Forum explores African-American contribution to the railroads

The latest installment of the YMI Cultural Center’s ongoing educational-history project — “Ties That Bind: Local, Regional, and National Railroad History Told from an African American Perspective” — will focus on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first black labor union. The forum happens Saturday, March 15, 10 a.m.-noon at the YMI Cultural Center (39 South Market St.) in downtown Asheville. Donations will be gratefully accepted.

Since last October, “Ties That Bind” has presented a series of exhibits, performances and forums illuminating the role of African-Americans in building and operating the railroads that linked Western North Carolina to the world beyond the mountains.

“This is an untold story,” notes project coordinator Pat Berkley, a retired teacher who serves on the YMI board.

“There are very few references to African-Americans in railroading, except for the Pullman porters. And photos of African-Americans in books on railroading, you can count them on one hand. … How would anyone know that African-Americans have been involved with the railroad since the first engines were built in the United States in the 1830s?”

Featured speakers at the forum will include Dr. James Pitts, a UNCA sociology professor who, predicts Berkley, “is going to do a bang up job of discussing labor unions and African-Americans and then the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which took 12 years to finally be recognized by the Pullman Company.”

And Asheville resident Lawrence Gilliam (whose father was a Pullman porter for 44 years) will share his memories.

Finally, storytellers Becky Stone and Douglas Haynes will present “Bringing A. Philip Randolph to Life through Story.”

“A. Philip Randolph is known as the Father of Civil Rights,” Berkley explains. “He was the man who worked for 12 years with the Pullman porters to be recognized as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — and he was the one who organized the 1963 march on Washington with Martin Luther King.”

Stone and Douglas, she says, “have done quite a lot of research into A. Philip Randolph’s life, and they’re going to tell stories about him, bringing him to life for the audience.”

“It’s really going to be a great morning,” promises Berkley, adding, “To tell these untold stories was a heart, mind and soul challenge to the many people who have worked on the project.”

Also on hand will be a model-train exhibit and a display of books about railroad history.

For more information, call the YMI Cultural Center at 252-4614.

— Lisa Watters

Cookies for a cause

For the fourth straight year, more than a dozen popular local restaurants will vie for “Best Dessert” honors, applying their culinary talents to the challenge of creating a sumptuous dessert using Girl Scout cookies as a main ingredient.

The fourth annual Cookie Cook-Off dessert fund-raiser is set for Friday, March 14, 7-9:30 p.m. at On Broadway (49 Broadway St.) in downtown Asheville. The event, a benefit for the Girl Scouts of Western North Carolina Pisgah Council, will include dessert samplings (13 to choose from), a silent auction, live music by Scrappy Hamilton, and a wine tasting conducted by the Weinhaus. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

“Each restaurant has an opportunity to draw a cookie [variety] — one of the eight cookies that we sell — and they use that cookie to develop a dessert,” explains Jennifer Hallmark, director of marketing/communication for the Girl Scouts of WNC.

The eight cookie varieties are: Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Shortbread, Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Lemon Pastry Cremes, Animal Treasures and Friendship Circles.

“Everyone who attends the event gets to taste the desserts, and they get to vote on which one they think is the very best,” says Hallmark.

Last year’s Cookie Cook-Off ended in a tie between the River Market Grill’s raspberry-fig mascarpone torte (using Shortbread cookies) and Camp Pisgah’s tiramisu (using Animal Treasures cookies).

This year’s participants include the Uptown Cafe, the Flying Frog, the Savoy, the Black Mountain Bakery, the Grovewood Cafe, Trillium, the Southside Cafe, Loretta’s, True Confections, Chef Michael’s Catering, the Inn on Biltmore Estate, The Hop and Trevi.

The silent auction, meanwhile, will feature “a lot of big-ticket items this year,” notes Hallmark, compliments of Diamond Brand, Lighten Up Yoga Center, Perception Kayaks, Platypus, Pyranha Kayaks and others.

Money raised by the event will help cover Girl Scout membership fees, program books, transportation, camp scholarships and program development.

Preorders of Girl Scout cookies were down this year, Hallmark reports. “There’s always a direct correlation between the weather and our cookie sales,” she explains. “Because of the number of snow days, kids have been out of school — and that also affects door-to-door sales.”

Now that the weather is getting better and the cookies are actually in, says Hallmark, “We’re feeling good about things. … But we’re still going to have to make up for the lower preorders by selling at the cookie booths.”

This weekend (March 15-16) is the last time cookie booths will be open at the following Asheville area locations this season: participating Ingles and Lowes stores, the Asheville and Biltmore Square malls, Sam’s Club and the Wall-Mart on Hendersonville Road.

Each box of cookies costs $3; 30 percent of the proceeds goes to the bakery that makes the cookies, with the rest divided among the Pisgah Council, the individual scout troops, and “cookie dough” (a fund scouts can use to help cover camp registration fees, program fees and various outings). The Pisgah Council, Hallmark explains, uses its share “to develop programs so that girls can take different field trips [and] work on community projects.”

For more information or to order advance tickets for the Cookie Cook-Off, call the Pisgah Council at 252-4442.

— Lisa Watters

So many wines, so little time

How’d you like a chance to sample more than 200 different wines from around the world, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and jazz amid gracious surroundings — and feel virtuous about it?

The second annual A Grape Taste in the Mountains — happening Tuesday, March 18 from 7-9 p.m. at the Grove Park Inn — will let you do just that, knowing that you’ll be helping to support MANNA Food Bank.

Winery representatives will be on hand to discuss the various selections, and musician Naren Schoenacher will perform. Complimentary parking will be available in the Sammons Wing garage, adjacent to the main inn; tickets ($35 per person, $60 per couple) can be purchased at the door.

“Basically, we’re providing the Heritage Ballroom and the hors d’oeuvres free of charge as a donation to MANNA,” explains Public Relations Manager Phil Werz. “All the proceeds from the event itself will go to support their food bank.”

Those attending the event will also be eligible to win a one-night stay at the resort plus a pair of day passes to the glamorous spa facilities. A drawing will be held near the end of the evening to determine who wins the prize package.

“Last year, MANNA raised about $2,500,” notes Werz. “They’re now hoping to triple that — or at least more than double it — in the second year of the event.”

MANNA Food Bank serves more than 349 member agencies throughout Western North Carolina. Collectivvely, these agencies serve 8,500 meals a day, 365 days a year. MANNA’s mission is to involve, educate and unite people in the work of ending hunger in WNC.

For advance tickets or more information about MANNA or its programs, call 299-3663, ext. 230.

— Lisa Watters

Dinosaur expert to speak

Until the publication of world-renowned paleontologist Robert Bakker‘s The Dinosaur Heresies in 1986, most folks pictured these massive creatures as slow, plodding giants, the biggest of which had to live in water to support their own weight. Bakker, however, laid out in convincing detail his controversial thesis: that dinosaurs were as agile and active as smaller, modern-day animals. The Dinosaur Heresies literally revolutionized our perception of these fascinating reptiles.

Bakker, who served as a consultant to the blockbuster film Jurassic Park, will be in Asheville March 16-19 to present his unconventional theories on dinosaur physiology and evolution at Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum in the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center in downtown Asheville.

Bakker will offer a variety of lectures and presentations during his stay. Some are open to the public; others are special programs for students and educators. Here’s the schedule:

On Sunday, March 16, 1-2 p.m., Bakker will present “DinoStories and Pictures” for families with inquiring preschoolers to 5-year olds.

Later that same day, from 3-4 p.m., he’ll present “The Little Scientists” for families with aspiring scientists over 5 years old.

On Monday, March 17, noon-1 p.m., Bakker give an adult lecture on “Dinosaur Heresies.”

Later that same day, from 4-6 p.m., he’ll give a presentation for teachers and professors on “Dinosaurs in the Classroom.”

On Tuesday, March 18, 10 a.m.-noon, Bakker will present “Colburn Paleo Adventures” to K-5 students.

Finally, on Wednesday, March 19, 10 a.m.-noon, Bakker will give a talk on “Tomorrow’s Paleontologists” to middle- through high-school students.

The Sunday and Monday lectures are free to museum members, $5 for nonmembers. Admission to the Tuesday and Wednesday lectures is $1 per student.

For more information, call the museum at 254-7126, or visit their Web site (

— Lisa Watters

FlyBabies swarm to Asheville

A sea of purple engulfed the Tunnel Road Barnes & Noble store on March 1. Nearly 100 “FlyBabies” — mostly women clad in grape-colored T-shirts — gathered to greet their mentor, Marla Cilley, a.k.a. the FlyLady. Some of them waved feather dusters.

Cilley, the clutter-busting guru, acronym aficionado and author of Sink Reflections: FlyLady’s BabyStep Guide to Overcoming CHAOS (Bantam, 2002), made her way to the front of the crowd and immediately burst into tears. “There are two peace rallies in town today,” she announced emotionally to the crowd who’d chose to spend an afternoon garnering a few sage words of advice on how to bring order to their homes, offices and lives. “We’re here trying to find peace in our part of the world, and we can do that every day with what?”

“BabySteps!” replied the enthusiastic throng.

Now in its third year, the FlyLady program is 150,000 members strong. Using her Web site ( to battle CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome), Cilley reaches out each day to thousands worldwide who’ve become hermits as a result of disorganized lives.

The FlyLady has been there. She begins her book by admitting, “A few years ago I hit bottom. … I realized that one day my home was full of clutter, my sink was overrun with dirty dishes and I looked like a truck had just run over me. I know the sheer embarrassment of having an unexpected visitor show up at the door.” But she managed to pull herself up by her bootstraps — perhaps literally, as one of the FlyLady’s first lessons is to get dressed every morning, complete with lace-up shoes — and created a system of BabySteps to get that bedlam under control.

These days, Cilley is also a Transylvania County commissioner. Her true love, however, remains doling out helpful hints to her faithful followers. The March 1 discussion and book signing drew fans from as far away as Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Kingsport, Tenn. and New York City, as well as from the Asheville area.

— Alli Marshall

Forum explores immigration, tolerance in a post-9/11 world

It’s been repeatedly observed that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 have left the world a different place.

With that date firmly in mind, the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council will present a free community forum, “Immigration and Tolerance Since 9/11,” from 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18 at Calvary Baptist Church (531 Haywood Road in West Asheville).

Covering events from the national to the local level, the forum will focus on security, immigration and tolerance of non-U.S. natives since the World Trade Center’s destruction.

The speakers will be: Morris Deutsch, a Washington, D.C., immigration lawyer; John Hayes, president of the Asheville chapter of the NAACP; Asheville immigration attorney Farruk Ikbal; and Jane Oakes, a lawyer with Pisgah Legal Services.

For more info, call the Community Relations Council office at 252-4713.

— Tracy Rose

Clean out your closets — and protect our environment

Buncombe County’s Solid Waste Department will hold a Household Hazardous Waste Day on Friday, March 14 (9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Buncombe County landfill) and an Electronics Collection Day on Saturday, April 5 (9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the National Guard Armory).

Items that can be dropped off for free on Household Hazardous Waste Day include pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, used motor oil and antifreeze, and batteries (household, cell-phone and car). Paint and paint-related materials such as water sealer, paint thinners, enamels and polyurethane will be accepted for a fee of $2 per one-gallon container

For more information, call the Buncombe County Solid Waste office at 250-5461.

— Lisa Watters

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