For many of us, especially our newer residents and businesses (which includes me), we are not aware of the history of how many of our events and businesses “came to be” in our community. Working at the Chamber has provided me with the wonderful opportunity to learn about the history. In many cases I am blessed to work directly with these individuals and “get it done” visionaries still today.
Let’s talk about the Olympiad, now in its 18th year. This is an event of three races in three days; a 10K Slam the Dam on Friday, Triathlon on Saturday, and 5K Race to Chimney Rock on Sunday. Definitely a massive undertaking and well attended by over 450 competitors. This event is the result of the vision of five key individuals and 90% of its profits go to support our local school and first responders of our communities. Those key individuals are still running this event, after all these years, and they are still young and vibrant into their 70’s and up. A special thank you to Kay Dittmer, Joann Ellingson, Bob Keith, Bill Ashman and Jim Walters. May your love and passion for this amazing event and philanthropic attitude continue for generations.
How about The Landings of Lake Lure? The new assistant and independent senior living facility being built in the Bill’s Creek area. This was a baton handoff across several leaders of our community. This group would not give up despite the long duration and many obstacles faced with this project. Our previous Mayor Kevin Cooley, whom we all miss dearly, working in tandem with our previous Chamber Executive Director Tommy Hartzog, and then taking up the torch with Tommy was another previous Mayor and Chamber President, Bob Keith. They knew this would be a game changer for our beautiful mountain community. Not only for its aging population, but for the families of our aging population to be able to live here and have care close for their loved ones.
Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lure is now into its 13th year. It is returning this September 10th after two years off due to the pandemic. The event historically has been attended by over 4,500 people from 32 states and 6 foreign countries. It touches over 147 million media impressions and since 2013 has raised over 26K for PANCAN. After Patrick Swayze’s passing, a candlelight vigil was set up in Lake Lure and attended by over 1,000 Swayze and Dirty Dancing fans. One year later, through the vision, hard work and effort of Michelle Yelton and previous Chamber President and Mayor Kevin Cooley, the Festival was born. Michelle Yelton is still a strong supporter, volunteer and inspiration to the continuation of this Festival. Every year the Dirty Dancing Committee begins meeting in January to make it happen again!
In 2004 Shepherd’s Care was incorporated as a 501(c)3. The dream was to help others in the Gorge community in need of food, utility bill support and medicine. They opened a Thrift Store in the rectory of Transfiguration Church and successfully started fundraising efforts. At the same time, Shepherd’s Care began providing Holiday Food Baskets and the Angel Tree Gifts Program. Fast forward to today, Shepherd’s Care took over the the Lake Lure Arts and Crafts Festival, closed the Thrift Store in 2010 and changed the name to Hickory Nut Gorge Outreach and opened their current location off Memorial Drive. The organization’s mission is to help eliminate hunger and provide emergency services with love and compassion to those in need. Currently they serve Rutherford, Polk, Buncombe and Henderson Counties. The organization provided 30 weekend backpacks during the school year, supported 64 clients with financial assistance and served 76 families and 289 residents each month. While it is not clear, at this writing, if this effort was driven by a small group or a church group, currently this organization is solely run by 40+ volunteers and a board of directors led by President & Director, Hope Wittmer.
The Lake Lure Farmer’s Market is our most recent vision coming to life. This market serves the communities of the Gorge every Friday at Keeter Field (in the field between the Arcade Building and The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa across from Lake Lure Beach). This will run from June 3rd to September 2nd, every Friday, from 3pm – 7pm. Over 23 farmers and artisans quickly jumped on board this effort driven by the Hickory Nut Gorge Chamber’s Vice President – John Anderson and Lured Market & Grill Owner, Paul Brock. They worked relentlessly with BARN, who manages the Rutherfordton Farmer’s Market, for over a year to make this happen.
These are just a few examples (there are many, many more) of how vision, passion, endurance, effort, and execution bring about positive change. Worth noting, these stories also reflect the philanthropic heart of our communities. They give back in some form or fashion every time. Also, these endeavors may have been driven by a small group of individuals, however, they are accomplished through the collaborative effort of our massive volunteer community, County/Town/Village leaders, local business owners/leaders and donors to mention a few.
If you have a vision that you are passionate about and know it would be for the greater good of the communities of Gerton, Bat Cave, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and Bill’s Creek, bring it forward. As the business umbrella of these communities, The Chamber of Hickory Nut Gorge is here to help. We have an incredible Board of Directors, and work closely with all our municipalities, representatives, business owners, and residents.
With Peace Profound,
Laura Doster, Executive Director