Awards honor unsung heroes

A lifelong resident of Elizabeth City who promotes good race relations. An Asheville mother who’s become an outspoken, fearless advocate for children with mental health and their families. An Asheville-area doctor who’s developed a holistic approach to caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other memory-loss disorders.

These three North Carolinians are this year’s winners of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s coveted Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards. Each winner receives $25,000.

“The foundation believes strongly that recognition should go to the state’s unsung heroes — previously unheralded people who see needs and try to meet them, [see] injustices and try to correct them, and [see] conflict and suspicion and try to replace them with trust and cooperation,” said ZSR President Dr. Lloyd P. Tate.

Dr. Margaret A. Noel, the winner in the personal-service category, has devoted herself to working with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease or other memory disorders. When the only local facility offering comprehensive services to these people closed, Noel felt called to open a center herself. But she did it with a mission in mind: to take a more holistic approach that valued time spent with patients, families and other caregivers as well as “technical” treatment. It’s been an uphill climb, because Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and HMOs aren’t geared to this model. Since the center opened three years ago, Noel has declined to accept any remuneration for herself.

Advocacy Award winner Diane Bauknight is the adoptive parent of a daughter with mental illness. Bauknight has spent years trying to get government agencies to do what she feels is appropriate for these children and to provide support for their parents, urging state legislators to appropriate more money for such services. Instead, the General Assembly last year reduced mental-health spending. Bauknight also maintains that state mental-health administrators are misusing the funds already appropriated specifically for parents like her, who must fight to achieve the most normal lives possible for their children. She has now brought a lawsuit against the local area mental-health agency.

Cader Harris, this year’s winner in the race-relations category, grew up in a small town and led a privileged life until his family’s clothing business was picketed by civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s. Even though the business declined and eventually failed as a result, Harris was not embittered by the experience. Instead, years later, after the Los Angeles riots, he helped bring together a racially and ethnically diverse group to promote racial understanding and harmony in his town. Because of its diversity, The Hope Group serves as a role model for the community, helping provide support for local activities such as a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter.

These three unsung heroes received their awards at a Nov. 16 luncheon in Asheville that drew more than 400 people from across North Carolina; state Sen. Steve Metcalf was the keynote speaker.

Flat Rock Playhouse celebrates 50th anniversary

When Robroy Farquhar and his Vagabond Players arrived in the Hendersonville area in 1939, the troupe was seeking two things: an audience and a home. They performed in a modified former mill on the site of today’s Highland Lake Inn for a short time before moving to another temporary location near Lake Summit. After several summer seasons, the Vagabonds had found their audience but still needed a permanent home.

In 1952, Farquhar and his newly formed board of directors purchased Rockworth, the former summer home of local resident Ruth Conrad. Renamed the Lowndes House (in honor of original owner Richard I’on Lowndes Jr.), the building housed both the theater’s administration and the company’s growing roster of theater artists. The actual performance space was a big tent, officially named the Flat Rock Playhouse. Fifty years later, the administration still works out of the Lowndes House; the tent has long since been superseded by a permanent structure. Farquhar’s son, Robin Farquhar, is now the executive director, and though the nonprofit is run by a 17-person staff plus a board of directors, it is still very much a family affair.

As the golden-anniversary season was being planned, the company wanted to create something special. Graphic designer/actor Duke Domingue decided to tackle the project, explaining, “I wanted to capture the influences which have shaped the Rock and to commemorate the achievement of thriving … for 50 years.”

He began by polling staff, artists and board members about what they felt connected them to the venerable facility. The art of performance, the sense of family, and the achievement of staying in business for 50 years emerged as the most repeated themes.

What to do with this information? “Creating an original [theatrical] work was an idea, but a play can be temporal,” notes Domingue. “I was looking for something that allowed each of us to interpret these influences in a personal way.”

Domingue’s idea was to create a series of limited-edition art prints. Four artists, each with a special connection to the playhouse, signed on: actor/watercolorist David Earl Hart, scenic designer/Education Director Dennis Maulden, carpenter/urban artist Zach Schmitt, and Domingue himself.

They began with the question, “What does it mean to exist in the same place for half a century?” In creating their work, each was asked to draw upon both playhouse history and their personal relationship with the company in creating their work. The different approaches taken by these artists are reflected in the resulting prints.

The signed, limited-edition prints — available in sets of four ($100) or individually ($35) — can be purchased at the playhouse box office.

For more information, call (828) 693-0731 or visit the theater’s Web site:

Interactive exhibit makes science come alive

What weighs as much as 22,000 extra-large tubs of popcorn with 22,000 giant drinks on the side, is scientifically accurate, and includes loads of gross-out fun? How about Breakman’s World on Tour? The hands-on exhibit — based on the innovative, Emmy-winning children’s television program Breakman’s World — opened at The Health Adventure (in Asheville’s Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center) in September and runs through Jan. 30, 2003.

The interactive exhibit helps budding scientists learn about dinosaurs, space travel, rain forests and the human body. Along the way, they can discover the answers to such conundrums as “Why do feet smell?” They do this through a series of fast facts, brain challenges and “take it with you” activities. Boosting the exhibit’s fun factor are museum staff and volunteers who conduct fascinating experiments as Breakman’s assistants.

Among the many displays and activities, visitors can learn about the laws of physics by becoming a Newtonian Pinball Wizard, spend time in the Rain Forest Cafe, use a computer game to simulate a space-station mission, and participate in a murder mystery to deal with the pesky problem of dinosaur extinction.

Breakman’s World on Tour was created and built by the Cincinnati Museum Center in conjunction with Columbia Tri-Star Television Distribution and Universal Belo Productions, the folks who created the TV series. The traveling exhibit began its tour after an initial, highly successful run at the Cincinnati Museum Center in 1998.

Admission is $5 adults; $4 students, seniors, and children ages 2-15; and free for children under 2. The Health Adventure is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue. through Sat. and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 254-6373 or visit The Health Adventure’s Web site:


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