Kathy Chefas and husband John came to the mountains because of their family business – Christmas trees. They moved their growing operation from western Michigan to Ashe County in 1986 to grow the “Cadillac of Christmas Trees”, the Fraser Fir. The trees that they grow on their farms in and around Grassy Creek supply their retail sales operation in South Florida that they pioneered in 1980. Kathy is the director of Retail Operations for their company, Hart-T-Tree Farms and is in charge of coordinating the sales of their crop in South Florida each Christmas. Kathy visited Ashe County every summer beginning in 1989 from their home in Florida. In 2003 she transitioned to spending more time in North Carolina than Florida because of her empty nest. She wasted no time in getting involved in the community by organizing a local chapter of the P.E.O. sisterhood (North Carolina chapter CI) in 2004. P.E.O.’s goal is to bring women together to help other women in the community fund their educations. It’s success has been remarkable.
Raised in Iowa and Illinois, Kathy brings that Midwestern pragmatism, work ethic and optimism to the Board. She was a communications major at Northwestern University and worked in sales in the travel industry before marrying John in 1977. Her two children kept her more focused on the home front but she supported John as his secretary as he grew the business in the early years but as her responsibilities lessened as a parent, her involvement with the business increased.
Volunteering has always held a big place in her heart. No matter where she has lived, Kathy has always felt that she wanted to share her talents to make her community a better place. In Ashe County she serves on the Friends of the Library Board and is an active helper with the Arts Council and her church. She was asked to be on the Board of Imagination Ashe in it’s formative year and has felt that it is a key to improving Ashe County from the inside out by offering it’s children a leg up in learning.
Now the grandmother of 5 little girls who have benefited from Imagination Library, she is more passionate than ever that all the little boys and girls of Ashe County should have the opportunity to get an age appropriate book each month addressed to them in their mailbox! She is deeply grateful to Dolly Parton for pursuing this endeavor to help children around the world become better readers.
A native of Salisbury, Sharon was raised in a home with one older brother and two supportive parents whose love for literature was ever present. Shirley, Sharon’s mother, was an educator in the public schools for thirty years.
After high school, Sharon attended Appalachian State University where she earned a degree in communicative sciences and disorders. Immediately following graduation, she entered graduate school at East Tennessee State University to purse her master’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders. Upon graduating from East Tennessee State University in 1998, Sharon relocated to Morganton, North Carolina to begin her professional career as a speech-language pathologist in the public schools.
Sharon and Jason came home to Ashe County in 2010 when Jason was named principal of Ashe County High School. They have three children, Jackson, Zoey and Griffin. They reside in Todd on the family farm that was purchased by Jason’s grandparents over sixty years ago, and are members of Bethany United Methodist church.
Sharon brings knowledge of language and vocabulary development and sound acquisition as it relates to early literacy. She works part time as a speech-language pathologist for Appalachian Speech Pathology Associates serving the pediatric population of Ashe County.
Susanne Black (2015
IL Data Clerk
Karen, a native North Carolinian, grew up on a farm outside of Marshville. She moved to Greensboro and worked as a cardiovascular technologist in hospitals and medical centers for 30 years before moving in 2003, with her husband, Rick, to Grassy Creek. Since that time she has been active with the Friends of the Ashe County Public Library, serving as president for three terms and now as publicity chair. She also has just been elected as president of the Board of the North Carolina State Friends of the Library. Karen also was one of the early members of the Imagination Ashe board, having served as secretary in the early years of the program. She also serves on the board of the West Jefferson Community Partnership and is a member of P.E.O., a women’s educational organization. Her love of reading and seeing young people succeed are the reasons behind her involvement with both the IA board and the Friends board. “Getting books in the hands of preschoolers, giving parents the encouragement and opportunity to read to their kids,” is how Karen views the importance of Imagination Ashe. Karen’s contact information is on the registration forms and publicity materials that are found at the library and various businesses and post offices throughout the county. Give her a call with any questions about Ashe County’s Imagination Ashe.
Other Board Members
Amanda is an Ashe County native who lives in Crumpler, NC. She graduated from Ashe County High School before acquiring a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in special education from Western Carolina University. She currently works at Ashe Early Learning Center as a pre-kindergarten teacher.
Her love for children and passion for literature brings her to the board of directors. Amanda grew up watching her mother and grandmother read and share books, which fostered that same desire within her. She has always been captivated by reading and as an educator understands the importance of early literacy skills and the impact they have on a child’s ability to read successfully later in life. She is an advocate of literacy and was thrilled to become a board member in order to help ensure that the children of Ashe County are receiving the opportunity to become the best readers they can be.
Janis is a retired educator with more than 22 years of teaching experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, secondary education and a master’s degree in library science from Appalachian State University.
Janis and her husband, Mike, are both natives of Ashe County. They have one son and one granddaughter. Their granddaughter is currently enrolled in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. She looks forward to receiving a new book each month and reading it over and over with her family. Through her work with Imagination Ashe, Janis hopes to help foster that same love of reading among preschool students in Ashe County.
Nancy is a transplant from eastern North Carolina where she grew up in a tiny town called Roper on the Albemarle Sound. She moved to the Piedmont and lived another section of her life out in Raleigh where she went to college at N.C. State University and later met and married her husband Byron. She worked in social work there and became a crisis counselor for battered women and rape victims. After stepping foot on 40 acres of Jordan family property on the outskirts of West Jefferson in the summer of 1983, Nancy fell in love with the most beautiful land and views she had ever seen. She looked around at rolling green pastures and exclaimed, “I want to move here and live here the rest of my life!” In 1990 Nancy’s dream came true and she and her husband Byron moved to West Jefferson and built and opened a restaurant called Smoky Mountain Barbecue. It took years to get the restaurant off the ground, and husband and wife worked long grueling hours. In 1994 another business opportunity came their way when they were offered to buy the A.B. Vannoy country ham company, a family business which has been in operation in West Jefferson since the 1930’s. Byron and Nancy have juggled owning and operating 2 small businesses in Ashe County for 20 plus years and are happy to report both businesses have experienced tremendous growth and success. Nancy and Byron are members of First Baptist Church.
In the 1990’s Nancy wanted to get involved in the community and became a volunteer to build the Civic Center and a volunteer with the Ashe Literacy League, a program that mentored adults in learning how to read. “Reading has always been my passion,” she says. “My childhood was very troubled and dysfunctional. As a child you have no voice and no choice and you cannot get away from adult problems. In order to cope with my father’s alcoholism, I hid in my room and escaped in the world of books.” Years later Nancy entered therapy to try to make peace with her parents’ flaws. A therapist asked “How did you survive such a difficult childhood?” “That’s easy,” Nancy replied. “I devoured Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Happy Hollisters books and every young adult mystery out there.” Because reading offered such a complete sanctuary in her early years, Nancy firmly believes reading can produce miracles. “I place reading up there with food, water and oxygen. I will try and place books in the hands of Ashe County preschool children as long as I can.”
Originally from Alabama, I graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, AL, with a Bachelors of Early Education, Elementary Education and Special Education. My husband, Michael, and I married Dec. 2002 and moved up to Bullock, NC right after where he served as a student pastor at Bullock Baptist Church. I was the special education teacher in Vance County until I went back to get my Masters. I graduated in 2004 from the University of Chapel Hill with my masters of education, specializing in early intervention and family support (birth-3 year olds). After graduating, I came back to Vance County and taught first grade. Our son, John David, was born in 2007. Soon after, we felt led to make a move to Ashe County for my husband to serve as pastor at First Baptist Church. I feel very fortunate and extremely thankful for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. In 2010 we welcomed our second son, Ethan, into the world. Ashe County is what we call home and I am excited to be able to give back to this community through service.
Fran, a native New Englander, is proud to call Ashe County her home away from home! After graduating from the University of Massachusetts and teaching elementary school in that state, she and her family moved to Pennsylvania where she studied for her master’s degree in Education at West Chester University and achieved a certificate as a reading specialist. Florida became her family’s next home where Fran continued teaching at all levels, specializing in reading instruction. Her Labrador retriever “Finn” is a registered “Tail Waggin’ Tutor” at her local town library where young children enjoy practicing their skills reading to him! Her lifelong love of reading and desire to improve literacy skills led her to join Imagination Ashe.
While she continues to live in Florida during the winter months, she rejoins us each spring to help find ways to promote literacy to reach all preschoolers in Ashe County
Judy Mullican comes from a long line of readers. She grew up in a home where at any given moment someone was probably reading. Her father read unil he could no longer see the words and then listened to audiobooks. Her mother is still reading stacks of books at age 93. Her children and grandchildren also love books.
As a child, Judy dreamed of growing up to teach kindergarten in the morning and write stories in the afternoon. Although life seldom turns out just the way we imagine, eventually she was able to work as both a teacher and a writer.
A native of Alabama, Judy first attended college in Abilene, Texas, where she met her husband Jim, who soon became a preacher. Later she completed a bachelor of arts in teaching at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, majoring in speech and language pathology. She worked in that field in Texas and Georgia.
When Judy became a mother, she focused on raising her two children for a few years. During that time, she organized and taught at a diverse church-based program for four- and five-year-olds in Mississippi and loved seeing the children from many backgrounds thrive in a loving environment.
After moving to Clyde, North Carolina, Judy enrolled at Western Carolina University and earned a second bachelor’s and a master’s in early childhood education. She taught in a variety of settings in North Carolina, including kindergarten, Head Start, and special education.
Eventually Judy went to work in educational publishing where she created and edited award-winning curriculum materials. These included teacher guides with actvities for children from birth to elementary school, storybooks, board books, song lyrics, finger plays, resource books, the Red Umbrella Magazine, and more.
Judy and Jim moved to West Jefferson in 2010 when he retired. She continued to work remotely until she retired in 2018. As a lifelong believer in the importance of early learning and especially early literacy, joining the Imagination Ashe Board was a natural fit. She is also active in the Friends of the Library and the local PEO chapter, an organization that promotes education. Judy still loves to read! She also enjoys cooking, hiking, picnics, and especially spending time with her grandchildren, who live near Asheville.
Teresa is a native of Ashe County having grown up in West Jefferson, NC. Shortly after obtaining her bachelor of arts degree from Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC she spent some time traveling and exploring the world around her. She briefly lived in southern California where she worked in marketing and customer service. Upon her return home she worked briefly in sales and customer service at Tigra USA and Next Safety before finding her permanent home at SkyLine Membership Corporation in West Jefferson. She has been there since 2008.
She has always had a love for reading. Her mom taught her how to read before she started kindergarten! As a new mom she hopes to pass along her love of reading to her two boys. Once she discovered the Imagination Library program she couldn’t help but want to learn more. After talking with a board member and attending a meeting she was hooked and joined.
“I’m passionate about reading and want to do what I can to pass that passion on to others!”
Ellen is a native of Norfolk, Virginia, lived in Michigan for 32 years and moved to Ashe County in 2004. Her first teaching position was in Virginia Beach, Virginia and she learned that many of her eighth and ninth grade students were not able to read the required books for her English class. Luckily, there were helpful reading support teachers on the staff!!! After the reading specialist program at the University of Michigan, Ellen worked in both middle school and high school teaching remedial reading and English courses. She later decided to get a masters in middle school education at Eastern Michigan and went on to teach in the undergraduate teacher education program there. Teacher education drew her to the University of Michigan for a doctorate in the literacy, language and culture program.
For the last nine years, she has worked as part of the faculty in reading and special education at Appalachian State University. Ellen’s favorite things include working with children who struggle with reading, watching teacher education students evolve into good teachers, and hiking with her dogs (and other friends.)
Alice Atwood (2016)