Legends vie to enter hall of fame

Notables: Mount Airy Historical Society is planning to open a gallery to honor the men and women who made a difference in town.

October 31, 1999|By Michelle Yoffee-Beard | Michelle Yoffee-Beard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mount Airy is the kind of town where you expect someone to offer you a cup of coffee as you stroll by quaint homes. But at the home of Travis Norwood, 71, a visitor gets more than a cup of coffee; he or she gets a history lesson.

Norwood, president of the Mount Airy Historical Society, glows when he talks about the history of the 106-year-old town. The retired postmaster seems to know the fine points of its history, and he doesn't hesitate to tell anyone willing to listen.

He and the other historical society members want to establish a Mount Airy Hall of Fame to honor those who contributed to the development and achievements of the tight-knit community. It will be in the Mount Airy Museum, which is in the old town hall on Main Street.

Norwood said the idea of the hall of fame originated five years ago, while the historical society members were working on the town's centennial celebration. After a few years of talking, they finally decided to take action.

"We really want to see to it that people remember and recognize the people who built this town that we all love," Norwood said. "The main purpose of adding a hall of fame is to honor truly deserving people, living or deceased, of the Mount Airy and immediate surrounding area."

He expects that many community members will want to share their stories of relatives who lived generations ago. The hall of fame will also serve as an educational tool for community schools.

"History is so important because it gives you an idea of the background that made what happened here actually happen," he said. "It answers questions such as, why did they come here and why did they stay?"

On March 21, exactly 106 years after the town's incorporation, 20 people will be inducted into the hall of fame. The historical society is seeking nominations, hoping for a broad range of candidates. Nominees can be living or dead, as long as they have contributed to the community in a positive way.

When the town was settled in the early 1800s, one of the first families to set up house was that of Henry Bussard. He was an entrepreneur; he owned a store while he was the town's postmaster. In addition to his day-to-day work, Buzzard conceived an idea that the town, which was slowly growing, should have a place to worship and to congregate for social functions. Thus, the Ridge Presbyterian Church was born.

Ask around town and everyone seems to mention Bussard as a shoo-in for the hall of fame; knowledgeable residents say he was the one who contributed most to the town's formation.

According to Norwood, Bussard built the first house in Mount Airy. Much of the land he owned -- about 250 acres -- is now Mount Airy.

Another potential inductee might be Olive Mount, a Mount Airy teacher. Mount, who died recently, after her 100th birthday, taught three generations of children.

Oscar Baker, a member of the Mount Airy Historical Society, favors Norman Etzler.

"There are so many people in this community who are deserving, but my pick would be Mr. Norman Etzler who was a Mount Airy mayor from 1954 to 1958. Norman worked in this town all his life at the Mount Airy Milling Company and was a pillar at the Calvary [United Methodist] Church," Baker said.

"This man served on so many committees in the community, was a soloist in the choir and was a charter member of the fire department. I don't know nearly everything he did," Baker said.

If the historical society receives many nominations, its members will narrow the field to 20. Then, the nominations will be sealed and not opened until the day of the induction ceremony. The inductees will receive plaques, which will also be on display with their picture. Organizers hope at least some inductees' pictures will be available; but considering the town has endured three devastating fires, many older pictures might have been destroyed.

"To date, we have a few nominations, but we're expecting the people of Mount Airy to really contribute so that this can be the success that it should be," Norwood said.

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