The Transylvania Times -

Dunn's Rock News

 

August 15, 2019

Pat Parker Brunner attended Berea College, where she later worked as Baptist Student Union Director.

Dinner Date

Come enjoy a dinner of burritos and tacos with chicken, beef or vegan fillings at the Dunn's Rock Community Center tonight at 6 p.m. An assortment of toppings will be available to garnish the main dish, which will be accompanied by rice and beans, guacamole and chips, corn on the cob and homemade desserts.

If you have a favorite dessert to share, bring it on. After this filling meal, the East Fork Gals will play some rousing old time tunes to get every toe tapping, starting at 7 p.m.

Daughter Of Dunn's Rock

When I heard that Pat Parker Brunner, sister of Keith and Carroll Parker, died July 26, I recalled the last time I saw her several years ago. Pat had traveled from her home in Berea, Ky., to Dunn's Rock to visit family, and she wanted to have a look around the house and store where her grandmother once lived and worked.

After looking around Mud Dabber's and pointing out where the old general store's counters were located when her grandmother, Hettie, operated it with her husband, L.E. Powell, she wanted to go up to our house. I worried that the gravel incline to our house might be too much for the motorized wheelchair she occupied, the result of a bout with Transverse Myelitis, but Pat powered up with no hesitation. I was witness to Pat's character, of not letting anything stand in her way.

Her obituary was filled with other examples of her resolve, going to theology school and being ordained in the Baptist Church, something not many women do. In her work through Berea College's Baptist Student Union, she took young people on mission trips to inner cities and foreign countries. In a 2001 interview with the college, Pat expressed her desire to expose students to a broader view of the world. She accomplished that, and served as a mentor and advocate for other women called to ministry.

Years ago, Carroll shared with me a booklet of childhood memories and family photographs compiled by Pat and her granddaughter, Wendy, called "Joyfully Making Do." In the memoir, she writes that she moved with Keith and Carroll and their parents, Earl and Mildred Parker, to Dunn's Rock when she was 15 years old. They were no strangers to the area, having traveled here through the years to visit family.

While Pat's maternal great-grandparents, Laura Ashworth and Walter Raxter, were early settlers of Dunn's Rock, Pat and Keith were born in Tryon, where their father and other relatives relocated during the Depression to work at Tryon Toymakers. When the business burned down, the family moved to Woodfin, where her father got a job teaching woodworking with the National Youth Administration, a New Deal program, which provided vocational training for young people. That's where Carroll was born.

Pat, who was 10 years old at the time, was bitterly disappointed that she was getting another brother and not a sister. Longing for a Carol, Pat's parents relented and named the baby, Carroll, using the masculine spelling.

Pat was one of Carroll's early caregivers, as her mother was wheelchair bound for a time after his birth with phlebitis. Because the kitchen door opening was too narrow for the wheelchair to pass through, Pat would follow cooking instructions from her mother at the doorway.

The family moved to Weaverville, before finally settling in at Dunn's Rock. During World War II, they began clearing property on Island Ford Road to build a home. The house, which was built with the help of Dunn's Rock builder Phillip McGaha, is now the home of Keith and Jonlyn Parker.

In Dunn's Rock, Pat recalled assisting her father in his custom furniture-making business by learning to sand and use woodworking equipment. Of her father Earl, she said, "I loved working with Daddy; I loved learning new skills in the shop, working outside with him in the bees (beekeeping), garden, putting up hay, and listening to his stories. I loved his inventiveness and his curiosity."

Her mother, Mildred, was "a skilled seamstress, cook, craftswoman and hostess." She also sold cakes and other sweets, butter, eggs and milk at the Mill Hill curbside market.

In the memoir, Pat paints vivid pictures of her memories of her grandmother, Hettie Raxter Cantrell Powell.

"Much of my youth revolved around Grandmother and the store. I vividly remember the candy/ cracker/gum stand in the center of the room; the counter with patent medicines in strange bottles; the 'cash register' in the form of two cigar boxes, one for money and the fuller one for IOUs; and watching her do needlework sitting in the light of the front window by her gigantic Christmas cactus... High on one shelf was her Will Rogers clock and a twine-filled spindle. It was fascinating to watch her pull out brown paper, slap down a piece of meat and expertly slice bacon off to the customer's specifications. Then she would wrap it in the paper and pull the string down to secure the package. For non-food items she often used newspaper for wrapping." Some things never change.

Pat called her Grandmother Hettie's warm and generous personality "the heartbeat for much of the community." The black wood stove in the back of the store was a gathering place "for those in need of rest, wise counsel or informal gatherings." It was a stopping place for the school bus, bookmobile and the mailman.

Though welcoming, Pat said her grandmother "maintained certain standards of behavior" for those who gathered: "She would not tolerate ugly gossip, whining, griping or bad language. If this started, she would start humming 'Amazing Grace,' beginning softly and then growing louder – and if we still didn't get the message, she would begin to sing it. And that got the message across. I confess, I got this treatment occasionally as I griped about school teachers or classes."

Of her time at Brevard High, Pat said that she enjoyed playing basketball, even though the girls were only allowed to play half-court on the auditorium stage.

"We were told that girls lacked the strength to play full court," she said. "Even prior to women's lib, we were insulted since we had plenty of strength to do farm and house work."

She and her friends enjoyed exploring waterfalls, picking blueberries on Shining Rock, swimming in Stone's Lake and climbing up to Dunn's Rock. She and her family were also active at Carr's Hill Baptist Church. Pat went on to attend Berea College, where she joined other students in the early 1950s, protesting segregation in area businesses and churches. The college, which was founded prior to the Civil War as a place to educate all races, was kept from this mission by a Kentucky state law restricting integrated educational institutions. When this law was amended in 1950 to exclude schools above the high school level, Berea was the first college in the state to welcome black students back.

In a Berea College interview, Pat told of the pledge she and other students took to boycott places that would not serve their black friends. This pledge made the trip from Berea to Brevard long, as there were not many places with restroom facilities available for all races. One dependable stop was in Del Rio, Tenn. One time when the line for the "Whites Only" restroom was too long, Pat and a friend opted to use the "Blacks Only" restroom. Some women who saw the fair-skinned redhead and her friend exiting the bathroom shook theirs head and remarked, "they sure don't look black to me."

After graduating with a degree in biology, she taught in Buncombe County for a time before marrying Warren Brunner, a Wisconsin-born professional photographer known for his portraits of Appalachia and its people. They settled in Berea, Ky., where Warren ran a photography studio. They had three daughters. Pat, who also became a photographer, went on to a have a huge influence in the lives of Berea College students, including international students. The couple exhibited a hospitality her grandmother likely would have applauded, telling people where they left the house key, so they could stay anytime they liked.

"You never knew who would be in the house," said sister-in-law Kae Parker. "They were open and gracious to everyone."

Just before her death, sitting at Pat's bedside, Carroll asked her questions to jog her memory. When asked her favorite place, she recalled her Grandma Hettie's pumphouse in Dunn's Rock, where kids pumped water and played in it.

Earl and Mildred Parker stand on the porch of their family home with their children, Keith, Pat and Carroll.(Courtesy photos)

One of Pat's final wishes was to have the "Freedman's Bell" housed in First Christian Church of Berea rung as she made a final exit from her beloved community. The bell, which was commissioned by Berea College founder Rev. John Fee to call enlisted free slaves at a Union Army camp to school and religious services, is now available for anyone to ring. What a fitting way to send out a woman whose life rung and reverberated so far and wide.

Community Center News

A Community Playgroup is being held from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays for area parents and children. Activities, crafts and snacks are provided. For more information, contact Melissa Pearl at mpcommunityplaygroups@gmail.com or (828) 808-6638. For information on renting the center, contact Janet Robertson at 883-2678. Let me know your community news at dunnsrockview@gmail.com.

 
 

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