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Cyclists hold memorial for 1987 EastCare crash

As cyclists persevered through rain and wind, traveling 54 miles from Smithfield to Greenville on Tuesday, the memory of emergency medical staff who died in a 1987 helicopter crash persevered with them.

A memorial was held at the Vidant EastCare Helipad on Wednesday evening to remember lead pilot Perry Reynolds, chief flight nurse Mike McGinnis, assistant chief flight nurse Pam Demaree and the patients aboard the helicopter. The memorial was part of the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride, which honors EMS staff through long-distance cycling.

Attending were family members of those who died, as well as those with connections to the EMS field. Demaree’s sister, Cindy Demaree-Whitaker, joined the cyclists on part of their journey Tuesday from Farmville to Vidant.

“The National EMS Memorial and the bike ride have been amazing to honor the crew and ride with dog tags to support,” Whitaker said. “They have become like family. Extremely supportive. They are the reason the EastCare crew was honored at the service, because one of the Muddy Angels who made us aware of the organization.”

The Muddy Angels are the cyclists who took on the journey, beginning in Davidson on Sept. 18. The group will continue riding all the way to Richmond, Virginia, stopping at fire houses and EMS facilities along the way to meet others serving the public.

“It felt amazing. These cyclists are all supportive of the families and understand how important it is to honor them,” Whitaker said. “My sister, I am sure, would encourage and be as appreciative of anyone in the medical field’s hard work.”

The names of health care workers who have died in the Southeast Region in 2020 and 2021 were read by members of the National EMS Memorial’s board and riders. Following that, Whitaker was presented a set of dog tags, which she accepted with a hug.

The ride has taken place since 2000 according to cyclist Dwain Rowe. Most of the cyclists participating come from an EMS background, many in the American southeast.

“It is about those who have died in the line of duty or contracted a disease like COVID in the line of duty,” Rowe said. “We go on a route to the spot where they worked or lived and meet with their colleagues to speak with them and hopefully provide some closure for their loss.”

Brian Floyd, chief operating officer at Vidant Health, said their appreciation of the memory of the fallen is important to the hospital.

“It is a great time to see the public celebrating health care workers,” Floyd said. “Particularly over the last two years with COVID, we have seen a lot of illness and a lot of sickness, sometimes even in the health care workers themselves.”

Greenville Fire-Rescue EMS cadet Jordan Suggs, a Greenville native, said that the memorial affirms decision to be a part of the field.

“It makes me feel really good, like I am part of something bigger, which I technically am as part of this job,” Suggs said. “It fills me with pride and makes me want to be in this career for a really long time. I see how connected it is to so many people in so many ways.”

That appreciation for the field is important said Whitaker, who works in health care and is a graduate of East Carolina University.

“Most people in the medical field do it because they love it,” Whitaker said. “Just continue that.”

The cyclists will set out for Roanoke Rapids this morning. On Wednesday night, The Greenville Bicycle Company’s owner and head mechanic, arranged for all cyclists’ bikes to receive a free tune-up before they depart.

ECU's Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival celebrates return to live performances

Emotions welled up as renowned violinist and violist Ara Gregorian took the stage recently to perform for residents of a local retirement community.

It was not simply sorrow at the thought of all the coronavirus pandemic had taken from his audience. There was also joy for what he and fellow artists were able to give back — music — not a virtual concert but one that brought the artists and the audience together again after more than a year and a half apart.

“I told the people there, ‘You’re thrilled that we’re here, but don’t confuse yourself that we’re not also thrilled to be here,’” Gregorian, founder of East Carolina University’s Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival said, recalling his words to residents of Cypress Glen. “‘This is not a high-profile setting, but this is us getting to bring what we do to you.’

“There’s something special about that,” he said. “That is something I probably took for granted over all those years.”

The 21st season of the festival changed all that. Due to COVID-19, the only way to carry on the series of performances featuring world class musicians was through digital media. But this week, the doors of A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall will open to welcome Four Seasons’ first audience since the spring of 2020.

“It’s better in person,” Gregorian said in an interview this week between preparations for Friday’s opening concert, which will include works by Joseph Haydn and Johannes Brahms. “It’s the same thing as watching an NFL game at home. Some people prefer it but the sound and the electricity and the connection with the audience and the actual proximity to the performers, you can’t replicate that.”

Four Seasons’ fall season, which launched online on Sept. 19, begins today at Fletcher with Chamber Music Dressed Down, a brief performance coupled with an open rehearsal of sorts which sets the stage for an impromptu discussion between musicians and members of the audience. Season opening concerts are scheduled Friday in Fletcher and Sunday at Raleigh’s Hayes Barton United Methodist Church.

All programs will be available for viewing on Four Seasons Digital Concert Hall, a feature added last year when public gatherings were restricted. Despite the return of live performances, digital concerts and other online features will continue. Masks will be required for live audience members as well as performers.

During the inaugural season of the Digital Concert Hall, Four Seasons organizers discovered that the feature had value beyond the pandemic. Longtime subscribers enjoyed having a chance to view concerts they would otherwise have missed if they were out of town and new audience members, too far away to attend a concert in Greenville or Raleigh, also could watch.

“We have found that people from all over the world on different occasions tune in and watch what we do because they know the musicians that we present,” Gregorian said. “That has been a plus that we’ve been able to continue to spread the word about what we do nationally and internationally.”

International artists, including noted cellists Colin Carr of Great Britain and Zvi Plesser of Israel, are scheduled to return to the festival after participating virtually in season 21. Other returning artists include Jennifer Frautschi, a two-time Grammy nominated violinist; cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, a guest member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; and Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

For the season opener, Kay will be joined by festival newcomer Movses Pogossian, violinist and artistic director of the critically acclaimed Dilijan Chamber Music Series; Gregorian and fellow ECU faculty artists Hye-Jin Kim, violin, and Kwan Yi, piano; and Michael Kannen, a cellist and director of chamber music at the Peabody Conservatory.

In another return to Four Seasons tradition, visiting artists will stay with area host families during their music residencies at ECU.

For nearly two decades, Paul and Jill Camnitz have served as hosts for Kannen and his wife, violist Maria Lambros, who were among the artists who came to Greenville to perform last season, even though audiences could not attend.

“We’ve become such good friends. We joke he just keeps our key on his key ring,” Jill Camnitz said, adding that she and her husband have also visited in the artists’ home in Baltimore, Maryland. “For the artists, they travel an awful lot and they do stay in a lot of hotels. I think it’s just a nice change, making those connections.”

Gregorian said the pandemic led Four Seasons to make additional connections in the community, including airing recordings of concerts in patient rooms at Vidant Medical Center and having guest artists perform live during the Vidant/Pitt Large-Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center. Musicians performed more than 80 Dose of Hope concerts.

“I don’t think we would have gone there (Vidant) before the pandemic happened,” Gregorian said. “Somehow the pandemic has both forced — in a good way — and enabled us to think creatively about ways of partnering in our community. As terrible as it is, it’s caused us to think and create in new kinds of ways.”

Gregorian is looking forward to more community appearances and is hoping to be able to bring performers this fall into area schools, which were closed to visitors during the 2020-21 academic year.

“I think what we’re doing is really important and relevant because people need these kinds of positive things in their communities and to look forward to,” he said. “Music resonates so much with people, so we take it almost as an increased responsibility right now.”

But more than a duty, Gregorian sees bringing music to others as a privilege, perhaps more now than ever.

“In that way, the pandemic has also been really instructive and eye-opening,” he said. “The renewed value that we put on being in front of people and playing for them, I think is important, and I think it does bring something to the way that we play. There’s a freshness. There’s always that we love what we do and we love the music, but there’s a newness to it that you can’t replicate.”

All Aboard: Trolley tour highlights minority-owned restaurants

Despite a bit of weather in the early morning, locals got to enjoy a wonderful day in the neighborhood touring three Greenville restaurants by trolley as part of the city’s Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week.

A small group of business owners visited The Breakfast Bar at 605 Albemarle Ave., Cinnamon Bistro at 731 Red Banks Road and Villa Verde Dos at 2247 W. Arlington Blvd. All three are minority owned and operated, with some having seen their share of struggle and support since last year.

“We started in March of 2020, right when COVID hit,” said Tirath Singh, owner of Cinnamon. “It was not easy but we saw so much support. Our regulars reached out and really helped us, both ordering online and delivery to help us stay working.”

MED Week aims to put a spotlight on minority-owned businesses while giving people in town the chance to network and share wisdom. Russell Parker, founder of Clean Pressure Washing and president of the Minority Business Roundtable in Greenville, was in attendance to share his insight. That included loan programs for business owners through the city and things small business owners should know about taxes.

“When the pandemic started, a lot of people had nowhere to turn,” Parker told Deories McLendon, who handles marketing for Cinnamon and other businesses in Greenville. “We provided answers.”

Denisha Harris, financial services manager for the City of Greenville, said that the city’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program and MED Week are aimed at making money work for business owners.

“It is about putting our dollars to work,” Harris said. “We are intentionally investing in MWBE. We know and have understood during the pandemic how important it was to support local and ensure our small business are growing and sustaining.”

The event was an opportunity to represent a cross-section of the minority owned businesses, she said.

“A lot of time when you are in business, you go through things you feel like no one else has experienced,” she said. “With this network there are people who have gone through what you are going through and they can save you a lot of time and energy.”

Singh said that the event was a way for him to show participants authentic Indian cuisine, as well as a way to let people know about the restaurant’s new location on Red Banks. He said the city’s investment in MWBE helps everyone.

“We really want to branch out to more city events,” Singh said. “We would love to work with the Greenville Police Department to provide food. We also have a private dining room and a conference room that can be rented. You can cater through us or have the room.”

The trolley was a means of adding even more flavor to the event.

“When you work for the City of Greenville and have a trolley, why not use it?” Harris said. “It adds a little more fun and interest to the day.”

Measures would allow gun sales, self storage

Greenville’s Planning and Zoning Commission has signed off on one measure that would allow gun sales at indoor shooting facilities and another that would allow a self-storage facility at a site where apartments have been denied in Bells Fork.

The panel at its meeting on Tuesday unanimously approved a text amendment to city zoning code sought by a group that wants to operate an indoor shooting range. Mike Biggerstaff, one of the project’s partners, said his group also wants to sell guns and ammo.

“It seems to me the two go hand and hand,” Biggerstaff said. “You can’t have a range without being able to sell ammunition at the same time. To be able to buy a firearm and try it out at the range before you make a purchase. The two go hand in hand.”

The city’s planning and development regulations allow indoor shooting ranges in areas with industrial zoning with a special use permit. But the language did not permit guns, ammunition and other weapon accessories to be sold on site.

Biggerstaff’s group received a permit in May from the city Board of Adjustment to operate a range in a former warehouse at 100 Staton Road, near its intersection with North Memorial Drive.

The partners have since decided to relocate the facility because a neighboring business, Coastal Agrobusiness, raised concerns about noise, Biggerstaff said. Once they have the location, they still want a sales area, he said.

Biggerstaff said indoor ranges in the region and across the state have connected shops.

After discussion about what qualifies as an accessory use, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the text amendment. It now goes to Greenville City Council for final approval.

Commercial rezoning

A request to rezone nearly 7.8 acres of vacant property located between three roadways in the Bells Fork area demonstrated difficulties city staff and the planning board have with determining the best use for certain properties in the city.

The site is east of Kittrell Road between East Fire Tower and Bells Fork roads. It sits between Bells Fork Square shopping center, single family housing and an apartment complex that’s under construction.

In early 2020, the property owners requested the land be rezoned so they could build an apartment complex for seniors. While city staff recommended approving the request, the city council denied it, citing concerns about increased traffic on Fire Tower Road.

Scott Anderson, a consultant, said the property owners sought a low-traffic use for the property after the council denied the multi-family rezoning so they want to build a mini-storage facility on the site. Not only would mini-storage generate less traffic than an apartment complex, but the required general commercial zoning is found nearby.

Chief Planner Chantae Gooby said staff recommended denying the request because general commercial didn’t suit the property because there needs to be a buffer between general commercial and single family homes. Multifamily development meets that criteria.

“We believe the commercial zoning, while not recommended by staff because it’s not in the land use plan, is the best use,” said Dustin Mills, a project investor.

“I feel the landowners are in a Catch-22 here,” said Commission Chairman Kevin Faison. “It’s almost unfair to them. It is a very special piece of property, how it’s laid out. I appreciate them opening up that they want to use it as mini- storage. But at the same time we have to consider that if we approve this we are approving anything that falls under general commercial.”

A motion to deny the rezoning request failed 4-3 with commission members Max Ray Joyner III, Hap Maxwell and Alan Brock voting in favor of denial and Les Robinson, Michael Overton, John Collins and Allen Thomas voting against denial.

A motion to approve general commercial rezoning passed 4-3 with Robinson, Overton, Collins and Thomas for yes and Joyner, Maxwell and Brock voting no. The council has final approval.

In other business the commission recommended for approval:

  • Rezoning 57.9 acres south of East 10th Street between Oakdowne Way and Pinewood Memorial Park from office and single family residential zoning to a combination of high density multi-family and medium density multi-family including a section with a conservation overlay. The zoning would accommodate a mixed use development between Lowes Home Improvement and Pinewood Cemetery. More details will be published Friday.
  • Rezoning one acre at the northwestern corner of the intersection of West Fifth Street and Brighton Park Drive from medical office to medical-residential high density multi-family. Gooby said the developers of a nearby apartment complex want to install a clubhouse and swimming pool on the property.
  • A preliminary plat for a development that will be called “The Dickinson,” located on 23 acres on the south side of Dickinson Avenue, north of Southwest Greenville Boulevard and west of Williams Road.