Around the region: Spartanburg mourns passing of Beacon founder

Published 8:43 am Friday, February 18, 2011

Conditions spark fires across state
Family and friends gathered to mourn the passing of John B. White Sr., the founder of the Beacon Drive-In diner, an institution in Spartanburg for more than six decades. White started the restaurant after returning home following service in the Navy during World War II. He used the military paychecks he sent home to his mother to provide the initial $1,700 investment that launched the restaurant.
The restaurant moved from West Main Street to its Reidville Road location in 1955, and White continued to work there 14 hours a day, six days a week until he retired in 1998 at age 76. He then sold the business to Steve Duncan and Sam Maw.
The funeral service was held at Morningside Baptist Church, where senior pastor Kirk Neely shared memories of White and talked about the impact of the Beacon in the life of Spartanburg residents. He said the restaurant was a gathering spot for the community and a required campaign stop for any political candidate serious about reaching Spartanburg area residents.
White was also recognized for his service to the community. He once shipped free meals by a Navy plane to sailors on an aircraft carrier and delivered free meals to emergency workers responding to the collapse of the Andrews Building in Spartanburg in 1977. He also sent food to motorists stranded on I-85 during a snowstorm in 1988.
In 1986, the Kiwanis Club named White the Citizen of the Year and the S.C. House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring him for “making the Beacon a landmark eatery.” In 1996, he was awarded the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto. It was the same year that Charles Kuralt featured White and the Beacon on his “On the Road” segment for CBS News.
Polk County hasn’t been the only place in North Carolina hit by wildfires this week. Although the fire at Jude’s Gap may be the largest current fire, blazes have spread across the state, fueled on by dry conditions, warm temperatures and high winds.
Brian Haines of the state’s Forest Resources Division said more than 211 fires have been reported, including a large one in Surry County that has burned more than 600 acres near the Lowgap community. Firefighters in Wautauga County are battling blazes that forced the evacuation of 14 homes near Boone.
The Division of Forest Resources said many of the reported blazes are small brush fires, but they can pose a risk of spreading quickly under current conditions. The division has issued red flag warnings for dangerous fire conditions across the state, and state officials are encouraging residents to avoid outdoor burning until conditions improve.
Henderson County commissioners have agreed to purchase the Boyd Automotive property to provide room for a future expansion of Hendersonville High School. The county will pay $2.75 million for the property that provides much needed space for the school to grow.
The Henderson County school board does not plan to move forward with any expansion plans for at least the next five years, considering the current economic climate. The county will take over ownership of the Boyd property after the dealership relocates within the next 18 to 36 months.
In addition, because of constricting budgets caused by the current economic climate, the Henderson County school board has agreed to delay expansion of the high school for at least five years.
Mike Edney, chairman of the county board, noted that the high school has been “landlocked” ever since it was built in 1926. Acquiring the Boyd property, he said, will allow a few more generations to use the school than otherwise would have been possible. Commission Larry Young also noted that the acquisition will save the county the estimated $75 million needed to build an entirely new high school.
The Foundation for the Carolinas reported that contributions have doubled in the past year to $212 million, another indication of improving economic times.
The organization, one of the largest community foundations in the country, manages 1,823 funds and now oversees $910 million in assets.
Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, planned to announce at his organization’s annual meeting this week that the foundation issued 54 percent more grants in the past year. Grant awards rose from $90 million in 2009 to $139 million last year.
The grants have benefited a wide range of projects, including those bolstering local arts and education programs.
The foundation also operates a Critical Need Response Fund to help charities feed and house the poor and a Community Catalyst Fund to help charities meet their goals despite having limited funds.
During the recession, the foundation’s assets fell by $192 million to $609 million and the foundation was forced to reduce staff by 15 percent. Foundation officials said improvements in the equity markets have helped raise assets again and draw more donations.
Greenville New Markets Opportunity LLC said it has obtained $16 million in financing to move forward with its RiverWalk project, which will bring 90,000 square feet of mixed-used space to downtown Greenville, S.C. Plans for the project call for apartments, artist studios, office spaces and retail space at the corner of West Camperdown Way and River Street.
Project developers said RiverWalk will create jobs during both construction and operational phases and further make the downtown area a desirable place to work, live and visit.
QVC Inc. is planning to expand its distribution facility near Rocky Mount, adding 200 jobs over the next five years. The $71 million expansion was made possible by a $1 million state economic development grant.
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said the expansion is “especially encouraging news in a county like Edgecombe, where residents are fighting hard to rise out of the recession.”
At the end of last year QVC, one of the largest multimedia retailers in the world, employed 541 full-time and 998 part-time workers at its Rocky Mount facility. In addition to the 200 new full-time jobs, the expansion is expected to create more than 300 part-time jobs once it is completed in the fall of 2012.
Freightliner is adding 628 jobs at its manufacturing plants in Mount Holly and Gastonia. Citing increased demand for its trucks, the company said it will create 447 manufacturing jobs and 27 administrative positions at its Mount Holly plant in March. The company, owned by Daimler Trucks North America, also plans to add 149 manufacturing jobs and five administrative positions at its Gastonia plant over the next few months.
Daimler previously shed jobs at its facilities in the Charlotte area during the recession, but began adding workers again last July in response to increased truck orders.
North Carolina awarded $14 million to 26 local governments for “bid-ready” projects that will help with infrastructure development, housing and special needs. The grants awarded through the Community Development Block Grant Economic Recovery Program included $606,970 for the City of Marion to use for storm drainage control and sidewalk improvements in an area affected by severe flooding and erosion. Gaston County received $400,000 to provide comprehensive rehabilitation to eight owner occupied homes.
The North Carolina Revenue Department has ended its court battle to get to provide customers’ data for tax collection purchases. The department settled with seven North Carolina residents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said sharing the data showing titles of books and other products would invade customers’ privacy. The Revenue Department said its future requests for data from Internet retailers will specify that the state does not want the titles or any other information identifying the books, movies or music sold. The state agreed to pay $99,000 in attorney’s fees to settle the court dispute, but reserved the right to pursue tax collections in the future.
The N.C. Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by taxpayers who objected to tax breaks given to Google Inc. for a facility in Caldwell County. The state did not explain its decision, which affirmed a lower court ruling. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled last year that the three taxpayers could not sue because they were not adversely affected by the tax breaks. The state approved tax exemptions worth about $90 million over 30 years to lure the data center to Lenoir.
Erin and Raleigh Hill of Stallings showed up to claim their $1 million lottery prize at North Carolina’s lottery headquarters just one day before their Mega Millions ticket expired. Raleigh said he bought the ticket last summer, but didn’t realize immediately that his ticket matched all five white balls. He said he then hesitated to come in because of concerns about the attention the prize would draw. Raleigh, a baggage handler, and Erin, a federal government employee, will receive $680,000 after taxes.
Stephen Duncan, a mechanic who lives in McDowell County, said he will use the $250,000 he won in the state lottery recently to pay off his mortgage. Duncan won by matching all five white balls playing Mega Millions.
He said he checked his ticket just before leaving for work. “I thought, ‘Man, this can’t be right,’” he said. “It still isn’t real to me. I’m still in shock.”