Friday, June 15, 2012

UNC Board of Governors "Review Committee" for UNC-CH academic wrong-doing

With no extra comments, here are the four members of a UNC Board of Governors committee that is charged in reviewing investigations into academic wrong-doing, specifically the African and Afro-American Studies Department, at the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. There seem to be two investigations, one by UNC-CH itself and another by the State Bureau of Investigation. According to UNC President Tom Ross, if the review committee is not satisfied with the findings, the full BOG could launch its own investigation.

Louis Bissette
W. Louis Bissette, Jr.
Board of Governors, Term 2011 - 2015
Audit Committee, Vice Chair
Budget and Finance Committee
Post Office Box 3180
Asheville, NC 28802-3180
Phone: (828) 254-8800
Occupation: Attorney
Education: B.A., History, Wake Forest; J.D. UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law; M.B.A. University of Virginia
Family: Married to Sara Oliver Bissette with two children
Major Educational/Elective Offices: former Mayor of Asheville; former President Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce; former Chairman WNC Development Association; former Secretary Mission-St. Josephs Health System; former Vice Chairman Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation; former Chairman Western Carolina Industries; former President N.C. Arboretum Society; former Vice Chairman Buncombe County Economic Development Commission; former Chairman Asheville Merchant's Corp; former Chairman Forest Commercial Bank.

Walter Davenport
Walter C. Davenport
Board of Governors, Term 2009 - 2013
Audit Committee, Chair
Budget and Finance Committee
4929 Harbour Towne Drive
Raleigh, NC 27604
Phone: (919) 255-1489
Occupation: Certified Public Accountant
Education: B.A., Business Administration, Morehouse College in Atlanta
Major Educational/Elective Offices: former Chair Elizabeth City State University Board of Trustees; member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants; served on the AICPA Minority Recruitment and Equal Opportunity Committee and AICPA Board of Examiners; former President and member of the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners; former board member of Duke Raleigh Hospital and the Hospital Alliance for Community Health; board member of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, local BB&T Advisory, United Way of the Greater Triangle and N.C. Center for Nonprofits

Ann Goodnight
Ann B. Goodnight
Board of Governors, Term 2011 - 2015
Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs Committee
SAS Campus Drive
Cary, NC 27513
Phone: (919) 531-0157
Occupation: Community volunteer and businesswoman
Education: B.A., Political Science, 1968, North Carolina State University
Family: Married to Jim Goodnight with three children
Major Education/Elective Offices: former trustee of North Carolina State University; co-founder/board member of Cary Academy; board member of N.C. Public School Forum, N.C. New Schools Project and The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce; Chair of YMCA We Build People Campaign; trustee of N.C. Museum of Art; Advisory Member of William & Ida Friday Institute, North Carolina State University; trustee of Wake Education Partnership; former Chair of John Rex Endowment.

Hari Nath
Hari H. Nath
Board of Governors, Term 2011 - 2015
Audit Committee
Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs Committee
102 Loch Stone Lane
Cary, NC 27518
Phone: (919) 803-0478
Occupation: Retired businessman
Education: MSIE Operations Research, University of Missouri; B.E., Mining, University of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
Family: Married to Kalpana Nath with two children
Major Educational/Elective Offices: Chairman, Board of Advisors, The Carying Place-N.C. Profit Organization; member Planning Zoning Board, Town of Cary; member, Board of Advisors North Carolina Indian American Political Action Committee; former member Cary Central Rotary Club; former regional president Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation USA Inc.; former member Town of Cary Board of Adjustments; and former member Town of Cary Economic Development Commission.
The information for this post came directly from the UNC Board of Governors website.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Part 3: Politics and UNC Board of Governors; Equal representation for all 17 UNC campuses

This is the third of a three-part post about the UNC Board of Governors which is scheduled to elect officers at a regular meeting, Friday, June 15. Much of what is written is my opinion. Some is based on communications. And some comes from the UNC system website.
I’ve been told more than once—and mostly by my wife—that complainers and critics should offer solutions not just complaints and criticisms. While solutions I offer when I complain or criticize may not always be embraced, at least I'm willing to off suggestions for change. Others just sit idly by and complain about those with possible solutions.

Today, my complaint is that the appointment process to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the election of its officers is too political and not in the best interest of the entire system. So, I have a solution, a simple proposition that is right on target, if you ask me which you didn't but your reading this anyway. It would nearly eliminate politics from the process and reduce the influence by the General Assembly which means my proposal is dead on arrival. But here it is:

There are 34 members (including two emeritus members) of the University of North Carolina (system) Board of Governors elected by the General Assembly. There are 17 institutions which make up the UNC system. The BOG should be made up of at least two direct academic degree connections to each of the 17 institutions in the system. If that sounds simple, well, it is. This would not prevent more representation by some institutions. For instance, a member could have an undergraduate degree from one and a Masters or PhD from another, but at the very least every constituent member of the UNC system would have two representatives on the BOG.

To accomplish this, start from scratch. All current members would resign at the end of this year. The General Assembly would ceremonially appoint to the Board of Governors but the Boards of Trustees of each of the 17 member institutions would submit two nominees for approval by the legislative appointment process. To get started, one of the two from each of the 17 Universities would be appointed to a 4-year term and the other to a 6-year term. Neither would be allowed to be reappointed, ever. In four years, half the BOG would be replaced with 17 new members appointed to six-year terms. And, two years after that, another round of 17 new members would be appointed for six years. In other words, the 17 Boards of Trustees would actually designate its members to the UNC BOG. And, by limiting members to one term, there would be no political pressure while facing re-appointment.

The position of Chairperson of the BOG should be filled on a two-year rotating basis, campus by campus, in alphabetical order. First up would be a member of the Appalachian State delegation with one of the two ASU appointees elected by the full board. If one wants it and the other doesn’t, the one who wants to be Chairperson would be elected by default. The Vice Chairperson would come from second on the alphabetical list, East Carolina University. Other elected positions and appointments to committee chairs would continue down the list. After two years, East Carolina gets the chairperson position, either the person who was Vice-Chair or the other ECU member. No BOG member could serve in one of these positions if his/her remaining term on the BOG is less than two years. While Appalachian State would be first up as Chairperson in 2013, it would be 2047 before anyone representing ASU would be Chairperson again.

This plan should help reduce the political influence by the General Assembly and reduce politics on the Board of Governors. It would also even out institutional representation on the BOG. It could create more diversity, which is needed, on the BOG, and it would probably add more female representation. Currently there are only five females on the BOG. Another result, good or bad, is that it could strengthen the position of President of the UNC system while reminding that person to pay even attention to all 17 institutions. That person would lead the ever-changing and less political BOG and rely much more on input from the 17 Chancellors and Boards of Trustees creating an academic synergy that could boost the entire system with all 17 institutions working for the better good of all even if it means tough investigations into academic wrong-doings on any of the campuses.

A problem with what I propose is that it probably makes too much sense, taking politics out of the appointments and BOG elections. This proposal to change the make-up of and election process to the UNC Board of Governors does not alter the fact that there’s an election this Friday between Paul Fulton and Peter Hans for the position of Chairperson. And, it does not relieve political pressure on some of the 34 members to vote for one candidate over the other while others of the 34 BOG members are paying no attention to BOG politics and will actually vote their conscious instead of how someone has told them to vote.

The process itself is interesting. The Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Friday at 9 a.m. in the board room of The Spangler Center in Chapel Hill. The meeting is open to the public except for a portion that’s closed to the public. The election of officers takes place in public session at the end of the agenda and after the closed session.

During the closed session, the BOG Committee on University Governance will make its report to the full BOG. The report will include recommendations for the elective process, a discussion about which will take place at a Governance Committee meeting the afternoon before, less than 24 hours before the BOG election. So, the rules of the election can be changed late Thursday afternoon. Or not, keeping the process to the liking of Chairperson Hannah Gage and her vice chair and chair candidate Mr. Hans. (The Chairperson of the Governance Committee is Mr. Bill Daughtridge, Jr., of Rocky Mount who was once the Chief of Staff to NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis. I have no idea who Mr. Daughtridge supports for the Chair of the BOG, but connecting the dots is easy unless he proclaims otherwise.)

In a letter May 9, 2012, Laura B. Fjeld, Vice President and General Counsel to the UNC General Administration, outlined the election process to the BOG. (Find the letter at the UNC BOG Premeeting Materials/Minutes website. Once there, scroll down to the Committee on University Governance and then click on Tab 6 – Review of the Election Process. If you have the time, there's other intersting reading at that website location.) According Ms. Fjeld, once nominations have been made, there is no “plan that would include a forum for questions and answers for nominees.”

Maybe the Committee of University Governance will address and change the lack of candidate Q&A at its Thursday afternoon meeting or maybe the current leadership on the BOG does not want that to happen to keep the election process tight and tidy. In small groups such as the BOG  (34 is relatively small but probably too large for its purpose), an open forum to question the candidates would make the process better. But then that’s my humble opinion as is much of what I’ve written the last three days.

In any event, there’s a BOG election this Friday, and, due to politics, Peter Hans seems to have the inside track to being elected the next Chairperson. If that happens, the grip by the General Assembly on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors will be a little tighter, at least that's what I see happening. Or, if Paul Fulton is elected, the General Assembly might send a message of disapproval through decreased financial support for projects such as Carolina North, a NCSU Centennial Campus look-alike on the Chapel Hill campus, and that would be politics as usual, penalizing the UNC system for bucking the leadership of the General Assembly. Either way, it'll be a shame.

Or maybe there’s a third candidate who can pull support from both camps and take a major step away from politics, sending a message to the General Assembly in particular and the public at large that the Board of Governors remains an independent, policy-making body dedicated to fairness across the entire UNC system, all 17 constituent institutions. That would be a commendable path for this University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Part 2: Politics and UNC Board of Governors; BOG make-up, actions biased to UNC-CH

This is the second of a three-part post about the UNC Board of Governors which is scheduled to elect officers at a regular meeting, Friday, June 15. Much of what is written is my opinion. Some is based on communications. And some comes from the UNC system website.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of many NC State University loyalists and graduates (BA Political Science ’77) who believes the UNC Board of Governors—the politically appointed group of 34 people who are supposed to look after North Carolina’s public 17 institutions of higher learning—is biased towards the Chapel Hill campus. My belief is for good reasons which go back more than a couple of years but which are more and more prevalent today.

A recent The News& Observer article, Board of Governors keeps hands off UNC scandal, is related to the academic fraud (with emphasis on athletes, especially football and basketball players) being perpetrated at UNC-Chapel Hill and the lack of a thorough and demanding investigation of UNC-Chapel Hill by the UNC BOG. A few years ago, the BOG raked my alma mater over the proverbial coals for allegations far less egregious than today’s mess at UNC-CH. Reading the story and the remarks from other NC State loyalists, I may have well been reading my own comments.

The academic troubles at UNC-Chapel Hill continue to trickle from the campus thanks to inquiries made by The N&O and other media but the BOG and UNC system President Tom Ross, in my opinion, are stone-walling and becoming more and more headstrong against a thorough investigation obviously afraid of doing additional harm to UNC-Chapel Hill.  The BOG and Mr. Ross are being protective of the “Carolina Brand” and that makes them a laughing stock. But, pressure continues to mount for the UNC BOG to do more than wait on an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation which, from what I understand, was instigated by the SBI and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and not by the BOG, no matter who says who did what and when. The SBI and the OCDAO told UNC they would be investigating matters of financial fraud and forgery of official documents. It wasn't the UNC BOG asking for the investigation. The UNC BOG is a reluctant participant in this examination of possible criminal activity.

President Ross is quickly losing credibility with the public because he says fraud perpetrated by UNC professors and staff is not worth a BOG investigation much less by his office. Maybe a recent revelation as printed in The N&O, UNC football players flocked to suspect class, will force the UNC BOG to quit protecting the Chapel Hill campus and do what is right. That’s the hope here; it’s not to embarrass UNC-CH but to do what’s right and save face for the entire UNC system, all 17 institutions and not just to hide the shame of one.

While for the most part Wolfpackers tolerate the UNC BOG, in general, we believe the UNC BOG and the General Administration—at least the UNC-CH connected members and Mr. Ross—play favorites with the campus in Chapel Hill. The UNC General Administration offices are in Chapel Hill, which is good and bad. It’s good because it keeps a closer hand on the shenanigans that happen on that campus; it’s bad because it keeps a closer hand on the shenanigans that happen on that campus.

The BOG membership is stacked against not only NC State but against the other 15 institutions that make up the UNC system. If you look at the UNC BOG make-up based on academic credentials you get a good picture of where each member’s loyalties lie, though each member of the BOG may beg-off bias and say the first concern each has is to the education offered throughout the UNC System, but that’s just their talking points.

In reality, the loyalty of the members of the UNC Board of Governors is with those who appointed them in the first place, the General Assembly and then to their favorite University. Those who only want to serve one term can do as they wish. If they want to serve longer and if they want to be re-elected to the BOG, they must go along and get along. Some do and some don’t. Those who bow to the leadership’s wishes and the politics of the General Assembly can stay for a long time, unless the General Assembly leadership changes which happened last year. Those who don’t go along are just filling a seat until their term is up.

By perusing the UNC (system) website, I discovered, not to my amazement, of the 34 members of the Board of Governors (including two emeritus members and not counting the one student member), 22 BOG members have educational connections to UNC-Chapel Hill either by an undergraduate or graduate degree or, if the website is correct, in the case of one, by just attending UNC-Chapel Hill but, according to the website, not graduating at all in anything from anywhere.

In the interest of full disclosure, there are five BOG members who have educational connections to (degrees from) NC State University; one of the five Wolfies also earned a degree from UNC-CH. And, with five links, NC State University is the second most represented educational institution on the BOG. However, only eight of the 17 institutions making up the UNC system are represented on the BOG which means there are nine UNC system institutions not directly represented. Here is a list of the 17 member institutions of the UNC system and how many members of the BOG are represented by each. Some BOG members represent more than one member institution through his/her education:

Appalachian State University: 2
East Carolina University: 2
Elizabeth City State University: 1
Fayetteville State University: 0
NC A&T State University: 1
North Carolina Central University: 2
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics: 0
NC State University: 5
UNC Asheville: 0
UNC-Chapel Hill: 22
UNC Charlotte: 0
UNC Greensboro: 0
UNC Pembroke: 0
UNC Wilmington: 0
UNC School of the Arts: 0
Western Carolina University: 1
Winston-Salem State University: 0

To add insult to injury to those without direct representation, here’s a list of all other colleges and universities represented on the UNC BOG:

Campbell University: 2
Davidson College: 1
Duke University: 2
Gardner-Webb: 1
Harvard University: 2
High Point University: 1
King College (Bristol TN): 2
Morehouse College-Atlanta: 1
New York University: 1
Salem College: 1
University of Cincinnati: 1
University of Jodhpur (India): 1
University of Miami: 1
University of Missouri: 1
University of Pennsylvania: 1
University of Rome: 1
University of Virginia: 2
Vanderbilt University: 1
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: 2
Wake Forest University: 2
Wayne County Community College: 1

While earning degrees or attending non-UNC system institutions should not preclude anyone from serving on the BOG, in the interest of the 17 member institutions, it would be better if each member of the BOG has an academic connection to UNC system’s 17 member institutions. Appointees might include being an ardent supporter who makes educational (not athletics) monetary donations to the institution, but campaign contributions to a politician of choice and being a lobbyist to the General Assembly and giving in to the demands of a BOG Chairperson or the President of the UNC System should not be a credential.

Those who don’t meet this suggested requirement of having a degree from a member institution or being an ardent financial supporter (not an athletic supporter) of a specific member University may have the entire system at heart, but this should be more than a political board, especially one that leans heavily toward one of its members, especially if that one member institution is UNC-Chapel Hill. Think I’m biased? Against UNC-Chapel Hill in this case? I’ve admitted I’m an NC State University loyalist so obviously I have my biases. In reality, UNC-CH should be treated with high regard but so should all the other 16 institutions be treated equally and UNC-CH should be treated as the others are treated, warts and all.

With a desire for fairness, I have a solution for the make-up of the BOG, one that will reduce NC State’s five BOG spots to two, but, as the march toward the election of BOG officers this Friday approaches, one that also will change how the leadership is chosen so politics is removed. Read about it in tomorrow’s post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Part 1: Politics and UNC Board of Governors; pressure mounts for impending Chair vote

This is the first of a three-part post about the UNC Board of Governors which is scheduled to elect officers at its regular meeting, Friday, June 15. Much of what is written is my opinion. Some information is based on communications. And some information comes from the UNC system website.
Friday of this week, with typical political maneuvering by the leadership of the General Assembly and the current Chairperson and Vice-Chair of the body that governs the state’s system of higher education, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina system will vote to elect new officers. The position of Chairperson, replacing out-going Chairperson Hannah Gage, will be selected from two candidates who have announced their candidacy. They are: Vice-Chair Peter Hans, a lawyer-lobbyist with close ties to the Republican leadership in the state legislature, and Paul Fulton, who was appointed by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and who has a resume so long it would take Hans two or three lifetimes to catch up.

Unless several members of the BOG refuse to cow-tow to political pressure, Mr. Hans will get elected and the transition from an independent, policy-making body established years ago which has served that way through most of the UNC system’s Presidents to a highly politicized group with strings attached directly to the legislature will be complete. For Mr. Hans to win, he’ll have to make good on promises to appoint to committee chairmanships BOG members he needs to vote in his favor. Mr. Hans will also need to rely on votes from several BOG members who have been told they will not get re-appointed to the BOG if they vote against Mr. Hans. At least that’s my take. And, if that’s not political pressure, what is?

There may be reasons not to vote for Mr. Fulton, such as his involvement in the hiring and firing of UNC football coach Butch Davis (which might be a good reason to vote for him). Mr. Fulton is a very strong supporter of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, and that may be a problem for the other 16 campuses of the UNC system. But, maybe his devout loyalty to UNC-Chapel Hill would require him to pay more attention to the other 16 institutions that make up the UNC system. As far as I can tell, he has no reason to give in to General Assembly wishes and he hasn’t promised other Board members committee chairs in return for a vote.

One reason I think Mr. Hans will be beholding to the current General Assembly leadership is because of his recent participation in negotiations between UNC Healthcare and WakeMed Health and Hospitals in their fight for supremacy in Wake County health care. Mr. Hans was selected to participate as a representative of the UNC BOG, tabbed by the General Assembly leadership but without the knowledge of the full BOG.  At the conclusion of the negotiations, Ms. Gage, a supporter of Mr. Hans’ candidacy, sent to the BOG a communication praising Mr. Hans’ involvement in what has been called a mutually agreeable settlement. That communication from Ms. Gage to the BOG was the first knowledge the other BOG members had of Mr. Hans' involvement in the negotiations.

An inquiry from me to the BOG in general about the situation, about the appointment and involvement of Mr. Hans, was sent via email to every member who has an email address, asking for an explanation of why Mr. Hans was asked to serve without full BOG knowledge. Evidently, based on a response from Ms. Gage, I was asking questions that BOG members had already asked with unsatisfactory answers. I asked if Ms. Gage knew of the appointment of Mr. Hans and if by informing the BOG with her communication if she was trying to boost Mr. Hans’ candidacy. To her credit, she responded:

With all due respect, I have no idea who you are or why you've taken such a keen interest in the Board of Governors but I suggest you send your emails to President (Tom) Ross. I had nothing to do with the legislature's decision to ask one of our board members to help with the Rex-Wake controversy and learned about it from our President. To imply otherwise is not only incorrect, it's insulting. The Rex Wake issue has taken an enormous amount of the University's time, and not only do I think it's appropriate to praise a board member who helped with the resolution, I would do it for any board member and be grateful for their commitment to the University. –Hannah Gage email, Tues. June 5

Until my inquiry about Ms. Hans’ appointment, my interest in the UNC BOG has been keen but from a distance. As a native North Carolinian, I've been interested in the structure of North Carolina higher education but not so much concerned with the Board of Governors. My interest has primarily been with the President of the system, who it is and how the person performs. There have been many good, strong Presidents, but maybe not so much now. Over the years, I’ve read and continue to read media accounts of BOG meetings, commenting to anyone within earshot but not much further away. This time I decided to ask for an explanation from the BOG.

In my questioning of the Board, I offered my own conclusions which may have ruffled a few feathers, especially those of Ms. Gage who I believe in her response to my questions and concerns was a little abrupt and overly concerned with what I was asking. She seemed to take it personally, a little thin-skinned maybe. But, that’s okay. She’s just trying to protect her territory and didn’t like a citizen of North Carolina butting into her BOG control even though every citizen of North Carolina has the right to ask questions and butt in to her BOG business.

Over the many years of my interest in the UNC system and the Board of Governors, I’ve drawn some basic conclusions about the way the BOG does business. Those conclusions and others are confirmed by the reaction by Ms. Gage as to the pressures of her role as Chairperson and to the impending vote later this week. As the election of a new Chairperson approaches, some of my conclusions are included in tomorrow’s post.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Turning 60 in unfamiliar territory sans golf

Two years ago, I celebrated my 58th birthday with a spur of the moment 58 holes of golf at Lonnie Poole Golf Course on the NC State University campus. Last year when I turned 59, I planned to play 59 holes, but my brain didn’t get the message so I played 72 holes of golf that day. No walking either year; took a gas-powered golf cart. It’s an age thing.

On May 26, I celebrated my 60th birthday; thanks to God and to my wife Nancy, who is in charge of healthy food and pushing me to exercise at the very least every now and then, for another year. And, thank God for Nancy. On that Saturday, I was not near a golf course, on purpose, believe it or not. No 60 holes of golf for me. Not even 18 holes of golf. After talk of a huge birthday bash at home and then consideration of renting a large house or two on the coast of North Carolina and inviting lots of family members, Nancy and I decided on unfamiliar territory in the mountains. We planned and executed a get-away Thursday-Monday of Memorial Day weekend at the Blue WatersMountain Lodge near Robbinsville NC in Graham County, two hours west of Asheville. There’s lots of North Carolina to see out that way. The state does not stop after Buncombe County.

Lake Santeetlah from front porch of Blue Waters Mountain Lodge
Not until we arrived did we realize Graham County is dry (no alcohol sales in the county or within any town limits except at resorts of which Blue Waters Mountain Lodge and two other Graham County B&Bs on steroids are considered) except for the creeks, rivers and lakes. And while there, we learned Graham County has a population of about 9,000 people and that 90% of the land is National Park. We were told and reminded more than once you do not go to Robbinsville to shop or play golf. While the local Ingles grocery store couldn’t sell beer or wine, Blue Waters could because a law passed some time ago that was pushed by legislators who wanted to be able to purchase fire water even when their favorite retreats are in dry counties. Of course, we’re sure Macon County residents offer some on the non-revenue-collected kind of alcohol, but we didn’t come across any.

We enjoy a nice glass of wine or a beer with dinner so being in a dry county—even though my native Lee County was dry at the time of my youth—was a little shock to our lifestyle. On the other hand, except for the restaurants at the resorts, dining opportunities in Graham County are severely limited. Please note the billboards announcing the soon to arrive Bojangles in Robbinsville. The local non-chain establishments will not know what’s hit ’em when Bo’s opens. And the two or three chain eateries are also in for a shock. Anyway, and to our credit, we stocked up on beer and wine on our way out of Cary, and, on purpose, the golf clubs remained in the garage. This was to be a relaxing and adventurous trip. And it was.

Do I look small with tulip-poplars in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest?
We hiked the Yellow Creek Falls Trail (click for video), a short but hilly-terrain walk of about six-tenths of a mile round-trip just off of highway 129 north of Robbinsville to a beautiful little waterfall and knew we were in the throes of nature when, on the way out, we passed an awful smell that had to be either a skunk or bear droppings. We hiked through the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, a two-mile figure-eight loop. We were advised by our resort host, Mike Stewart, to hike through Joyce Kilmer counterclockwise even though the entrance sort of forces you to the left. Good advice as the climb to the right is much more gradual than it is to the left, so going up to see the very large tulip-poplars was easier than if we had hiked the steep climb to the left of the entrance.

We drove about 20 miles on the Cherohala Skyway, a Blue Ridge Parkway-type ridge-crest highway that was only completed and opened in 1996 and built at a cost of $100 million after 30 years of construction. Later that Friday evening at a lakeside dinner including Blue Waters guests and several “locals/timely visitors” living along Santeetlah Lake, we met one of the owners of one of the many road builders that took part in the Skyway’s construction. Listening to his stories was an entertaining as the drive which took us from 90-degree temperatures at a 2,660 feet elevation to just under 70 degrees at the peak of 5,390 feet. Small world that he and I have many of the same acquaintances, all NC State University connected.

At the Lodge, with only nine guest rooms, we met several interesting people including three Italians—one spoke very good English, one understood English and knew enough to communicate, and the third, with no English skills whatsoever, smiled, shook her head and said “good” to everything—who had driven 15 hours from Miami to spend the weekend and hike the same trails as we did and then some. We met a man and his wife who are Corvette enthusiasts. They took to the roads every morning and returned late in the afternoon after driving hours and many miles throughout the area mountains, taking hairpin curves at daring speeds in “his” 1974 ’Vet. Twice, maybe three times, they drove the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile mountainous stretch that includes 318 sharp bends. 

Lake Santeetlah from dockside at Blue Waters Mountain Lodge

We played pool with strangers in the beautiful lobby of the Lodge while keeping an eye on the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball tournament on the nearby flat screen; we went for 45-minute walks—uphill going out for 25 minutes and downhill the 20 minutes back—every morning before a tasty, filling breakfast; we ate dinner dockside at Santeetlah Lake, and sat in front-porch rocking chairs during evening hours, getting to know the others staying with us.

We visited three of the current 107 North Carolina wineries for the first time. There was Calaboose Cellars in Andrews which bills itself as the smallest winery in North Carolina; Cherokee Cellars in downtown Murphy where the proprietor purchases grapes from several sources and makes several good wines on site; and Valley River Vineyards just a little southeast of Murphy. Bill Reece, the winemaker and owner of Valley River Vineyards is a retired farmer who, after retiring, sat around his home just long enough for his wife to get irritated at him, asking him to go do something. So he started growing grapes and making wine, one of muscadine grapes he named “Hooray (WHO-ray) White” because, as Bill said, “If the French can have Vouvray, we can have Hooray.” We also made our way across the state line to nearby Young Harris GA and the Crane Creek Vineyards where a day long festival was in progress. It looked like a lot of fun but time did not permit more than a tasting before departing. At least that’s the excuse we used to get away from the couple at the tasting counter next to us who obviously had spent way too many hours in the sun and, how do I say this politely, they stank.

We watched bus load after bus load of water-rafters make their way to the whitewater rapids of the Cheoah and Nantahala rivers. We stopped along the side of the highway during a drive through the beautiful Nantahala Gorge long enough to watch the fun-and-thrill-seekers floating past, a site that encourages us to return to the area and to be prepared for the same.

And we enjoyed some of our own frothy liquid when we drove to Bryson City and the Nantahala Brewing Company, downing a pint or two of its Up River Amber and enjoying an interesting and tasty pizza that we bought next door at Anthony’s Restaurante & Pizzeria. (If you put an “e” on the end of “restaurant,” it adds a letter to the word.) We sat on the Brewing Company’s front porch deck across Depot Street from the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad which has trips from Bryson City to Dillsboro and back as well as from Bryson City through the Nantahala Gorge and back. We want to return for that but were told to do so when school is in session.

While this was supposed to be a relaxing four-night, five-day adventure, we were constantly on the move except when sitting on the front porch of the Lodge or on the deck at Nantahala Brewing, or sleeping with the curtains drawn and the windows wide open on the clear and cool nights, watching the moon dive into the lake.

My loving wife, Nancy, enjoyed the front porch chairs at Blue Waters

While it was not 60 holes of golf, it was a very enjoyable few days, traveling with my lovely and loving wife, Nancy, exploring new places, discovering areas of our great state that were beyond our prior reach. However, once we departed the area for the drive home, we had one more stop, a special visit to see our son Chris, daughter-in-law Christy and granddaughter Livy at their home in Hendersonville, a drive of about 135 minutes from Blue Waters Mountain Lodge. Being with them was a wonderful way to end my birthday celebration. Chris grilled hotdogs and added his delicious chili, not best for my health but superb for my taste and Nancy okayed it; Chris also picked out John Grisham’s “Calico Joe” as a present. It is a good read, especially for baseball fans. Christy made a very light yellow cake with a homemade milk chocolate icing, my favorite combination. Maybe I really need to play and walk 60 holes of golf to work off that meal.

Livy, our granddaughter who will be four in September, was a joy for Nancy and me. She can be a little self-determining at times and play hard to catch, but just after lunch and just before we departed for the four-hour drive home, Livy climbed into my lap and offered me a kiss, which absolutely made my birthday complete. The entire weekend and that moment was more gratifying than playing 60 holes of golf.

Livy gives a birthday kiss to her Grandpapa