Lost and Found: GWU Freshmen Collect Regional Appalachian Heritage Stories

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Students of Drs. Glenn and Nancy Bottoms Preserve Appalachian Culture

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.- William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This ever-present force binds itself to our daily lives; but for a region so steeped in history, many stories of the past remain forgotten. That is, until now. A unique community service project led by freshmen at Gardner-Webb University will remind people of their Appalachian and Cherokee pasts.

The class started by collecting and recording interviews with Cherokee descendants around the town. “We were hoping to share their stories with the Boiling Springs museum for the Southern Appalachian Culture Series,” said Dr. Nancy Bottoms, who, along with her husband, Dr. Glenn Bottoms, came up with the idea for their freshman orientation class.

The Southern Appalachian Culture Series was a weeklong event hosted by Gardner-Webb that highlighted the traditions of the Cherokee people within Appalachia. The class had originally planned to share their findings with the museum in order to coincide with the festival. The information would provide the town with a more thorough knowledge of its past.

“Hearing about people’s history is exciting,” said Dennis Fender, one of the students in the Bottoms’ class. “The stories are very interesting and I’m glad we have a chance to share them with the community.”

Fellow classmate, Ruthann Thomas, has a similar outlook. “The project is really cool. We get to edit videos and transcribe interviews for everyone to enjoy.”

Finding enough information has been difficult, though. “People seem reluctant to talk about their Native American ancestries,” said Nancy. The class has found Cherokee stories, but only a handful. Details may have been lost between generations of oral story telling, or people simply chose to forget them.

“There was a time where people were ashamed of their Native American ancestry.” Nancy said, a touch of incredulity in her voice. “Now they’re starting to have pride. They’re remembering snippets of their past.”

Joanne Phillips, the mother of Gardner-Webb women’s basketball head coach Rick Reeves, knows little more than the fact that her grandmother was the daughter of a chief. People like Tom Poston, the father of GW Registrar, Lou Ann Scates, know even less. Poston’s family can only link the word “thunderbird” to his Cherokee great-grandmother.

The project will now have an open deadline and a new direction. Stories will still include Cherokee history but there will be a stronger focus on the stories of all Boiling Springs families. For many, this will extend into Appalachian history.

“We envision a room full of people talking, sharing their stories,” said Nancy, who still aims at sharing the project with the museum. The class’s new goal is to create a dialogue between the families to find out who is connected to whom, and to look upon Boiling Springs in a different light. Recordings and transcriptions will be shown to the public at the project’s conclusion.

“I think many people will find out things they never knew about their own families,” continued Nancy. By uncovering the past of Boiling Springs, its community can have a greater appreciation for the present.

If your family has any historical connection with Boiling Springs or Appalachia, contact Nancy Bottoms at nbottoms@gardner-webb.edu or 704-406-3905.

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University offers a comprehensive academic experience that introduces students to the diverse world of ideas and to the people who think them, preparing them for career success and for engaged, responsible citizenship in their professional, civic, and spiritual communities.