TownTalk: The Future of McGregor Hall



In six short years, Henderson’s McGregor Hall has earned a reputation across the area – and region – as a quality venue for hosting concerts, performances and competitions.

Executive Director Mark Hopper booked perhaps the venue’s most important act last month, however, when the Henderson City Council held its April meeting inside the facility for a one-man show: Hopper took center stage seeking financial support for the 1,000-seat theatre.

Hopper asked the Council for $75,000; County Manager C. Renee Perry told WIZS News that the county received a request for $60,000.

The recommended 2024-25 budget presented Monday to the City Council does not have a line item to support McGregor Hall; Perry told WIZS News that there is nothing in the county budget at present either.

The county commissioners are expected to receive the 2024-25 recommended budget on Tuesday, May 28.

Municipal and county budgets are supposed to be adopted by July 1, which is the start of the new fiscal year, and time is of the essence for McGregor Hall.

“What we need is help with our debt service,” Hopper told the City Council in April. “We will not survive 2025 without support.”

In his April presentation to City Council, Hopper said the venue, although doing very well at the box office, is drowning in mortgage debt. One quarter of the total revenue goes to service the mortgage.

Hopper is the lone full-time employee, and he works alongside five part-time employees and several hundred volunteers.

McGregor Hall is under the governance of the nonprofit Embassy Cultural Center Foundation and is propped up with solid local partnerships, dedicated individuals and business sponsors.

WIZS previously reported on the recent economic impact study that showed McGregor Hall has contributed $9.2 million to the local economy over the past four years – $5.1 in lodging bookings alone. The county benefits from motel/hotel tax revenues; the city and county benefit from taxes generated from the more than 30,000 guests to its rental events, namely in the form of 15 weekends of spring dance competitions.

Hopper said that every single dollar of investment to McGregor Hall brings a return of $31 to the community.

About 40 percent of revenues come from ticket sales, which Hopper said is in keeping with the industry standard. Grant funding, rental fees and concessions each kick in 10 percent and 20 percent from local business sponsors.

It would mean a lot for local government leaders to put a price tag on what it means to have a top-notch venue in Henderson and Vance County that draws patrons from the Triangle to southside Virginia – both to watch performances as well as to be on stage for shows.

Hopper said McGregor Hall is helping to change the perception of Henderson and Vance County, one performance at the time.

TownTalk: City of Henderson Budget Prelim

Henderson City Council member Garry Daeke has had a couple of days to review and reflect on the 2024-25 budget that was presented Monday by City Manager Terrell Blackmon.

It’s a delicate balance, Daeke said, to create a budget that provides for citizens’ wants and needs – without putting those same citizens in a bind by raising taxes, fees and more.

“I do enjoy the challenge of taking a budget and looking at all the different pieces,” Daeke said on Wednesday’s TownTalk. The cost of those services versus the tax rate is always a balancing act, and it’s one that Council members will begin discussing at a work session on Monday, May 20.

Blackmon’s presentation included details of a $25 million General Fund budget, and a total budget figure of somewhere around $45 million. The 158-page document can be found on the city’s webpage at, under the Departments heading, click on Finance to go directly to the dropdown box where the document is located.  (Or click here as of 5-15-24.)

“The city’s growing,” Daeke said. “We have so many things we’d like to do.” But how to fund those things is what the budget discussion will be about.

Added to the mix is the recent revaluation of properties in the county, which will generate additional revenue for the city in the form of property tax.

A 45-cent per $100 of value would generate the same amount of tax revenue as this year, Daeke said. “We need some increase, I think. I do not think it needs to be 10 cents.”

A 55-cent per $100 value would generate between $4 and 4.5 million, he calculated, and a 65-cent per $100 value would bring in $7 million. He said, however, that he would not vote for a 55-cent tax rate unless he was thoroughly convinced otherwise during the course of the upcoming budget discussions. If the city were to keep the current tax rate of 75 cents per $100, it would generate roughly $10 million.

Generally speaking, overall property values in the city increased about 63 percent since the last revaluation in 2016. That means many property owners will have to pay higher tax bills, maybe a couple of hundred extra dollars, in the city, Daeke noted.

And that, coupled with higher monthly bills like water and sewer, could pose problems for folks who may be struggling to make ends meet as it is. “We have to be cognizant of what people can afford.”

Landlords most likely would have to increase rents to help absorb those rising costs, Daeke said. “It could be a phenomenal amount in a year’s time for people who are struggling to pay their bills.”

Another funding stream comes from sales tax collection, which continues to be strong in the city. “We’ve done well in terms of people staying home and spending money,” he said.

The budget also calls for moving $4 million from the fund balance to offset non-recurring federal ARPA funds. Daeke said there’s “extra” money available because of having unfilled positions within the city.

Once those positions are filled, however, that “extra” money will not be available.

Some of the other items on the expenditure side of the ledger in the future include a new fire station, completion of the park on William Street and housing redevelopment.

“We’ve taken down 300 homes – we need to start putting stuff back,” Daeke said. “That can’t be done without some funding.”

A major contributor to the sales tax coffers is McGregor Hall. Economic impact studies show that the entertainment venue draws people from across the region to see concerts, performances and participate in dance competitions, just to name a few.

Daeke said he would like to see more support for McGregor Hall from local government.

“I believe it’s time to help them stay in business,” he said, noting that there is nothing in the recommended budget at present.

One idea that’s floating around is to purchase the property on which the former Falkner Building Supply once stood. It’s part of the original McGregor family bequest, Daeke said, so McGregor Hall owns it.

“We’d love to purchase that and put a parking area and other businesses there” to create a cash flow for McGregor Hall and to contribute to the economic vitality to the downtown area.



H-V Chamber Student Leadership Vance Graduation 2024

The 15 members of the 2023-24 Student Leadership Vance program finished up earlier this month with a graduation ceremony. And although that May 1 graduation marked the completion of the program, Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Wilkerson said she believes it’s just the beginning for these high school students who have a deeper appreciation for their community and the things that Henderson and Vance County offer.

Wilkerson said she told the group at graduation that if they only took away one thing, she hoped that it would be that they speak positively about their community. “Positivity is the name of the game,” she said on Wednesday’s TownTalk.

Modeled after the Leadership Vance program, this program gave students a chance to visit area businesses, agencies and organizations that operate in the city and county, as well as observe government and civic engagement activities.

Vanessa Jones led the program, and Wilkerson called her the program’s “fearless leader” and a perfect fit. Retired from Vance-Granville Community College, “she’s been around students all her life” and undaunted by the prospect of working with teenagers.

Feedback from the participants – students from four different schools across the county – ranged from “I never knew that existed” to “never knew we had that here,” Wilkerson said.

“I challenged each of them to spread that knowledge” about their community, she added.

A 2022 pilot program worked with 8th graders, but Wilkerson said that age group proved to be a little young, so this year’s program was limited to 10th and 11th graders. “By the end of session one, the kids were already exchanging cell phone numbers, so that was a ‘win,’” she said.

One of the goals of the leadership program is to bring students from different schools together. Wilkerson said she’s already fielded calls from Kerr-Vance Academy to be included in next year’s program.

Jayden Watkins said, “I had the chance to go behind the scenes of Henderson, learn history about our city that I hadn’t learned before but most of all understand how each person in our city is important…Every position matters because every person’s job is important to make our community work in unity!”

For participant Kate Seifert, the program contributed to her growth in leadership skills, community awareness and empathy toward others.

“The Student Leadership Institute gave me the opportunity to connect with other students while learning about the inner workings and hidden aspects of Henderson and Vance County,” Seifert said. It was incredibly inspiring and eye-opening to see firsthand all of the people who work behind the scenes to help our town to grow and thrive.”

She said she especially enjoyed the health and community day, when the group toured the Boys and Girls Club, the SAM Child Advocacy Center, Maria Parham Health, Henderson YMCA, and Abria’s Chase Foundation. “Throughout this day, I gained a deeper understanding of services in Henderson that help us stay connected, healthy, and supported as a community.”

Watkins said the program has helped him “discover the greatness that lies within Henderson. Most teenagers like me when I was younger, don’t think Henderson is a place we want to live in after college,” he said.

But, he added, Henderson “needs my generation to bring the greatness to the forefront by evolving as leaders.”

Here is a list of students by school who completed the program:

Henderson Collegiate

Jenifer Aguilar

Kameron Bullock

Mya Fisher

Jayden Watkins

Faith Wimbush

Vance County High School

Alajiah Alston

Choice Puryear

Harold Timberlake

Vance Charter School

Noah Bean

Joshua Jones

Kate Seifert

Bridger Stewardson

Crossroads Christian

Anderson Boyd

Rebecca Fowler

Ava Wade



Edmonds Tennis Foundation

TownTalk: Edmonds Uses Tennis To Promote Oral Health

The tennis courts at Fox Pond Park will be occupied Saturday with young people swinging racquets and … toothbrushes?

That’s right, it’s Tennis and Dentist Community Fun Day, hosted by Edmonds Tennis and Education Foundation.

Young people ages 5-18 are invited to come out to the park for the event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fox Pond Park is located at 375 Vicksboro Rd.

Participants will get free tennis lessons from some tennis experts and they’ll learn the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene from a couple of local tooth experts.

Dr. Jerry Edmonds, III and his wife Dorcel launched the 501c3 in 2018 and this is their third fun day event to introduce the sport of tennis to young people.

The foundation was named National Junior Tennis Learning Chapter of the Year back at a meeting in January, at which time the 17 North Carolina NJTL chapters were challenged with coming up with an innovative way to teach tennis in combination with a community learning experience.

Edmonds said his wife came up with the idea on the drive back home from the meeting.

The foundation uses the game of tennis as a vehicle to foster and develop positive character traits including integrity, honesty and more, Edmonds said.

And since May is National Tennis Month, they’re offering a tennis clinic and an oral hygiene clinic. But this clinic won’t have kids opening wide for the dentist to peer inside at teeth and gums; rather, there will giveaways of things like toothbrushes, floss and more, Edmonds said.

“The goal is to teach (children) early on the importance of good dental hygiene,” he said.

Granville Vance Public Health representatives will be on hand with information about its dental clinic, for example, and its school-based program called “The Tooth Club.”

Last year, the foundation awarded 17 $500 scholarships to graduating high school seniors to use toward college costs.

Sponsorships are vital to the foundation’s scholarship program, but Edmonds said the “secret sauce” is pairing local sponsors with those scholarship recipients to create a mentor/mentee relationship.

Through the scholarship program, tennis clinics and more, Edmonds said he hopes the foundation is creating “an army of givers” who will spread out across the community and beyond and to keep coming up with ways to be involved.





TownTalk: Vance Granville Helping Small Businesses

Dr. Jerry Edmonds, III, vice president of Workforce Development and Community Engagement at Vance-Granville Community, said he’s proud of the way the community supports small businesses and entrepreneurs. It may make his job just a bit easier, too.

From local government to the Chamber of Commerce, the network of support is a strong one for new business owners in the area.

“It seems like every week we’re having a small business ribbon-cutting,” Edmonds said on Tuesday’s TownTalk.

And those business owners have a valuable resource at VGCC – the Small Business Center. SBC Director Carolyn Perry’s office is located at the VGCC South Campus in Creedmoor, but Edmonds said she travels throughout the four-county area to help small business owners.

The services are free, and help individuals with anything from startup to counseling hours – it’s all designed to make sure that new businesses stay in business.

Statistics show that new businesses most often fail within the first five years, and Edmonds said the SBC is here to help during that initial period and beyond to help businesses continue to thrive. “We’re intentional,” he said. “We really try to mentor them and make sure they make it through that crucial five years.”

Whether you’ve been in business for awhile and maybe need a sounding board for advice or you’re thinking about starting your own business, the SBC is here to serve.

“Our job is to help business owners, be they startups or those that have been in business for years,” Edmonds said, adding that the local SBC help between 10-15 new businesses each year and provide help to retain that many businesses as well.

Visit to learn more.




Vance County Logo

TownTalk: Board of Equalization and Review Hears Appeals

Vance County residents who want to learn more about the revaluation process and just how it will affect their tax bill can attend an information session on May 20 at 4 p.m. The info session will take place in the county administration building, known commonly still as “the old courthouse.”

One tidbit of information that may have been helpful for a handful of residents who appeared before the board of equalization and review last week: Have proper documentation to support your case for a lower valuation.

Another important tidbit: The appeals process ends June 3. It’s almost mid-May, so property owners who want to contest their revaluations need to get busy.

The county’s board of commissioners doubles as the board of equalization and review, and although some residents provided anecdotal evidence and even photographs to support their remarks, commissioners time and again said they needed written documentation.

Each of the five cases that were heard also were continued, and commissioners offered suggestions to help the property owners understand what was needed.

“A common theme tonight is that some people just don’t understand what information they need to bring,” said Commission Chair Dan Brummitt. Brummitt also said more information needs to be shared with the public about several exemptions that are available for property owners.

“They all have evidence…but they didn’t bring it,” Brummitt said.

One woman spoke and said there was no way her home could be valued at $103,000 – she lives among at least two abandoned homes, squatters living in a former business nearby and a hoarder one street away. She had pictures but nothing in writing, so commissioners, although sympathetic, said she didn’t have proper documentation to support her appeal.

Upon learning that the boarded-up house next door had sold for $12,000, commissioners encouraged the homeowner to request that public information – available at the tax office – to then present to the E & R on appeal.

Another woman who lives near Kittrell said her property value went from $50,000 to $109,000.

“I live in a doublewide, an old doublewide,” she said. And although she no longer has the swimming pool, outbuilding or deck on her property, “my property tax went up,” she said.

Brummitt said each property listing has a tax card that includes comparable properties. They’re on the back of the tax card, he said.

This resident said $75,000 is a more realistic price for her property, but Brummitt asked what documentation she had to support that claim. Comps could be one way to document similar properties and their values.

The county’s website has posted a lot of pertinent information about the appeals process, and tax office staff is available to answer questions, said Commissioner Yolanda Feimster.

“They’re there to answer your questions,” Feimster said, adding that staff is willing to extend any assistance needed to residents.

Not everybody is computer savvy or computer literate, and Commissioner Leo Kelly said senior adults especially may need a little extra help. “The information is overwhelming,” he said. “It’s just too much information all at one time.”

County Manager C. Renee Perry told WIZS in an earlier interview that the county is working on a tight deadline. Perry said “the plan is for the Board of E&R to open on May 6 and close on June 3. The last day to appeal will be June 3.”

Visit to learn more. Call the tax office at 252.738.2040.



TownTalk: Beard Discusses Rural Health Care

Maria Parham Health CEO Bert Beard said the state of health care in this area is in a pretty good spot these days. That doesn’t mean that rural hospitals like Maria Parham don’t continue to face challenges, but Beard said hospitals in other markets are facing some of the same things.

Beard was a guest on Thursday’s TownTalk to discuss some of the trends that he’s seeing from his vantage point.

Medicaid expansion, he said, is allowing more uninsured or under-insured residents access to health care. The number of new enrollees is about half a million, approaching the prediction of about 600,000 in North Carolina.

“We’re lagging a bit in Vance County,” he said, but health care professionals at MPH as well as Granville Vance Public Health and others are always looking for new enrollees.

With rising costs and the constant demand to find qualified health care employees, Beard said the Medicaid expansion “has given us a lifeline that we desperately needed.”

Beard said he and his colleagues knew hospitals were headed down a path to a health care provider shortage, but the COVID-19 pandemic hastened that process. Without adequate staff, some small hospitals simply couldn’t afford to keep the doors open, which only brings more challenges to the rural areas they serve.

“Services are going away that are vital,” he said. One of those is maternal services. It’s critical that expectant moms be within, say, an hour of a hospital that provides those services, for the safety of the mom and the child.

When he spoke at the April 23 “state of health care” forum sponsored by the Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce, Beard said top on people’s minds was the mental health crisis that is so often in the news.

He looks forward to the Emergency Department’s Safe Space project that has received funding and said it will transform how patients in crisis can be managed when they come through the Emergency Department.

Mental health issues are multi-dimensional and under-resourced, Beard said, noting that psychological issues are often entangled in social issues and substance abuse, which exacerbate the problem.

“We’ve got to be more deliberate in how we invest in that,” he said. Public-private partnerships like MPH behavioral health services in Louisburg is something that Beard said he is quite proud of.

Whether through collaboration or providing quality health care by Duke physicians and others, Maria Parham is poised to keep patients across the region it serves top of mind when it comes to community care.

It must be a mutually supportive relationship, however, Beard said. When you seek care, seek local care first.

“It’s more important than ever,” he said, that “when people have good available local health care, that they choose it – the alternative is that health care goes away if it’s not supported locally.”

“We’re working every day to get better every day. That comes with a mutually supportive relationship with our community.”



TownTalk: CultureFest Coming To Oxford

CultureFest is coming to downtown Oxford this Saturday, and organizers say the day’s activities will be a treat for all the senses – there will different types of food, musical performances and plenty of demonstrations for the entire family to enjoy.

“We are literally shutting down the center of town, “exclaimed Cathy Anna, who is the event producer for the sponsoring John Chavis Society. Main Street – between the Courthouse and the roundabout between the post office and Oxford Baptist Church, will be packed with artisan vendors, food trucks and performance stages for the event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Performances will take place every half hour and will include all types of traditional dance groups representing Polynesian, Latin, Mexican, West African cultures, Anna said. And don’t forget the Cane Creek Cloggers, who will perform with a full bluegrass band providing a musical backdrop.

A Durham-based group will bring traditional dance and drumming of West Africa to Oxford, said Ajulo Othow, treasurer of the John Chavis Society and a direct descendant of the man for whom the society is named.

Part of what makes CultureFest special, Othow said, is that people from diverse backgrounds can make connections through “love, joy, dance, music…arts in general.” The idea is to leave, “feeling more connected to one another.”

Anna said 66 vendor booths will be lining Main Street to offer a unique shopping experience. All the vendors are also the artisans who will have for sale their custom crafted, handmade items – “items you’re not going to find anywhere else,” she said.

There will be “food trucks galore,” Anna said, offering a global culinary smorgasbord – everything from Asian Fusion, Italian, Greek, Soul Food and even “Fair Food.” And there will be plenty of sweet stuff, too – cakes, pies, snow cones and ice cream. These are conveniently located by the children’s craft area that will provide lots of hands-on creative activities for the younger generation.

So whether you head downtown for the Chinese Dragon Dance, Ballet Folklórico or Indian dancers in their colorful garb, or you just want to let your kids to enjoy creating a mandala or a beadwork activity, just know that CultureFest is a fun way to learn more about traditions we may not be familiar with. It’s a way to bring people together and break down stereotypes.

“Couldn’t we use a little bit more of that,” Othow said. “Just a little bit.”

It was Othow’s mother, the late Helen Chavis Othow, who was a driving force in the creation of CultureFest. Othow died in 2022, and CultureFest has continued to gather momentum.

“I like to think of it as a love offering from my mom to the community,” Othow said of the festival. Her family’s roots in Granville County go back to the 1700’s, and Othow said her mother devoted her life to research the many contributions the family made to its community.

Anna and Othow invite the community to come and stay all day – it may just take that long to experience all the sights, sounds, tastes, aromas and touches that CultureFest will provide.

Visit for a list of performances and times.



TownTalk: Cicadas Emerge

Some parts of the country are bracing for a fairly rare occurrence – a trifecta of sorts, as it pertains to cicadas. Most folks around here, however, will experience only a couple of types of those giant insects who are emerging from their dormant states for their brief foray above ground.

According to Vance County Agricultural Extension Technician Wayne Rowland, Vance County may see some of the 13-year brood – they’re called periodical cicadas — along with the annual cicadas. “This year is a monumental year,” Rowland told WIZS’s Bill Harris on Monday’s TownTalk. The last time the two broods emerged was about 200 years ago.

How to tell the difference? The 13-year cicadas have orange eyes, but the annual cicadas a bigger than their 13- and 17-year brood relatives, Rowland explained.

Known for their loud thrum or hum, cicadas pose little to no problems for humans or animals. “They don’t sting,” Rowland said, but curious dogs and cats who sample the insects may wish they hadn’t eaten so many.

“If your dog eats a few of them, don’t be concerned – they’re not poisonous,” he said.

“You might see them again, but they’re not detrimental to humans or pets,” Rowland added.

Just like the recent solar eclipse, North Carolina is not in the sweet spot to witness the emergence of the two different periodical broods. Rowland said the 17-year brood will mainly be seen in Illinois and points North.

Locally, the 13-year brood will emerge west and north, he added.

We can always count on seeing the annual cicadas, but this year, there may be more swarming and humming in the air – and crunching under footsteps along sidewalks and on lawns.

Females lay their eggs in the bark of trees, which is a small nuisance for mature trees. It could, however, create more of a problem for young, recently planted trees. Consider putting some insect netting over these trees, spray them down with water to deter cicadas from landing on them or spray with liquid Sevin.


TownTalk: Around Old Granville Churches And Religion

These days, churches and their congregations are fairly stable entities, occupying structures that have been around for years, decades, and even centuries. But in earlier days, when congregations were first being established, church services outgrew their small buildings and moved to bigger places.

And sometimes, the building moved, too.

That’s what local historian Mark Pace discovered when he went on a field trip to Stovall to check out Grassy Creek Presbyterian Church. Pace, who is the North Carolina Room Specialist at Richard Thornton Library in Oxford, said he had presumed that it was the congregation that pulled up stakes and moved to Stovall. But as he poked around during a renovation project, he saw pegs – not nails – and two-toned timbers that “looked like they’d been moved and replaced.”

He suspects that at least part of the existing church dates back to the 1750’s or 1760’s.

Grassy Creek Presbyterian is the Mother Church of other Presbyterian churches in the area, he said, having been established in 1757.

That’s pretty old – more than a decade older than historic St. John’s, Williamsboro, the oldest frame church in North Carolina, built in 1772.

But it’s not enough that parts, not all, of the church are old, Pace said.

There are plenty of congregations that have been in existence in the area for many years, but the structure in which they worship has either been renovated, torn down and rebuilt or has been lost to fire.

Take Liberty Christian Church in Epsom, for example. Pace’s own relative, Benjamin Franklin Ayscue was one of the church’s founders back in 1859. The church once stood where the Epsom Fire Department is now, and it was called Liberty Hill. The current church was built in 1904.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Warrenton was built in 1824 by Thomas Bragg, who also was the chief contractor for the State Capitol in Raleigh.

Brassfield Baptist in Granville County was built in the 1840’s and nearby Banks Methodist started out as an Episcopal Church in 1790; the current building was built in 1911.

Hester Baptist and Mountain Creek Baptist were built by the same contractor; their sanctuaries look the same, but Hester got shortchanged during construction and is 10 feet narrower than Mountain Creek, Pace said.

Tabbs Creek Baptist is celebrating its 250th  anniversary, having been established in 1775. But the current church building is 20th century vintage.

Old Granville County was somewhat of a melting pot, and it’s not surprising that immigrants brought their religions with them. St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ridgeway was established in the 1870’s to serve the area’s German population.

In 1923, the first Catholic Church was built at the corner of Montgomery and College streets in Henderson, largely to serve people who moved to the area for the textile industry, Pace said.

A larger church was built on Oxford Road to accommodate the growing Catholic population. That site is now a funeral home.

Not to be outdone, Oxford got its own Catholic church in 1955 when St. Catherine’s of Siena was built. It stands empty today, but recently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pace said its unique Mission-style architecture, interior artwork and windows by a liturgical artist Ade Bethune are special features of this building.

Granville County boasts of a most unusual spot to host a church service – a railroad car.

“In 1892, the Catholic Church built two identical chapel cars, St. Peter and St. Paul,” Pace said. “In 1942, with the creation of Camp Butner, there was a need for a Catholic Church,” he continued. So one of those chapel cars was parked on a spur line off Spring Street and from 1942 to 1954, Catholics held mass there.

The Henderson and Oxford congregations merged when St. James Catholic Church was built on U.S. 158.

Listen to the entire interview at!