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Philanthropists recognized for saving history

Two individuals were honored last week for their selfless contributions toward preserving Haywood County history.

Waynesville area resident Camilla McConnell was recognized for her efforts at the Shelton House, the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, while Joseph Shook Hall was honored for restoring a historic home in Clyde and turning it into a museum.

Both were named philanthropists of the year by the Haywood County Community Foundation and honored at a reception Thursday at the Waynesville Country Club. Hall told the group of about 50 supporters he was an unlikely person to undertake the task of restoring the Shook-Smathers house because he is not a county resident and had to oversee the restoration from afar.

But he recalled his family stories about the place, and became involved when he learned it was near collapse.

“There’s a wonderful story to be told,” he said of the various layers uncovered about life of yesteryear as the home was remodeled. “I hope you will come and see what is in our midst and the roots from which we have come.”

Hall is the son of William Thomas and Nora (Shook) Hall and spent his career as a teacher and administrator before retirement. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area. While the Shook Museum at the Shook-Smathers House has no regular hours, trained docents will provide guided tours for groups, he said. Call 1-877-620-2300 for more information or visit www.ShookMuseum.org.

McConnell, who has served as the director of the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts for the past 10 years. During her leadership, a long-terms ground lease agreement was arranged so the Haywood Arts Regional Theater could be built on the museum property. McConnell has also been a long-time supporter of the Haywood Regional Medical Center Auxiliary and the Haywood County public library system.

In accepting her award, McConnell spoke of her long interest in historic preservation. “I’m glad preservation is beginning to take hold and that people are finally recognizing the value of some of the older homes and buildings,” she said.

The Shelton House is located at 49 Shelton St. in Waynesville, and has collections of pottery, traditional handicrafts made by some of North Carolina’s artists and a collection of Navajo art gathered by William Shelton to was the superintendent at a Navajo school in New Mexico.

Museum curator Jackie Stephens said McConnell is a “very caring and compassionate person about her goals.” The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday and at other times for special tours. Call 452-1551 for more information.

Sam Smith served as master of ceremonies during the event honoring McConnell and Hall. While the Haywood County Community Foundation recognizes those who have made outstanding philanthropic contributions each year, everyone can be a philanthropist, Smith said.

“Philanthropy takes money, but is also goes beyond that,” he said. “It’s an inclination for service — a depth of attitude of heart and mind and spirit. We can all be philanthropists.” The foundation began honoring philanthropists in 2001 when Dr. Voit Gilmore was recognized for his land donation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The following year, longtime community leaders Robert Forga and Pink Francis were the honorees, and Vi Terrell was named the 2003 philanthropist of the year for her tireless efforts on behalf of children in the community. In 2004, Drs. Frank and Doris Hammett of Waynesville, along with Bob and Cora Mae Phillips of Canton, were the honorees for their long record of service to their communities. Since the foundation’s inception 12 years ago, endowments exceeding $513,000 have been garnered and grants totalling $23,000 have been awarded.

There are 12 separate endowment fund categories that have been set up through the Haywood County Community Foundation. Potential donors can contribute to any of the existing funds which support interests as divergent as education, youth or arts, or can donate to an unrestricted fund. The organization is set up so those with a specific interest can easily form another endowment which will fall under the organization’s umbrella, Smith said.

Vicki Hyatt can be reached at 452-0661, ext. 128 or news@themountaineer.com