The 2019 class of the Wilkes County Hall of Fame (WCHOF) was inducted Thursday during a gala at the Stone Center for Performing Arts, North Wilkesboro.
The nine inductees, who comprised the WCHOF’s sixth class, included outstanding individuals in the fields of education, public service, sports, business, and religion: John R. Bentley, Dr. James “Jim” Brooks, Arthur M. “Buster” Bush, Conley Call, Elizabeth Ann Parks Grinton, Randall “Rudy” Holbrook, Heather Murphy, James “Jim” Swofford and the Rev. Sherrill D. Wellborn.
Dr. Marty Hemric, president of the Wilkes County Hall of Fame, said the nine inductees had several commonalities; they all had pursued excellence, all had exemplary characters and all had genuine love of service. “There is genuine, God-inspired leadership in each one,” Hemric said. He said he hoped the new class would inspire youth and serve as role models.
He noted that in the past six years, there have been 57 inductees and over $100,000 has been raised through the WCHOF, which has directly benefitted the youth of Wilkes County in the fields of the arts and athletics. Last year, 28 grants totaling $27,000 were funded.
One of the grant recipients in 2018 was Beth Poplin, choral director at East Wilkes High School, who received $500 for a piano lab at the school. She was able to purchase nine keyboards and teach piano lessons this semester. Two of her students, Morgan Blankley and Meagan Reeves, performed piano solos at the gala Thursday.
Wilkes County Schools Superintendent Mark Byrd, an ex-officio member of the WCHOF, introduced master of ceremonies, Larry Stone Jr., a Wilkes County native who is the president of Stonecom, based in Cookeville, Tenn. Stonecom serves the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee with stations Lite Rock 95.5, 106-9 Kicks Country, Rock 93-7 and News Talk 94.1. Stone has a commitment to philanthropy and his stations serve the community through scholarships, monthly community salutes, Easter egg hunts, and yard sales, whose proceeds go back into local charities.
Stone said the WCHOF gala had become like a family reunion. The gala happens around Memorial Day, Stone said, when the country remembers fallen heroes. “They (the inductees) are heroes,” Stone said, “They are people who had a vision and led other people to success.” They have taken the youth of the county “to the next step,” he said.
One of the highlights this year was the formation of a leadership forum, Stone said, in which youth leaders in the Wilkes County Schools came together for round table discussions with WCHOF inductees and members of the WCHOF board. The discussions were impactful, he said.
Prior to receiving their awards, a short video about each inductee was shown, which had been produced by River Street Productions. Inductees were:
John R. Bentley—John Bentley is a well-known Boy Scouts of America volunteer, and has been involved in Scouting for 69 years. He has served as scoutmaster of five different troops in Wilkes and Avery counties, as well as district representative. Bentley was awarded the Silver Beaver, Boy Scouts of America’s highest honor, as well as other Scouting awards. in 1990, the John R. Bentley Scholarship was started for his unselfish service to boys and Scouting.
Bentley is a 1957 graduate of Wilkes Central High School and completed two years at Lees McRae College. He served in the United States Army, both in the CCA Unit Police and the 2nd Medium Tank Batallion, 1st Calvary, 3rd Armored Division.
“God has been good to me, God has led me and I give Him the thanks,” Bentley said.
Dr. James “Jim” Brooks—Dr. Jim Brooks has been recognized for his excellence in teaching at the local, regional and national level. He was named the “Outstanding North Carolina English Teacher” in 2010, by the North Carolina English Teachers Association and was inducted in the National Teacher Hall of Fame in 2012, only the second teacher from North Carolina to be inducted.
Brooks is a graduate of Beaver Creek High School and earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Appalachian State University. He is a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent/Young Adults/ English/Language Arts and has been teaching at West Wilkes High School since 1985.
In the video, Brooks’ former principal, Steve Moree, said, “Jim lifts up everybody. He brings out the ‘want to.’” Brooks said his students were like his children. “I am blessed to have lived here and taught for 34 years.”
Arthur M. “Buster” Bush—The late Buster Bush was instrumental in getting started the first recreation department in North Wilkesboro. He led a recreation department for youth, with the help of several local churches, several years before the Town of North Wilkesboro started financing the program. Bush served as the first recreation director for 30 years. He was also active in the North Wilkesboro Optimist Club, was a Boy Scout leader and was a North Wilkesboro volunteer fireman.
Bush’s daughter, Vanessa, said her father believed in the slogan, “it takes a village,” long before it became popular. He often told her, “If a child comes in your path, you are responsible for that child.” Bush impacted the lives of thousands of young people by serving as their coach, mentor, friend and father image.
Bush graduated from North Wilkesboro High School, where he was active in Scouting and athletics, and played semi-pro baseball.
Conley Call—The late Conley Call, a 1950 graduate of Mountain View School, was employed by American Drew Furniture Company for 53 years and was a volunteer fireman for the North Wilkesboro Fire Department from 1956-1993, serving as lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and chief. He was a 63- year member of the Odd Fellow Lodge, where he held local, state and national offices, and was elected mayor of North Wilkesboro in 1993 and served for eight years.
Call was quoted as saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson said in the video clip, “Conley loved his family, town and county,” and said Call was a mentor to him.
Call was a graduate of the United States Army Leadership School, the Artillery and Guided Missile School, the Infantry Career School and the Command and General Staff College. He attended the Institute of Government at Chapel Hill, Wilson Community College, Forsyth Community College and Wilkes Community College.
Elizabeth Ann Parks Grinton—In introducing the late Elizabeth Grinton, Stone said, “You did not mess with Elizabeth Grinton.” She graduated from Lincoln Heights School in 1935, obtained her bachelor’s degree in education from Winston-Salem Teacher’s College in 1947, and earned a master’s degree from New York University. Additionally, she studied at Wake Forest University, North Carolina A&T State University and Appalachian State University.
Grinton began her teaching career at Lincoln Heights School in 1947 and was assigned to Wilkesboro Elementary School in 1968, when Lincoln Heights was closed. She was noted for being a strict teacher, but would help anyone, said Dr. Alexander Erwin in the video. Erwin said Grinton was his mentor and emphasized to “give your best, work hard and be a good citizen.”
Following her retirement, Grinton stayed active in the education community. In 1995 she was awarded with the Presidential Service Award for Exemplary Volunteer Service from President Clinton. She served on many local boards and was the author of a book, “Treasure Troves,” which documented the life and family history of Judith Barber.
Randall “Rudy” Holbrook—Rudy Holbrook grew up in Benham and is a 1973 graduate of East Wilkes High School. He has been a successful businessman in Ronda for 39 years, as co-founder of Southeastern Cars and Parts. “He’s a respected and trusted member of the community, as a result of his honesty, leadership and passion to help others.”
He is currently serving his fourth term on the Wilkes County Board of Education and has served on various boards in Wilkes and Surry counties. Holbrook is a lifelong member of Cool Springs Baptist Church, where he serves as deacon and youth leader.
Holbrook said, “I am honored. I thank the Good Lord and my family.” He also expressed appreciation to Gary York for nominating him and Representative Virginia Foxx for attending.
Heather Murphy—Murphy came to Wilkes in 1979 as office manager at WWWC Radio, after her graduation from Ohio University. After co-founding Thursday Magazine, in 1995 Murphy was named director of the Health Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the health and well-being of Wilkes.
Under her leadership, the Health Foundation has made significant improvements to health care services, including turning West Park into a medical campus. She is known for leading cross-sector collaborations among organizations to advance health initiatives in the county. Murphy has received numerous honors including 20/20 Volunteer of the Year and Rotary Club’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2009. The Health Foundation has also received local and statewide recognition. An active member of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murphy has also served on many local boards.
“I encourage you to embrace the joy of volunteering,” Murphy said, “Thank you for this great honor. I share it with all of you.”
James “Jim” Swofford—A 1955 graduate of Wilkes Central High School, Jim Swofford received a full football scholarship to Duke University and played in the 1958 Orange Bowl. He played in the 1954 Shrine Bowl and was named to the N.C. High School All Star Team.
Following his graduation from Duke, Swofford became a United States Marine Corps officer. After his father’s death, he returned home to manage his family’s business, Swofford’s Inc., with his brother, Carl. He and his brother, and their partners, started a new business in the 1960s, with franchises such as Hardee’s, Microtel Hotel, Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and SJS Development Group. Swofford served on the board of the North Carolina Zoological Park for 20 years.
Swofford said he is “grateful to Mother Wilkes. She gave me my education. I’ll be forever grateful to my coaches and teachers.” Wilkes County has been good to his family, Swofford said. His older brother, Carl, blazed the trail. “We’re forever grateful. You blazed a good trail.” He also expressed appreciation to his wife, Jody, who he said “was sent from heaven to look after him.”
Rev. Sherrill Wellborn—Rev. Wellborn, originally from Boone, graduated from Appalachian High School in 1959 and received an honorary doctorate of divinity degree from Foothills Christian College. He came to Wilkes County in 1971 as full-time pastor of Lewis Fork Baptist, where he served for 41 years. During this time, Lewis Fork was named the North Carolina Rural Church of the Year, and established an 18-year continuous record of the most baptisms in the Brushy Mountain Baptist Association.
Although he retired from preaching in 2012, he still serves as interim pastor at local churches and as guest speaker at revivals. In the video, his granddaughter, Mackenna, said Wellborn is the most “patient and selfless person. He puts other people before himself.” Wellborn has served on many local boards and fundraising initiatives.
“I thank God our Savior for all He’s done for us. I thank my family and friends for being here,” Wellborn said, “I love Wilkes County. God bless you all. I love you, every one.”
The WCHOF was established in 2014 “to promote the excellence of the people of Wilkes County in order to encourage and inspire the youth and citizens of Wilkes to strive for similar excellence in life’s endeavors.’