Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore welcomes Adam Blaser, of Family Heritage Insurance, to town at the firm’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in March. He is one of the county’s 100 biggest newsmakers of 2017. UCW file photo
While 2017 felt like an atomic bomb of negativity from a state, national and international perspective, Union County seemed to be shielded from much of the fallout (except for a few issues).
Here’s a look at people that made the year memorable.
• Janet and Kyle Baker – The Bakers celebrated the culmination of 20 years of work with the opening of Sospeso Coffee Roasters in downtown Waxhaw. The company competed for bragging rights in a coffee roasting competition this fall at the N.C. State Fair.
• Jeni Bukolt – Bukolt’s firm, Haven Creative, conceived of “The HAW,” a nickname and branding campaign for Waxhaw that created a backlash among some residents worried they’d be labeled hillbillies. She appealed to residents not to be cruel and assured them that she loved the town.
• Mark and Julie Fox – The couple owns Fox’s Alley Bowling, Bar & Grill, which took home several awards from the Best of the Weeklies readers choice contest, including Best Date Night, Best Lunch Spot, Best Service and Best Wings.
• Neil Gimon – Gimon’s The Dreamchaser’s Brewery continues to build momentum after winning a Best of the Weeklies award, as well as earning a Rising Star nomination with the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
• Pat Kahle – The Union County Chamber of Commerce continues to offer a robust slate of programming under Kahle’s watch. It also received kudos from the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives for its social media efforts.
• Michael Lutes – Lutes is president of Carolinas HealthCare System Union. The hospital has partnered with the Union County Public Schools on a Health Sciences Academy and organized charity events like Tickled Pink. The chamber presented the hospital with the 2017 Community Impact Award.
• Dennis Moser – The Moser Group partnered with Wingate University to collect supplies for hurricane victims, earning recognition from Congressman Pittenger on the U.S. House floor. The firm also proposed a project that would change the downtown Wesley Chapel.
• Ernesto Reina – The 23-year-old Waxhaw resident has grown his Jolly Rolls rolled ice cream concept from his garage to multiple storefronts in the Charlotte region. He opened his Matthews store in April.
• Carlton Tyson – The Union County Chamber of Commerce recognized Tyson with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. After many years in real estate and commercial development, Tyson has supported the Edward Carlton McWhorter Hospice House and South Piedmont Community College.
• Mike Van Wingerden – Van Wingerden works as general manager for UTC’s Monroe plant, which won the 2017 Employer of Choice Award from the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
• Stephen and Susan Bonilla – The Bonilla’s first venture, Passionate Paws Animal Hospital, has been a success. They won Best of the Weekly awards for grooming and vet, as ell as the Union County Chamber’s Rising Star award.
• Rhett Brown – Brown, president of Wingate University, is considering the idea of moving its Ballantyne-based programs to Waxhaw in a joint venture with South Piedmont Community College. Enrollment at the university had grown 40 percent since 2011.
• Paul Campbell Jr. – Campbell, with experience mentoring teachers at Monroe Middle School, applied to open Ballantyne Charter High School for 2019-20. The school would target western Union County with its flipped learning model, which allows students to apply what they learned from instructional videos watched at home.
• Andrew Houlihan – Houlihan crossed the one-year mark as superintendent and celebrated the opening of the Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle School. He uses social media to highlight student and staff achievement.
• Erin Kirkpatrick – The real estate agent serves on the board of directors for Union Day Schools, as well as the point person in interacting with county leaders in hopes of building a future home on the Nixon property in Waxhaw.
• Melissa Merrell – Merrell chaired the Union County Board of Education, which approved a five-year strategic plan in September that seeks to close achievement gaps and prepare students for life.
• Catherine Perry – Union County Public Schools named Catherine Perry its Principal of the Year. Perry began her tenure at the school as a fifth-grade teacher. She’s served as principal there since 2013.
• Maria Pharr – Pharr, who joined South Piedmont Community College in January as president, joined a feasibility study team to explore opening a campus on Waxhaw-Marvin Road. She sees opportunity to reach western Union County that commute to Charlotte for classes.
• Larry Robinson – Robinson, an award-winning theater teacher at Central Academy of Technology and Arts, was arrested on charges of sexual misconduct. Police said he had a sexual relationship with a student in 2014 and 2015.
• Barry Ross – The Waxhaw resident submitted paperwork to the state in hopes of opening Apprentice Academy High School of North Carolina. The focus of the charter school would be career and technical education.
• Amanda Stinchcomb – Stinchcomb won Teacher of the Year honors for Union County Public Schools in the spring. She has taught at Western Union Elementary since 2015.
• Ann Walters – The headmaster welcomed students to a new two-floor expansion that included 18,000 classrooms and a dining area. Enrollment jumped to 1,750 students with just as many on the waitlist.
ª Surluta Anthony – Anthony was the only one of three incumbents to get re-elected to the Monroe City Council. She was appointed to the National League of Cities 2018 Human Development federal advocacy committee to help shape policy.
• Elizabeth Callis – Callis halted Weddington Mayor Bill Deter’s attempt for re-election by earning nearly 57 percent of the vote in the November election. She’s the daughter of Ed Howie, the town’s fourth mayor.
• Heather Danenberg – Danenberg mounted a strong write-in campaign in an attempt to become mayor of Marvin. Her 427 votes fell just 36 shy of Mayor Joe Pollino, who was unopposed on the ballot.
• Amanda Fuller – Fuller started a petition against a development project that would bring commercial uses to downtown Wesley Chapel. Neighbors rewarded her with a seat on the village council.
• Brenda Byrd-McMillon, Kat Lee and Tracy Wesolek – This trio emerged victorious among 10 people running for the Waxhaw Board of Commissioners, including three incumbents.
• David Scholl – Scholl edged out his Stallings Town Council colleague, Rocky Crenshaw, by 20 votes to continue serving on the board. He now represents District 2.
• John N. Martin – Martin’s message of protecting neighborhoods and promoting smart growth resonated well with Stallings voters. They elected him as a District 1 councilman.
• Shirley Howe – The Indian Trail Town Council appointed Howe to fill Amy Stanton’s vacant seat after years of attending meetings as a citizen. Voters elected her back on the board in November.
• Mike Head, Monty Keistler and Jerry Morse – The trio won seats to the Indian Trail Town Council, ousting incumbents Gordon Daniels and Gary Savoie, as well as filling a vacancy left by Mark Wireman’s departure.
• Lynda Paxton – Paxton, who served eight years as mayor of Stallings (2005 to 2013), returned to politics this year, running unopposed for the open District 1 council seat.
• Eddie Cathey – The sheriff proved he’s not a paper pusher when he responded to a burglary call in November on Lancaster Highway that led to an arrest.
• Scott Cole – The NCDOT engineer made trips to Matthews, Indian Trail and Stallings to answer questions and assure residents that superstreets were a safer, more efficient means to moving people along highways.
• Cindy Coto – Coto presided over Union County as manager during its 175th anniversary. She worked with elected leaders on issues, such as the fire tax, as well as made key hires like the public health director.
• Greg Ferguson – Waxhaw lured the longtime Huntersville town manager to lead the town, following Warren Wood’s departure to Hickory.
• Ed Goscicki – Goscicki, executive director of Union County Public Works, described the Yadkin River Water Supply Project, as the largest project Union County has ever undertaken. The project has been in the works for a decade and will bring water from Lake Tillery into the county.
• Dennis Joyner – Joyner began as public health director for the county on Dec. 11 after working the same role in Stanley County since 2005. He’ll serve as president of the N.C. Association of Local Health Directors next month.
• Scott Kaufhold – Three Indian Trail town council members went rogue, terminating Kaufhold’s contract in February without meeting with the full board. Mark Wireman compared the firing to a “witch hunt.”
• Michelle Lancaster – The N.C. City and County Management Association named Lancaster as Assistant Manager of the Year. Lancaster serves Union County in that capacity. She’s also a board member of the United Way of the Central Carolinas.
• Dena Sabinske – Sabinske went from being the parks and recreation director of Stallings to the same role with Waxhaw. One of her biggest accomplishments was Stallings Municipal Park.
• Patrick Sadek – Sadek became town manager of Indian Trail in November by taking the same route as his predecessor Scott Kaufhold – an engineer promoted to interim town manager.
• Robyn Stuber – Stuber became administrator for the Village of Marvin, putting her in a position to oversee the construction of a new village hall.
• Phil Thomas – The Fairview mayor lobbied UCPS and Union County to have the old elementary school donated back to his town. He also presided over a government that opened its first park, as ell as sponsored its first fall and winter festivals.
• Jay Tryon – Tryon directs the parks and recreation department in Indian Trail, which plans on opening an inclusive playground for children of various needs at Crooked Creek Park.
• Warren Wood –Wood shook up Waxhaw in January by announcing his intent to become city manager of Hickory. Wood stayed on for a few months to ensure a good transition.
• Dylan Cole and Corey Helms – Monroe Police Chief Bryan Gilliard said their actions exemplify what being a police officer stands for after they saved two adults and three small children in a fire on Dec. 26.
• Keith Adams – His charity, Commons Heart, helped 492 people file taxes for free, collected 1,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner and held courses to help the community better understand poverty.
• Kathy Bragg – Bragg hired a chief operating officer to oversee daily operations of the Union County Community Center, so she could focus on raising money for a new building and fund development.
• Steven Furtick – A Christian satire website published a fake news story that Elevation Church’s pastor signed a $110 million contract with Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, prompting Furtick to set the record straight on social media.
• Jeff Gardner – Gardner serves as lead pastor of Threshold Church, which is building a new 26,250-square-foot home on a 10-acre campus at 3501 Antioch Church Road in Weddington.
• Jennifer Gordon – Gordon’s charity, Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, helps sick and injured animals, but the charity sustained a devastating fire in November that killed 44 birds. The community stepped us its efforts to support the rescue with more donations.
• Gloria Haney – Seems like the only people busier than Haney around Christmas is Santa Claus. Haney directs the Union County Christmas Bureau, which operated this season in the former Sears site at Monroe Crossing Mall.
• Sandi McGarrah – Known as “The Nature Lady,” McGarrah is leading the formation of a North Carolina Wildlife Federation chapter, dubbed the Stallings Nature and Wildlife Club. She’s a familiar face for participants of Stallings Parks and Recreation programming.
• Ann Ramkissoon-Sheperd – The Realtor started The Sheperd’s Lodge Ministries as a resource for people with mental disabilities. It organized a summer camp for about 20 people at Mineral Springs United Methodist Church over the summer.
• Natisha Rivera-Patrick – Rivera-Patrick took over as executive director for the Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity, which continued to provide affordable and decent housing to families in Matthews, Mint Hill and Stallings. The charity began building its 107th home in December.
• Bonita Simpson – Simpson directed the Union County Youth Ballet’s 25th anniversary performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” in December. The ballet also presented “Coppelia” in March at Wingate University.
• Frank Aikmus – Aikmus chaired the Union County Board of Commissioners for most of the year. He’s served on the board since 2012 and lived in Union County since 2007.
• Michael Alvarez – The Indian Trail mayor talked openly in March about enduring 35-plus rounds of radiation treatment for a rare form of cancer. After that battle, he worked to restore the town leadership’s reputation after some negative publicity.
• Dean Arp – Arp introduced 17 bills during the 2017-18 session of the N.C. House of Representatives. Six of those were signed into law, including a bill that staggers the terms for the Union County Board of Education.
• Wyatt Dunn – Dunn earned another term in the November election. He also expressed concern about the incoming superstreet along Old Monroe Road, noting that it would take away from the small-town atmosphere and hurt business.
• Gary Evans – Evans, a mainstay at Indian Trail Town Council meetings for years, stepped up to serve when Mark Wireman resigned from the council. He served from August until the election.
• Rick Foulke – The former Army physician and retired oncologist announced plans to run for Craig Horn’s District 68 seat in the N.C. House of Representative. Foulke, a Democrat, said he doesn’t like how Republicans put education and health care “on the chopping block.”
• Craig Horn – EdScoop mentioned the state legislator as an EdTech Hero for his work in expanding digital learning in every North Carolina classroom. Horn is serving his fourth term in the N.C. House.
• Bobby Kilgore – The Monroe mayor continued to represent city leaders at community events and ribbon cuttings, as well as issue proclamations for various milestones, such as the 200th anniversary of President James Monroe’s presidency.
• Steve Maher – Maher served as mayor in a year in which Waxhaw had to hire a new town manager, tried to recruit high-end retail and faced social media backlash for some of the handling of traditions.
• Robert Pittenger – Congressman Pittenger tried to build public support for an idea to turn U.S. 74 into an interstate, which would make commutes from Charlotte to Wilmington much faster. He also pushed for the Charlotte area to have its own National Weather Service station.
• Jerry Simpson – County commissioners appointed Simpson to serve as chairman in December. He last served in this role in 2012.
• Lance Simpson – The county commissioner pumped the brakes on a rezoning request for office space in December on Providence Road South because the petitioner was too vague in terms of what he wanted to develop.
• Amy Stanton – Stanton received a lot of criticism from Indian Trail Town Councilmen David Cohn and Mark Wireman for her role in firing Town Manager Scott Kaufhold in February. That same month, police arrested her on simple assault charges. She resigned in March and left Union County.
• Tommy Tucker – Tucker announced over the summer that he was not running for re-election to the N.C. Senate. The small business owner has served four terms in the senate.
• Mark Wireman – Wireman resigned from the Indian Trail Town Council in July during the tail end of his first term. Wireman cited work commitment and demands as reasons for stepping down.
• Kasey Brooks & Alison Belk – Kasey Brooks is not only coaching girls’ basketball at Piedmont, but she’s also instructing players alongside former Parkwood rival Allison Belk. Brooks and her assistant coach still talk trash to each other.
• Tim Carson – After building a championship football program at Weddington, Carson is heading to the county he grew up in to build a program that didn’t win in 2017.
• Daniel Owens – The Wingate offensive lineman earned a place on the Associated Press NCAA Division II All-America second team for his role in creating opportunities for running backs.
• B.J. Muckelvene – The American Football Coaches Association recognized the Waxhaw native as a second team offensive player. He logged three punt return touchdowns and 23.7 yard per return.
• Avery Pardue – The 12-year-old won the American Taekwondo United Nationals tournament over Memorial Day Weekend. She trained at WOW Taekwondo in Waxhaw.
• Joe Reich – Reich won SAC Coach of the Year honors for leading Wingate football to a 9-2 record (6-1 SAC) and No. 24 ranking. The Bulldogs ranked as high as No. 12 in a season that took them to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Reich is in his 17th season at the helm.
• Steve Smith Sr. – Smith, one of greatest all-time Carolina Panthers players, officially retired from the NFL. He spent much of the year providing NFL analysis and helping charities in the Charlotte area.
• Tim Speakman – Speakman coached the Parkwood Rebels to a 27-3 record and 2A state championship in softball. He coached the football team in the fall. The football team won only two games; however, the program changed conferences and went up to 3A classification.
• Andrew Stark – Stark returned to Union County Weekly to serve as sports editor while battling cancer. The community raised at least $11,000 for him through a YouCaring.com campaign.
• Powell Williams – Williams told Union County Weekly that repetition plays a huge role in his coaching style. The Weddington Warriors girls soccer team listened, winning its second straight 3A state title in May.
• Jill Alvarez – The Indian Trail resident started a Facebook group, dubbed Union NC Rocks. They focus on painting messages on rocks and planting them for others to find. People post pictures of their finds on Facebook.
• Jack Campbell – Campbell served as grand marshal of the It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas Parade, an event he’s marched in since the early 1980s. He served in Vietnam, as well as provided leadership to the local VFW Post.
• Jordan Garrick – The Girls Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council named Garrick a Young Woman of Distinction. The Weddington High alum followed in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps earning her Gold Award.
• Pat Kitto – Kitto was among Waxhaw residents that did not appreciate the Town of Waxhaw branding known as “The HAW.” Kitto presented a petition to commissioners in January with 400 signatures against “The HAW.”
• Karen Ledford – The Wesley Chapel resident donated two automatic external defibrillators to Optimist Park in Weddington after first-responders used the device to save her life in 2013.
• Christine Mann Darden – “Hidden Figures,” a film about African American women that worked for NASA, proved to be a smash hit after debuting wide release in theaters Jan. 6. Christine Mann Darden, who was featured in the book that inspired the film, spoke about her experiences with NASA in many public appearances.
• Nina Meadows – The Monroe Library of the Union County Public Library closed Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 for refurbishing and reconfiguration. Meadows, executive director of the library system, said these changes will meet the changing needs of the community. The library system also took steps to strengthen its connection with Union County Public Schools.
• Barbara Moore – Moore chaired the Union County Historic Preservation Commission, which advocated for Siler Presbyterian Church in Wesley Chapel to have a historic designation for its 1917 construction.
• Dak Richardson – The sheriff’s deputy encouraged a 64-year-old with a cane finish the Sun Valley High school NJROTC Spartan 5K. Seeing the moment, several other people joined them across the finish line.
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