A1 A1

A group makes Chrismons at Wilkes Senior Resources during the recent holidy season.

Over 1,100 doses expected for Wilkes clinics this week
  • Updated

The Wilkes County Health Department expects to have enough Moderna vaccine for administering over 1,100 first or second doses late this week, said Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard.

This includes 600 doses for a drive-through first dose clinic by appointment only at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro Thursday. To make an appointment, call the health department at 336-990-9950.

Willard said the another 300 doses on hand will be administered to people in “historically disadvantaged communities,” primarily minorities. She said Monday that the health department is working with “various community gatekeepers” to reach and vaccinate people in these communities Thursday.

Willard said any vaccine for first doses left over by the end of the week will be administered Monday.

Late last week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced an increased emphasis on vaccinating people for COVID-19 in historically disadvantaged communities. Many of these communities have lower COVID-19 vaccination rates, largely due to problems with transportation and communication.

Willard said the health department will have enough Moderna vaccine for giving over 200 second doses by appointment only in a clinic starting at 10 a.m. Friday at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge. This drive-through clinic is for people who received first doses of Moderna on or before Jan. 8. The health department asked that people not arrive before 9 a.m. and no later than 11:30 a.m.

A drive-through second dose clinic for people who received first doses of the Moderna vaccine on or before Jan. 15 is scheduled Feb. 12 at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge.

Willard said Friday that about 85% of people who received first doses of Moderna at Wilkes Health Department clinics had received their second doses. Nearly 3,000 people had received first doses at Wilkes Health Department clinics by Friday.

Appointments for second dose vaccinations can be made by calling the health department at 336-990-9950. People with appointments for second doses need to bring their white vaccine cards to the clinic.

The Wilkes Health Department is still only vaccinating people in groups one and two of the state’s vaccination plan. These include people 65 and older and people in health professions with greater potential to be exposed to people with COVID-19.

More details are on the health department website at wil kescounty.net/617/ Vaccine-Clinic.

Remote community's one-teacher school on National Register
  • Updated

One of Wilkes County’s last one-teacher schools has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, a federal listing of historical sites, structures, objects and districts deemed worthy of preservation.

The designation for Harmon School, built on upper Sheets Gap Road in the northern edge of Wilkes 100 years ago, was announced Jan. 27 by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The application for Harmon School’s inclusion on the register called it Wilkes County’s only remaining example of a wood frame, one-room schoolhouse designed with a partition and built in the 1920s during the county’s transition away from poorly-designed rural school buildings.

The application also said it’s the county’s only surviving one-room school with early Progressive design features. Although Harmon School was built for white students, Progressive school designs of the late 1910s and early 1920s were developed at the Tuskegee Institute for schools serving Black students.

Harmon, New Life and Loggins, all in remote sections of Union Township, were Wilkes County’s last one-teacher schools. After their closure in 1954-55, students who would have attended them went to newly-constructed brick Union Township Elementary School on Old N.C. 16.

A banner headline in the Nov. 21, 1955, issue of The Journal-Patriot celebrated “modern Union Township School” and its replacement of Harmon and other “ramshackle” school buildings, including Shepherd, White Oak, Sherman, Miller, Friendship, Concord, Whittington and Piney Ridge. A few decades later, Union Township School was closed as consolidation continued.

Harmon School is a one-story, wood-frame structure on rock piers with a hipped, tin roof built in 1920-21. It stands about a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway and a slightly shorter distance from the Ashe County line.

The building’s one classroom could be split in half with a removable partition, but it doesn’t appear to usually have had more than one teacher at a time serving students in first through seventh or first through sixth grades. The building’s deeply recessed entry porch with two doors and two cloakrooms facilitated the shift to two classrooms.

The application said large windows on all four sides of Harmon School helped maximize natural lighting. Top and bottom glass panes of these double-hung sash windows were simultaneously opened for ventilation.

The application noted Harmon School’s current good condition. It’s owned by Keith and Sara Reeves of Winter Park, Fla., who bought land adjoining the two-acre school parcel and built a part-time residence a few hundred feet from Harmon School in the 1970s.

Keith Reeves said that because of the building’s worsening condition and proximity to their home, they bought it in 1984. Mrs. G.D. Miller is listed on the deed as the seller. She was the wife of Dewey Miller, who owned and operated a country store that was a center of life in the community for decades.

“The school was in terrible condition and was probably just a few years away from collapsing at that point,” said Reeves. The new owners hired Ray Miller, who attended Harmon School, to restore the building in 1985-86.

“As an architect, I felt a moral responsibility to do what was right” with the historic structure. “And my wife had fallen in love with it,” said Reeves, who owns an architectural firm in Florida.

Restoration included replacing wooden twin front doors, gone by the early 1980s, with wooden doors with the same panel design as the originals. All of the windows and two cloakroom doors were missing, but the replacements closely resemble the originals. Historic and modern graffiti was left on walls of the cloakrooms.

The original raised platform or stage with two steps runs the full width of the classroom’s southeast end.

The school’s tin-clad belfry has a replica bell. A duplicate wood finial (decorative spire) atop the belfry replaced the rotting original. Originally, two metal flues connected a wood-burning stove to the chimney near a wall.

In place of two two-seater privies — one for girls and one for boys — originally behind the school, Miller built a single functional privy that closely resembles the originals.

Wanting the historic building to again be a community asset, the Reeveses make it available for public and private gatherings. It has been a venue for family reunions, birthday parties, church gatherings and more, including a wedding and reunions of former students at Harmon School. There is no charge, he said. “We just ask that people not abuse it.”

It housed an exhibit of Keith Reeves’ photos of many residents of upper Sheets Gap Road who became the couple’s friends after they built a home there. Featured are Dewy Miller, Dempsey Roten, Howard and “Veedie” Walker and Charlie and Amanda “Mandy” Wayne and others. Most are deceased now and Dewey Miller’s store is closed. Reeves said he recognized what was lost with the passing of older residents so he interviewed many and recorded their memories.

He said they’ll be part of another exhibit on the upper Sheets Gap Road area he’s putting together, focusing on pre-European years through the 20th century, at the Ashe Arts Center in West Jefferson in August.

Reeves hired Dr. Eric Plaag of Boone, a historical consultant, to research Harmon School and prepare the application for placement on the register.

Plagg reported finding a reference in Wilkes Board of Education records indicating Rufus Sheets was paid $150 for the building site in 1920, even though it is generally believed that Sheets and his family donated land for the school. He found a reference to “Bare and Bare” being paid $500 for constructing Harmon School in 1921.

Created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is administered by the National Park Service in partnership with state governments. Included property may qualify for tax incentives based on preservation expenses, but it puts no obligations or restrictions on private owners.

A National Park Service official called the keeper of the register makes the final decision on which submissions from states are approved for inclusion on the register.

In North Carolina, the state historic preservation officer (director of N.C. Office of Archives and History) decided which applications are submitted to the keeper of the register from among those submitted by an advisory committee.

Three other individual properties and four historic districts are among North Carolina’s latest additions to the register, all announced Jan. 27. They include the Country Club Estates and Surry Lebanon Hill historic districts in Mount Airy and the Southern Railway Freight Station in Morganton.

Harmon School joined nearly 25 other properties or historic districts in Wilkes on the register.

Wilkes Central senior Bryce Smithey tries to chase down a long outlet pass as North Wilkes juniors A.J. Crane (30) and Grayson Lamb pursue on defense in Moravian Falls on Friday.

Two must pay $132,158 to WTA in plea agreement
  • Updated

Two former Wilkes Transportation Authority (WTA) executive directors must pay a combined $132,158 in restitution to the agency as part of a plea agreement reached in an embezzlement case.

Resident Superior Court Judge Michael Duncan ordered that Robin Craven Kipp, 56, of North Wilkesboro and Michael Keith Norwood, 42, of Millers Creek pay $87,624 and $44,534 respectively to WTA when he sentenced them in Wilkes Superior Court on Jan. 19. These amounts are based on unauthorized pay and medical insurance supplements identified in a forensic audit of WTA records.

He ordered that Kipp and Norwood be jointly and severally liable for $27,925 in unauthorized bonuses — mostly paid to other WTA employees — and included this in the restitutions of $87,624 and $44,534. Each is supposed to pay half of $27,925, but one must be responsible for whatever portion isn’t paid.

Duncan also sentenced Kipp to 20-33 months in prison and Norwood to 13-25 months in prison, but suspended prison time and ordered that they be on supervised probation for 60 months each. Kipp faced a minimum of 80 months and Norwood a minimum of 52 months in prison based on their charges.

Kipp was charged with and pleaded guilty to seven counts of embezzlement by a public official and three counts of obtaining property by false pretense. These charges are based on offenses between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2018. Kipp was WTA finance manager in the first half of this period and executive director the second half. Warrants charging her with obtaining property by false pretense said she used a WTA credit card to buy essential oil products and personal insurance, including for jewelry and an auto.

Norwood was charged with and pleaded guilty to six counts of embezzlement by a public official for offenses between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2017. He became WTA executive director in early February 2013, after working eight years as finance officer for AppalCART, the public transit in Watauga County.

Kipp and Norwood were charged with and pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy for conspiring with each other to embezzle funds from WTA between July 1, 2014, and May 16, 2017.

Duncan cited acceptance of responsibility by Kipp and Norwood as a mitigating factor in their sentencing. He cited the fact that Kipp was a public official as an aggravating factor and ordered that she not be on WTA property without written permission.

He said the large amount of restitution resulted in longer probation periods, but stated full payment of restitution and compliance with other sentencing terms would result in unsupervised rather than supervised probation after 36 months. Kipp was ordered to pay $15,000 of her restitution and Norwood to pay $7,400 of his on the same day they were sentenced.

Norwood resigned as executive director at a WTA board meeting in mid-May 2017, after the board approved a motion to fire him if he didn’t resign. Minutes said the board agreed to waive repayment of a personal loan from WTA to Norwood before he resigned in exchange for him agreeing to not speak about WTA.

The WTA board appointed Kipp interim executive director at that same meeting and voted to promote her to executive director on Sept. 19, 2017. At a WTA board meeting in late July 2018, Kipp resigned after board members said they had no faith in her plans for improving the public transit’s finances.

In early October 2018, the Wilkes County commissioners named themselves the WTA board in place of nine members they appointed in early 2018 by approving amendments to a 2004 county ordinance converting WTA from a private, nonprofit to a public agency. Some of the nine named to the board in early 2018 were already serving in that capacity, but hadn’t been appointed in accordance with WTA policy.

Prior to the commissioners becoming the WTA board, the board included representatives of human service agencies using WTA services, Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro town managers and county government representatives.

Acting as the WTA board, the commissioners named Gary Page, former Wilkes County manager, interim WTA director in October 2018. In December 2018, they approved a contract with certified public accountant R. Lawrence Young of Raleigh, a former State Bureau of Investigation agent, authorizing a forensic audit that cost about $20,000. Forensic audits are often done to provide evidence for prosecuting financial malfeasance.

The WTA board (commissioners) approved promoting Michael Johnson from trip scheduling to WTA director, effective March 25, 2019. In his two-plus years at WTA, Johnson had been morning trip dispatcher, a driver and held other positions.

After results of the forensic audit were shared with District Attorney Tom Horner’s office, SBI Agent L.D. Hagaman III began investigating and filed the warrants charging Kipp and Norwood in late 2019.

WTA’s mounting requests for financial help from county government, starting in 2017, made the commissioners increasingly aware that something was awry. Prior to 2017, the county hadn’t appropriated funds to WTA since $40,500 in fiscal 2009-10 and $50,000 the prior year. At one point, WTA officials had to choose between paying the fuel bill for WTA vehicles or payroll taxes due to a lack of revenue.

A Whiteville CPA firm hired by the county to review WTA finances found that WTA directors made cash advances to themselves and that a WTA credit card was used improperly, including for a home insurance payment. The accountant reported finding that two WTA directors were paid more than their approved salaries and that one never worked more than 25 hours a week.

Florida-based Transpro Consulting LLC, hired by the N.C. Department of Transportation to review WTA finances in 2017, cited personal loans of WTA funds to Norwood and Kipp and Christmas bonuses to employees. The Whiteville CPA said such loans weren’t allowed.

Assistant District Attorney Leigh Bricker, who prosecuted the case in which Kipp and Norwood were charged, said he consulted with County Attorney Tony Triplett and County Manager John Yates on the plea agreement with Kipp and Norwood. Bricker said Triplett and Yates agreed with the agreement under which the two former WTA executive directors were sentenced on Jan. 19.

Two deaths in wreck result in prison time
  • Updated

The driver of a car in a wreck that resulted in loss of two lives was sentenced to between 44 and 65 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to two counts of felony death by vehicle in Wilkes County Superior Court on Jan. 19.

William Ernest Mitchell, 22, of Taylorsville, was driving the 2003 Honda Civic that wrecked on Hunting Creek Road in southeastern Wilkes about 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6.

Casey Tyler Robinson, 23, of Harmony, a passenger in the Honda, died in the wreck.

Jeremy Nicholson, 30, of Iredell County, another passenger in the car, was a patient at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem when he died Oct. 19 from injuries he received in the wreck.

Trooper R.R. Walker said the Honda was westbound when it went off the right side of Hunting Creek Road, overcorrected and then went off the left side of the road and hit several large tree stumps as it overturned down an embankment. The car came to rest on its top in a field.

Walker said Robinson and Nicholson were thrown from the vehicle as it overturned, while Mitchell was able to climb out of the car. He said Mitchell was impaired by drugs.

Resident Superior Court Judge Robert Duncan sentenced to Mitchell to two prison terms of 44-65 months each but suspended one and ordered that he be on 36 months of supervised probation as part of a plea agreement.

One count each of possession of methamphetamine and driving while impaired were dismissed.

Duncan cited Mitchell’s acceptance of responsibility as a mitigating factor. He recommended vocational education for Mitchell.

The investigation included consultation with District Attorney Tom Horner’s office.