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Title: Oral History Interview with Jerry Plemmons, November 10, 2000. Interview K-0506. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Plemmons, Jerry, interviewee
Interview conducted by Amberg, Rob
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2004
Size of electronic edition: 116 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2004.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-12-08, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Jerry Plemmons, November 10, 2000. Interview K-0506. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0506)
Author: Rob Amberg
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Jerry Plemmons, November 10, 2000. Interview K-0506. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0506)
Author: Jerry Plemmons
Description: 172 Mb
Description: 31 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 10, 2000, by Rob Amberg; recorded in Marshall, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Sarah Schuckman.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Jerry Plemmons, November 10, 2000.
Interview K-0506. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Plemmons, Jerry, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JERRY PLEMMONS, interviewee
    ROB AMBERG, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
ROB AMBERG:
Friday, November 10, the year 2000. It's approximately 2:00, a little bit after, and I'm in the office at French Broad Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) in Marshall. I'm with Jerry Plemmons. Jerry, could you say something just to make sure we're picking you up?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Sure, Rob. I'm Jerry Plemmons, same date, same time, same place with Rob. We're still wondering who's going to be the President.
ROB AMBERG:
Jerry, let's start with just a couple basics. Could you tell me your age, first of all?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Sure, I'm sixty-two.
ROB AMBERG:
Where were you born and raised? Where do you live now?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I was born here in Madison County. Have lived basically all my life in Madison County. I currently live four miles west of Hot Springs, very near the Tennessee state line on highway 25-70.
ROB AMBERG:
I mentioned that we are in the office of French Broad EMC, where you work. Could you tell me first of all, how long have you worked for EMC? What is your role here?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I've been here about nineteen years. Came to work here in '81, if memory serves me correctly. I basically wear two hats. Primarily doing energy conservation work. That entails doing a lot of high bill complaints, working with members of the co- op who want assistance in conserving energy. That's a part of my work, and that takes up probably fifty percent of my time on a year round basis. The other half of my time is

Page 2
in the area of community and economic development. The basic philosophy of this co-op is that we only do as well as our community does, so it's important to us that our community does well. I attend a lot of meetings, particularly in the area of community development. I'm probably more focused on community development, because I have this belief that if the community does well the economic aspect of the community will do well, also.
ROB AMBERG:
Where exactly in the county were you born and did you spend your childhood?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I was born in the Brush Creek area, just above where the Madison Middle School is now located on the Red Hill Road. I moved with my parents when I was about five years old to Marshall, just on the mountaintop above Marshall, so to speak. I lived there until I was about eight or nine years old, then we moved out to Walnut Creek, which is just downstream from the public health department.
ROB AMBERG:
What did your parents do? What did your father do for a living?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
My dad worked most of his adult life at Coal, Feed and Lumber Company (CF&L)—hardware—in downtown Marshall. He delivered products. I remember for many years, Coal, Feed sold a lot of Coal, which was pretty prominent. [Background voice]. Dad drove a truck delivering coal, and I can remember him coming home in the fall and winter after having spent all day in the basement loading coal, taking it out and unloading it. They didn't have dump trucks or any kind of equipment to load that coal other than shovels. So, he shoveled a lot of coal.

Page 3
ROB AMBERG:
I shop with some regularity at CF&L, and you don't see any coal there anymore. That's interesting for me to find out in terms of just the name of that business, that that did play a pretty active role.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
At that time there were several independent coal haulers in this county. A lot of fellows had trucks that they drove to Kentucky and Virginia, and brought coal to this county that they delivered to homeowners. Coal was a pretty predominant heating fuel for a great number of years.
ROB AMBERG:
Was he delivering to outlying areas, or primarily in town?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh yes. Outlying areas.
ROB AMBERG:
My assumption would be that they would burn wood.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
No. There was some wood burned, but the transition was not from wood to oil, it was from wood to coal to oil.
ROB AMBERG:
Well, that's quite interesting. So you were saying that you remember as a child your dad getting home from work and being covered with coal.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Absolutely covered. Looking more like a coal miner than a delivery person for hardware.
ROB AMBERG:
Did he ever haul independently for himself?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
No, no.
ROB AMBERG:
And your mom, then, was a homemaker?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
A homemaker primarily. She worked for a short period of time at a store in Marshall. At a variety store—the National Five and Ten. When we lived above Marshall she did domestic work for some of the store owners that lived not far away. She would go in and do housecleaning and things of that nature for them.

Page 4
ROB AMBERG:
So this is a blue-collar family, pretty much. Working class family in the community. Did you all ever farm?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
We farmed a bit. We never had much of a farming operation. When we lived above Marshall, my dad and my dad's brother and their father had a farm operation that included—in addition to tobacco—corn and some wheat and oats, and things of that nature. One of my fondest memories is of a huge meal prepared by the ladies in the community for the men working the thrashing machine in the fall. The thrashing machine would come around and thrash the wheat and oats, and the fellows in the community shared work and helped each other with that thrashing. And all the women got together and fixed the meal for the day. It was a feast.
ROB AMBERG:
Did you have chores around the farm as a boy? When these people would show up with the thrashers, would there be a role that you would play in that?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Really didn't have one. I was too young at that time to have a role of any magnitude. I remember it was my responsibility to get the cow in in the evening for milking. I'd have to go out and make sure I could find the cow and get the cow back in. I was pretty shrewd. I made it a point to never learn to milk or ( ). At least to camouflage the fact that I knew how to milk. When we moved out on Walnut Creek we had a little more direct hand in the farm operation, in that we did raise about three tenths of an acre of tobacco. Of course, by that time I had to hoe the tobacco, pick up leaves and help with the handing of tobacco in the fall. It's kind of ironic now. You look at the way tobacco is raised and processed, and it's so much less labor intensive. One of the most amazing things to me, I guess, of all the changes that have taken place in this area during my lifetime, is that the folk who raise tobacco now use migrant labor. Very little

Page 5
tobacco is raised in this county without the help of migrant labor. When I was growing up that would have been unthought of.
ROB AMBERG:
When I moved here in '73 it was unthought of. For at least another ten years we have a very strong memory of going over the ( ) to photograph some Latin migrant farm workers who were working some tobacco over there, and driving up into this holler and getting out of my car. They had a tape deck playing Mariachi music. There was this very dark Indian woman from Mexico who was cooking tortillas over an open fire, and I said, "Man, this is really pretty amazing." A real cultural change. So you were born in '38?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Right.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you remember a time when you were growing up—did you have electricity in your house while you were growing up?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
We did not have electricity until I was about eight or nine years old. That was when we moved to Walnut Creek. That was basically [just] the lights. A little later on we were able to buy a refrigerator, and that was a marvelous thing to come into the house.
ROB AMBERG:
I'd like to touch on more than one or two of those as we talk. But I would think that must have been a really significant thing, not just for your family, but for the whole county. That must have just been a really amazing change.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Well, I can remember after the Second World War seeing the contract crews in the county building the lines out into the rural communities. There was electricity in and around Marshall prior to the war, but out in the outlying areas there was little or no electricity. I say little or no—CP&L had lined Hot Springs, where they served the resort

Page 6
community in earlier years. A few people right along that line were able to get electricity. Many people along that line that wanted electricity were not able to get it, because CP&L wouldn't run the lines very far away from that transmission line in Hot Springs.
ROB AMBERG:
So when did the Membership Corporation come in?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think the Membership Corporation actually began about '42. A part of that was the purchase of some existing northwest utility operations here in Marshall and in Burnsville. That was the beginning point, so to speak.
ROB AMBERG:
When you were out on Walnut Creek and maybe didn't have electricity, what did getting electricity on an immediate basis mean for you and your family?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
To be honest with you, Rob, it wasn't that significant of an event in that it was so gradual. The first thing we got rid of were the oil lamps; that was an event and a nice step up, but it wasn't like we had televisions and all the conveniences that we have now. The next thing, as I said earlier, was getting that refrigerator and having a place to keep the milk cold other than the spring house. Other things just kind of came on gradually as we could afford them.
ROB AMBERG:
I think it's interesting that you now work for EMC, but yet can remember a time when EMC wasn't here. We'll probably do a lot of jumping around in this, because that's basically the way my mind seems to work.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
And you know me well enough to know that's the way I operate, too.
ROB AMBERG:
That's why I'm sure this is going to be a great interview. [Laughter] But you mentioned that you basically lived here all your life. I'm curious as to a couple things. When you were growing up and seeing your dad coming home covered in coal,

Page 7
or you were out in the field working tobacco, even just helping, did you have a sense of yourself that you can remember that, "This is not something that I want to do. I don't want to shovel coal for a living; I don't want to farm." If so, I'm asking what were you thinking about then?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
It's interesting, Rob. I certainly recognized that my dad worked very hard— had a very taxing job, and a lot was expected out of him. He went to work before seven o'clock every morning and got home after six in the evening. Worked five and a half days—at least—a week, and that included all day on Saturdays. He was off half a day on Wednesday. I knew I didn't want that kind of job or life, but I really didn't have a vision of what I wanted to do. I just wasn't motivated, to be honest with you. I guess I was more inclined to let things happen and kind of go along and see what happened next. Did okay in school—I guess I was at the top five or six in high school in my class.
ROB AMBERG:
And this would have been at Walnut?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
No, it was in Marshall. I spent twelve years on ( ) Island. But, my success in school was because of my mother's encouragement. When I was a senior, I guess, I got a part-time job at a grocery store in Marshall. Even when I was very close to graduating from high school, didn't have any idea what I was going to do. I knew my parents could not afford to send me to college, and I didn't know that there were ways that I could go without money. So, I pretty much ruled out going to college. Got a letter from a radio broadcasting school—one of those mass-mailings that went out to all seniors. Had not really thought about working in radio at all, but sent the card back not knowing what to expect or what information I would get. It was pretty timely in that there was a radio station opening here in Marshall in the next few months. So, one

Page 8
afternoon when I went home, there was a big jovial fellow sitting on my front porch, wanting to sign me up to go to radio broadcasting school. He made it sound very interesting, so I signed up. It was not all that costly, and I figured maybe my parents could help me with room and board for a while and I could get a job in Nashville. That's basically what happened. I went to radio school in Nashville, dropped out, came back and then went back to radio school in Nashville for a couple more months. Three or four months. It was a seven and a half month course, but you would receive your certificate of completion if you got a job in radio. So I didn't complete seven and a half months, but I completed by being able to get a job in radio.
ROB AMBERG:
So you did that here in Marshall?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I did that in Marshall.
ROB AMBERG:
And what was the station?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
At that time it was WMMH. I worked there for a number of years doing everything that you do at a radio station—announcing, writing copy, doing news work. Everything.
ROB AMBERG:
When you got over to Nashville—and I'm sure that was probably a pretty major event in your life—when you got there, did you ever have the sense that, "I want to stay here."
JERRY PLEMMONS:
None whatsoever. I can honestly say that I never remembered one time that I thought, "I want to live here or someplace similar to here." It never entered my mind. Maybe it should have!
ROB AMBERG:
Well, I don't know. I'm not so sure. Why is that? What is it that has held you here in this particular place?

Page 9
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Well, I guess we go back to that lack of motivation that I had in high school! [Laughter] It's always just been very comfortable for me to be here. I have been very, very fortunate. I've been one of the luckiest people to ever live, in that I've had a variety of different jobs. I certainly have not gotten wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but have had enough to do the things that I wanted to do. And I've enjoyed immensely the opportunities that I have had.
ROB AMBERG:
One of the things that comes to mind when I think of you is your ability— it's more than an ability; it's kind of an innate part of who you are. You really are able to find common ground with a really wide, diverse group of people. I have this sense that you know everybody in the county and get along with them all.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I beg to differ with you on that point.
ROB AMBERG:
I'm sure that's a stretch of the imagination, but I think as a general kind of statement that's probably pretty accurate. And yet, you were formed right here in this very small insular kind of place.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I appreciate those comments. I'd like to think that's who I am, and if I am it's because of a number of things. It's because of the nurturing and encouragement of my family, to begin with. I love people, and I love the diversity of people. I am not offended by people who disagree with me or hold different opinions and beliefs. That's what makes us who we are, and God knows I'd hate to think that everybody believed exactly as I did. It'd be a boring world. But I enjoy the differences in people, and I just think it's fascinating to meet and get to know people of different backgrounds, different upbringings, different life experiences. Everybody has interesting stories. I love those stories.

Page 10
ROB AMBERG:
When you were young—or now—did you have a sense that, "Gosh, I wish there were more going on around here, or I wish there were more opportunities for work." Did you have a sense of that from your dad, maybe? It seems to me—although I know Marshall was a more thriving place back in the '40s and '50s. It's turning around now, slowly but surely.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Interesting story about that. When I was growing up, prior to the construction of the Marshall bypass—it was opened in 1960, I believe, and that was four years prior to the opening of Interstate 40, down Pigeon River. Prior to '60, when the bypass was built, all the traffic from the midwest was coming south. A lot of the traffic came 25-70, which meant they came right through downtown Marshall. Keep in mind that in the '50s in particular people in the outlying communities were just beginning to get cars and trucks, and things of that nature. It was not at all uncommon for people to work five hard full days, and a half a day on Saturday, and then load up the family and the neighbors and whoever they could find that wanted to come to Marshall, and come to Marshall. And with all the through traffic that was coming through Marshall and all the local traffic that was coming into Marshall, Marshall on a Saturday afternoon was like most malls at Christmas. The streets were packed, and this was in the summer or in the fall—anytime during the year. I have even been told, though I have not seen it, that there was a Ripley's Believe it or Not section item that said Marshall had more business for its size than any town in the country. From that perspective, we saw lots of activity.
ROB AMBERG:
I would think that you had a sense that, "I can do most whatever I want and stay right here." So when did all that start to change? When did Marshall begin to

Page 11
decline to boarded-up buildings and [become] totally empty on Saturdays, except when you'd host the Christmas parades?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think it started with the traffic moving to the bypass, and then the traffic moving to 25-70. The other thing that made the significant difference was, as people left the farm and began working in Asheville and Buncombe County they began shopping in Asheville and Buncombe County. Now, sixty percent of the retail sales from this county is in Asheville and Buncombe County, and that's what's really taken the business out of Marshall. As you well know, good roads take people both ways. They bring them into the community, but they also take them out of the community. With good roads and better vehicles it got very easy to get into Asheville. Obviously the variety of products— the selections that were available in Asheville would obviously be better than in a small town. And just the excitement of getting to go shopping in a big shopping area pulls a lot of people out. That's what I think really took the business away from Marshall and made it much more difficult for folks to operate general kinds of businesses.
ROB AMBERG:
We alluded to the fact that Marshall seems to be making some changes, and certainly Hot Springs is. I'm curious as to what you think about that. Do you feel like that is something that's going to continue to progress in a positive way?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh, I think it definitely will. When you look up and down the street in Marshall, there's a number of businesses that certainly would not be profitable if someone bought that business and tried to operate it as it is being operated today. The businesses that are there are businesses that have been there for twenty and thirty and forty and fifty years. They build up stock, they own the building; they don't have those kinds of costs associated with operating that business, so they can stay in business.

Page 12
ROB AMBERG:
Businesses like Coal, Feed, and Lumber?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Like CF&L, like ( ) and Sons. Like Home Electric. When those places go out of business, my guess is that they will not be replaced by the same kind of business. Nobody will buy that business to operate as a going business.
ROB AMBERG:
What do you see happening, then, in downtown?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think there will be an opportunity, and I think at some time there will be someone buy a building or two in Marshall and do something different. It may be putting in some unique restaurants. Hot Springs would be an example of that happening, with the Bridge Street Café—they draw folk from a wide area to Hot Springs for dining. Someone could buy a building in Marshall and create a unique dining experience. I've often wondered if you could get a large enough space down there and get an outlet for some major name outdoor outfit—like a ( ), or Lands' End or L.L. Bean—that would draw folk from a wide area because of its name and its uniqueness. I think for the town to survive it's got to be unique enough to bring people from outside the area. I know at this time of no way to create a business climate in Marshall that would serve the limited surrounding area.
ROB AMBERG:
I agree with that. I don't see that happening. It's interesting that a lot of the people who live out here—when I think about them and what they do for a living, it's very similar to what you just described as possible business ideas in Marshall. People out here like myself have found little niches doing something that's serving a particular clientele. People are willing to come out. They're willing to deal with me because of what I do and the uniqueness of what I do. What I'm hearing you say is basically, if the town had that same kind of attitude, that that's how it would make it.

Page 13
JERRY PLEMMONS:
An incubator for craftsmen or artists, I think, would be a nice addition to the town of Marshall. Those kind of things could encourage the establishment of restaurants and delis and things of that nature.
ROB AMBERG:
Actually, that's beginning to happen in Marshall, too.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
To some degree. There's been a building block recently. I don't know much about the owners for the Roberts Pharmacy building, but I understand that that may be the start of what we're talking about.
ROB AMBERG:
Well, Bob ( ) down at the lower end with his welding shop and blacksmith operation. Louise ( ) is at Joe Ede's place.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I did not know that.
ROB AMBERG:
Yeah, that's been a while now. She's the one that's been stripping and gutting that place, and basically it's down to ( ) now. I think she's going to be able to leave one or two walls intact, but she has cleaned out the whole inside of that place. This is a woman who was a fashion designer in New Orleans for years. She's got some really big time plans for what she wants to do sometime down the road.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Well, hey! Right on, on that one.
ROB AMBERG:
I think it's exciting, too. I guess Doug McKenzie, too. Building his ( ).
JERRY PLEMMONS:
You know what they say about Marshall? That it's a mile long, street wide, sky high, and Hell deep.
ROB AMBERG:
[Laughs] That's the truth.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
There's that huge rock above town that has a big chain around it. Supposedly that chain is holding that rock—boulder, whatever—up on the mountain to keep it from falling on the town. I think that's more for show than for protection.

Page 14
ROB AMBERG:
That sounds like a good "Ripley's Believe It or Not" story. Although, in spending time with Delly and her adopted son, Junior—Junior used to always tell me about his father. When he was living with his parents and his father was still alive, they had a place over on Shelton Laurel. He was right on the creek, and he used to chain the cabin to a rock to keep it in place during high creek times. That always sounded totally unbelievable to me, but maybe it's not.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Another "Ripley's Believe It or Not" that involved Marshall was that because of the nature of the curves from Marshall to Hot Springs, it was three tenths of a mile or a half mile farther from Hot Springs to Marshall than it was from Marshall to Hot Springs. [Laughter] When I heard that, I immediately jumped in my car, went to the courthouse in Marshall and took down my mileage. Drove to Hot Springs, took down my mileage; came back to Marshall, took down my mileage. Evidently they had built new roads. [Laughter]
ROB AMBERG:
In talking about the county and about you being here your entire life, what is your notion of place? How does place play a role in your life? And how does, then, this particular community reflect your thoughts about what place means to you?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think to me, place is where you feel comfortable and you feel comfortable with people. If the people are a part of the place, it makes the place bigger than it may really be. I think it's as much "are you comfortable with the people," at least in my case. I'm more comfortable with the people, and identify as being more comfortable with the people, than the place. Except to say that I do very much appreciate the fact that there's so much diversity here and so much opportunity to lose yourself in the environment. To

Page 15
hike to the top of Max Patch and to watch the sun go down on Max Patch—that's a certain solitude that I couldn't get in a lot of other places.
ROB AMBERG:
At the same time, I think, the people around here are definitely of this place. It's been one of the things that's certainly kept me here, is the uniqueness of the population. Certainly, in terms of the population, the diversity has really only come in the past twenty years, I guess.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Twenty to thirty. Yeah, that's been a big change. Going back to the people, I think a lot of what kept me here was the culture of the people. By that I mean the closeness of the people. I can remember time when the community rallied. There might be people that didn't necessarily like various people in the community, but if something happened they were always there to pitch in with the rest of the community to take care of things for the folks who needed help. That support system was so strong in these mountains. The way the folk in the mountains survived was sharing work, taking care of each other when someone got sick.
ROB AMBERG:
And your family played a role in those kinds of things all the time, too. Do you see that as being different now?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh yeah. I'm not so sure that it's different because of the influx of people from the outside as it is the fact that the times have changed so much and gotten so much faster in our pace of living. We've become too dependent on the processed foods.
ROB AMBERG:
And good roads that take us both in and out of the county.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Exactly. It's interesting sitting here looking at this painting that Polly Gott did of the farm on Shelton Laurel. I see those cattle and a lot of space, and I think back to the fact that when I was growing up, everybody—every family—had a garden. Every

Page 16
family had a milk cow. Every family raised chickens both for eggs and for meat, and everybody raised a pig for meat. In a space of a very few years, the milk cows and the pigs and the chickens vanished. People were able to go to the supermarket. People continued to raise gardens and can food from the gardens for several years, but now when you drive through this county how many real gardens do you see? Not very many. That's another product of the times that really doesn't have anything to do with folk moving in.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ROB AMBERG:
People like Peter and Polly, for example, who really wanted to adopt ( ). Malcolm and Vicky Owen for example, really wanted to adopt a lot of those mores and cultural values that were still here at those times. In the mid '60s, early '70s.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
One of the most interesting things, Rob, obviously was the influx of people moving into the county. There was some concern about insider and outsider issues, and what I saw in many cases was elderly people who's own children had moved away from the area adopting these young folk that had moved into the farm or the house next door. They became their surrogate children, so to speak. I know I've heard more than one conversation where an elderly local person said something to the effect of, "Well, you know, I used to feel like I was so dumb. I didn't have much education, didn't go to school. And then these people moved in here. They had all this big education, gone to school for years and years and years, and they didn't know the first thing about raising a garden. They'd always come at me with questions about the signs and when to plant and how to do things. You know, they aren't nearly as smart as I thought they was!" So, I

Page 17
think there was a positive self-image factor in folks moving here and using the locals and their vast knowledge of getting along with nature and the environment.
ROB AMBERG:
Yeah, their knowledge of place is what that was. Paul ( ) always talks about the fact that when he first moved up here the masses just being absolutely astounded. Just not being able to comprehend why someone with even a year or two of college would even dream of moving to a place like this. He was up on Doe Branch or something like that. Why would you choose to do that? We're talking about this idea of change and what brings it on. I think it's easy to be simplistic and say something like I- 26 is going to bring this enormous change to the county. Obviously, I think it is going to bring a lot of change, but at the same time change has been going on for a long time prior to that and would have gone on whether it happened or not. But I'm curious as to how you see the effect of the interstate. It's completion date a couple years down the road or so—I think they're talking about thirty months, something like that—what do you see happening? How do you see that affecting us?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Certainly, as you know, I have been a supporter of building that road for a long time. And a big part of my interest in seeing that road built was not related to the economic value of the road. I hope it has a positive economic value, but my concern was that the road that's there now is a very, very dangerous road. With the growth of traffic it becomes more dangerous. There was a number of elderly folk killed there around the intersection of 19-23 and the Big Branch Road in Mars Hill. And it was because, putting the local people—the elderly local folk—in an environment that they hadn't been accustomed to made it difficult for them to negotiate that. I wanted to make sure that we had the safest possible road that we could get to handle the traffic that was there and the

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added traffic that would be there. Certainly, I know that that new road is going to bring change. It's certainly had some impact on land prices in close proximity to the road and the interchanges. That's certainly an indication that a lot of people expect growth around those interchanges. How much growth and the kind of growth, I don't have the slightest idea. I cannot imagine, but I think what we're already seeing in the way of growth is residential development—bedroom community of Asheville, both in and around Mars Hill. And in the coming years, I think in and around Marshall. I think that's going to accelerate in the years to come. I think you're going to see more second home development in outlying areas of this county. When you look at some of these real estate web sites for Spring Creek, for example, and you see the number of houses in the $3- 600,000 range for sale, you think, "Where have I been?" It's already taking place, that growth. It's interesting that in many cases the folk who came in and built those houses are now the ones—after several years—that have decided to sell those houses and move elsewhere.
ROB AMBERG:
To a more remote place, do you think?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I don't think that those folk are moving to a more remote place. I think what's happening in many cases is that as these people age, they want to get closer to a higher level of health care. Closer to the hospitals, if you will. I think that's a part of it. I think a part of it may be that people are to the point where they really don't want to deal with four seasons. The sunshine sounds good year round.
ROB AMBERG:
You were saying that one of the things that has really kept you here is your love of community, of culture, of the mores of the population here. How does this particular kind of change, where there is a major influx—what I feel is a major

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demographic shift that has been taking place and accelerating—how does that affect those values that you've held very dear to your life?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Rob, that's the thing that really concerns me as much as anything when I look at this county and the future—that while we still have the opportunity to build strong communities, the communities are not nearly as strong as they were when times were hard. Good times have broken down that community, if you will. People are going their separate ways. They can go and they can do without their neighbors. They're going in a lot of different directions. They're not coming together and working together and playing together and celebrating together. While there's still some community support in times of crisis, that level of support certainly is nothing compared to what it was when times were really hard.
ROB AMBERG:
I mean, [Highway] 25-70, the four lane out here just changed everybody's life because of the access it provided to Weaverville, Asheville, that kind of thing. One of the net effects of that is that people do choose to leave to go out to work. That means time that is not spent in the community or on their particular piece of land.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
And Rob, I am a strong believer in the consolidated high school. The loss of the community school—the K-12 community school, if you will—has certainly hurt a lot of communities in the mountains. I can remember when there were five or six K-12 high schools in this county, and there was a real sense of community with those schools.
ROB AMBERG:
How was that exhibited? You were at the island—at ( ) Island, and there for all twelve years. How was that sense of place around that school exhibited?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
That's a good question. It's not one that I had really thought about, but I think people identified with the activities of that school. They came and supported those

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activities much more than they do now with one school and with such distance to travel. People at those activities—be they sporting events or other school activities—got to know each other and share with each other.
ROB AMBERG:
I would think that you probably knew everybody there.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Probably so.
ROB AMBERG:
How many students were there?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Well, I'm not sure how many was in the school at the time I was there, but I think there was like thirty-six in my graduating class.
ROB AMBERG:
Actually, that's a pretty goodly number.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
We were one of the two larger schools in the county. Marshall and Mars Hill were the largest schools in the county, and obviously we were fierce opponents.
ROB AMBERG:
That was my next question. With these individual community schools—K- 12s—was there a fair amount of competitiveness between those schools?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh, yes. And that in some ways, was one of the downsides, because that rivalry got very intense on occasion.
ROB AMBERG:
Did it get played out into the wider community?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh, yes. It wasn't just the school kids, it was the communities. And then it kind of played out also in that the other schools—Spring Creek, Hot Springs, and Laurel in particular, and to some degree Walnut—Walent and Marshall used to be fierce rivals. But those other schools didn't like Marshall or Mars Hill at all.
ROB AMBERG:
Is that because they were the two bigger schools?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Bigger schools, the county seat, and more resources.

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ROB AMBERG:
I've been here a long time, but still you kind of look, especially with the school bond issue that's being going on for the last couple of years, you can still get a real strong whiff of that competitiveness between the individual communities and how those dollars are allocated. There is still a lot of competition.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
One of the things that concerns me right now—I can understand Mars Hill wanting a middle school. The county currently has one middle school. While I understand the community wanting that six, seventh, and eighth grade portion of their students back in their community, it concerns me in that the county does not have the resources to provide the same level of opportunity for two schools that it does when it has only one school. I'm fearful that if that middle school is divided, the opportunities will be diminished.
ROB AMBERG:
Yet, at the same time, there's definitely community members in Mars Hill who are just adamant about wanting a second middle school in Mars Hill, and feeling that that is the only way that their children's needs can really be addressed.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
And at the same time, there are a number of parents and students in the Mars Hill area that don't necessarily feel that way. It's not one of those things that has total community—
ROB AMBERG:
Support, yeah.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I know one family there who has a daughter that's finishing middle school this year, and a younger daughter that's getting ready to go into the middle school. The younger daughter is so afraid that they'll split the school and she won't go to the middle school. She's gone through the experiences that her sister has had, and her sister has had such a good experience there, that she wants to follow her tracks in that regard.

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ROB AMBERG:
You know, I still see the competitiveness between Marshall and Walnut. I guess that must go back to when the county seat was named, or even before that. Marshall won by one vote over Walnutt, which was Jule Hill, something like that?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
There was a story about a fellow who had not made up his mind as to how he was going to vote between Marshall and Walnut. His neighbor was very strongly in favor of Marshall, so he gave this man some gourd seed to encourage him to vote for Marshall to be the county seat. It's said that for the want of gourd seed, Marshall became the county seat of Madison. [Laughter].
ROB AMBERG:
You were mentioning your support for the I-26 corridor and long term support for the corridor. I'm curious if you could give me a little history of that road, going back to I-40 time; if you could take it back that far and tell me a little bit about the history of the I-26 corridor.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think it's interesting, Rob. The folk in Madison County were very, very angry about Interstate 40 going down to Pigeon River. That road replaced 25-70. The 25-70 corridor in fact is the most direct route from Asheville to Knoxville.
ROB AMBERG:
Right. And had been the existing route.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Had been the existing route.
ROB AMBERG:
As you were saying earlier, that really had a great effect on the flourishing that this community—everything from Howard Allen's Wrecking Service to all of the little shops and stores and cafes along the way.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Right. So the folk—particularly in the central part of the county—was angry and felt that they had been shafted by the state.
ROB AMBERG:
Why was that decision made?

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JERRY PLEMMONS:
The prevailing thinking at that time was because Haywood had significantly stronger political clout in Raleigh with the decision makers. Dan Moore was a rising political star in Haywood County, and sometime after that—about the time that 40 opened, Dan became governor. He wasn't governor when the decision was made to build the road down Pigeon River, but shortly thereafter he became governor.
ROB AMBERG:
That political clout, then, was a function of Dan Moore, but also I would assume Canton and the paper mill.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Sure. And the population base was much larger over there than through Madison. I can remember people in this county saying, "Can you imagine, they're paying a million dollars a mile to pave that road down the Pigeon River?"
ROB AMBERG:
[Laughs] And what a road it is.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
The Appalachian Regional Commission developed a network of highways to kind of break up the isolation of the region, and the road from Asheville to Johnson City was one of the ARC corridor routes. There was a lot of talk when that was done, which would have been probably the late '60s. That's when that really became a prominent topic of discussion. The idea of that road really became very interesting to a lot of people. Actually, there had been talk of a major road through there, I've been told, since the turn of the century. I've heard Matt Magoo tell about someone standing up in the gap of that mountain back in the early 1900s, talking about sometime in the future there will be this road connecting Asheville, North Carolina and Tennessee. Then, I think what really brought this back to the front burner was in the 1980s, Tennessee—the legislature—wanted to raise their gasoline tax. The legislature was going to act on this. The legislators in a bi-partisan way, from East Tennessee, got together and said, "Okay,

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you can either get our support or not get our support. And the way to get our support is to agree before this is passed that there'll be some projects in East Tennessee that will get priority attention." And the road from Johnson City to the state line was first on their list; it was certainly one of the top priorities of that delegation. Their support was essential to the passing of that, so the political deals were made. When it became apparent that Tennessee was going to build the road to the state line, then it became incumbent on the folk in western North Carolina. If the increased traffic from that interstate standard road was going to be thrown onto that old existing dangerous road, then North Carolina had to do its part. And one of the things that I should say, ARC was not able—their funding was cut, particularly funding for road construction, to the point of where they were using very little ARC money to build roads. That was not an option for anytime in the future, so it had to be a state and federally funded project.
ROB AMBERG:
I know when talk was beginning about the I-26 corridor in Madison County, certainly the safety issue was predominant in people's mind. The other argument was the issue of development—both economic and community development—that it would bring. I guess the safety issue is obvious. It is one of the more dangerous roads in the state, and the statistics are there to prove that. Economic development, on the other hand, has always been a tougher issue in a place like Madison County.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
A big part of that has to do with the topography. It also in large measure has to do with a number of people and the lack of job training that these folk have had, by and large. A lot of folk have this misconception that all you've got to do is tell this big industry that we've got these people here that are hard workers and will do a good job for them, and this company will want to locate its plant here. Well, obviously it's much

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much more complicated than that. It was then, and it's even more complicated now with communities putting out big incentives to attract these folk. [They] stay long enough to get the incentives and then move to another community that provides a bigger and better incentive.
ROB AMBERG:
Or to northern Mexico.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Exactly. And the reality in my humble and feeble opinion, is that manufacturing is not going to serve our job needs of the future. It's not going to serve any community's job needs in the future. We've got to look at education, job training, entrepreneurship, creativity to meet the job needs of the growing community.
ROB AMBERG:
Is your sense that something like I-26—not just I-26, but all the other things—are then going to almost make it incumbent that we have that education, that job training, and that's going to push those issues a little bit more?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I certainly hope so, to be honest with you. I firmly believe that in the years to come the individual is going to have to be much more responsible for his employment than he's been in the past. This idea of going to work for a big company and moving up the line or stay there long enough to get a good retirement, that's a thing of the past. You're going to be changing jobs more often. You're going to be in jobs that don't last for long periods of time. Just by their very nature they're going to be automated out of existence, or new products or services are going to take their place. A person has got to be a lot more creative, a lot more flexible, and a lot better educated.
ROB AMBERG:
In a way, Madison County's indigenous population is uniquely suited to that challenge. We talked about this man meeting the college-educated person and realizing that that person might have had a lot of book reading, but he really didn't know much

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about how to get along. That's always been something that has interested me, and that the people were able to stay on their places and work and make a living. Provide a life for their families. What I'm hearing you say now is almost like a very similar scenario to that, with an upgrade in skills.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think that's what it is, Rob. I think we've got to hone what we like to call that native intelligence. That mountain ingenuity, problem solving, if you will. It's amazing. When this area was primarily an agriculture area, and that wasn't that many years ago, there were very few welding shops around. If something broke and had to be welded, they'd find a neighbor that could weld it. Or if it could be fixed a different way, they'd figure out a different way to fix it that was low-tech, no cost. [Recorder is turned off and on again].
ROB AMBERG:
If you had a single wish for this place that has been your home all your life, what would it be?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
[Sighs]. I'd have to think about this a while! [Laughter].
ROB AMBERG:
I love it when questions cause people to breathe deeply.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I believe so strongly in community development that what I'd really like to see is a reinvigoration or a retooling of this whole community concept. Build community in its truest form—getting folk in a certain geographic area to come together and work on common issues and common problems in a spirit of creativity, [and] do interesting and innovative things to make their community the most livable and most enjoyable possible. Where people really did care for each other, really did take care of each other. I think if we have that a lot of our other issues would certainly be diminished.

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ROB AMBERG:
When I lecture, I sometimes show a slide of a group of rafters on a river. When I first moved here, what I heard from local people about the river is, "You stay away from the river. It's really dangerous." Now and again, you'd see one or two people out rafting it or canoeing it. Now we have ( ) of 40,000 people that raft the river on a yearly basis, with four, five, six rafting companies operating eight, nine months out of the year. Yet, it's also interesting to me that if one traces the history in this county, one recognizes that tourism has played a role in this county for a very long time, ranging from the resort of Hot Springs and the golf course there to people hiking in the area.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Or the drovers using the trails along the river to move products.
ROB AMBERG:
Exactly. Do you see tourism as almost coming back in fashion, or playing an increased role?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I think it already is. You look at Hot Springs, and just like with the spa there bringing folk in from a wide area—it's interesting, there's been very little development with the springs themselves, but they are attracting a wider and wider group of folk. So, it's already taking place. I think the real challenge for it, Rob, is to find the balance. What is the balance? How can we be that gem that attracts the folk to come here, because we have all these outdoor opportunities? And how can we keep those outdoor opportunities as pristine and protected as they need to be, while still using them?
ROB AMBERG:
One of the things that I see is that the conflicts that seem to happen here seem to be breaking down more on native-born people versus newcomers coming into the area. That there is this kind of cultural divide there, a little bit. Do you feel like that's a significant thing? How do we deal with stuff like that?

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JERRY PLEMMONS:
I don't really know how we deal with it. I know it's there to some extent. I know that there has been peaks and valleys in that for a long period of time. We've had an incident here and an incident there that will heighten the focus on the insider/outsider issues. That's part of my wish for real community, where these two groups and all the other groups that are here—in terms of the things that divide us—are able to come together and say, "Certainly there are issues where we differ, but there's many more issues where we agree." Just like the environment. Generally speaking, people perceive that the folk moving in are much more environmentally conscious than the folk that are here. But then you look at what the people who had to make a living off of this land did, and a lot of their practices were pretty environmentally sensitive. They knew how to get along with the land and not abuse it to any great extent. They didn't consider it environmentalism, but they respected the fact that if they were going to live next year off this same land, they had to take care of it this year, too.
ROB AMBERG:
Right. It didn't make sense to poison it. I find it interesting that—for lack of a better word—alternative crowd that is moving in. You may meet people who are real involved in herbs, for example, homeopathy. These people are absolutely astounded when I tell them that if they were to talk to a local person who was about sixty or sixty- five years old, chances are that person went to an herb doctor in their early life. Anyone older than that certainly did. They're absolutely astounded when they hear that. It's another point in common that they have. This was a very natural place to live.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
One of the things that I told a lot of folk over the years, and one of the things that I've been proudest of, is that some people—both locals and non-locals—have seen me as a bridge, if you will. I'm greatly honored by being seen in that role, because that's

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the role that I'd like to be a part of. But the thing that I tell folk that are moving in is to get to know and respect their local neighbor. Their closest neighbor. You may be different in many ways, but listen to them, don't offend them, understand some of their uniquenesses in that they don't talk a lot. They're not going to share a lot, but they care.
ROB AMBERG:
Right. And they will definitely be there if you need them. Do you feel that your life experience might be classified as typical of life experience of other county residents?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Probably not, Rob, because I have been pushed to get involved in a wide variety of things, and been willing to step out and challenge—if you will, to step out and get involved in a wide variety of things. An awful lot of local folk have neither the opportunity nor necessarily the desire or the need to venture out and get involved in different things to the extent that I have. To me, it's been great personal growth and great personal satisfaction.
ROB AMBERG:
Is your sense that it's difficult for native-born county residents to really understand and accept all of the changes that are happening?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
I sometimes wonder if many local people reflect on the changes that have taken place in their lifetime, as I do periodically. I drive half an hour to work and back each day, so that gives me an opportunity to do a lot of thinking. Thanks to some Don Petty hammered dulcimer music that I can put on and listen to in my truck, I can reflect on a lot of things. And one of the things I think about periodically is just how amazing it has been. The dramatic change that has taken place in my life, things that I would have never imagined to occur, have occurred.

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ROB AMBERG:
Give me another couple of examples of some of those really major things. We've talked about electricity and roads, and new people coming in.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
And the variety of jobs and the educational opportunities, and the fact that with computers we can be here and be in touch with the world. We've got people living on the mountain tops and as connected and involved in their job as if they were in downtown Manhattan.
ROB AMBERG:
It was probably a stretch of your imagination that you got electricity and finally got that radio and were able to listen to the Grand Ole' Opry.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Well, we were listening to the Grand Ole' Opry before we got electricity. We had a battery radio that we plugged up every Saturday night, and we used to listen to the Grand Ole' Opry.
ROB AMBERG:
This is your family?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Yes.
ROB AMBERG:
And would you have friends over?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Oh, yes.
ROB AMBERG:
And cook a meal?
JERRY PLEMMONS:
Not necessarily cook a meal, but I can remember having people in to listen to the Grand Ole' Opry. One of the things that I still very much enjoy is old time radio shows. I've got a collection of old time radio shows that I enjoy very much.
ROB AMBERG:
That's great. [Laughs] It is really a stretch of the imagination to think that we can go over here and push a button and be in touch with Tokyo or someplace. And cell phones, too.
JERRY PLEMMONS:
And we won't talk about cell phone towers.

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ROB AMBERG:
No, we won't talk about cell phone towers, of course. That's another conversation, I think. One that seems to be playing a role, though.
END OF INTERVIEW