Black Mountain News writers win awards

Staff reports

Two Black Mountain News writers won awards in the community newspapers division in the 2015 N.C. Press Association News, Editorial and Photojournalism contest.

Barbara Hootman won second place in the profile feature category for “As Beloved As He Loved, Now He’s Sorely Missed,” a March 12, 2015 story about Black Mountain Police officer Johnny Raines.

“It was an honor to write a story about the late Johnny Raines, one of the Black Mountain Police Department’s beloved officers,” Hootman said. “Just about everyone knew Johnny and counted him as a friend. He spent a life time helping people in the Swannanoa Valley, from young under privileged children, to those who had broken the law, to the ordinary citizens of the Valley. It was his privilege to do so.”

She won third place in the profile feature category for “Living His Whole Life on the Farm,” her Sept. 10, 2015 story about the late Ray Kirstein and his life in Broad River.

“He was a man who appreciated his ancestors and the history of the area,” Hootman said of Kirstein. “He died in the same bed he was born in on the Kirstein farm that his relatives had called home since the 1700s. He loved the land and the mountains and was adamant about the preservation of the area. He was known through the area for the apples that he grew for many years.”

Paul Clark won first place in the profile feature category for “Principal Will Jump Into the Ring to Defend His Kids,” his Feb. 19, 2015 story about Clifford Owens, then principal of Community High School in Swannanoa.

“I spent a morning with him as he made his rounds through the school and was touched how he made an effort to reach out to every student there,” Clark said of his time with Owens. “His low-key manner seemed to resonate with the kids, and his history as an inner-city kid seemed to give him a natural empathy for them. I was lucky to witness it, which made for an interesting story.

He won second place in the feature writing category for “Firing on All Cylinders,” his May 14, 2015 story about Garry Segal’s taking a motorcycle simulator to the N.C. State Veterans Nursing Home to help veterans stay sharp.

““The Gary Hedrick story was a fun literary exercise in placing the reader in the middle of the story,” Clark said. “I wanted it to read as if the reader were watching a movie. That’s a challenge for a writer.”

To help you remember the stories, here are excerpts of the top few paragraphs of each:

“Principal Will Jump Into the Ring to Defend His Kids,” by Paul Clark

In Community High School’s old-school gym, Logan Stewart’s boxing gloves pounded the heavy bag. Thuds resounded off the wooden wainscoting and floor, echoes conjuring up an era when boxing was king. Clifford Owens, the school’s principal, stood close to Stewart and coached him through a devastating combination.

“Hook, hook, cross, jab, jab,” Owens said, his fists shooting out of the cuffs of his suit, his tie flying as he demonstrated the combo he used to good effect as a professional boxer long ago. He repeated the sequence as Stewart lunged into the bag. “Hook, hook …” Owens said, the two of them working in tandem, over and over.

One-on-one coaching is a reason why Community High School in Swannanoa, a school with a reputation of handling Buncombe County’s toughest cases, achieved the highest Career Technical Education scores in the state recently in four classes offered by all state high schools ...

Teachers at CHS have their work cut out for them. Students there come from all over the county, as well as from the Asheville school system. Some have been referred because of behavioral problems. Some are there for weapons or drug violations. Some have been bullies or been bullied. Some asked to be there.

“Many of the kids that come here maybe haven’t had any success,” Owens said in his office last Wednesday. “Maybe they’re two, three grades behind. They got folks telling them they’re never going to be successful. And they tend to start believing it.”

Owens’ eyes narrowed behind his oblong glasses. “I think I got the best kids in Buncombe County,” he said. “We believe in our kids. I always tell my parents – this is my marketing point – that we give you a private school education at a public school cost.”

“As Beloved As He Loved, Now He’s Sorely Missed” by Barbara Hootman

On Feb. 1, friends from Tabernacle United Methodist met at Johnny Raines’ home to sing favorite hymns and to visit with someone who knew his days on earth were drawing to a close.

“He couldn’t come to church, but we could take our good wishes, hymns and communion to him,” lifelong friend Lois Nix said. “Johnny was always there for everyone else, so it was our turn to be there for him.”

Raines, 77, spent a lifetime helping the people of the Swannanoa Valley. He considered it his privilege to do so. For eight years, Raines worked as an Owen High School resource officer among some of his favorite people, children. And for more than 40 years, he was chief of auxiliary police with the Black Mountain Police Department. He retired from the department in 2013.

Stacy Ayers met Raines when he joined the auxiliary in 1992. Ayers was hired full-time by the department two years later.

“Johnny had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known,” Ayers, a veteran BMPD officer, said. “It has been an honor to call him my friend. He and (Montreat police chief) Jack Staggs taught me more about how to treat people than anyone else in my entire life. Johnny would tell me to remember that when people did something that they shouldn’t have, they weren’t bad people, they were people having a bad day. I’ve always remembered that and tried to apply it.”

“Firing on All Cylinders,” by Paul Clark

It’s a beautiful California afternoon. Gary Hedrick is tooling on his motorcycle beside the ocean. The scene, virtual though it is, couldn’t be more gorgeous.

And then around the corner ahead comes a bus. A big bus. Hedrick’s face is stony; it hasn’t changed since he was wheeled up to the motorcycle simulator. As passive as he may seem to be, tension rises in the room - the bus is getting closer. Quickly.

Watch out, say the physical therapists attending other vets waiting to ride at the N.C. State Veterans Nursing Home in Black Mountain.

“Don’t hit that bus,” Garry Segal says, his voice barely above a whisper. The guy who brings the simulator to the veterans home every week, his eyes are locked onto the screen, onto the bus. He’s sitting close enough to Hedrick to help him apply the brakes if necessary. “Don’t hit that bus ...”

“ ... or the guardrail,” occupational therapy assistant Chrysse Everhart says three times as Hedrick’s motorcycle weaves across the road, back and forth, right into the rail. Bam, big collision. Game over.

Segal sits back and relaxes. He looks at Hedrick, who is still looking at the screen. “I’m glad you crashed it,” Segal says, “because I was getting dizzy.”

“Living His Whole Life on the Farm,” by Barbara Hootman

Ray Kirstein died on Aug. 25 at the age of 91, closing a life lived in the Broad River community where his ancestors settled around the time of the Revolutionary War.

“His family lived and farmed the Kirstein farm land since the 1700s,” Bill Garrison, Kirstein’s first cousin and close friend, said. “He died in the same bedroom that he was born in on the farm. He loved the land, and farming was a way of life for him, although he had several different jobs in his life. He had grants and deeds dating back to the 1700s.”

He is survived by older sisters, Florence Mercer and Berniece K. Donaldson. His sisters married and moved away, but Kirstein stayed to live on the family farm. The farm was home to a herd of cattle, bees and a large orchard where Kirstein’s well-known apples and cider came from. It also had a large garden where he grew produce for sale.

“He grew produce and sold it to A&P in Black Mountain and Winn-Dixie in Asheville,” Garrison said. “I am several years younger than Ray, and I helped him with the deliveries. Just about everybody liked Ray. He always had a smile, and spoke his mind, but was never rude. You knew where you stood with him.”