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Photos by Jim Beller 

Region 1’s Top 3: Science Hill senior Aaron Jones, Daniel Boone sophmore Conner Wingfield and Cherokee Austin Kirkpatrick

Two pens, two continents and 60 years of friendship

Part one of two

CHURCH HILL — When Karen Wilcox and Annie Beazley first picked up their pens to write letters to each other, they never anticipated the impact their friendship would have.

The year was 1959, and both girls were 11 years old at the time. However, Wilcox was living in Plainview, New York, and Beazley was in Leeton, Australia, which is just South of Sydney.

The two maintained a close friendship, sending letters and mementos back and forth for around 27 years. Until one day in 1986, the letters stopped. Both women had busy lives, and they simply lost contact.

Wilcox and Beazley lived their separate lives on opposite sides of the globe for about 30 years until they were finally able to reconnect in 2016 using Facebook.

Last month, the two were finally able to meet in person for the very first time when Beazley flew across the globe to stay in Wilcox’s Church Hill home.

Their first connections“My teacher said one day, ‘bring in 50 cents tomorrow, and I’ll get you three pen pals,’” Wilcox explained. “So, I brought in the 50 cents. I got one pen pal in Blackburn, England, and we didn’t continue a friendship. One was in France, and I couldn’t speak the language, so that wasn’t good. Then, Annie and I connected.”

“I also had three pen pals,” Beazley added. “One of mine was in England too, and the other one was actually in Sydney.”

Not only did the two girls live on opposite sides of the globe, but Wilcox was located in the heart of Long Island, New York while Beazley lived a quiet, country lifestyle in a town with around 3,000 people.

“So, you can imagine a Long Island girl listening to her in the county like that,” Wilcox said. “Even seeing pictures — it was so different.”

Both women remembered being fascinated by the differences in seasons between the two countries.

“I would be telling her ‘we’re going down to the beach to go swimming,’ and she would be in winter,” Wilcox said.

“Because she had a different summer, our main school holidays (vacations) were at Christmas time, because that’s the hottest part of the year,” Beazley added. “On the first of September, we started spring and Karen was heading for the fall.”

Writing lettersWilcox explained that it was expensive to send letters internationally at the time; however, the post office provided a tri-fold, blue card made specifically for air mail on which she wrote her letters to Annie.

“As much as you could write on that tri-fold is what you could send off,” she said. “You might be writing along and suddenly realize you were about to run out of room and abruptly say, ‘okay, bye!’ In 1959, that tri-fold was 50 cents, which was costly. It was especially expensive if I wanted to send anything with the letter. If I wanted to send Annie a package at Christmas or anything, I had to start around October because it had to go by boat.”

In one particular letter that Wilcox remembered receiving from Beazley, Beazley had asked a “bloke” to write to Wilcox.

“He would write letters and use all of the slang — things you all say that I have no idea what they mean,” Wilcox said. “The most interesting part was that he would translate the slang as he wrote the letter. It was interesting for me to hear what teenagers were saying.”

“I don’t remember that,” Beazley said with a laugh.

LanguageBoth women have always been fascinated in the difference between their accents and the difference in word pronunciation.

During her visit in America, Beazley has truly got to experience the variance in spoken American English, as Wilcox’s northern accent shines through in comparison to the Southern drawl of other Church Hill residents.

“The accent- I think it’s my favorite American accent,” Beazley said of the iconic Southern drawl. “Just hearing two young women having a chat in the super market while Karen is trying to buy some cheese — it was all I could do not to crack up. It was just gorgeous.”

“I will even say things, and Annie will ask me, ‘how did you say that again?’” Wilcox added.

Both women then compared the way they pronounce the word ‘bathroom.’ Wilcox, like most Americans, pronounces the word with the short ‘a’ sound also found in the words ‘cat’ and ‘glass.’ Beazley, though, pronounces it almost as if it were spelled ‘barthroom,’ using the same ‘o’ sound Americans use to pronounce ‘often.”

Odd similaritiesSince they first met in person, both women have also noticed “uncanny similarities” between them.

“Just look at how comfortable we are with each other,” Wilcox observed, as both women sat relaxed on a couch in Wilcox’s home. Though they have been writing letters on and off for roughly 60 years, the two had never met in person before this trip.

“We’re already giving each other cheek,” Beazley added with a laugh.

When Beazley explained during the interview that she had retired in 2013, Wilcox excitedly asked “Did you really? So did I!”

“We were both 65, but that’s amazing because some people retire before or after—we went at the same time,” she added.

The disconnectThe pair corresponded back and forth for around 27 years before they, unfortunately, lost contact.

“My mother died that year (the last year they corresponded, which was around 1986), and various other things happened,” Beazley said. “I lost address books and things with moving around. I’ve had 32 different houses in 28 different towns in my lifetime.”

They went around 30 years without corresponding, but both women explained that they tried various ways to find each other again. Beazley had reverted back to using her maiden name, so Wilcox had been looking for her under the wrong name. As aforementioned, Beazley also moved around a lot, so Wilcox wasn’t exactly sure in what town her friend would be.

“Time goes on, and you always think about each other and wonder what ever happened,” Wilcox said.

(NOTE: Stay tuned for part two of the series to find out how the pair reconnected after 30 years of silence and were finally able to meet in person.)

H.B. Stamps Library’s reading room to receive upgrades

ROGERSVILLE — Patrons of Rogersville’s H.B. Stamps Memorial Library know the library’s ‘reading room’ as a cozy, window-filled area perfect for enjoying a good book.

However, the room is in desperate need of some renovations, as Building Inspector Steve Nelson recently told the Public Building Committee.

“It’s rotten,” he told the committee. “It’s gone. The city asked me to look at it roughly six months ago. Trying to patch it up was going to be like putting a band-aid on it, and that wasn’t going to be cost effective in the long run.”

He went on to explain that the numerous windows that make up the reading room are made from single-paned glass and are allowing a lot of energy to escape.

“I looked at trying to find standard sized windows that we could replace those large ones with and replacing all the wood with Hardieplank®, which is a concrete composite material. It doesn’t rot or chip, and bugs don’t eat it,” Nelson continued. “The only thing that would still be wood would be a few decorative pieces.”

Nelson gave the committee an estimated cost of $38,650 to complete this repair and noted that it would meet the guidelines of Rogersville’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Because Rogersville City and Hawkins County share the responsibility and cost of repairs to the library, it was agreed that the city will pay 60 percent of the cost and the county will pay 50 percent.

This means the city will pay roughly $23,190 and the county will pay roughly $15,460.

Nelson agreed to write up the specifications, and the committee agreed to advertise for bids for the project.

Library staff is excited for the repairs“We’re excited,” said Branch Manager Melissa Montgomery of the planned renovations. “If you think about it, if we’re in a historical town—and we all take pride in in the fact that we are one of the oldest towns in the state — it’s sad for the library to get in bad shape. So, I am excited that they are taking initiative to freshen it up.”

The library building is frequently visited, as a portion of it also houses the Rogersville Senior Center.

“We’re used by everybody,” Montgomery said. “A lot of out-of-state people come here for the genealogy room. We just have a lot of people in and out for the free Wi-Fi, the books and the movies. A lot of the seniors come over here to check out books, use our Wi-Fi or just to sit and relax.”

The reading room is also an iconic part of the library, she explained.

“It really gets used a lot,” she said. “Everybody loves the room, and they love the windows.”

She also noted that she is looking into having the inside painted and getting new carpet once the reading room is rebuilt, though no official plans have been made.

Officials recover body from Holston at Surgoinsville's Riverfront Park

SURGOINSVILLE — The individual who was pulled from the Holston River near Surgoinsville’s Riverfront Park on Thursday is presumed to be that of 63-year-old Jerry Qualls, but the man cannot be officially considered ‘positively identified’ until autopsy results are finalized.

“Throughout the course of the investigation and retrieving him yesterday, there were certain things that made us presume it was him (Qualls), but positively identifying him is still pending,” said Hawkins Co. Deputy Coroner David Benton. “We have to get the results of the autopsy back, and then it will go from ‘presumed’ to ‘identified.’ This usually takes two to three days.”

The Hawkins Co. Rescue Squad had been dispatched about 12:28 p.m. on that date to assist the Surgoinsville Police Department with a truck found in the river at the town’s park.

“We were called up here to assist with a vehicle that could be seen in the water from the bridge,” said HCRS First Lieutenant Corey Young. “The truck was in approximately eight feet of water. We put a boat in the water, and Kingsport’s Lifesaving Crew sent a diver down here. We were able to hook to the truck, pull the truck from the water, and confirm that nobody was in the truck. This is in reference to a missing subject from the Surgoinsville area. The vehicle has been confirmed to be that individual’s.”

Once the truck was pulled from the water, members of the Squad began searching the river for a body.

“Right now, we are actively searching the water doing a dragging operation trying to locate if there is any individual in the water,” Young said at approximately 4:30 p.m.

About 5:09 p.m. on that date, emergency crews confirmed to the Review that the body of an individual had ben recovered from the water and that it is believed to be that of the missing Qualls.

The Surgoinsville Police Department announced earlier last week asked for public assistance in locating the missing Surgoinsville man who had not been seen by his family since Sunday, Oct. 20.

According to a report from the SPD, Qualls was reportedly last seen around 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 when he left his home driving a dark blue 2016 Dodge 2500 four-door pickup truck. Qualls reportedly has some health issues for which he takes medication.

The Hawkins Co. Rescue Squad was the lead rescue agency in the operation and was assisted by the Church Hill Rescue Squad, Kingsport Lifesaving Crew, Hancock Co. Rescue Squad, Hawkins Co. EMA, TWRA, SPD, and Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office.

A FAMILY OF FIREMEN: Luke Wood becomes Church Hill Fire Chief upon father’s retirement

CHURCH HILL — Luke Wood gained a deep respect for a fire chief’s work long before he ever dreamed of earning the title himself.

“When I was probably three or four years old, my dad started taking me on fire calls with him when he was Chief for Church Hill,” he told the Review.

Luke Wood is the son of David Wood, who served as Church Hill’s Fire Chief for a little over 33 years. He was the town’s second Fire Chief, as the CHFD was founded in 1984.

Though David Wood has retired, he is still working two days a week, four hours a day as the town’s building inspector.

“I would sit in the car and watch, and, the older I got, he would let me get out and show me how to do things,” Luke Wood continued. “He would always talk about the calls when he would come in, and I always thought that would be the coolest job. When I was able to join as a volunteer, he would let me get hands-on experience practicing pumping the truck or pulling hose lines. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Rookie School and get my own certifications. I just knew that was what I had always wanted to do.”

Luke Wood will now follow in his father’s footsteps, as he was recently named Fire Chief in light of his father’s retirement. The Church Hill BMA voted unanimously at their October meeting to approve Luke Wood as the town’s new Fire Chief.

“Luke has been with us since he was a little bitty boy,” Church Hill Mayor Dennis Deal said at the meeting. “He does a good job, and I think he will work well with our fire department. I think it’s a good fit for the city.”

Luke Wood started in 2001 as a volunteer fireman in Church Hill. In 2006, he was promoted to Training Officer.

“As Training Officer, I made sure that all the guys had their fire training done,” he said. “I helped schedule classes for those guys, and I also assisted with some of the other local fire departments hosting their 64-hour classes. Myself and several other training officers in the county have the credentials from the state of Tennessee to teach that class.”

He also is a full-time employee with the Kingsport Fire Department as an Engineer who drives a fire truck.

Luke Wood outlines his father’s greatest accomplishments

“One of his (David Wood) biggest accomplishments was being able to get our ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating to a five,” he said. “That’s pretty good for a city of our size.”

The ISO scores individual fire departments based on their ability to offer fire protection. ISO ratings are on a scale of one to 10. The better equipped and outfitted the fire departments are, the lower their ISO rating will be.

“We’re also the fire department for the Industrial Park, and we have been fortunate in that all of our guys minus the new hires meet the 64-hour class requirement, which is the minimum state training requirement,” he continued. “He (David Wood) put training as a priority. He also got the equipment we need to keep the guys safe.”

He went on to say that his dad’s work as Fire Chief “most definitely” influenced his own career path.

Luke Wood’s plans as Fire Chief

“I would like to be able to get our fire department to an ISO rating of four,” he said. “I also want to provide more training opportunities for our guys and continue getting new equipment for our fire department.”

Luke Wood was also honored at the BMA meeting along with several other Church Hill first responders for their service at a house fire in August.