Appalachian Heritage Week

Appalachian Heritage Week ushers in spring at Lees-McRae

The Lees-McRae community got outside and gave back during the 2021 Appalachian Heritage Week. 

The college tradition, which was held virtually in 2020, gives everyone on campus the opportunity to engage with the history and culture of the area. Students and employees interact with local artists and business owners, eat classic Appalachian fare in the dining hall, and perform volunteer work for different organizations.  

Appalachian Heritage Week opened on Monday with a traditional dinner of ham, fried chicken, soup beans, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and various fruit pies served in the MacDonald Dining Hall, along with accompaniment from banjo player Trevor Brown. Tuesday brought Rob Withrow, also known as Rob the Potter, to campus to demonstrate his pottery throwing skills and sell his handmade mugsStudents took turns running the pottery wheel, learning an art form with a long history in North Carolina.  

Wednesday was the Mountain Day of Service. When Rev. Edgar Tufts began teaching in Banner Elk in the early 1900s, he would take students on an annual trip up Beech Mountain.  

“Over the years, Mountain Day has shifted into a way to reflect the values and mission of the collegeto be an active member of our community and to give back to the mountains that have given our college so much,” Director of Campus Life Riley Sailor said.  

Four hundred students, faculty, and staff accomplished projects at thirty different sites. Avery County has been focused on cleaning up the local roads, and many students signed up to continue that work. Other students helped with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Feeding Avery Families, and the Children’s Hope Alliance, or on campus with the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and New Opportunity School for Women.  

The Delta Zeta Nu sorority signs up each year to organize the closet for the New Opportunity School for Women. Pre-Veterinary Medicine major Anna Rife explained that the school amasses a large collection of professional clothes for women who need outfits for jobs or interviews, and the clothes need to be sorted to clear out the worn out or torn clothes to make room for new donations.  

“It’s really cool to help out an organization that empowers women,” said Laura Bustos, who is in the Nursing program.  

A few other Pre-Veterinary Medicine majors volunteered at the Avery County Humane Society, which allowed them to get a closer look at future career possibilities. Arden Simmons and Katie Plyler, two of the students who helped at the Humane Society, said that they were originally supposed to wash windows only, but the staff let them come in and interact with the cats up for adoption, who need regular socialization.  

“We took turns playing with kittens and scrubbing floors,” said Simmons.  

After working hard throughout the morning, the student volunteers returned to campus for a celebration on Tate Lawn.  

On Thursday, Michael Joslin, director of the Stephenson Center, organized a small tribute in honor of the founders of Lees-McRae and Banner Elk. President Lee King was in attendance, and thanked Joslin for taking the time to remember Tufts and his legacy.  

“We tend to think of Tufts as this sainted figure,” said Joslin. “I like to remember him coming here in 1895 as a student.”  

Joslin discussed Tufts’ service to the town and his dedication to improving the lives of those he served. When Tufts came to Banner Elk, he immediately recognized that a school and hospital would benefit the residents and set to work filling those needs. When he couldn’t accomplish something alone, he would identify individuals in the community who could get the job done.  

Three creative writing students wrote poems about Lees-McRae and Banner Elk for the event, and theatre professor Josh Yoder read the final speech from Janet Barton Speer’s musical “From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story.” Speer herself attended the tribute and paid her respects to the man who made Lees-McRae possible.  

“Where would any of us be without Edgar Tufts?” asked Joslin. “Where would we be without Lees-McRae? We are all a living part of Edgar Tufts’ legacy.”  

Friday brought back a familiar favorite: the horse and wagon ride. Aaron Norris brought a team of draft horses and took students and staff on a brief trip around the campus. Students were excited to interact with the horses and ride in the open-air wagon.  

The weather stayed clear and warm for most of the week, and the many activities provided a welcome break from their regular schedules for both students and employees. The annual celebration is also a chance to engage in the storied legacy of the Appalachian region. Each event allowed the Lees-McRae community to come closer to the college’s motto—In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains.  

By Emily WebbApril 10, 2021
Campus Life