Their Lot in Life

Their Lot in Life

How Jim and Barbara North composed the hillside symphony called Wood Notes

By Maria Johnson 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

Long before they built their home on a wooded slope that nuzzles up to a small lake in Oak Ridge, Jim and Barbara North got a lot out of their lot.

The Greensboro couple and their children spent many merry hours on the site, visiting friends Bob and Reba Benbow at the Benbows’ rustic getaway home during the 1970s.

“For us, it was a special thing to drive out to Oak Ridge,” says Jim.

The Norths bought two chunks of their friends’ land in the early ’80s. The Norths’ kids, Scott and Cherie, were in college by that time, but Jim and Barbara still felt a connection to the place, and more importantly, they had a vision for the next stage of their life.

The almost-empty nesters would build a new nest on the incline that was blanketed by hardwoods and pines. Residential development had just started in Oak Ridge, now a popular bedroom community thick with brick manses.

“This was out in the country when we came,” Barbara remembers. “There was nothing out here.”

The couple hired renowned local architect Joel Funderburk to draw up their dream. Funderburk’s hallmark was to set a lumber-clad home, paneled with picture windows, on a slope without cutting and filling to create planes of lawn. The esthetic jibed with the Norths’ wishes.

“We wanted it to be as natural as possible,” says Jim. “I wanted to get away from mowing grass.”

Funderburk, who now lives at Well-Spring retirement community, perched the home on the hillside, situating it between the street and the twinkling water below. Inside, the layout is basically two V-shaped wings fused at the middle, where the entrance sits. The front of the home is at ground level. The back is propped up, like a beach house, on wooden pilings set in concrete.

From this perch, the Norths would look through a lattice of branches to see the same scenes as other creatures living on the slope.

The orange confetti of leaves fluttering to earth in the fall.

The gauzy mist of morning rising from the water.

The mote-filled shafts of daylight filtering through tree trunks.

They would hear the same sounds, too — the hollow hoots of barred owls, the watery slaps of beaver tails, the chatty yips of scruffy coyotes, the ringing chants of shiny frogs.

The Norths called their home Wood Notes.

In 1994, they moved from their base, a bungalow in the Lawndale Homes neighborhood, and set about feathering their 2,400-square-foot nest with a highly personal palette of polished antiques, unvarnished folk art and nature-focused fine art they’d collected, along with lush pockets of faux-floral arrangements stemming from Jim’s creative hand.

Outside, they kept it simple, accentuating the native landscape by adding more shade-loving plants — hellebores, rhododendron, yew, mahonia, Japanese maples and ferns.

Considering the home’s exuberant interior and its minimalist wrapper, you might call the whole package a modernist cottage, which seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

The place reflects the couple’s shared understanding of what was, what is, and what can be. They have a long history — bracketed by more than six decades of marriage — of growing together.

They met in 1961. Jim, a native of St. Simons Island, Ga., was finishing up at Valdosta State University and working as youth director at a local Methodist church. Barbara was a freshman at the college and attended the same church.

They married at the end of Barbara’s freshman year, furthered their educations in Tennessee, and moved to Greensboro in 1964 so Jim could lead the children’s ministry at West Market Street United Methodist Church. A few years later, he pivoted to secular education at a local Head Start training center.

Then, around age 40, Jim had what Barbara describes as a midlife crisis.

He heard a calling to create beauty, a pull he’d felt while working for florists in college. He’d felt the same tug while working for Herschell’s Fabrics, a high-end textiles house in Atlanta.

Guided by his inner light, Jim enrolled in the interior design program at UNCG. He was encouraged by Barbara, who’d finished her biology degree at UNCG, then landed a job with pharmaceutical and agrochemical company Ciba-Geigy.

Jim’s contacts led to a full-time position at Under One Roof, a seller of fine domestic goods in Quaker Village.

“I was building a reputation for floral design,” he says.

When the owners sold the shop, Jim felt stuck.

“I said, ‘What in the world am I going to do now?’” he remembers.

He answered his own question by opening Designs North, a business devoted to the arrangement of interior spaces and flowers — both cut and silk flora, or as they are sometimes called in the industry, PBs, short for permanent botanicals.

He ran the store — first in a shopping center at Lawndale Drive and Martinsville Road, and later in the Westover Gallery of Shops — for 27 years. He retired at age 68.

Eight years Jim’s junior, Barbara worked for several more years, then tacked on a second career as a part-time consultant.

The house evolved with them, becoming a dynamic journal of their interests and activities.

Avid supporters of the arts, the couple bejeweled their walls with paintings by area artists including Roy Nydorf, Connie Logan,  Alexis Levine, Betsy Bevan, Adele Wayman and Leigh Rodenbough.

They adorned their shelves with pottery from Tarboro’s Siglinda Scarpa, Greensboro’s Charlie Tefft and various Seagrove artisans.

They stocked their lofted screened porch, which feels like a treehouse, with so many whimsical birdhouses purchased at Habitat for Humanity fundraisers that the goldfinches and cardinals outside must have been dying for an “open house.”

The Norths understand from first-hand experience the challenges and thrills of creating extraordinary works from ordinary ingredients. Jim still does interpretive floral arrangements for their church, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on South Mendenhall Street in Greensboro.

“They’re based on my thoughts about relationships and about creating a more sustainable Earth,” he says.

The couple take the concept of “small world” personally.

For several years, they have opened their doors to Friendship Force, an organization co-founded by former President Jimmy Carter to promote home-based visits between people of different cultures.

The Norths have traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.

They’ve hosted visitors from Japan, Australia, Moldova and Turkey.

And they have participated in the Road Scholar program, formerly Elderhostel, which orchestrates adventures for seniors. In 2023, they went to the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Their group helped to decorate a riverboat float representing Louisiana.

“We crushed coconut,” Jim says, explaining that only botanical materials are used on the eye-popping entries. “Everywhere there was white on the float was crushed coconut.”

The Norths brought back a sweatshirt. A trip to Iceland, with another outfit, yielded a small ceramic bowl.

“We’ve gotten to the point we try not to bring back a lot of stuff. We have so much from over the years. We don’t need one more thing,” says Barbara.

The couple have been trying to thin their material possessions.

“The problem is, we’re so emotionally attached to our things,” says Barbara. “Most everything we’ve got has memories attached, and that’s so hard to give up.”

To Jim, the next step is clear: Move to a retirement community that offers lots of activities.

“We’re young elderly people,” says Jim, who turns 88 next month. “If they have a trip, I’ll be the first person on the bus.”

Barbara, 80, isn’t ready to board yet.

“This year, we will have been in this house 30 years,” she says. “That’s hard to think about. Those 30 years have gone by fast.”  OH

The Art of Gratitude

The Art of Gratitude

A painter takes his stroke from the canvas to the greens

By Jim Dodson

So why is Dave Baysden smiling?

On the final hole of Rees Jones’ challenging Championship Course at Bryan Park, he’s completed an otherwise sterling round of golf with a bogey on his card.

“Yeah,” he says with a carefree shrug, as he and his playing partners head for a beer in the clubhouse, “that was kind of disappointing, especially after one of my best rounds ever. But how can you not feel happy looking at that?”

He nods toward a fairway tumbling downhill to a slate blue lake glittering in the long light of a golden afternoon, girdled by forests afire with color. “Looks like a painting, doesn’t it,” he muses. “I may have to come back and sketch that.”

Baysden is certainly qualified to do that. A youthful 47, this affable father of two and former engineering artist has taken the golf world at large by storm with soulful paintings of some of the game’s most revered landscapes.

In a fine-art golf world crowded with ultrarealistic renderings of the game’s notable playgrounds, Baysden’s versions of the same tumble with bold movement, swipes of light and color — almost Impressionist in their ability to convey the mood, weather and mythic qualities of his subjects. His work calls to mind the luminous landscapes of 19th-century British Romantic Age painter J.M.W. Turner, works that tug on the emotions as well as the eye.

“I’m not sure I have a particular style,” Baysden allows with characteristic modesty, “because this is all still relatively new to me. What I simply try to capture is what I see and feel when I look at a golf course and other things in the game. People seem to like them.”

Indeed they do.

His distinctive landscapes, illustrations and sketches have turned up lately on everything from the cover of the 2022 President’s Cup program to commercial golf club headcovers. Underscored by a growing portfolio of major client commissions — including leading private and public entities like Pinehurst, The Dormie Club, Ballyhack, Old Town, Secession and the Country Club of Detroit — his distinctive style is popping up almost anywhere golf is enjoyed.

Not long ago he was invited to support the Arnold Palmer Foundation with paintings and design services for the annual Palmer Cup and the restoration of Palmer’s beloved Latrobe Country Club. A collection of 11 of his paintings also recently found their way to Ric Kayne’s spectacular new Te Arai Golf Course in New Zealand. His sketches for the likes of Bandon Dunes and Sweetens Cove, B. Draddy and MacKenzie Golf Bags, meanwhile, speak eloquently about his visionary art’s broad allure to the small-ball world. Landscapes for Royal County Down, Tara Iti and Kauri Cliffs have also recently graced his studio easel in High Point. Last spring, Baysden was commissioned to do a 4’ X 5’ painting of the Cassique Clubhouse for the USGA’s annual Amateur Four-Ball Championship on Kiawah Island. The list goes on and on.

Not bad for a kid nicknamed “Smiley” who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, doodling in class and church because he believed that helped him concentrate. “I was born a natural doodler,” he says with a laugh. “That really bothered my teachers but, crazy as it sounds, doodling actually helped me pay better attention to what was going on in class. It’s the same now when I’m on a golf course — either doing a live sketch of folks at a tournament or just out on a golf course alone, looking and sketching what I see. My eyes and brain work through my hands. The images come through me to the paper that way. It helps me feel the landscape.”

This somewhat late-in-life gift comes naturally, he explains, from his parents — father, Ron, is a gifted career engineer for AT&T-Bellsouth, and his mom, Carolyn, a lifelong artist. Ditto his sister, Cara, also a visual artist. “Dad is a brilliant engineer, very left brain, analytical and scientific, which was the path I naturally assumed I should follow. But my mother and her father were both landscape painters, so that probably explains why the urge to visually create — to doodle at least — seized my brain early,” he speculates.

After taking a degree in biology at the University of South Carolina, Baysden entered grad school at UNC-Charlotte to earn a master’s degree in geography, which landed him in the planning and development department of a top engineering firm producing detailed maps for major highway projects. “I learned a lot in that job about how creativity could benefit an engineering environment. I drew landscapes from aerial photography that helped the engineers better envision what they were building. I loved the job. That’s why I stayed in it for 18 years.”

Providentially, however, two factors unexpectedly led him into the world of golf. When his company announced a merger with another firm, he was basically left alone in a 6,000-square-foot space with a decreasing workload. “I knew my job was probably destined to be eliminated, so I set up an easel in an empty office and began to go over there to sketch and paint when things got slow. It felt so good, like something calling me back.” His early works were pastoral scenes of barns, fields and nature.  Just for fun, he began putting them on Twitter (now X).

A pivotal moment occurred when, seemingly out of the blue, the pastor of his church in Charlotte invited him to participate in a special project that involved several established artists painting scenes on a wall for the church’s Easter observance. 

“These were top artists, mind you, some really talented folks, and I couldn’t believe he would ask me,” Baysden recalls. “I’d never painted anything that large and so public in my life. The fear of failure was pretty real. But terrifying as that was, I realized something had to get out.”

He credits the minister at Forest Hills Church, Steve Whitby, for providing the push he needed. “He told me just not to say no. To be guided by faith. So, I gave it a shot.”

Right: Swilcan Bridge, Old Course St. Andrews


Baysden’s painting of a man struggling to get free of the vines that enwrapped him — simply titled Transgression — struck a powerful chord among those who saw it as a living metaphor for the human yearning for faith and freedom, a perfect Easter message of rebirth that was happening to the artist himself.

“The response from people — and the other artists — took me by surprise. To tell the truth, I had no idea if it was good or not. But they seemed to really see something in my work. It got me thinking, eager to try more.”

As Baysden likes to say, that’s how art found him again. How golf found his art almost seems divinely orchestrated.

One of those who saw his pastoral sketches online was Graylyn Loomis, one of golf’s leading influencers, an Asheville native who helped take his high school golf team to the state championship in 2010 and spent four years attending the University of St Andrews, clocking more than 180 rounds on the Old Course between classes. Loomis’ passion for links architecture and love of the auld game led him to create a popular golf blog and travel newsletter read by thousands of classic golf nuts.

“I loved what I saw Dave doing online and got in touch because of his spectacular illustration of speckled trout,” Loomis says. “His subjects were almost breathtakingly beautiful. They had such a natural feel, I just had to know who this guy was and where he came from.”

“I remember Loomis asked me — Who are you?” Baysden recalls with a laugh. “We had a great conversation that changed my life.”

Loomis felt Baysden’s luminous art leant itself perfectly to a painting a golf course, and wondered if Baysden would be up for an interview for his blog and consider doing a couple of watercolor paintings of St Andrews and Cypress Point.

“I was floored. I grew up playing golf with my dad and friends but had never painted a golf course before,” says Baysden. “It was kind of scary to think I could possibly paint from photographs. But he also said he saw something unique in my work, so I was willing to try.”

“I simply told Dave that his work was so different a wider audience needed to see it,” Loomis remembers. “I even offered to pay him, but he said he wouldn’t take any money. That’s how humble Dave is. I told him those days would probably be ending soon.”

Today, both paintings hang in Loomis’ home. “His paintings capture the soul of golf. When you look at his work, whatever the subject, you feel like you are really there with him. That sets him apart, in my view.”

Encouraged by the strong response on Loomis’ website, Baysden began posting a daily cartoon of whatever was happening in golf on Twitter, which landed him a gig as roving cartoonist at the PGA Tour Championship.

“It was an amazing experience. They told me to draw whatever caught my attention. I honestly didn’t even know what to charge them. That’s how inexperienced I was. But it was a blast — the first time I’d ever sketched and walked a golf course at the same time.”

His signed originals of the four “scenes” he produced during the championship’s first two days were presented to the top finishers.

Left: Augusta National, Hole 12

Right: ArborLinks, 5th Hole


For the PGA Merchandise Show that following winter, Baysden was commissioned to paint a 5’ X 8’  backdrop of the second hole at Old McDonald at Bandon Dunes, which hung in the firm’s booth along with his painted headcovers. “I did the work in our garden shed,” he remembers with a laugh, “because that became my studio at home, where I could disappear and sketch and paint for hours without worrying about the mess.”

That same year, 2018, Tour star Zack Blair invited Baysden to come play and paint at his inaugural two-day event called “The Ringer” at Sweetens Cove. “Dave was really perfect for our event. He did a couple paintings that we auctioned off and everyone loved his work,” explains Blair.

“That’s really where I fell in love with playing the game again,” says Baysden. “I’d never walked a golf course until Sweetens Cove. I saw the game in a new light, one where friends share their love of the game and true fellowship. It was a true eye-opening experience.”

Not surprisingly, Blair became an enthusiastic friend and patron. “Dave’s art is extraordinary. I have an entire gallery wall of his work at home [in Utah] — not just golf art but also his river scenes, barns and lots of other non-golf subjects. My mother has several of his paintings, too,” says Blair, pointing out that Baysden has been the artist-in-residence at every “Ringer” since the Dormie Club, Streamsong and Sand Valley.

Back home in his studio in High Point — a spare bedroom with north-facing windows, his largest  workspace ever — “Smiley the Doodler” finds himself hard at work on a stream of new projects, including work for the approaching 2024 US Open at Pinehurst.

Yet, true to his nature, he takes time to count his blessings.

Maybe most important of all, he explains, as the reach of his artistic gifts continue to expand across Planet Golf, his friendships through the game have deepened and grown in especially meaningful ways. Perhaps his most notable role has been in the creation of a group of spiritually-minded golfers who started the “Restoration Club,” a faith-based band of brothers who enjoy the fellowship of the game and a community that encourages them to walk with Jesus and be better husbands, brothers, dads and friends.

“I’m still blown away by the generosity of the golf world, so grateful how this all happened,” he muses. “My wife, Mandy, encouraged me at every step of the way and the golf world had been incredible. It’s a long game, as they say, and I’m still learning. But that’s the beauty of golf — and, for that matter, living in this world. There’s always something new that catches my attention. I see it,” he adds, still smiling, “and I want to paint it.”  OH

Greensboro: A Cultural Herstory

Greensboro: A Cultural Herstory

Eight women who made a lasting mark on the city

By Cassie Bustamante

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re paying homage to the fierce females who were pioneers in Greensboro’s arts and culture scene. Some you may know; others you may not.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection


Beginning in the late 1800s, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in iron, oil and steel, and then invested it in one of the most valuable commodities: public knowledge. At a time when segregation laws were still in place, Carnegie funded 2,500 libraries, including 12 free-to-use libraries, dubbed “Carnegie Negro libraries,” for underserved Blacks. In 1924, Greensboro’s Bennett College became the site of the last one built, and Martha Sebastian, a library science graduate of Simmons College in Boston, became head librarian, a role she maintained until her death in 1948. By 1930, Sebastian had built the largest collection of any public segregated library in the state. Sebastian also amassed an African American literature collection and created a meeting space for Black organizations. Knowledge is power, and, under her leadership, the library empowered those it served. Today the former library houses offices for Bennett College. Nearby, a meeting room at the Vance H. Chavis Branch Library is dedicated to Sebastian.

Photograph Courtesy of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Portrait of Laura Weill Cone, 1910 The Carolinian


Hands down, Cone is one of the most recognized surnames in Greensboro history. Brothers Moses and Ceasar established their business, Cone Export and Commission Company, in 1891, which led to a textile empire that culminated in today’s denim innovator, Cone Denim. The name can be seen on schools, street signs and any number of medical facilities throughout the city. But it was the Cone women who would have a profound impact on the city’s art scene. Thanks to the family’s lucrative business, sisters Claribel and Etta were afforded the luxury of global travel and collecting art. In Paris, they rubbed elbows with the likes of Picasso and Matisse, and began collecting Modern art. Their sister-in-law, Laura Weill Cone, married to brother Julius, was a loyal Woman’s College (now UNCG) grad who worried that the school’s Weatherspoon Art Gallery was struggling. She asked Etta to consider a donation. Upon Etta’s death in 1949, a large collection was left to Woman’s College. So next time you admire Picasso’s The Coiffure while perusing the free-admittance gallery, think of Laura and the Cone sisters. Without them, the graceful ink sketch of a Parisian beauty admiring her hairdo in a mirror would doubtless be hanging somewhere other than Greensboro.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection

By piloting students into a career in flying, Mary Nicholson gave wings to the dreams of others.


Anybody who’s seen an N.C. license plate knows we’re “First in Flight,” but you may not know that the first female in the state to earn both a commercial pilot’s and transport license was Spartan Mary Nicholson. Born in Greensboro in 1905, Nicholson attended North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) to study music, but, after taking her first flight in 1927, decided the only high notes worth hitting were in the friendly skies. How did she get aloft? Easy. She parachuted out of a plane as an ad for a flying school. In 1929, she became a charter member of The Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots — founded by Amelia Earhart, Fay Gillis Wells and Ila Loetscher, and still around almost 100 years later. She was one of 25 civilian women on the British Air Transport Auxiliary unit during World War II. On May 22, 1943, Nicholson died doing what she loved after her engine froze up, demolishing her propeller mid-flight. Despite her best efforts, she crashed into a stone barn in Worcestershire County, England. Next time you’re preparing for takeoff at PTI and see a female in the cockpit, you can thank Mary Nicholson for paving the runway for others.

Photograph Courtesy of the Leung Family

Whether as unofficial “mayor” or “mother” of Tate Street, Amelia Leung fed and nurtured her community.


In 1969, Amelia Leung, a trained nurse who was working at the Lotus restaurant in downtown Greensboro, and her husband Robert, a recent N.C. A&T grad with a degree in electrical engineering, were cruising along Tate Street when they noticed a restaurant, the Apple Cellar, for sale. According to Leung in a November 2016 O.Henry story, the owners weren’t jiving with the rising hippie scene. A couple years later, Hong Kong House opened and dished out more than cuisine; it created its own culture. Amelia blended her Chinese family recipes with customer and staff suggestions, a fusion ahead of its time. But more than the diners, the local musicians were nourished by Amelia and remember her as the “mother of Tate Street.” She offered free meals to starving artists in exchange for playing at her restaurant. Creating a neighborhood atmosphere that welcomed everyone, she helped organize the very first Tate Street Festival in 1973. While the restaurant closed in 1999 and Amelia died in 2017 at the age of 77, the festival returned to Tate Street last fall after a three-year hiatus, once again bringing music, food and people together.

Photograph © Greensboro History Museum Collection
Family portrait of Edward London, Sadie Mack London, and daughter Evelyn


Sadie Mack, born in South Carolina in 1898, was drawn to the business of beauty from a young age and moved to New York City to pursue her passion. There, she learned cosmetology as well as product manufacturing at Poro Beauty College. Post graduation, she became licensed in the Empire State. But when her brother fell ill, Mack moved to Greensboro to care for him. No powder-puff entrepreneur, she opened her own Gate City beauty shop and married a widowed tailor named Edward D. London. Together they created a joint Black-owned establishment featuring his tailoring and dry-cleaning services, as well as her salon, where she began teaching cosmetology. In 1935, Edward left his tailoring business and the couple opened Maco Beauty College at 505 E. Market St. Quickly outgrowing the space, MBC relocated to a former hotel, which allowed for dormitories as well as other amenities. Sadie died in 1942, but, under Edward’s direction, the school flourished and, during its 34 years in business, trained over 1,000 cosmetologists. Maybe she was born with it, but it certainly didn’t die with her.


In December 2023, North Carolina A&T State University won ESPN’s inaugural award for HBCU Band of the Year in Division I. Bang the drum for Band Director Kenneth Ruff, but let’s remember Margaret Mitchell Falkener, who founded the music department in 1894. She opened doors for the Blue and Gold Machine to march right through. Born in 1870 in Oberlin, Ohio, Falkener, a talented pianist, came to the Tar Heel State to teach. After settling with her husband in Greensboro, not only did she found the Aggies’ music department, but she also volunteered for more than 800 hours in 1918 alone, providing home service to Black families affected by World War I, and served as the first female supervisor of Guilford County Black schools. Founder of the county’s first Black garden club, an organizing member of Unified Institutional Baptist Church and the mother of five sons, one of whom would become a city councilman, Falkener died in 1938, but her beat goes on.

Photograph by Sam Froelich

Elissa Minet Fuchs instructing a class


By the time Elissa Minet Fuchs came to Greensboro in 1976, she’d already had quite an impressive career as a ballerina, radio actress and choreographer. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1919 to a Jewish American family, Fuchs left at the age of 16 to pursue a professional dance career in Chicago, where she’d heard opportunity awaited. A grand jeté of faith? Perhaps, but from there she pirouetted into professional dancing and teaching for years to come, including work on Broadway, with Ballet Russe, a 12-year stint as a soloist and corps de ballet member at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and the founding of the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre. When her husband, Dr. Peter Paul Fuchs, took on the role of Greensboro Symphony and Opera conductor, Fuchs began serving on the board at the Greensboro Ballet, where she would later choreograph and teach — well into her 90s! In 1981, Fuchs and director Maryhelen Mayfield decided to bring The Nutcracker to the Gate City. It remains a long-standing tradition today. Fuchs died in February 2023 at the age of 103. On her obituary page, one word reappears in the comments left by those who remember her: legend.

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection


If you tuned into WFMY News 2 from 1972–2011, chances are you found the face of Sandra Hughes — a proud Aggie alum-turned-professor — smiling back at you. In 1974, shortly after launching her career in journalism, Hughes became the first Black woman to host her own daily talk show in the Piedmont, Sandra and Friends, which ran for four years. In a 2019 WFMY News story, Hughes recalled receiving bomb threats at the station because of her show, saying “People didn’t think that the time had come for a Black woman to be doing a show by herself on television.” Not only did she prove them wrong, but she became one of the most recognizable names in Triad journalism. As Greensboro History Museum curator of community history Glenn Perkins notes, we can thank her for “opening the door to a generation of journalists.”  OH

Wine Not Now?

Wine Not Now?

Women forge their own wine trails into the industry

By Cynthia Adams

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

In 1987, the Center for Creative Leadership’s Ann Morrison famously wrote about a confounding and confining glass ceiling: “The glass ceiling is a barrier so subtle that it is transparent; yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy.”

Women working in the business of wine may find its ceiling shatterproof. Historically, the wine industry was and continues to be headlined by male names.

Yet half of female drinkers prefer wine over beer and spirits, and, when it comes to the work place, more choose the wine industry over other alcoholic beverage careers. No less than the venerable Wine Spectator acknowledges the archetypal wine drinker as “dominantly female.” 

If that’s the case, why are so few women in the wine industry, either at the helm or involved at a managerial level? Instead of trying to answer that question, perhaps it’s more productive to look at what women are bringing to the wine scene that might otherwise be missing and explore what impact women are having here in the Triad and Greensboro, where certified female sommeliers outnumber males.

“Men have a bigger voice,” says Julia Luce, who operates The Public House, a High Point business hosting private events and wine dinners. While not a sommelier, she has forged relationships with growers and suppliers. “Women are more polite,” she says. Luce seeks opportunities in nontraditional ways, such as wine classes and pairing events she develops herself. In a word, she says wine is “social.” Rather than cultivars, something she can also talk about endlessly, Luce has focused on cultivating a wine community of her own making. 

“Wine is about gathering people together. It is all about your food, your taste, friendships. The conversation. It’s never political or hostile. When you open a bottle of wine, it is over something good. If not celebratory, it’s a discussion. If wine was a person, wine would be a diplomat.”

The Public House grew out of Luce’s previous job. 

“In 2012, I worked for a French-Canadian furniture company — they loved wines. They created a commercial kitchen in their showroom and started doing dinners,” she says. “That building is now Earl’s Landing restaurant [in High Point.]”

There, Luce learned to present wines and create wine events. “Now, here I am.”

Stacey Land, vice president at 1618 Concepts, which owns 1618 West Seafood Grill and 1618 Midtown, has had a similarly circuitous route to becoming a female player in the Triad wine scene. Ascending to that role in 2020 from general manager and sommelier at 1618 Midtown, she had spent years working her way through the ranks from washing dishes, eventually becoming Greensboro’s second certified female sommelier via the Master Court of Sommeliers.

Land, who grew up in the food industry, was mentored by the first, Julia Hunt, an advanced sommelier at American Premium Beverage, formerly at Green Valley Grill, where they met.

(Certification requires candidates demonstrate advanced tasting skills and mastery of theory and service. There are various levels and attainments, one through five, with master sommelier the highest. Depending upon the source — and day — there are an estimated 273 worldwide master sommeliers and 164,000 certified sommeliers in the US. There are only a few accrediting bodies, including the famous Court of Master Sommeliers. Two other bodies, the National Wine School, and Wine & Spirit Education Trust, also certify sommeliers. The majority of working wine professionals industry wide are not actually sommeliers.)

Land joined 1618 in 2010. In 2021, she also earned a third level wine certification via the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.   

In the December 2017 issue of Seasons, Ross Howell Jr. wrote “Somm and Substance,” describing how Triad sommeliers, including Land, pursued the grueling path to certification. 

As with chefs, Land mentions, women in wine are the exception versus the rule. 

Once, Land “had dreams of being a writer and newspaper person.” Graduating from UNCG in 2004 with an English degree, she jokes, “It was like coming into the horse-and-buggy industry the year they invented cars.”

Returning to the restaurant world, Land bought into the former Grappa Grill, which soon closed in 2008.

“I had another crisis of am I in the right business?” 

Land flung herself into working full time at 1618 while prepping for — and passing — sommelier exams. “All of my certifications came within the last 12–13 years when working at [1618] West.” 

Left: Jennifer Talton & Julia Luce


She prepares wine lists and oversees the total guest experience, and fondly mentions 1618’s “Book Club,” their tongue-in-cheek monthly wine club, as a fun way to share wine knowledge. But professionally, she pays her knowledge forward by mentoring female and male colleagues seeking certification, like Hunt once did for her.

1618 colleague Evans Mack also grew up entrenched in the world of food, beverages and service. Now she is the restaurant’s second female sommelier. Land mentions her friend Jake Asaf, owner of Greensboro’s Lewis & Elm restaurant and Rioja! Wine Bar, who qualified as a sommelier at the same time she did.

Meanwhile, Luce has resumed monthly wine dinners halted by COVID. “Ju Ju’s Supper Club” is the latest venture offshoot of her business, partnering with Painted Plate Catering. (They restarted in February.)    

Wine dinners create a chain of opportunities for minorities working in the wine industry, Luce says, citing vineyard owners, an organic chef named Jennifer Talton, and a female wine importer. Luce maintains an office in Greensboro’s Fisher Park, decorated with plates signed by vineyard owners

“When you drink wine to enjoy, savor and pair it . . . that, to me, is to live,” says Luce. After all, she adds, “the French are living a long, healthy life because they do it — drink wine — with love and friendship.”

There are a number of other women earning a living in wine service in the Triad. In downtown Winston-Salem, Taylor Beal is one of three sommeliers at Katharine’s Bar & Brasserie, which opened in 2016. “I am the only female.” She earned her level one certification in 2019 through the Master Court, slowed by the pandemic. “I had COVID, which messed up my smell. I’m studying for level three.” 

Then there are wine shops and tasting rooms, such as longtime mainstay Zeto wine and specialty shop in downtown Greensboro, owned by Despina Demetriades and Su Peterson. 

Founded in 1999, Zeto has carved a niche with grapes that “are grown and produced mostly without chemicals or pesticides,” said Peterson in a televised interview. The shop features a Vinomatic, an automatic wine machine dispensing nearly 30 bottles for sampling, convenient for Zeto’s ongoing wine tastings and classes.

At least two other Greensboro tasting rooms have female owners. Alison Breen of the Tasting Room, and J’mihyia and Paris Whitsett of Marjae’s Wine Bar. Christina Morris is a manager and a sommelier at The Tasting Room, which has locations in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

Sometimes, key players in the business of wine take lucrative, yet less visible, roles. “A team of women at Johnson Brothers wine distributors has worked together as wine reps since it was bought,” Land says. 

Left: Barbara Raffaldini

Middle: Evans Mack & Stacey Land

Right: Dr. Stephanie Bolton


Although approximately 200 wineries call North Carolina home, few statistics reveal how many women are at the helm or are involved on a managerial level. One is in the N.C. foothills at Raffaldini Vineyards, where Barbara Raffaldini, splits her life between running Raffaldini and a legal career.

In 2020, sister publication Seasons cover story featured Barbara, who co-owns the winery with Jay, her brother. “Fortune Favors the Bold,” discussed her dual careers as a winery owner and partner for an Illinois law firm. 

There remains an elephant in the tasting room. Something Land mentions over a glass of rosé at 1618’s wine bar in Midtown: whether women can hold their own in such a male-centric milieu.

Land worries that women, as an industry minority, struggle with imposter syndrome. She drops her voice. “I’ve been in this business for 20 plus years; if I don’t know how to do this, who does? Have I been faking this? No.”

The comment reflects what author Valerie Young presents in her research. Highly capable and accomplished women, Young writes, may wrestle with that, particularly in male-dominated fields. 

“You can have all the confidence in the world and still be reluctant to self-promote out of a steadfast belief that a person’s work should speak for itself. It doesn’t.”

To Young’s point, minorities in certain industries may also face unfounded criticism.

Quietly, Land says, “I think it’s in jobs that are male-dominated for so long. Think of women chefs. If you’re a professional woman in an industry that has been male dominated for so long . . . you feel that imposter syndrome.”

Worse, others may ask, “‘How did that woman get to the top of that field?’” 

That especially stings. Land’s father, who graduated from Napa’s Culinary Institute of America and remained in the restaurant field until his retirement, begged her not to follow him in the restaurant business. Now, she says proudly, he will call and ask her advice about wines.

Luce agrees that women struggle for a seat at the bar. “We are, industry wide, underrepresented.” 

A few years ago, I met Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible and a leading light in the wine world. She says, “The road up the mountain is long and sometimes confusing.”

Lesser known are women working in viticulture, the cultivation of grapes. One, Dr. Stephanie Bolton, is leading the way concerning safer and sustainable practices for growers from the rural heart of zinfandel country in Lodi, CA. 

A North Carolina native who once studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, Bolton was recognized last August in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Future Forty” for her achievements in viticulture through her research and educational work at the Lodi Winegrape Commission. 

Now, her leadership and global initiatives with domestic and international wine growers extends as far as Israel, earning industry distinction.

“I can tell you that in general we are seeing more women get involved on the viticulture side of things, says Bolton. “It’s nice to have both the male and female perspectives in the wine industry positions — we all benefit from that.”

Bolton adds, “I can’t speak for all women, but I prefer wine as a drink of choice over beer and liquor because it transcends me to a time — the vintage — and place — the region it is from — while offering art, romance, history, education and elevating my dinner into a true feast for the senses. Even better when the wine was produced by a friend and I get to feel that special connection, too.”

Connections are key, as Luce suggests. Raise a glass while raising support, too, promoting fellow minorities who are gaining entrée to a once closed industry. 

Outliers, perhaps. Regardless, they are chipping away at the glass ceiling, proving it isn’t impervious after all.  OH

Spirits, Beer and Wine:

Chardonnay in the Brewery?

Two years ago, Fodor’s Travel writer Alex Temblador asked, “Why are there so few women in the spirits, beer and wine business?” 

The Distillers Association of North Carolina reports at present approximately 22 of 90 distilleries in our state are “owned, co-owned or managed by women.”

Meantime, women are forging inroads into brewery’s upper management. One example is Renee L’Heureux, who leads operations at Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett, N.C., including its Lager Haus and Biergarten.

Here, too, is an interesting acknowledgement of women as consumers of wine.  Although the brewery’s German-style beers have a dedicated following, their tasting room also offers a carefully curated wine list. During a week in mid-January, she says, their team spent hours reviewing wine offerings.


L’Heureux points out, “The industry standard is that 85 percent of wine drinkers at breweries are women.”

Why not offer a decent list, she asks?

Red Oak’s wine list is thoroughly considered, a pragmatic choice, she explains.

Poem March 2024

Poem March 2024


In christening gown and bonnet,

he is white and stoic as the moon,

unflinching as the sun burns

through yellow puffs of pine

pollen gathered at his crown

while I pour onto his forehead

from a tiny blue Chinese rice cup

holy water blessed

by John Paul II himself

and say, “I baptize you, Julian Joseph,

in the name of the Father, and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit.”

Nor does he stir when the monarchs

and swallowtails,

in ecclesiastical vestments,

lift from the purple brushes

of the butterfly bush

and light upon him.

    — Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti was the North Carolina poet laureate from 2012-2014. He will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October.

Almanac February 2024

Almanac February 2024

February wakes us gently.

Deep in our late-winter slumber, we dream of wild violets and dandelions; the return of hummingbirds; the green and quivering kiss of spring.

Swaddled in ancient stillness, our hearts ache for warm earth and fragrant blossoms; snap peas and crimson clover; chorus frogs and velvet-soft grass. February knows. Still, we mustn’t be ripped from this rich and fertile darkness. We mustn’t be startled, forced or rushed.

As the pink breath of dawn illuminates a leafless kingdom, a barred owl pierces the silence with a rousing incantation. Within our womb-like chrysalis, we shift and wriggle, reaching for our wild longings, tilting our face toward the beckoning sun. Prayers for patience on her tongue, the wise one lets us sleep, stroking our hair as we flit between worlds.

Soon, the cardinal will sing of bloodroot, crocus and flowering quince. Soon, a mourning cloak will flutter among the bleak and frigid landscape.

As we drift toward this vernal threshold, February invites us to linger. She knows that our souls require deep rest. She trusts our natural rhythm. She softly guides a sunbeam to our winter-weary bones.

The bluebird scouts a nesting site. The red fox grooms her kits. As sure as the daffodils rise from naked earth, we will open our eyes, awakened by the quickening pulse of our inner spring.

I know him, February’s thrush,
And loud at eve he valentines
On sprays that paw the naked bush
Where soon will sprout the thorns and bines.   

— George Meredith,
    “The Thrush in February,” c.1885

Outside the (Chocolate) Box

There are flowers, and there is fruit. But if you’re looking to dazzle your green-thumbed sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, consider gifting a fruit tree, which ultimately offers both.

Apple, fig, persimmon, pear and plum are among the recommended fruit bearers for our state. Choose cultivars that thrive in the particular soil and climate you’re working with, plant it with a kiss, then let the tree enchant the gardener year after year.

Year of the Dragon

The Chinese (Lunar) New Year is celebrated on Saturday, Feb. 10. Get ready for the Year of the Wood Dragon, the last of which delivered Beatlemania and the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If ever you’ve heard “The Great Race” fable — that is, how the Jade Emperor determined the sequence of the 12 animals associated with the Chinese calendar — then perhaps you recall the honorable qualities of the dragon (fifth sign of the zodiac), who stopped to help the creatures of the Earth rather than easefully crossing the finish line first. Those born under the Year of the Wood Dragon are the wayshowers. They’re here to dream up a better world, and have the vigor and drive to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  OH

Hidden Figure

Hidden Figure

How a Black washerwoman helped free 15 slaves

By Ross Howell Jr.

Photograph by Bert VanderVeen

Lavina Curry.

We don’t know where “Vina” was born or how she died. We have no likeness of her — no etching or drawing.

Yet a Guilford College historical marker honors what she did.

Professor emerita Adrienne Israel played an essential role in preserving and telling Vina’s story.

Israel retired from Guilford in 2019, after teaching history there for 37 years. One of her most popular courses was a study of the Quaker community, the local free Black population and the roles individuals played in helping slaves escape North Carolina via the Underground Railroad.

And one of those individuals was Levi Coffin, a Quaker abolitionist born on a Guilford County farm in 1798. His family moved to Indiana in 1826 to avoid persecution for their antislavery views. Historians estimate that Coffin assisted in the escapes of more than 3,000 fugitive slaves during his lifetime.

“Most of the stories about the Underground Railroad were framed around white abolitionists,” Israel says.

“But I was convinced that free Black people in the Greensboro area must’ve been involved, too,” she adds.

Evidence was hard to come by.

Then Israel found a memoir written by a cousin of Levi Coffin, published in 1897.

“There was a free negro named Arch Curry, living near our home, who died a few years after father,” wrote Addison Coffin, whose father died in 1826.

“His widow’s name was Vina; she was the washerwoman for the boarding-school for several years,” Coffin continues. He describes Vina as a “shrewd and discerning” woman who had kept “her husband’s free papers” on hand after his death.

The “boarding-school” was the New Garden Boarding School, predecessor to Guilford College. “Free papers” were documents drawn up by county courts to certify a Black man was a freeman and not a slave.

Vina allowed individual fugitive slaves to use Arch’s papers as identification.

“This was done 15 times to my knowledge,” Coffin writes. He explains that after the fugitive reached freedom, Levi would return the “stolen” papers to the widow.

“This was done occasionally with other papers,” Coffin concludes, “but none were ever used like those of Arch Curry.”

There it was.

A local free Black person helping the Underground Railroad — if Israel could prove “Arch” and “Vina” existed.

Women were rarely named in early records, so Israel started searching for Arch.

Deed books showed that in 1820 a Black freeman named Archibald Curry had purchased land on Brushy Creek in Guilford County, and, a year later, more land on Horsepen Creek. Between the 1820 and 1830 censuses, Curry’s household grew from himself, his wife and two children to seven children — four male and three female.

His name doesn’t appear in the 1840 census, so apparently Arch died about the time Coffin had noted in his memoir.

And Arch’s widow?

The 1840 census counted three female “free colored persons” at New Garden Boarding School.

Among the women was washerwoman Vina Curry, age 55.

Assisting Israel in confirming Vina’s identity was Quaker archivist and special collections librarian Gwen Erickson, who located entries in the school’s ledger for “Lavina Curry.” No entries for Lavina are found after 1843.

It was Erickson who secured funding for the historic marker, dedicated in 2022 as part of a national consortium of universities studying slavery. Erickson says the marker reminds us that there were more free Black citizens who worked with the Underground Railroad and “continue to go unnamed.”

It was up to Sarah Thuesen, associate professor of history at Guilford, to involve students with the project, working with classes to draft the text inscribed on the historical marker.

Thuesen says that while her students had some idea about the school’s role in the Underground Railroad, “they probably never would’ve heard the name of Lavina Curry if not for this effort to recognize all freedom fighters, white and Black.”

And retired professor Israel?

She’s on the trail of one of Vina’s daughters.

“Her name is Sarah,” Israel says. “She moved to Indiana with her husband, a free Black man named Richard Ladd, who had been accused of helping a fugitive slave.”

There’s pride and delight in the professor’s voice.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer.

The Waddell/Whitlatch Home Revival

The Waddell/Whitlatch Home Revival

Light, love and good taste in Glencoe Village

By Cynthia Adams 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

Glencoe Mill Village in Alamance County, home to new residents Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch, is among the most intact mill villages in the country. The 95-acre community affords a rare look at something once commonplace, built along the Piedmont’s rivers and streams, when mill owners created housing to attract laborers, often employing entire families, including children.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Burlington historic district, the private restoration of surviving Glencoe homes, found three miles north of Burlington along the Haw River, began after 1999.

The newly restored Whitlatch home had its own story to tell.

Just two weeks before last Thanksgiving, Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch finally moved into their two-story clapboard historic home on Glencoe Street. They were both elated and exhausted. House proud, they still shucked off shoes at the door, not daring to scar newly refinished, hand-planed, wide-board floors, which already bore the marks of nearly a century and a half of use.

Almost immediately, the couple opened their home as part of Glencoe’s annual tour of homes, a fundraising effort Molly had helped initiate in 2017. The fundraiser helps support grants for restoration projects like their own.

For the homeowners, the tour was a time for celebration — a once neglected, derelict house was successfully revived. From the street, it appeared largely unchanged; in actuality, that was far from true. It had required a deft restoration that demanded much more than cosmetics. Much of the house, left unoccupied after a remodel that was begun and abandoned more than 20 years ago, was essentially a shell, lacking heat or air conditioning, plumbing, or even electricity. It required, admits Molly, “a lot.”

Tour-goers were treated to a viewing of what had been achieved. 

Molly, Jonathan and Molly’s father, George Orndorff, acted as docents, telling the story of the 1880 “Waddell” house. Among the original 45 rental houses for Glencoe mill employees, James Waddell, manager of the company store, lived there with his wife, Lou Ada Councilman Waddell, known as Lou, and their children from 1916–40. 

The nearby store he once managed houses today’s Textiles Heritage Museum. From that vantage point, museum volunteer Nancy Earl, a retiree who previously worked at a textile museum in Oregon, had a bird’s eye view to observe the Waddell home’s rehabilitation.

She admired both the restoration and the owners’ enthusiasm.

As did fellow volunteer and long-time preservationist Katherine Rowe, now an interior designer. “The couple had just barely gotten a COA (Certificate of Appropriateness) for the home, days before being featured on the home tour,” she says.

Entering from the front porch, the restored living room’s velvety chairs, colorful heirloom rugs, and vintage furnishings and artwork warm the rustic interiors. The couple doggedly worked to retain the original and rough-hewn shiplap walls and bead-board ceilings, but softened it with accenting trim and quiet touches such as luxurious textiles.

Thanks to the Whitlatches’ passion for preservation and good guidance from the governing bodies overseeing Glencoe, the home’s past wasn’t erased, but integrated. The former Waddell house bears the artful evidence of a sleight of hand that had made the historic home ready for a new era. 

Just days after moving in, the new owners celebrated their first holiday meal on Thanksgiving.

The couple dined in an enclosed space pressed into service as a dining room on a friend’s loaned table as they still searched for the perfect one to fit the space.

“A hallway filled with windows and a chunky farm table in front of them,” admires Rowe, who saw the home furnished for the open house event. Light shimmers through the porch’s five windows.

The Waddell family wouldn’t have recognized it. For Rowe, it is among her favorite spots in the house. Rowe met the Whitlatches when, as a founder of Preservation Burlington, Molly sought out help from Rowe, who volunteers for Preservation Greensboro.

“They are charming and have filled the home with light, life and a lot of good taste!” she says, praising the Whitlatches. And equally energetic.

The certificate legally allowing occupancy only arrived on Halloween.

How did the Whitlatch couple wind up restoring the 1880s home?

In part, because they had friends who lived there and the opportunity arose. In July of 2022, they were vacationing when they learned that a Glencoe house they had long watched had caught the interest of a flipper. 

They couldn’t allow that to happen.

Plus, they had begun contemplating leaving their home in Burlington for a rural property. Glencoe offered some of what they were seeking — the lots had ample room for a garden.

“We were living in the historic district in Burlington, explains Molly. We really wanted chickens, and the City of Burlington decided not to allow chickens downtown. So, we decided we wanted to buy some property.”

But they had friends in Glencoe and already loved the location. “One of my best friends lives right across the street.” Long before buying it, Molly had often come over and peeked through the windows while visiting her friend. 

The incomplete and debris-filled Waddell house wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was only a few miles from Burlington’s city limits, but the village rose above the banks of the meandering Haw River and was just down the street from a county park.

It wasn’t even an architectural gem, but it could be made remarkable, they decided. The history buff in Molly was taken with the idea of taking on such a project. “We had to make a snap decision.”

Up the hill live two more friends, Tom and Lynn Cowan, preservation experts. 

“He’s a carpenter, and she is a designer,” Molly explains. “They said, ‘If you do it, we’ll help you.’ I was in transition with a job. It was one of those things, where . . .” she pauses. “We made a somewhat impulsive decision.” 

Did they want chickens that badly? 

“We really wanted chickens, but, we really wanted to save the house,” Molly answers with a wry laugh. “Kind of like Preservation Burlington, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” (As cofounder, Molly points out how that leap of faith also had a happy outcome.)

So, we walked through it and said, ‘We’ll buy it.’” 

Their decision was quickly made; however, the hard work of making the shell of a house into a home would consume another 14 long months.

They tackled trash removal and plotted a renovation that began in earnest in August 2022.   

The renovation demanded nights and weekends of manual labor — cleaning, scraping, patching and painting while working their day jobs. 

“My dad and stepmother, Becki Orndorff, helped us work on the house many weekends as well,” says Molly.

The transformation was furthered by good friends, neighbors and advisors from the preservation community; it had literally taken a village to complete.

Preservation requirements dictated that the home’s original architectural features — all walls, wood, doors, floors, mantles, detailing and ceilings — ought to be preserved wherever possible.

Well-versed in the restrictions and requirements, she knew the ropes and how to navigate legal covenants and restrictions dictating a historic district.

“We actually did it as an N.C. preservation tax credit project,” explains Molly. While softening the financial impact of a full-on restoration project, it meant adhering to strict guidelines. 

“My husband’s very handy and had done a little bit of work on our previous house, but nothing like this.”

Molly jokes, “I’m a lawyer, so I don’t have any skills.” YouTube tutorials helped. “Jonathan’s now a self-taught handyman,” she adds with pride.

The DIYers had to hire professionals, given that there was “no plumbing, electricity, nor heating or air conditioning. “It was just a shell,” she says, noting that there had once been some primitive electricity. (Many Glencoe homes were built in an era before it was common.)

While brewing a cup of tea on a spanking-new professional range, she points out where that primitive electricity existed. The kitchen, by definition, is always a huge budgetary item, especially when there is scant wiring. What existed was installed at the dawn of electrification. 

You can see two small holes in the kitchen wall, where knob and tube wiring came into the house to a light bulb. The mill would turn the electricity on in the morning and off at 9 p.m.

The kitchen design was influenced by British country style. “I draw inspiration from English magazines.” Custom cabinets of Shaker style design were built by Alcorn, a Reidsville company that had built a friend’s cabinetry. (“A father-and-daughter business.” The cabinets are maximum height for extra storage. “We ran them to the ceiling.”) 

“The room we’re using as the kitchen was originally added to most of the houses around 1900,” explains Molly, standing at a center island featuring white, honed Danby marble from Vermont. “The original portion [of the house] dates to 1880, when the mill was built.”

Molly, who “cooks from scratch,” required a functional kitchen. A porcelain farm sink is another nod to European style.

A shallow pewter cabinet hugs the kitchen wall, found at a Mebane auction. “It’s one of the only things we bought for the house.” She filled it with vintage blue Mason jars that store pantry basics.

The kitchen ceiling height is 10–11 feet, Molly approximates. 

“Every room is a little different. Even where there are dropped ceilings, it is still higher than usual,” she says. 

She appreciates the sense of space the soaring heights lend the smaller rooms. Village homes were modestly sized with two rooms upstairs and two rooms down.

Helped by their friends, the couple undertook much of the carpentry work, salvaging wood to patch gaps and resolve rot. They innovated, appropriating beaded board, where it would be concealed behind the new kitchen cabinets, for use elsewhere. 

They retained as much of the original finishes and architecture as possible, right down to teal blue initially covering most interior surfaces. However, they toned it down, integrating it with contrasting color or neutrals, adding in rough-luxe touches to soften the primitive authenticity. Now, it is an accent, given in the original rooms all surfaces were wood.

State and local preservationists were helpful in maintaining the home’s original character. “Everything they asked us to do I was later grateful for; it ended up being better than I would have done,” acknowledges Molly.

Even what was originally an exterior window was retained in the kitchen. It opens into an enclosed entrance/mudroom. Rather than being an oddity, it elevates the kitchen’s charm quotient.

An outside building, married to the rear of the house by the previous owner, expanded the downstairs footprint. But it had long languished, abandoned. “It was open framing when we came here,” says Molly.

This became a main bedroom and bath suite, complete with porch (that will eventually be screened), opening to the rear of the property.

“Anywhere there’s drywall, it’s where the previous owner had worked on the new construction/addition,” Molly explains. “There’s a small mudroom. And he attached the detached summer kitchen to the house.” Those alterations (pre-historic designation) proved invaluable, even if unfinished. For example, the addition created what most Glencoe homes lack, storage and some closets.

But when they first saw the expansion, it was joltingly Barbiecore. 

“It was bright pink,” Molly frowns. Hardly historic.

They added door frames and doors, using a bedroom door found under the house. Over the doorway leading into the main suite are original “rafter tails,” or rafter ends that overhang the eaves.

Overhead, the exposed beams from the former kitchen wore accumulated layers of grime and soot. “Three or four of us spent six hours one day scrubbing them,” Molly groans.   

The room’s original fireplace was restored, featuring a salvaged mantle bearing original paint from another Glencoe home. Nothing was wasted.

With the help of friends, they painstakingly pulled up the wooden flooring where the prior owner had married the addition to the house, revealing beautiful wide boards beneath. Both subfloor and floor boards were carefully removed, cleaned and refinished for reuse. As Molly explains, “Free flooring!”

Variations of flooring, walls and ceilings added patina and interest, thanks to an artful interior redesign.

Inside a downstairs ensuite bathroom is a favorite compromise occurring when they created a bath for their main bedroom.

“They didn’t want us to cut into the (detached kitchen) wall, which was original,” she says, “so I asked, what if we didn’t remove it, but cut into it and created a door?” Now a jib door is among their favorite features.

Facing their main bedroom doorway, a stretch of hallway extends to the front of the house, offering a long sight line.

“It reminds me of the shotgun homes of New Orleans,” Molly says. “I like how this rambles.” With the physical work resolved, they could turn to gilding the lily: finding that perfect table, for example, and other furnishings and treasures.

The living room, which opens to the front porch, is also a favorite of their friend, Rowe, who describes the Whitlatch living room as an artful fusion of styles and collected artwork.

Art by Jonathan’s grandmother hangs opposite a piece by the front door painted by Molly’s grandmother.

Upstairs, a steep stairway to the second floor has a railing created from old wine barrels. “A nod to my husband’s work,” says Molly. The vintage light fixture in the stairwell was another fortunate salvage find. 

On the second floor, they’ve created a comfortable room with a daybed and another full bath, which was stacked over the downstairs guest bath when they were creating needed bathrooms. Hewing closely to simple fixtures and trim, they used a vintage sink and tub, both architectural salvages. The tub was too massive to get upstairs via the narrow stairway, forcing them to remove an upstairs window to hoist it from outside. “That was exciting,” says Molly. 

She used linen towels with a café rod and rings for the bathroom’s window treatment.

The upstairs features a third bedroom and the home’s third fireplace. Again, moving in furniture to the second floor was not simple.

They used bungee ratchet straps to bend the mattress, folding it in half, in order to navigate the stairs. A double bed was the largest they could manage.

Molly’s desk and office share the guest room space. 

The wide-plank upstairs floors are in fine condition, like the ones in their main bedroom downstairs. 

“And these wood walls,” says Molly. “Someone hand scraped these walls.” She runs her hand appreciatively over the wall, pausing a moment. 

“I think this is a cool feature,” she says, pointing to a craftsman’s mark on the bedroom’s handmade door, “when he took a knife and marked where to put the nails.” 

Her favorite thing, however, isn’t merely about the aesthetics of historic architecture. It is “old school” hospitality and neighborliness. It’s the village.

Throughout the renovation, neighbors commiserated over the trials and tribulations, pitched in and arrived bearing freshly baked pies and casseroles. Even the kayak business behind their home, grandfathered into Glencoe’s commercial district, was helpful. They allowed the Whitlatches to use their restroom whenever they were working on the house. 

Thus far, Molly would change nothing. True, it was a long process, she admits, and they underestimated how long it would take, plus how hard to find contractors willing to work on old houses.

“I just have a feeling about houses, not even necessarily tied to a specific thing,” says the contented owner of a renewed old house. 

“It feels cozy.”

As one who lives in a century-old home, I pose a final question: Has Molly ever sensed the Waddell’s presence there?

Molly immediately texts in answer. Neighbors had reported seeing a lady in the upstairs window when the house was still sitting vacant. 

“Anytime we heard weird noises or things were not going as planned, we would say it was the lady in the red dress.”

She forwards a grainy, silent video of the Waddell family circa 1940 “standing in front of our house.” 

“You can see a lady in a red dress,” she writes, “so that could be her.”  OH



About Glencoe Mills and the Village

According to the historic inventory when Glencoe village was acquired for preservation in 1979, the homes were “typical of North Carolina rural housing of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Glencoe Mills, which closed in 1954, was founded in the late 1880s by James H. and William Holt, sons of Edwin M. Holt. Edwin was a textile “pioneer,” developing Alamance County’s textile industry. 

Holt family descendants still live in the Triad.

Glencoe comprised a 95-acre village, with a main mill complex, church, school, Sunday school building and barbershop, general store, post office, men’s lodge, hydroelectric plant, plus 45 rental properties reserved for mill workers. The mill, dam and some of the defunct power system still remain, along with 29 houses on Glencoe Street and Hodges Road. 

At the mill’s closing in 1954, some former workers continued to rent homes there. Eventually, the homes were left abandoned. In 1979, Glencoe was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation North Carolina acquired the property in the late 1990s, giving rise to private ownership and restoration.

The Textile Heritage Museum occupies the former Glencoe Mill offices and company store. Today, it contains historic information about Glencoe Mills and the socioeconomics of textiles, lending a clear picture of mill life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1890, Glencoe employed 133 workers in the manufacturing of plaid fabric. The mill recruited labor by creating housing (rent was anywhere from $1.40–2.00 a month) and extending employment to entire families. Demographically, women and children comprised 70 percent of its workforce. 

According to online N.C. educational archives, “as soon as the cotton mill industry began booming in the 1880s, critics began speaking out against child labor.” Circa 1907–08, 90 percent of all spinners working in Southern textile mills were below age 21. By 1924, two children remained as Glencoe employees.

Social reform photographer Lewis Hine photographed children working in cotton mills throughout the South, then publishing and showing his work, raising awareness about the issue.

In 1933, North Carolina enacted a law prohibiting child labor, as new technologies had already begun lessening the need for large numbers of workers.

Glencoe, however, had the distinction of being the first mill in North Carolina stipulating that its child laborers receive some schooling.

The village offered “three basic house configurations.”

Most featured “brick pier foundations, tin roofs and simple, functional design. Few houses, with the exception of the mill superintendent’s house, have indoor plumbing. Some houses, particularly on Hodges Road, may never have had electricity.”   

Houses ranged from three to six rooms, averaging 16 by 16 feet. Most of the rental homes were four-room, two stories with a front porch.   

Because they were a fire hazard, detached kitchens, 12 by 12 feet in size, constructed of board and batten, were built at the rear. “Later, kitchens were attached at the back of the north end of the main block, forming an ell.” By 1910, attached kitchens had replaced most of the detached ones.    

Others were one-story, with two rooms and a front porch. A few were duplexes. The third Glencoe design was a one-and-a-half story with a side gable house and a central chimney.   

By the late 1970s when the architectural survey was completed, Glencoe’s surviving homes were deteriorating — a few beyond saving. Rotting sills, missing porches and water damage were common. Yet preservationists felt certain: The majority of homes could be restored.



About the Salvage Shop at Glencoe Village

In one neatly contained package, you can not only visit the textile museum for a closer look at work life in the late 1800s, but also buy a piece of Glencoe history. 

Housed in a World War II-era Quonset hut, the Salvage Shop contains architectural salvage and is managed by Preservation Burlington. 

Once used for mill storage, most likely cotton, the hut contains tidily organized salvage artifacts. “It’s all volunteer staffed,” says Molly. “We open to the public one Saturday a month.” Proceeds fund various grants and projects in the Glencoe historic district. 

It began in October 2016, when Molly and three other women met for coffee, agreeing they needed a nonprofit similar to Preservation Greensboro. They also looked to Greensboro to style Preservation Burlington’s eventual architectural salvage program.

“Three [of the women] are still on the board,” she explains. 

“We started our first fundraiser in 2017, a Christmas tour of homes.  People were still full of concern about the costs of historic homes.” The tour of homes became their largest revenue source, but was halted by the pandemic in 2020. 

They pivoted towards the salvage operation, which had also begun in 2017. “We’ve been successful because we didn’t know we couldn’t do it.” 

Molly heads the salvage work portion, “even though I have no construction experience. I organize electricians and carpenters.”

She met Greensboro preservationist Katherine Rowe, who occasionally volunteers, through Martha Canipe (a board member of Preservation Forsyth). “Old house people getting together,” explains Molly.

Love Bytes


Illustrations by Harry Blair

Last fall, a few of O.Henry’s writers, armed with notebooks and recording devices, hit up Greensboro’s
Corner Farmers Market to gather local tales of love. The results will
melt your winter heart.

Jordan and I met in college. One of our friends was working at a haunted trail in Gibsonville and she hired us as actors. I was a zombie and he was a scarecrow. I was walking down the trail trying to get to my spot and he popped out of the bushes and scared me. It was love at first Boo.  Abigail Hart



While a graduate student in Princeton, I was studying in the library of a house I had rented with a few friends. One of my roommates came back with this woman he had met. We all sat around, got stoned, of course, and had fun together. I was really attracted to her and she to me, but she had met Evan. Well, as fate decided, he was leaving the next day for a four-week camping trip out West — so I made my moves, and Jane and I were together for 44 years until she died.  Ken Caneva


I was working at a wine store here in Greensboro called Wine Warehouse. I would do wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays. Brownlee would come into the store and I didn’t notice her for, I don’t know, she says at least a year. But one Saturday afternoon, I’m in the store by myself and she comes in, and I notice her, still in her yard-working clothes. She came in to buy a bottle of wine or two for a birthday party. She leaves with a case of wine. After I close up the shop, I go by a friend’s house and he says, “I have a birthday party to go to. Why don’t you come with me?” We go through the front door and down into the basement where the party is and I round the corner, look across the room and there she is. One of the first things we both said was “Did you notice me noticing you?” And we both said yes! After that, it was just the two of us talking throughout the evening. Lo and behold, we’ve been together 17 years.  Jimmy King



Her version: We met in college. I was 20 years old. Denis was 22. I took an extra credit class in college, and Denis had to take it because he was an international student. He walked into the class and I thought, That guy looks so crabby — I hope he’s not in my group. He ended up in my group. He was from France. I invited him to my 21st birthday party and he actually came and he’s been in love with me ever since. He’s obsessed with me.



His version: It’s about the same except — no, it’s the same. Maybe not as enthusiastic.  Susel & Denis Dépinoy

My real dad died when I was 10. My mother, Janey, met Lanny when I was 18, 37 years ago. Somebody sent him over because she needed something fixed at her house. She was a big church lady and the first place he invited her? Church. They started dating, got married. Mom and Lanny were very sweet to each other. They would make everybody uncomfortable when they were in their 60s at Thanksgiving because my mother would announce that they were going to die making love. Lanny got dementia this past February and it went downhill really, really quickly. She tried to take care of him at home and could not. Now, every morning, she pulls up his picture on her phone and kisses it. But when she goes over to see him he still recognizes her. The longterm is that, at 85, one person is going to take care of the other and the end is going to be taken care of in a very loving, romantic way. That’s what true love is.  Michael Moore


Can I share a patients story? I was treating this lady and she and her husband have been married for over 30 years. They met in the ’90s, right, when they had those brick cell phones. They were both on a flight to Michigan State University and it got cancelled. She was sitting underneath an airport payphone and he went to go use the payphone and was really pissed off that she was right under it using her big brick cell phone. While they were fighting they realized they were headed to the same place. His work paid for him to have a rental car so they road-tripped together as strangers to Michigan State University. When she got there, she couldnt find her group so she had nowhere to stay. He offered his hotel room. There was no funny business, she assured me. They flew back together on the same flight and when they got back, he proposed to her with a ring pop from a gumball machine. And for one of their anniversaries, he got her a mini gumball machine.  Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

We worked together and I had to have surgery. I was out for a little while and Kristin came over to my house with my paycheck and a couple other things I needed for work, oh, and a giant fruit basket that the guys in my group got for me. My mom was there. Kristin came in and stayed for dinner with us. The night was on and Kristin said, “Well, I better get back over the hill.” I said, “See you when I get back.” And as soon as she walked out the door, my mom said, “She really likes you. I think you two are going to get married.” And she was right. We’re coming up on 12 years.  Andy Zeiner



We were not looking for a dog. It had been about three years since we’d had one. Someone left her at an apartment without food or water. We were out shopping one day and her rescue foster was there with Daisy Mae following her. We just fell in love with her and asked for a sleepover. It’s been about a month. She’s all things daisy — just the light of our life and our little love story.  Kim Hilton


I was 12 years old and had a horrible horseback-riding accident. My mother took me up to Massachusetts for a couple days to get away after I’d been in the hospital for a week. We went up to this resort and there were all these horses outside. I was not allowed around horses for at least six months because of the accident. I started asking around, who owned the horses, and was told the resort owner’s daughter rode. I went knocking and met her. The next morning, there was this big knock on the door of our hotel room, which opened to the outside. There was Betsy on her horse, Cinnamon. She said, “You wanna go for a ride?” She literally grabbed me, swung me up onto her horse behind her, and, like in a movie, we went galloping off into the sunset together. I am 65 years old now and we are still the best of friends. That’s my love story.       Lisa Pritchard

Anthony and I got married in 2004 and are getting ready to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We went to college together in Raleigh and dated from my freshman year. My senior year I decided I was going to live in Australia and travel for eight months to a year. I wanted to be free. So I broke up with him and I said to my dad, “What if I get there and I realize I still love him and he moves on?” And my dad said, “Well, if he moves on then hes not the right person for you and it wasnt meant to be.” So that gave me the permission. I went and I dated someone else down there — my mom thought I was never going to come home. She sent me a very long and detailed letter about how she felt like I was throwing away somebody that was very important to me. That made me very angry. How dare she think she knows me so well — ha! I actually broke up with the other guy, went to meet my friends from here in Tahiti and we all decided we were done traveling and homesick. We all called our families and said, “Its been eight months and were ready to come home.” I called Anthony and said, “Will you pick me up from the airport?” He picked me up and weve been together ever since.  Thea DeLoreto


I met my husband at A&T University in summer school. It was a humanities class and I was a student at Bennett College. A group of us were over at A&T taking a class because we’d heard it was an easy “A.” So this guy comes in, good-looking guy, and I saw his eyes. They were green. I said, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen a Black guy with green eyes.” And I’m like, “He’s special.” 

As a group of us were talking about a class we had to take, science with a lab, he overheard our conversation and offered us his lab book. They said, “You go,” meaning me because I didn’t have a boyfriend. So I did. And from there we started talking and dated for 11 years. Too long for me . . . but we married and he was true to his word about what he wanted out of a relationship. His name is Bobby and he’s a good guy still.  Page Motley Mims 



I love the Greensboro History Museum. It used to be the library when I was a little girl. And I used to love for my Mama to take me there. — Melinda Crawford

My love story is about me and a little rescue filly. Her mother was a very famous endurance racer. She and her baby had gone to auction with the fancy horses, but they put the baby in the kill pen. The Homestretch Thoroughbred Rescue, which rescues ex-racehorses, saw this little baby and they pulled her. She wasnt a wild horse, but she was feral. So I spent eight hours a day just standing in her stall, letting her get near me. She didnt trust people so she would rear, which is very dangerous. So we had two things to train her with from the beginning: one, boundaries. And two, trust. Eventually we added other skills. I was thinking, What am I going to name this little Arabian horse? And my girlfriend, who is a musician, suggested Scheherazade after the Tales of 1,001 Nights princess. Scheherazade was called to the evil prince, who would stay with the women for one night, then kill them. But she told him a story and he spared her life and asked her to come back to finish the story. So Scheherazade is the Arabian princess whose life was spared because she had so many stories left to tell, just like my little horse.  — Megan Blake


Deltas Sky magazine wanted to do an issue celebrating their 75th anniversary of air travel and they wanted people to write in about their stories. I did and they ended up printing the story in that edition. The short version is that we met on an airplane. Actually twice. The first time he didnt call me. But we sort of reconnected and then the second time, he did call me. Weve been together ever since, 22 years.  Kim Littrell

We met at a party dancing — a year before we ever started dating. I was 28 and I thought she was 18, way too young for me. And then I realized that were only 11 months apart. We began dating and were long distance for a year before she moved here to North Carolina. She was leaving a career in the legal field to follow her dream to be an interior designer and I was leaving a career in accounting to follow my dream to be a potter. We moved to Durham together having no idea what we were going to do or how we were going to make money. A decade later, weve really established ourselves and fallen in love with our family — theres a little one right here!   Chris Pence



So I rescued my little sweet baby Papillon from a crackhead who was selling her on the street for a dollar. Shes the sweetest dog in the whole wide world. Precious little angel. She really saved me. Shes so patient, loyal. She has little butterfly ears but her names Bat Baby — she looks like a little bat.  —  Kim McHone



I’ve been married 46 years, I think. Id have to do the math. Still married to my high school sweetheart. We met doing a local theater production in Stuart, Florida, where we grew up. I was playing the Conjure Man in Dark of the Moon. She was an usher and she came and sprayed the back of my hair silver for me. Now its silver all the time, but at the time it had to be silver for the show. And weve been together ever since. — John Vettel


Were staying in a rental while our house is being worked on and theres a really adorable groundhog that lives in the backyard.
I just love watching him — he is totally chill.
re kind of sharing this space, but I just enjoy him doing his thing. I’m not trying to make it out that hes something like a pet. If I tried to pet him, he would bite me. Thats something that people forget about because theyre so cute. It’s kind of an interesting love story in that I love him and he definitely does not love me. Ashley Duez

Ive been married to my husband, Roch, for 61 years. We met as teenagers on Hollywood Beach, Florida, and he went his way and I went my way. What attracted us? We were in our bathing suits on the beach in Florida! We got engaged in 1960, got married and had three sons. We knew the importance of education so Roch went back to school to get his Ph.D. at Emory, where we lived in student housing with our three sons. Then we came back here after our children graduated from college and I got my B.A. and M.A. at UNCG. So weve been residents here in Greensboro for 53 years, connected to UNCG. — Elaine Smith



You know how you think you know someone and then you meet them all over again and you fall in love all over again? It was my son. Yes, I gave birth to him, I loved him all his life. And then I met him anew as an adult and fell in love again. — Sandy Reiser

A long time ago — because we’ve now been married for 53 years — I had my eye on this guy in my graduate program.

My roommate and I were disgusted with having to spend the whole summer in Chapel Hill taking courses, and we decided things would be better if we fell in love . . . So we each picked out a target and went to work. It was like a competition between the two of us. It meant that I had to spend the whole summer going to the university library because this guy was quite dedicated to his studies, and so I was throwing myself in front of him so he would notice me and decide I was wonderful and he wanted to marry me.

It worked, ultimately, but along the way I had to say to my roommate, “I’m out of the game. This is it; this is serious. This is the one I want.”  
Virginia Haskett


So we first saw each other at Panda Express and then we ran into each other at Breakers. We met at the bar. Brittany happened to lose her cell phone. I found it, returned it to her, and then we went on our first date. We’ve been married six years. — Felipe Tejeda



I went to Grimsley High School and a guy had been calling me all summer to go out . . . This was in the day when your parents had a phone line and you had a children’s line. He always called the children’s line about the same time of day and I would say, “Mom, please answer it; I don’t want to go out with this guy.” And so finally, she answered it and said, “Yes, she’s right here.” And I was like, “Mom!” 

He said, “We’re going to see the movie Purple Rain and we’re going on a double date with my friend, Ronnie Majors, and the girl he’s dating.” 

And I said, “OK, that’ll be great.” So, we got to the Janus Theater, and we sat [together] — my date, me, Ronnie, and his date. And Ronnie, who’s my husband now, we sat beside each other and talked the whole time. 

So fast forward to the next day. 

I used to work at Carolina Circle Mall at the Peanut Shack out by the ice-skating rink, and he came out to see me. And we get home and walk into the back door — also, we had known Ronnie’s mom for years, because she worked at our orthodontist — and I said to Mom, “Look who I picked up at the mall!”

A couple of years later, my husband said, “I felt like the biggest mall loser when you said you picked me up at the mall!” We started dating, and the rest is history!

It will be 30 years in June. —  Jenny Majors  OH

Well, 40 is a good year! When I was turning 40, my friends threw me a birthday party. The party took place in Atlanta. And, unbeknownst to me, a mutual friend who had moved to Charlotte came and talked a friend of his into coming with him. Long story short, when my now husband walked into the party, he saw my picture. And he told me later that he knew. So, we met at my 40th birthday party and, a year and a half later, we were married. And neither of us had ever been married before! No kids. But God is good. And our marriage is great . . . 26 years now. — Barbara Banks

Keepers of the Heart

Keepers of the Heart

The N.C. Zoo makes strides for the Great Ape Heart Project

By Cassie Bustamante

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

Eeew, no,” said Stephanie Tien, N.C. Zoo gorilla keeper, a decade ago when she was first offered an intern position working with gorillas and orangutans at the Columbus Zoo. But she ended up falling in love with the job, she says, as she slowly came to realize “how much I loved gorillas.”

Similarly, Tori Hanlin, chimp keeper at the N.C. Zoo, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about working with primates. However, she reflects, “You go wherever you can get your first job and my first job was with chimps.” In 2017, two weeks after starting that first full-time gig, great ape caregiver at Florida’s Center for Great Apes, she also fell in love. Now, she says, “I can never go back from chimps.”

With passion for the primates that they train, these two keepers pour their whole hearts into their work with these two species, both endangered. But they are so much more than caretakers. They are participating in a project that promises to not just help their charges, but other primates. With a similar goal, they are painstakingly trying to train the gorillas and chimps to voluntarily tolerate the collection of cardiac information so they won’t have to be anesthetized, a risky procedure. The information they gather is shared with the Great Ape Heart Project, a Detroit Zoo-based organization that seeks to “investigate and understand cardiovascular disease in great apes.” Currently, over 80 zoos across the nation are contributing data. As it turns out, a major killer of great apes when in human care? Heart disease. Not so different from us humans. After all, we share over 98 percent of our DNA with both gorillas and chimpanzees.

For both Tien and Hanlin, participating in the Great Ape Heart Project is about more than just training apes and gathering data. It’s personal — it’s about providing the animals they love — and the entire great ape species — with longer, healthier lives.

One of the very first gorillas Tien interacted with during her Columbus Zoo internship was a feisty male named Macombo. “That gorilla put me through the wringer,” she says, recalling how she wept the entire car ride back to Ohio State University’s campus after her first day on the job.

And yet, five years later when she was offered the job at the N.C. Zoo, she jumped at the chance to work with none other than his twin bother, Mosuba. Why? Turns out the behavior that had frightened her, such as banging loudly on the mesh to make Tien jump, was a game to him. And she learned to enjoy their playful banter. After just a few weeks with Macombo — or Mac, as she calls him — he’d won her heart.

And halfway across the country, his twin brother has done exactly the same. “There he is — that’s the star of the show,” says Tien, her chestnut hair pulled back into a low bun. Through the mesh of the enclosure, he follows his keeper with his brown-black eyes, deeply set into his serene face — a face that might be familiar if you’ve streamed Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina on Disney+. For Tien, he’s certainly the star of Forest Glade, the western lowland gorilla habitat. “He’s my favorite gorilla on the planet. I will credit him for all of my success.”

At 40 years old, Mosuba is what’s considered to be geriatric. While gorillas in human care can live into their 40s, some show signs of heart disease as early as in their 20s and 30s. Even in his old age, Mosuba appears to be in good health, something Tien attributes to the “heart-healthy diet” of leafy greens, carrots and celery that the zoo’s director of conservation, education and science, Rich Bergl, co-developed to mimic the eating habits of gorillas in the wild.

As the silverback and leader of the pack, Mosuba has been the focus of Tien’s training for voluntary data collection since she started working there, though all five of the zoo’s gorillas participate in data collection in some way or another, sometimes through anesthesia. However, because anesthesia can be stressful for both the gorillas as well as their keepers and vets, the zoo’s goal is to reach a point where all five gorillas voluntarily participate in EKGs, blood draws and and blood pressure readings.

Beginning with Mosuba made sense. “We train everything with him first because he’s a gentle giant,” says Tien. “I mean, when we’re using equipment, we’re talking thousands of dollars of equipment.”

By the time he arrived in North Carolina in 2015, Mosuba was able to perform a seated cardiac ultrasound, thanks to the trainers at his previous zoo in Omaha. Tien wanted to take this further and train him to lie down for an ultrasound because “the heart rotates into a better position and you can get a better view of different valves and chambers.”

“That was the first behavior I trained with Mosuba,” says Tien. “He picked it up right away.” The ease of that experience opened doors to new training opportunities. Since then, Mosuba has learned how to use KardiaMobile, a device he sets his fingers in while it connects to a phone via bluetooth and performs an EKG. He also tolerates his blood being drawn, something many gorillas balk at. “There are roughly 350–360 gorillas in human care across the United States,” Tien says. Her face beams with pride as she continues: “There are 10 that can do a voluntary blood draw and Mosuba is one of them.”

What motivates Mosuba to complete these tasks? “He loves grapes, kiwis, orange slices, pineapple chunks,” says Tien. But apart from food, he thrives on human interaction, which works well for Tien, who says, “I am loud and boisterous!” However, she admits, each gorilla is different and responds to different cues and enticements. Fourteen-year-old Hadari is aggravated by the very behavior that inspires Mosuba. “It’s better for someone else to take the training lead on Hadari because I am not great at being quiet and calm.”

And while working reinforcements might vary between gorillas, they can also vary between trained behaviors for the same gorilla. “What is strong enough to do a blood draw for Mosuba has proven not to be strong enough for blood pressure,” the voluntary behavior they’re currently working toward, according to Tien.

As of now, Mosuba can perform a finger blood pressure reading, but, Tien admits, “We don’t know how accurate that is.” Slowly, she’s been working her way up to using an arm cuff. How do you put an arm cuff on a 350-pound gorilla? Obviously, the answer is slowly and very carefully. However, there’s a device created specifically for the purpose, the Gorilla Tough Cuff. Inside of a mesh sleeve — picture an arm-sized metal enclosure similar to a pet crate — the Gorilla Tough Cuff houses a standard fabric inflatable cuff, just like the one your doctor uses at your annual checkup. However, Mosuba doesn’t seem to like the squeeze as it begins to fill with air and pulls his arm back.

In fact, during a training session, Mosuba retracted his arm from the Tough Cuff, accidentally bringing the blood pressure cuff with him. “A typical gorilla would probably start ripping it apart and investigating it. He just took it off his arm, shoved it back in the sleeve like ‘I know this isn’t mine — this is yours,’” says Tien.

While it hasn’t yet happened, Tien continues to work toward a cuff reading with Mosuba, but training is never forced. If he gets up and walks away, his choice is respected. “Every training session for them and for us is a learning experience.”

For now, Tien and her team will keep putting one foot in front of the other, with an end goal of having all of the zoo’s gorillas participating in voluntary data collection to submit to the Great Ape Heart Project. And from there, the hope is that heart disease in gorillas will be easier to detect and treat, allowing them to live longer, healthier lives in human care. After all, Tien says ruefully as she considers the inevitable passing of Macombo and Mosuba one day, “They will leave big shoes to fill.” At that time, their hearts will be sent to the Great Ape Heart Project for continued research. But, of course, they will also leave gorilla-sized holes in Tien’s own heart.

Outside from a deck that looks down on the chimp enclosure, Tori Hanlin points out and names the many chimps in her care — a feat that would not be so easy to anyone else. “Hi, gorgeous!” she says, greeting Gigi and her 8-month-old son, Gombe. John, the leader, though at 25 not the eldest, spots Hanlin as she passes by and opens his mouth wide, ready for food — which she does not offer at this moment. “They have no shame whatsoever,” she quips. Here among the chimps at the N.C. Zoo, Hanlin is right at home.

“I just want to be like Jane Goodall and hang out with chimps all day and make some groundbreaking research and discoveries to help save the species,” says Hanlin. In fact, there’s a Goodall quote that serves as inspiration for her work: “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

Since coming to the N.C. Zoo in September 2019, Hanlin works with two groups of chimps, totaling 17, many of which have been saved from labs or were previously pets. One adult male, Kendall, was rescued from the entertainment industry. While Hanlin’s training is separate from that of the gorillas, she and Tien often collaborate to support each other’s work.

“In humans, it’s very studied — the normal blood pressure range, the normal arterial pressure range, the normal heart rate range, resting and working out,” says Hanlin. Her hope is that the Great Ape Heart Project’s data will eventually be able to provide normal ranges for animals in human care.

And, Hanlin notes, while information can be collected when chimps are anesthetized, it’s not nearly the same as gathering it voluntarily as the heart can react differently under its influence. “We want to get these animals to participate in their own welfare. We want it to be a positive experience for them. We want to make it fun and interactive.” And, she muses, “How many people can say, ‘I’ve trained a voluntary blood pressure on a chimp?’”

While she knows heart disease is not 100 percent preventable, she has her own heart set on doing what she can with the technology the N.C. Zoo provides, including the $2,000 blood pressure device she helped it acquire through a Friends of the Zoo grant.

Currently, blood pressure training is Hanlin’s primary focus, with an end goal of having all 17 chimps trained to do it voluntarily. Right now, most of the seven males can successfully complete the task and a few females are not far behind. Why more males? It all boils down to the species’ complicated social hierarchy. “The boys will displace the females to train.” In other words, males dominate females, as they do in so many other activities.

In fact, John is always first to train. “He is alpha male in the way that he feels entitled to food,” says Hanlin, “and he is going to be the first one to get it.”

Pointing to the blood pressure device, she says, “This beeps a little bit, so we have to make sure that they are comfortable with the beeping and extra noises.” With the cost of equipment, Hanlin uses a two-keeper process: one to handle equipment and one whose eyes are on the chimp. Training starts with broken cuffs before using a functioning cuff.

And, of course, for the chimps, food serves as motivation during training sessions. The reward that gets them going? Very diluted Ensure, a ready-to-drink shake packed with protein and nutrients, generally intended for adults who are struggling with malnutrition or unwanted weight loss. “It’s very high value, it’s very yummy,” says Hanlin. So yummy that Hanlin found herself drinking it too. “I was like, wait a minute, I am putting on too much weight,” she recalls with a laugh.

The high calorie count in Ensure, even diluted, means it can’t be repeatedly used as the keepers monitor the chimps’ intake. Once Hanlin’s got them engaged, she switches to diluted juice. And when a task is completed? “Jackpot!” Fruit such as apple slices and frozen strawberries are the reward.

Are there other reinforcements that work for these social creatures? “Definitely,” says Hanlin, noting that the chimps respond to verbal praise, such as “You’re such a good chimp!” Or “Look at you, you accomplished this incredible thing!” But at the end of the day, a food reward is king.

“Everything is through positive reinforcement,” says Hanlin, noting that the chimps train daily but have the option to walk away from a task they don’t want to do. In that case, they don’t get to skip training completely. Sometimes, it’s “back to kindergarten” for them. What does that mean? Back to basics. Hanlin asks them to point to their fingers or toes, or open their mouths. “And that’s another confidence-booster for them.”

For now, she hopes that the work she and Tien are doing encourages more zoos across the country to perform voluntary data collection on their great apes. “If you have the support of your curators, your vet staff and your coworkers at the zookeeper level, it can be done and this can be the new normal of collecting data.”

Most of the time when heart disease is the cause of death, Hanlin notes, “We don’t find out until the animal passes suddenly and necropsy is performed.”

Such was the case with Katie, a chimp Hanlin worked with closely in Florida who passed away suddenly in January 2019. “She just vomited one day and wouldn’t move,” she says, recalling how she and her team thought Katie was suffering from gastrointestinal issues. She now knows better. “Looking back on it, that was her first heart attack.” The second one, which would prove fatal, came two weeks later.

Hanlin holds out her left forearm. On its inside is a tattoo of two chimps — Katie and her beloved companion, Murray — facing each other, their lips barely grazing as they gaze into one another’s eyes. “I wish I could get all the chimps and animals Ive worked with as tattoos, but Katie and Murray will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Every day, Hanlin moves the needle on training the chimps in her care, who inevitably make a mark on her. The hope for this young keeper is that she will make her own mark on them, creating a lasting impact on their species. As her hero, Jane Goodall, once said, “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when theyre empowered to take action.”  OH

At the end of December 2023, Tien and Hanlin were awarded the 2023 Engage Award from the Animal Behavior Management Alliance for a piece they contributed entitled Great Ape Training at the North Carolina Zoo. ABMAs Engage magazine publishes articles about training and behavior from around the world, so this is quite an achievement.