Tornado, new jobs, Republicans win, Rutherfordton celebrates 225 years

Dec. 31, 2012 @ 11:16 AM

FOREST CITY — An EF2 tornado ripped through the Piney Mountain Church Road areas of Ellenboro, shattering the peaceful communities on January 11, 2012.

Left in the path of its destruction were three homes, literally torn apart and lying on the ground, as eight people sustained injuries, some critical. They survived to tell their stories and return home throughout the year.

The historic tornado story was among the top stories in Rutherford County in 2012.

Across the Ellenboro and Bostic areas, other homes, buildings, barns and establishments sustained significant damage. When the estimates were finalized, damage was in the millions. 

Almost a year after the devastating storm that brought emergency personnel roaring to the scene at 5:50 p.m. that Wednesday evening, all the families are back in their homes and doing well.

Shirley Wood and her family moved into their new home provided by FEMA just last month. 

The mobile home, where she lived with her daughter and four young grandchildren, fell in around her when the tornado touched down. She was airlifted to Carolina Medical Center for treatment. 

She has lived with family members while her home was being prepared.

Harold and Barabara Henderson returned to their new home in June after a community of volunteers helped build the senior citizens a new home at the same location.

Their grandson, Bryon Cole, who was literally lifted from his mobile home and blown out into his yard, recuperated from a serious leg fracture, and returned to his home in the late summer. He is back on the job as a bus driver for East Rutherford High School. 

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton were on the scene just a couple days later,

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encouraging families and thanking volunteers. 

Lyn Triplett, North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said of the volunteers, “These are North Carolina residents at their best.”

Economic news

The best economic news of 2012 came with the announcement of California based pasta maker, Valley Fine Foods — Pasta Prima — deciding to open a factory in Forest City in the former building occupied by Simeus Foods, off US74B.

The manufacturing facility in Forest City will create at least 305 jobs over the next three years. 

The Town of Forest City worked with Simeus to make sure operation continued to allow the sale of the facility to a new owner. Forest City has expectations this facility will become the largest utility customer.

The manufacturing facility is the second major economic project to locate in Forest City in recent years.

The Forest City Facebook Datacenter has continued to build out its facilities and in 2012 the first building became fully operational. Building permits have been issued for completion of the second building in 2013 and a smaller third building that will begin construction soon after the new year. 

While Valley Fine Foods is rehabilitating the food manufacturing facility, the construction of Horsehead Corp. is ongoing off US 221 near the South Carolina line.

Horsehead is constructing a state-of-the-art and diversified metals production. The plant is working toward becoming fully operational in the second half of 2013.  Forest City renegotiated its water agreement with Horsehead in 2012. Opposed to using unprocessed water from the Broad River in their production, Horsehead and the Town of Forest City negotiated an arrangement to buy processed water from the Town. By the end of 2013 Horsehead will most likely become the Town’s largest water customer with an estimated daily usage of 800,000 per day in addition to employing approximately 250 people.

In addition to the new plants, Diamondback Tactical in Spindale continues to expand its operations, and relocated its production to the former Mastercraft building on Oakland Road.

Manroy Inc. located off Yelton Street, is also continuing its operations, bringing jobs to the area.

Although the county’s jobless rate continues to be in the two-digits and remains among the top five highest in the state, Rutherford Conty saw some improvements from the January jobless rate of 15.4 percent to the latest in October at 12.3.

The 2011 jobless rate for January was 15.5 and in 2010, it was 17.9 percent.

US 221 widening project; landscapes forgotten

The US 221 four-lane widening project continued progressing toward US74, while the $66 million project snarled traffic, drastically changed traffic patterns and interrupted the county’s landscape, leaving some areas strangly unrecognizable.

With a rash of accidents in the early days of construction, the 45 MPH speed limit and no passing zone along the 11 miles of construction, has eased some of the accident problems.

New search for Isothermal President

Isothermal Community College is searching for a new president after Dr. Myra Johnson announced in November her intentions to retire in the spring of 2013.

Citing her 30 years longevity with the college system, six years as president of Isothermal, Johnson said she’s going home to spend more time with her family and grandchildren. She preceded Dr. Willard L. Lewis, who was at the college more than 20 years. 

County Seat celebrates its 225th

The Town of Rutherfordton, celebrated its 225th anniversary with pride, hosting year-long events that brought thousands to the county seat of Rutherford for various events and festivities, including a huge turnout for a July 4 celebration that included a fireworks display.

In late September, when UNC-TV’s public television held its premiere broadcast of a 30-minute documentary, “Gold Fever and The Bechtler Mint” the world turned out for the event at R-S Central High School. 

Newspaper editor, Thomas Frei, came nearly 5,000 miles from his home in Germany to attend the world premiere. Frei edits the Germany newspaper, “Pforzheimer Zeitung.”  

Pforzheimer, Germany, is the hometown of Christopher Bechtler, Sr., who minted the first gold dollar coin in the United States.

Since his visit to Rutherfordton, Frei has written several stories about Bechtler gold and Rutherfordton — the latest story is in his Christmas edition.  

Rutherford Regional becomes affiliated with Mission Health

After an extensive search to identify the best possible long-term partner for its health system and community, Rutherford Regional Health System decided to move forward to negotiate a formal affiliation agreement with Mission Health.

Based upon a unanimous decision by the health system’s board of trustees, RRHS and Mission Health are negotiating a non-binding memorandum of understanding.

“We are honored that the leadership of Rutherford Regional Health System has selected Mission Health for a potential partnership,” said Ronald A. Paulus, MD, President and CEO of Mission Health. “In all of our discussions with Rutherford, we focused extensively on our unwavering commitment to quality, with a patient-centered focus in everything that we do.”

Personnel changes at the top

After nine months with County Commissioner Bill Eckler being the county’s interim manager, Carl Classen, was hired in February to lead the county.

Former county manager, John Condrey, who resigned his position in 2011, became City Manager of Forest City, upon the retirement of long time city manager, Chuck Summey, who resigned the end of June.

Also in Forest City, the town’s finance officer, Scott Webber and town attorney, David Lloyd, resigned their positions.

Former county finance officer, Julie Scherer was named the town’s finance officer while the former county attorney in Forest City.

Rutherford votes Republican

More than 65.24 percent of the county’s 43,910 registered voters went to the polls on November 6, the majority voting Republican.

Voters elected a new Republican County Commissioner,Greg Lovelace; re-elected Republican Mike Hager to the NC House; re-elected Republican Patrick McHenry to the US Congress; and Republican Ralph Hice to the state senate.

 In a surprising vote, Republican Pat McCrory was elected governor, defeating Rutherford County native, Democrat Walter Dalton. 

As in 2008, Rutherford County also voted Republican in the Presidential Election. Governor and President of the United States.

Sad closure on story

The end of the year ended on a sad note for the family of Dolly Robert Twitty, 76. After being missing since July 17, Twitty’s remains were discovered on Dec. 14 in a deep thicket about one-half mile from his home in Union Mills.

Twitty’s sister Shirley Twitty said the family has closure now, but is sad. “And now there is no hope,” she said that he would be found alive. 

He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and left home without his medicine.

In February 2012, Steven Hawkins, went missing from the Forest Lake Retirement Home in Forest City. His remains were discovered a month later, also about one-half mile from his home. Hawkins family said he has had medical issues.