A professor's home near Montreat College makes the grade

Shelly Frome

Among the wonders of the Swannanoa Valley is the continual influx of arrivals with interesting backgrounds who live well off the beaten path.

Take Elizabeth Juckett, the new member of Montreat College’s English department. She and her husband Greg Juckett, a doctor at Parkway Medical, moved to Black Mountain a little over a year ago. Their country home lies somewhere north of the Tractor Supply store, east onto a road which eventually ends at a hidden lane and then falls away until it opens onto an idyllic mountain view.

There, on a glistening morning, Juckett took time away from examining student compositions to talk about her evolving world view. She began by recalling her girlhood in the Far East where she was greatly influenced by her father’s Victorian “greenhouse” values.

“They included propriety, honor, and a very religious, as well as old-fashioned, view of life,” she said. “He became a missionary in Thailand after serving as a captain in the British merchant service. In my home there, the novels I was handed to read because I was an avid reader were all very much like ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy.’ In addition, my father would recite tales from Shakespeare as we walked up and down the mountains to our village hall. I especially recall his telling me about the plot of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ focusing on legalism and the quality of mercy. My love of literature certainly came out of that context.”

In keeping with the custom of her father’s denomination (OMF International), when she was of age, she was sent to an English-style boarding school in Malaysia and then on to a missionary school in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania.

“By my senior year,” she said, “during the Vietnam War, my view began to change. It was no longer so staunchly conservative and untainted by current events, isolated in a Victorian greenhouse. And I remember arguing politics with the other kids.”

Still basically a “Victorian kid” and opting for security, she went to college and majored in English because it was the only subject she felt she was good at (she received her masters’ degree in literature at the University of Chicago). However, the urban blight of the south side of Chicago once again affected the way she began to look at things.

“At that point,” she said, “I had a crisis of conscience. I decided that teaching was the way that people ensconced in their ivory tower could serve the world and bridge the gap into reality.”

In pursuing this vocation, she earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, got married to Greg Juckett and truly stepped out of the “greenhouse” when they moved to West Virginia and she began teaching at Fairmont State College.

“While teaching undergrads in this very small town,” she said, “I came to realize that having them engage with a whole range of human experience through literature was very valuable. It is soul building and perspective enhancing. I really loved my students and got to be part of their lives and impact their lives as well.”

The Jucketts were always fond of hiking and exploring the Smokies and the Blue Ridge. After Elizabeth retired and her husband’s position at a West Virginia hospital was compromised, an offer from the Black Mountain office of Parkway Medical Group seemed ideal for the couple.

“I love Black Mountain because it’s cozy and rural and close enough to the Asheville restaurant and cultural scene,” Elizabeth Juckett said. “I love the home we purchased and its tucked-away ambiance.

“And I love the fact that you can find strains of the free-spirited past of Black Mountain College everywhere. I’m close enough to Montreat where I’m now teaching, and I’m so happy that my students are entirely free to engage in critical thinking.”

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic feature about what draws people to the Swannanoa Valley.