John B. Stephenson Center for Appalachia and Comparative Highland Studies

Lees-McRae College has always had a deep connection to its location, from its beginnings as a school established for local children to its current position as a leader in place-based experiential learning. In this spirit, the John B. Stephenson Center for Appalachia and Comparative Highland Studies is committed to promoting understanding and appreciation of the Southern Appalachian region through education, outreach, scholarship, and artistic activites. 

For far too long, the cultural contributions of Appalachia have been undervalued and ignored. While they are often dismissed and stereotyped by those outside of the region, Appalachians have created and continue to produce diverse and complex forms of music, dance, folklore, food, literature, and art. The Stephenson Center celebrates these achievements while correcting misconceptions about the region and its people. 

Appalachian Heritage Week

The Stephenson Center engages the college and local community with a variety of events that explore Appalachian history, culture, ecology, craft, art, writing, music, and more. The crowning event each year is Appalachian Heritage Week, a five-day celebration of the people and traditions endemic to the Southern Appalachian region that takes place in April. Take a look below at the events held this year.

 Monday, April 15 

Appalachian Artisans
Swank Park
10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Demonstration, display, and sale of local fiber arts, ceramics, and woodwork. Featuring artists Jess Bellemer, Michele Dearmin, Angela Wheeler, PJ Boyajian, and Lacy Snapp. 

 Tuesday, April 16 

Traditional Appalachian Supper
The Summit Dining Hall
5 p.m.–7 p.m.

Enjoy a delicious all-you-care-to-eat buffet of traditional Appalachian dishes for $12 per person. 

An Appalachian Writer's Heritage: Keynote Lecture and Poetry Reading by Jane Hicks
Miller Commons
7–8:30 p.m.

Hicks is a teacher, poet, and fiber artist. Winner of the Appalachian Writers Association 2006 Book of the Year Award in Poetry, she is the author of Blood and Bone Remember: Poems from Appalachia, Driving with the Dead: Poems, and The Safety of Small Things. Signed books will be available for purchase at the event. 

 Wednesday, April 17 

Heirloom Seed Planting and Pot Painting
Outside The Summit Dining Hall
10:30 a.m.–1 p.m.

Appalachian Movie Night and Discussion
Evans Auditorium
6–9 p.m.

Set in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, the film follows a wounded American Civil War soldier after he deserts his post and decides to embark on a journey back to his home and his true love. Stick around after the film for a discussion with Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of History Scott Huffard.

 Thursday, April 18 

Weaving an Ecology of Food and Medicine with Wild Plants of the Southern Appalachians
Evans Auditorium
1–2 p.m.

A presentation by Liz Rose of Appalachian State University

Campus Nature Walk
Depart from the Rock House
4–6 p.m.

Wildlife Biology faculty Shinjini Goswami and Alex Glass will take guests on a guided tour along Hemlock Trail to identify the many plant species that make up the ecology of Southern Appalachia. 

 Friday, April 19 

Appalachian Old Time and Bluegrass Music
Tate Lawn
10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Featuring performances from John Bills and the Academics and the college's own Susie Hepler. Food trucks: Rocky Top Fried Pies, He Provides Homestead Cookie Cart, and Old Roan Kettle Corn. 

About John B. Stephenson

John B. Stephenson began his academic teaching career at Lees-McRae College in 1961. In the small town of Banner Elk he honed his teaching skills and found the two great loves of his life, Jane Ellen Baucom, who became his wife, and the mountains, which became his life. In a letter he wrote:

"I love the mountains and their people. I have felt a completeness, a sense of fulfillment here that I haven't known in other places. . . . There is a sense of doing something that needs doing. It needs doing worse here than in the flatlands. And it needs to be done by people who want to change things without changing them, if you know what I mean. Part of a way of life needs to be preserved and not sacrificed on the altar of progress."

John left the college in 1964 to pursue his doctoral degree at UNC Chapel Hill. Then with his PhD in medical sociology in hand, John moved to Kentucky in 1966 to work at the University of Kentucky. He spent the rest of his too-short life in the Bluegrass State, rising from scholar-teacher, to Appalachian Center director, dean, and eventually president of Berea College.

Scholar, teacher, humanist, administrator and caretaker of Southern Appalachia, John B. Stephenson left an enduring legacy of devoted stewardship of the mountains. 

Contact Us

Catherine Pritchard Childress, MA
Director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia

Shinjini Goswami, PhD
Assistant Director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia