Main Street Christmas Reflection with Love from Stepheny

The year is winding down and within all of us remain the children we once were who still anticipate Christmas. Based on comments you have left on this blog, Christmas memories are some of your favorite when remembering Main Street Rocky Mount;  a downtown where everyone enjoyed the decorations, the shopping, and greeted each other with a heartfelt Merry Christmas.

Christmas is surely one of the most nostalgic times of the year.  I can close my eyes and return to my room in the house on the corner of  Asbury Avenue and Lyons street in Evanston, IL.  There I sit on the radiator cover my father built looking out the large double-hung windows at the snow that flutters down, the streetlamps casting a magical glow.  One side of the elm trees that cascade over Asbury Ave is dark and wet, the other white with snow sticking to the bark. The snow that is slowly piling on a branch finally tumbles to the ground with one flake too many, leaving holes in the crusted snow. Whether it really snowed every Christmas Eve, I can’t be sure, but in remembering, why not?

When it comes time to think of the year ahead, having counted our blessings, and recognized anew our loved ones, let’s do something significant that influences the preservation and restoration of Main Street.  Breaking the task further down, if you live in one of our historic neighborhoods, here is what I suggest. Concentrate on your neighborhood organization.  You may have given up on the group, feel irritated because it became nothing more than a gripe session; please talk to your neighbors and take it on. Help reorganize it so it becomes a proactive voice for your neighborhood’s needs. Walk the neighborhood and take some notes. What’s sitting empty, what may be unsavable, what complaints need to be lodged with landlords that aren’t caring for their properties. Just taking this on for one another, is a huge step. We can no longer sit on our hands waiting for promises to come true that don’t. We all want the same thing – safe and sound places to live. These associations are in place and can be renewed and revitalized: a large voice for preservation, restoration, and pride.

As Advent continues, we recognize that we are the innkeepers who must make room in our hearts and minds for this Christ child who is born anew within us. The blessings of the Season to you and yours. I thank you for keeping me company on Main Street. Consider yourselves hugged and appreciated. Think of Stepheny as I sit on a bench downtown clapping my hands because I do believe in possibilities. I believe that we can have a beautiful Main Street anew and safe neighborhoods shining with Christmas lights.

Wishing you a heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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Partnering With Stepheny – Beginning February 2019

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Preservation of our architectural assets needs a critical mass of people who are interested in having a voice in the matter. As a board member, I’m heading up a new Advocacy committee for Preservation Rocky Mount. I know many of you who read this blog have a great interest in the continuing revitalization efforts of Rocky Mount. You carry pictures in your mind’s eye of Main Street, which you think of as once upon a time.

Let’s do something important together. I have recently changed the gallery photographs on the sidebar of this blog. The gallery has featured our Shot Gun houses, our Sears Catalogue Houses, Villa Place Homes when the tour was taking place a year ago.  The photos this time are not pretty. Unfortunately, there are many more just like them. We all remember the children’s book, The Little Engine That CouldI think I can, I think I can. 

I definitely THINK WE CAN! when it comes to finding a new will to carry on the great efforts of the Peter Varney years of preservation efforts at the Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, StreetScape and more. We need to unite behind the enforcement of ordinances already on the books that would go a long way to jump-starting a new determination to Save Mainstreet and all that encompasses.

You don’t have to join Preservation Rocky Mount, though I wish you would. For now, make a mental note that in February, (date/time/location to be announced.) there will be a meeting I want you to come to. Instead of sitting on one of the benches along Main Street to talk as we often do, we will gather and do some thinking together. Preservation groups in other cities have worked hard and become an influential voice. I would love to be remembered as someone who helped ensure our architectural inventory, our sense of place, recognized and embraced preservation as an economic engine. Wouldn’t you like that too?

Click on each image in the photo gallery and you will get a full view rather than the little thumbnails pictures. Get your brain in gear and repeat after me — Yes, we can, yes we can.

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In Case You Missed the article In The Telegram Published On Nov. 25,’18

Sunday, November 25, 2018 – Rocky Mount Telegram                                          From Contributed Reports

Twin County Hall of Fame Welcomes New Inductees

Lanny Shuff left, and Sam Toler hold Toler’s portrait during the Twin County Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

The 15th annual Twin County Hall of Fame Induction Banquet was many things this year — not only a celebration of 12 new inductees but a revival meeting, a fashion show, a reunion of friends, family and supporters and a remembering of those gone before us that helped form who we have become — our parents, mentors, coaches, educators and friends.
The banquet was a first at the new, spectacular Rocky Mount Event Center where rooms Edgecombe 1, 2 and 3 can be opened to seat a large gathering. Everyone was appreciative of the chef back in the kitchen preparing food for a small, intimate dinner party of 500 people, who were served a delicious meal of salad, steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and small cheesecake desserts.

This was a history-making occasion with an audience filled to capacity since the Induction Banquets began and the first catered event in the Event Center. Golden Platter Milton Bulluck, a 2006 inductee, entertained the audience with several signature songs.
Framed portraits honoring the lives, leadership and careers of the class of 2018 Inductees were presented in honor of Dr. Robert and Rev. Carolyn Barbe, Dr. Newsom Pittman Battle and Dr. Margaret White Battle, James Erastus Batts, Dr. Charles Marshall Coats, Janice Beavon Gravely, Janice Bryant Howroyd, Robert ‘Bob’ Melton, Lt. Col. James A. Mercer. Betsy Buckley, and Samuel A. “Sam” Toler. In addition, Kimberly Kyser accepted on behalf of her father, musician Kay Kyser, who was inducted in the class of 2004.

A life of service and leadership with the underpinnings of education, discipline, responsibility, perseverance and strong parenting was the reoccurring theme throughout the inductees’ stories. The acknowledgment that faith, prayer and the church strengthened the lives of these outstanding citizens was evident.

No one in attendance will soon forget the quiet, sweet voice of inductee Janice Bryant Howroyd when accepting her award while singing the hymn her mother taught her: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. I know his eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches over me.”

At the end of the evening, there was a collaborative sigh of thanksgiving for the inductees, the success of the occasion and the amazing guests. There was even a shout from within the Event Center: “We Did it!”
They certainly did.

SFH with an additional Comment: When I went off to the University of Kentucky, I intended to major in Journalism, but my Freshman Advisor was the head of the Sociology Department and one thing led to another. The closest I got to0 that original dream was selling advertising for a weekly newspaper called The Country Gentleman in Crestwood Ky. When Lanny Shuff asked me to write this piece for the Telegram it brought a smile. You know the expression having your day in court, well, I had my day writing for a newspaper. It was fun.  

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An Invitation for Dinner on November 8th With 12 Interesting Guests

Did you ever play the game ‘dinner party’ where you named your guest list from famous people? I always thought it revealed interesting things about my friends as they named their list. I dare say you will know more about me if I tell you I would invite – Coach K, Roger Federer, Amos Townes the author of A Gentleman in Moscow, Newt Gingrich,  English gardener and writer, Beverley Nichols, singer Michael Boule, and Senator, Susan Collins, who recently gave an historic speech on the floor of the Senate.

You are invited and have a wonderful opportunity to have dinner with the class of 2018 inductees for the Twin County Hall of Fame. This year’s class includes an author and painter, an educator, the ‘King of ‘Barbecue, two groundbreaking female business owners, two married couples of medical doctors, a veterinarian, a 30-year Little League Coach, and a military and public safety officer. The inductees come from both Edgecombe and Nash Counties.  Six are living and six will be inducted posthumously.

Dr. Robert Barbe and Rev. Carolyn Barbe
Dr. Newsom Pittman Battle and Dr. Margaret White Battle
James Erastus Batts
Dr. Charles Marshall Coats
Janice Beavon Gravely
Janice Bryant Howroyd
Lt. Col. James Mercer, US Army (Ret.)
Robert “Bob” Melton
Betsy B. Strandberg
Samuel A. Toler

 

The event is being held at the new Rocky Mount Event Center, which is an amazing venue for a wonderful occasion like this. We are among the first guests and I guarantee you will be wowed by this new public building. Come and honor those who lived their lives making a difference in the community and thank those who are still with us for their leadership today. Your ticket not only helps pay for your dinner but acts as a fundraiser, a much-appreciated contribution towards the framed portraits that are given to the inductees and a fund that one day will help purchase a permanent space for the Twin County Hall of Fame. Your support for this annual event is appreciated! Looking forward to seeing you there.

5:30 p.m. Registration and Social, 6:15 p.m. Dinner, 7:00 p.m. Program

CLICK HERE TO FIND A REGISTRATION FORM FOR THIS EVENT 

YOU CAN PAY BY MAIL OR ONLINE

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Open House at the Event Center Today at 4:00 – It’s Fantastic!

I took myself to the Event Center yesterday and oh, my, it is really something. It is an amazing venue for sports events and future Rocky Mount activities. I can’t name my favorite part, but in the beginning, it was the sports area for sure. But then I thought the meeting spaces were wonderful and I can’t wait to have a hot dog in the snack area.

You will be pleased. In spite of the disagreements, the concerns, the bah humbug, things believed wrong, what has been created is a first-class public building. I will let the photographs I took wet your appetite for more.

Twin County Hall of Fame Recipients

A meaningful thing happened as I was leaving the center when I stopped to talk with a young black man. I asked him if he was working on the project and he said, “Yes, Ma’am, but inside.”  “I bet it makes you proud to have been a part of this project.” His face lite up and he repeated, “Yes, Ma’am.” That was the moment the Event Center opened for me.

Mark my words, just like the controversial ballpark that got built in downtown Greenville, SC, this Event Center is a winner and a destination. You know what my admonition to everyone is – –                     CLAP YOUR HANDS AND BELIEVE!

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Twin County Hall of Fame Portraits Newly Exhibited in the Rocky Mount Event Center

 

Everyone is nervous. As I visited the newly hung portraits of The Twin County Hall of Fame recipients, many asked if their hair still looked okay, were their ties straight, did their clothes look too out of date? You can’t blame them, really. They know they are now gathered in the new Rocky Mount Event Center where hundreds of people at a time will be looking at them and reading about their contributions that won them their special place. It is one thing to be seen in a small area of the train station and another to be exhibited in a thoughtful and tasteful way on the walls of a fabulous new public building. I dare say they all have thought to themselves, this is the kind of thing that happens to other people, those more worthy than I that I have read about and admired.

Yet, here they all are. It will bring a tear to your eye as you pass through the receiving line greeting the recipients one at a time. The same people who tried to live their lives by making a difference and those still with us carrying on in that same tradition. It is ‘meet and right’ as we Episcopalians pray, to honor them in this new setting where they find themselves. They must secretly be proud because it is a first-rate, impressive presentation.

We click our heels and salute them once again.

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Main Street Is In Need of a Jewish Grandmother

For years my daughter, Claire, and I have enjoyed a little in-house ‘Jewish Mother’ humor, a response when she tells me that she is headed off on an adventure lasting a few days, be it work or fun. I have been known to respond in my best ‘Jewish Mother’ voice…..”Go, I don’t want you should worry about me, here, all by myself.” When a conversation like this took place the other day, it got me thinking……

What Main Street Rocky Mount needs is a real Jewish Grandmother who can worry about six things at a time, and more than that, give us the benefit of her wisdom. If only grandmother, LaVerta, were still alive and available to us. I am coming to know this particular Jewish grandmother through the loving stories told by her grandson who is a dear friend of mine. I imagine her as a cross between Auntie Mame and a wisdom figure with ties to the Desert Fathers. LaVerta exposed her grandson to some of the finer things in life instilling in him an appreciation for couture clothes and a good martini and everything in-between. She encouraged this bright and articulate boy, who grew up with a passion for many things, to have the courage of his convictions.

Once she told her grandson when he was involved in a controversial political campaign, “Roddy sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground.” Which brings me to the point of my musings today. I think we must embrace LaVerta’s admonition and be willing to put our stakes in the ground when it comes to saving Main Street.

It’s complicated when one is raised with southern sensibilities. The thought process goes like this – If I speak up, I could offend friends or business associates, all the interrelated connections like — my grandmother dated your grandfather back in college or our families who went to the beach together every summer; a myriad of concerns that give one pause before deciding whether to get involved or not. This is why I think Main Street needs a Jewish grandmother. Besides loving and worrying over us, she would admonish us to have the courage of our convictions; telling us, “Sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground before it’s too late, and that time is now.”

Watercolor credits:

Picture #1 -Small Town Illinois by Timothy Arties, Picture #2 -Alex S. Kosich, Jr. AIA Architectural Renderings, Design Consultant,  Picture #3 Rosie Philips Fine Art

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