Understanding history to promote the present

First Posted: 3/19/2009

For the past eight years, educators and prominent members of the community have helped select groups of youth to become better aware of the county in which they live.
This year is no exception as Youth Leadership Surry kicked off its first event of the year at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on Wednesday. The event focused on history and tourism in Surry County and featured presentations from Erica Smith, director of the educational opportunity center at SCC; Marion Venable, executive director of the SCC Foundation and coordinator of grants; Dr. Rick Smith, museum tour guide; and Charles Vaughn, group tour coordinator for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
Smith kicked off the days events by talking to the students about genealogy and how they can go about learning about their families. Kirstin Gardner, a student at Surry Central High School, learned that her family is descended from John Adams.
Venable gave a presentation on Surry Countys history and challenged the students and their adult leaders to fill in important locations on a blank map of the county. Spread across two different sheets, participants were asked to identify places from Mount Airy to Burch and historic items including Bean Shoals Canal Wall and the John Jones Boxwood.
The boxwood was planted in 1846 and by 1952, it had grown to 76 feet in circumference. The White House landscapers wanted to purchase the boxwood for the grounds but were told no.
Venable and Smith also spoke about famous people from Surry County. According to Venable, when the 1850 census was taken, Zachary T. Hawks was discovered to have 24 fingers and toes. During that same census, 72-year-old Elizabeth Strong was recorded as being 3 feet tall and weighing 175 pounds.
Participants also had to fill out a questionnaire by identifying famous people by a description of what they are known for. They learned that Andy Griffith is not only famous for having a television series but also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. James Brown, a graduate of Mount Airy High School, played professional football for the Minnesota Vikings. Franklin Freeman, a Dobson native, served as a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Smith gave the participants an abbreviated tour of the museum, which some of the students were seeing for the first time and others were seeing for the first time since they were very young.
I learned a lot about the people who have been here and helped found the county, said Amanda Wilson, a student at North Surry High School, after the tour of the museum.
I liked the museum tour, but I wish we had more time, said Jenna Nichols, a student at East Surry High School.
Following a lunch break, participants embarked on a trolley ride to historical sites around Mount Airy, including a trip to the granite quarry. Granite from the quarry has been shipped around the country, including going to Washington, D.C., to help construct the Lincoln Memorial Bridge.
It teaches them pride in the place theyve grown up, said Celeste Hawks, counselor from Elkin High School, about the events sponsored by Youth Leadership Surry. It provides a good historical background of the places they were raised. Its really important in helping them feel good about where they come from.
Youth Leadership Surry is a program for select students from Surry County, Mount Airy City and Elkin City high schools to teach them more about leadership and the role it plays in shaping a community. It is sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerces education committee.
I think we should all learn more about the county because its not really taught in school in detail, said Gardner.
I hope to have a better understanding of leadership and the town, said Tori McGowan from Mount Airy High School of the program.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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