Swannanoa Valley Museum to recognize Wendell Begley for 21 years of service

Special to Black Mountain News
Wendell Begley leads a hike for the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center. The museum will recognize Begley, who was its board's chair for 21 years, on Nov. 8.

In 1998, the Swannanoa Valley Museum was nearing its 10th anniversary. The fledgling Museum was looking for a strong leader to sit at the helm of the organization, serve as board chair, and take the all-volunteer organization to the next level.

Several of the Museum’s early board members - Harriet Styles, Bill McMurray, Harold Patton and Arthur Joe and Mary Hemphill, among others, were looking to pass on the Museum’s leadership to the next generation.

Arthur Joe recommended Wendell Begley.

Begley, as chairman of the Buncombe County School Board, had just finished getting the new Owen High School built; his family went back generations in the Swannanoa Valley and, most importantly, he had a love for the Valley and its history.

But Arthur Joe knew that the chairmanship was a huge undertaking and Begley might be reluctant to accept, so he asked his wife, Mary, to call Begley and make the request.

Sure enough, with some sweet talking from Mary Hemphill, Begley accepted the challenge.

Twenty-one years later, after serving seven terms as Board Chair, Begley has stepped down from the board to, like those before him, pass on leadership of the board to the next generation. Sam Shirey, local insurance agent, co-owner of Creative Mountain Food Tours, and Museum board member, began serving as the Museum’s board chair on Sept.1.

“Outside of my work and family, serving as the chair of the Museum board has been the most rewarding experience of my life,” Begley said. “Its enabled me to share these things that I’ve done my whole life, like hiking and appreciating the topography and geography and scenery of the mountains, with people who want to know more about the place they live.”

Begely will continue to be involved with the Museum, particularly in the signature hiking program that he helped create.

“I really believe that there has been no better entity to bring people together in the community than the Museum. When we focus on our history and our heritage we unite folks of all kinds of backgrounds,” Begley said.

To celebrate Begley’s great contributions over the last two decades, the Museum’s staff and volunteers are inviting the community to a celebration, from 5 - 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8. 

The event will begin at the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center at 223 West State Street with a meet-and-greet with Begley. Light refreshments will be served.

At 6 p.m., there will be a program honoring Begley in the Black Mountain Center for the Arts Theatre, next door. Come early to get a seat as there is limited seating available.

Speakers telling stories about Wendell Begley’s time on the board and in the valley include Van Burnette, Bob Watts, John Buckner, Jack McMahan, Robert Goodson, and Kenny Ford. Sam Shirey will emcee the event.

The format of the program is a testament to Begley’s method of sharing valley history. 

“People are so eager to hear the stories of the people who came before us,” Begley remarked. “Because, more than historical facts and dates, people can relate to the stories.”

Community members are invited to write a note to Begley in a provided guest book or bring cards, photographs, or other memorabilia to be compiled and given to Begley as a thank you.

In conjunction with the Friday evening event, the Black Mountain Center for the Arts will host a show of Begley’s Swannanoa Valley photographs in their gallery space with an opening on the evening of the event and running throughout November with proceeds from the show benefitting the Arts Center and the Museum.