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Appalachian Women Oral History Tour makes a stop at Western Carolina University

Students and attendees learned some Appalachian crafts including weaving, quilting and making corn husk dolls.
Lilly Knoepp
Students and attendees learned some Appalachian crafts including weaving, quilting and making corn husk dolls.

On a hot summer day, college students at Western Carolina (WCU) milled about the Cullowhee campus, exploring local crafts, learning abut Appalachian ballads and how to quilt.

The event, hosted by the WCU Mountain Heritage Center and other university staff provided opportunities for students in the academic success program at WCU, rising first graders from the Whee Summer Literacy program, and WCU students and staff to learn more about the region.

As part of its ongoing oral history project, BPR hosted a table at Mini-Mountain Heritage Day to collect the stories of Appalachian women and share information about the public radio station. BPR’s senior regional reporter Lilly Knoepp and volunteer Meredith Jones interviewed students about their personal experiences with women in Appalachia.

Alex Brown shares memories of his great-grandmother in Henderson County
Alex Brown remembers spending quality time with his great grandmother watching Judge Judy and eating special cookies she bought just for him.
Alex Brown spent much of his childhood in Zirconia in Henderson County.

Alex Brown, 18, spent part of his childhood in Zirconia near Hendersonville. His family has been in the area for generations, he said. Brown lived with his parents and his great grandmother lived just through the woods.

He remembered sneaking out to go to her house and spend time with her before she passed away. Brown said the pair were like “two peas in a pod.”

He remembered that his great grandmother would can her own soup and always keep a stock of tea biscuits for him.

“I used to call her a bag of wrinkles. In hindsight, it’s kind of mean, but I didn’t think much about it at the time,” Brown said. “I used to always watch Judge Judy with her, and she would have tea and vegetable soup made.”

Brown said she passed away when he was six or seven years old.

“We would always sit and chat for hours. She would tell me all of these stories about when she was younger,” Brown said. “I really miss her.”

Omaric Flowers shared stories about his mother and Southern hospitality
Omaric Flowers grew up outside of Hendersonville. He says when he thinks about Appalachian heritage, he thinks about the Southern hospitality of his community.
Omari Flowers, a 19 -year-old student at WCU , grew up in Clear Creek in Henderson County. -year-old student at WCU

Omaric Flowers,19, grew up in Clear Creek in Henderson County. Memories of growing up in the region were synonymous with southern hospitality for him. Everyone’s hospitality is different based on their personality and skills, he said.

Flowers learned about Southern hospitality from his family and surroundings, especially from his mom, Paula, who grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She and all of her siblings live in either in North Carolina or the Sunshine State.

“My mom would go out and have a drink with the neighbors. Catch up and see how they were doing,” Flowers said.

Flowers saw similarities with his mom. Both are “a lot."

“My eighth grade year she went through a fight with cancer. Watching that just showed me how people are,” Flowers said. The Southern hospitality of the community really shined during that time.

“People would come over and check on her kids because she would be away at the hospital,” he said. She is now in remission.

Jon Dickerson says he has always been an outdoors kid
John Dickerson says he isn't from the mountains but he has always loved the outdoors. He shared memories of his mother Catherine.
John Dickerson shared memories of his mother Katherine during Mini Mountain Heritage Day.

Jon Dickerson, 18, grew up in Huntersville, North Carolina but said he has always identified with living in a rural place and wanted to move to the mountains.

He described his excitement to be going to WCU to learn about Appalachian culture and said his major in the fall will be parks and recreation.

“I love the mountains. I’ve always been an outdoors kid. I love going on hikes. I like to fish. This is my place, these are my people,” Dickerson said.

While he was not born here, he said he feels an affinity for the region.

“I haven’t done tons of research but hopefully over these next four years I can understand the Appalachian culture a lot more and become a part of it,” Dickerson said. “I’m proud to be here and I’m proud to call myself a mountain person.”

When it comes to sharing memories of women in his life, Dickerson shared that his mother passed away when he was 9 years old.

“It was just myself, my dad and my brother for a while. Obviously I knew my mother but it was just a house full of men for a while, so we were a little wild sometimes,” Dickerson said. “I came from a very loving home, and I feel like I was raised with good morals.”

His mother, Katherine, was a good Christian woman who taught him a lot, he said.

“I was only with her for 9 years, but I picked up a lot of good morals from her. She taught me how to respect people as well as nature and she was just an amazing woman,” he said.

Share your story at the next stop on the summer tour! BPR will be at the Franklin Area Folk Festival on Saturday August 19. Here's more info on the festival and the project.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.