired and commented upon. “How lovely you look!” This morning I saw through the mist of light rain a rather subdued receiving line trying not to disappoint. If you are one of the lucky ones, you have a red maple of some variety planted in your garden or along your street. The maples never fail to remind me of picking up leaves on the way to school.  I would throw one down to pick up a better one. The fall color is also better one year than another. They say it has to do with the amount of light or the amount of moisture, I always forget which excuse to give. Don’t worry, next year the fall color will be better. Now if I could write about my gorgeous camellias in bloom-ah!

This piece is written and published today thinking of my father’s birthday, November 13, 1904. Norman W. Forgue often teased me, asking, “How are you going to write if you don’t learn to spell better? I did learn to write but thank goodness for spellcheck.  SFH

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Stepheny’s Telling Of The Story of the 16th Twin County Hall of Fame Banquet – PART 2

The family and friends of Jesse Mae Jones

Stephen King, the writer, thinks the best stories are about the people rather than the event. That was true in telling this year’s story of the 2019 Hall of Fame banquet. It is inspiring when you add together the long and varied list of accomplishments this year’s inductees have contributed to the life and times of Rocky Mount. That inspiration filled the large banquet room and lifted us to a better place. You could feel the outpouring of love and respect for those who have not only gone before us but are with us: continuing to make a difference in the world. You could hear the laughter and good cheer around the tables, feel the pride of family and friends who had come to honor the stories of these ten men and women.

Everyone who attended this event brought their own amazing stories with them. Perhaps the point of the whole exercise in having a Hall of Fame is so we never forget there is this large perspective. I believe that in honoring each inductee we also honor the setting of their lives. We must not forget the important ‘others’ who have lived and are living beside each inductee. If we take them out of their context, we not only lose their essence but the history they represent. I hope my story, your story won’t be lost. Leave us here in this place, with our music, our fashions, our causes, practicing the faith of our fathers. Stories help us know where we have been, how far we’ve come and that we are not alone in our endeavors. By their work and deeds, let these good people continue to inspire us. It was said of Inductee, Vernon Sechcriest that he lived a satisfactory life. That is my prayer for all of us that we too may live a satisfactory life.

Click Here to Read Part 1 of the Banquet Story

Inductee: Marilynn Barner Anselmi-Board Members Steven Raper & Lanny Shuff

Inductee: Lynell Bynum, Grandson-Chris Falk, Board Member-Stepheny Houghtlin

Inductee: Rachel Matthews Joyner, Board Member Mae Parker, Lanny Shuff


Inductee-Rachel Matthews Joyner, Board Member-Jane Gravely


Inductee-Frank Parker Phillips, Board Member Sandra Smith

Inductee-Paul H. Peel, Jr. President-Dave Irey

Inductee Julius Pepper. Aunt Betsy Battle, Uncle Danny Austin, Board Member Jane Finch

Inductee-Robert Henry Ricks-family members: Carol Boseman Taylor, Burt Douglas, Kent Haskett

Inductee-Vernon Franklin Sechriest, Neice-Mary Sechriest, Board Member-Mary Spires

Inductee-Peter F. Varney and wife Lynn Board Member-Mae Parker

Junior ROTC Cadets from Nash Central High School and LCDR Carther F Jorgensen, USN(RET)
Chairman, Naval Science Department

Gary Hodge’s Wonderful  Photographs Featured In This Post

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Stepheny’s Telling Of The Story of the 16th Twin County Hall of Fame Banquet – PART 1

The 2019 Hall of Fame Inductee Portraits by Susan Falco


“Live your life in such a way that you’ll be remembered for your kindness, compassion, fairness, character, benevolence, and a force for good and respect for life, in general.”   – Germany Kent

What a difference a year makes in the evolution of a new enterprise like The Event Center. The venue for the Hall of Fame banquet was fantastic. Clean as a whistle, shiny and bright, fabulous lighting and sound system and powerpoint equipment. Like every endeavor, it is the people behind the scenes and out front tap dancing and smiling that added to the evening’s pleasure. The wait staff is a crew of personable people who performed admirably. One of the young women told me the day before as tables were being set, their marching orders were, everything must be wonderful. It still isn’t easy to get an entree out of the kitchen for nearly 400 people, but a tasty, well-presented plate it was. I write this as a preamble to the event itself because you will be delighted to know, that knowledgable people helped our planning, making every effort to please. I want you to spread the word that this prestigious event and attendees (dressed in their fine bib and tucker) shared this lovely venue with pleasure and pride.

A great wait staff

The Event Center dressed for a party

Once again, we should have had a style show for those attending the event. The ladies in red were gorgeous in their dresses and suits. It was like watching red birds flitting in the garden; bits of red throughout the audience.

It’s a toss up-who is prettier the lady wearing the hat or the hat.

A sample of the ladies in red who were red birds of delight

Several of our elected officials in attendance were introduced. Councilman & Mrs. Bullock, Councilwoman Chris Miller, and husband and the cities newly elected mayor and wife. Sorry, I don’t have Mr. Bullock’s photo or of the five Nash County Commissioners and county manager among the guests.

Councilwoman Chris Miller and husband

Mayor-Elect and Mrs. Sandy Roberson

There would be no Twin County Hall of Fame banquet without the tireless efforts of the President of the board, Dave Iery, and Board Members who serve with pleasure.

Dave Iery-President

Lanny Shuff-Board Memb

Tony Williams, Lanny Shuff, Steve Raper, John Jesso, Skip Carney, and Mike Frye. Of course, it is the talented women of the board that keep these gentlemen straight. Tiffney Delano-Treasurer, Amanda Bell, Jane Finch, Mae Parker, Haven Weston, Mary Wells, Mary Perry, Maria Newcomb, Stepheny Houghtlin.

Board Members
Michael Frye and Steve Raper

Skip Carney-Board Member
Master of Ceremonies

Sandra Smith-Board Member

Board Members
Stepheny Houghtlin
Jane Gravely

Board Members
Chris Miller, Jane Gravely, Mary Spires








In Part 2 we will get to the heart of the matter- the ten inductees. Don’t miss it.  ALL photos except the final two are the wonderful work of Gerry Hodges.

“When we hear what God has done with others, it inspires us and expands our hearts with greater faith, vision, and purpose. ”                                              Matt Brown, Awakening 

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Hall of Fame Inductee – Peter Varney – How Different Things Would Be

A few years ago I realized I knew so little about the people who have been the architects of my life, those that have orchestrated the world I know. When the politically correct editing of our history began, I changed my reading habits and started to read a steady stream of non-fiction about our Presidents and the many fascinating characters that surrounded them. From different points of view, the lives of these same figures are intertwined forever.

Growing up, there were heroes everywhere. Statesmen found in politics, and dazzling sports figures in Chicago playing for the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks. There were heroes in movies and in the books we read, teachers, family members. With my new reading regime, came new heroes. John Gilbert Winnent, among many things, served as the Ambassador to England after Joseph Kennedy. Winnent was a beloved and amazing man. Yet until I read Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, (twice) I’d never heard of him. The learning curve I’ve been on emphasized the astounding impact our leaders make upon us for good and ill. Complicated men like Churchill who continue to be memorialized and others who fade from public memory, yet without them, things would have turned out differently.

Peter Varney
Hall of Fame -2019

Without the Peter Varney’s years of leadership, things in Rocky Mount would be different. I came late to his story. I met him by chance at the Smokehouse where we had both been having lunch. I could not have known at that moment, but as we became friends, I found a bright and interesting man, who is also quiet and unassuming. Generous, he is willing to share the breadth of information, stories, and history of Rocky Mount. Peter is being inducted into the Hall of Fame later this week. For someone who shuns the spotlight and tries to keep a low profile, his shadow always outruns him. Everybody knows his name. They call him, Mr. Peter. Though his life is centered around his church and family, he still managed to leave a lasting mark on Rocky Mount by sheer will, leadership, heart, and professional abilities.

Hall of Fame Exhibit
RM Event Center

I have given my word that I won’t shed a tear during his induction. You and I both know there isn’t a chance I’ll pull that off because my heroes have dwindled to a precious few. The statesmen are far and few between these days and there are athletes who won’t stand for the National Anthem. But in Peter Varney, I have a hero. His tale is told by those who worked for him, with him and continue to honor him with stories they tell about him. Under his watch, we have successful examples of preservation in the train and bus stations, the Imperial Center, the Douglas Block and so much more! How different things would be if not for Peter Varney. Deserving, everyone is celebrating Peter’s induction into the Hall of Fame. It is a dilemma for him: while greatly touched by this honor, it puts him ‘on stage,’ not one of his favorite venues. I write this piece for Peter with affection and gratitude on this occasion. How grateful I am that he took me under his wing to reveal beautiful brick and mortar buildings and for stories about the city he has served and loves. He has our appreciation and admiration for all he has done and continues to do.

Enjoy this special evening with the splendid class of 2019 inductees. SFH

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Hall of Fame Inductee – Lynell Bynum – The Legacy of a Grandson

Mt. & Mrs. Chris Falk

The day I sat across the table at the Central Cafe from Chris Falk, Lynell Bynum’s grandson, I felt teary. (You know how I am.) This handsome, young man, articulate, bright, whose company I was keeping for a few hours, is one of the richest legacies his grandfather has left us. In a few days, Lynell Bynum will be inducted into the Twin County Hall of Fame. His grandson will be accepting the award on behalf of his grandfather and the family. Chris is an example of why I keep saying, one thing leads to another. First, it was Ben Braddock, along with his partner, who bought Station Square; Ben asked me to research and write about Mr. Bynum. A few years later from my seat on the Hall of Fame board, I am introducing Chris the night of the event. The tears I hid at the Central Cafe were on behalf of his grandfather who would be amazed and proud of this young man. Chris, who shares many of the same interests and passions with his grandfather, wanted to talk about ‘Main Street,” preservation and his love of Rocky Mount.

I remind you that Lynell Bynum along with Errol Warren, a local architect, and Sandy Bulman of Bulman-Frazier Design Studio in Raleigh, together redeveloped an entire city block into a modern shopping center and office space. When it was all said and done, the Station Square project, named for the railroad station next door became the gold standard on how private and public partnerships can develop projects together within the community. Mr. Bynum took basic commercial structures, some in dreadful condition, and restored them with sensitivity to their glory days. Today, Ben Braddock, one of the modern-day ‘repairers of the breach’ has brought to Rocky Mount his passion, his determination, his unique skill set, his financial where with all and his role in finding new investors and owners to help save our commercial structures as Mr. Bynum once did.

The summer I left for college, my mother asked a question. “If something happened to me, would you be okay?” I answered, “Yes, I thought so.” My mother smiled. “You hope you have given your child enough to be going on with.” I think of that conversation and apply it to Chris Falk.  I have whispered to Mr. Bynum, that Chris, who now has a family of his own, has indeed ‘gone on’ in a fine way.

We all wonder from time to time, what might be remembered of us? I hope those I love will hear a song that makes them think of me or recognize the fragrance of the perfume I have always worn. Perhaps they will read what I have written. Mr.Bynum could not have imagined that there would come a day when he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame and that his grandson would stand in his place to accept the award. Mr. Bynum is remembered for his contributions to the life and times of Rocky Mount. Perhaps we too will have someone coming after us who shares our interests and passions and is carrying on in our place. Wouldn’t that be lovely!


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The Time Has Come To Talk Of Many Things – Cabbages and Kings

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
― Martin Luther

There was a point in my marriage when I pondered the   philosophical question: If you don’t want to do something, does that mean I can’t? That is until one day it occurred to me to write down what these somethings were that I thought I couldn’t do. It turned out that most of the list didn’t require Bob in any way, like wanting to be more intentional about my writing.  

I tell you this story because here in Rocky Mount there is a certain amount of, “does this mean we can’t,” going on. We have let the bad guys consume our energy and ire. We have become the animals in the zoo looking out at self-serving councilmen, mismanagement, job turn over in city government, a Human Relations Committee that is like a bad joke, of name-calling, the outcry of racism when certain people are put under a spotlight, asked questions or criticized. We wind up with an attitude that things will never change, there is no point voting, etc. But things are changing in spite of these bad actors. Voting gets rid of self-serving councilman one by one. Do they make things difficult, of course, but the revitalization of Rocky Mount continues as more people are moving here, great companies are bringing jobs and energy. These wonderful investors and new business start-ups are our somethings that have a will of their own, persisting, believing, and are the future of Rocky Mount in our midst now. The question: If you don’t want to, does that mean I can’t, can mean in our personal lives now and then,  no we can’t. In the case of Rocky Mount, in spite of any obstacles, we are moving forward and the answer is we can, and we will. Attitude, attitude, attidude, it does make a difference,

Join me on my Main Street bench.                                 The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’                                             (Lewis Carroll)

I invite you to follow this blog and check out the new Facebook page by the same name: Click here -Main Street Rocky Mount. Like and Follow that too.  Thanks.

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Entrepreneurs and Rocky Mount Go Together Like Pooh Bear and Honey, Like Travis and Kristi, Brandon and Etaf

Etaf Rum and Brandon Clarke

From the back seat of my car, a 3-1/2-year-old child reacts to a familiar place. “Grammy!!! there is Barley and Burger where Daddy and I have our date nights. They have french fries!” Spoken by a decerning french fry expert. Annaclaire has recently put together that there are four places in Rocky Mount where you can eat french fries. She will tell you: Sonic, Central Cafe, The Club, and Barley and Burger. There is a lot to love about Barley and Burger besides the menu and date night and waffle fries. It signifies something important to the community.

Located at 2921 Zebulon Road, it offers the atmosphere of a drop-in neighborhood restaurant where everyone knows your name. I can stop by on my own and feel comfortable sitting on a barstool, talking to those behind the counter.

The owners, Travis and Kristi Ellis, Brandon Clarke, and Etaf Rum are important players in Rocky Mount’s revitalization story.  Ellis and his wife, Kristi, also own the Goat Island Bottle Shop at the Rocky Mount Mills. Author, Etaf Rum and Brandon Clarke have just opened Books and Beans, the restored and repurposed Mill Canteen. Only Brandon is from Rocky Mount, but in combination, these dynamic duo couples are helping to change the face of Rocky Mount.  Young, incredibly hard-working, friendly and smart, they believe!

Interior of Barley & Burgers

Rather than parking spaces reserved with their names, or being carried around on a silver platter as they deserve, Rocky Mount investors often have one heck of a time with a system that seems deliberately intent on discouraging their efforts to repurpose a building and open a business. Unlike the people running Rocky Mount Mills, who move heaven and earth to help you with your plans, the City Council and management seem to thwart investors. Look how quickly the world out at the Mill has come together with the will, leadership, and common purpose. Yet there is a struggle for every inch we gain on Main Street. The May Gorham building was going to open as an old fashion soda shop, interior intact, but the investors grew discouraged and backed off. The Carlton House is back on the market. It always comes back to the merry band of brothers and sisters with their self-interests. I’d like to think before the rapture comes, something will change. Knocked off their donkeys on the road to Main Street, the councilmen who are paying back taxes on empty buildings with an eye to taking them over, structures they own outright, plus the inner circle of friends who get special favors, will actually do something right and save these buildings.

In my active imagination, I see Rocky Mount as a stagecoach, and the passengers, the taxpayers, being ambushed by robbers. I see a newly elected sheriff Roberson and new posse members galloping over the rise. In my fantasy, they surround the bandits who are responsible for the deliberate foot-dragging that is catamount to sabotage and lock them up. If you haven’t already, add to your list of concerns, the treatment of these investors that have serious consequences. I believe Travis and Kristi, Brandon, and Etaf, Ben Braddock, Andrew Clarke and Jesse Gerstl have Rocky Mount’s best interests at heart. Thank you! They are the future in our midst now.

Books and Beans
Adaptive Preservation


Have you checked out the new Main Street Facebook page? I hope you will like and follow.’


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