Three more community elders were honored on Sunday, October 21 in the fifth semi-annual Asheville Living Treasures ceremony at UNC Asheville’s Osher Center for Lifelong Learning. John A. Bridges, Joe Eblen, and Mitzi Tessier were recognized for their lifetimes of service to the community by an audience that packed the Manheimer Room in the Reuter Center building.
The mission of Asheville Living Treasures is to honor the elders of Asheville and Buncombe County, age 70 and above, who have devoted their lives to making our communities a better place to live, by publicly honoring them and their achievements and recording their stories for future generations. Living Treasures serve as role models for all generations, providing inspiration with their hope, heart and wisdom.
John A. Bridges worked at the Buncombe County Library System for 29 years, where he served as head of the Exhibition Room in the Old Pack Library and as Director of Community Activities. Working with the Friends of the Library, he established music, film and educational lecture programs.
Through his guidance and vision, the library’s first phonograph record collection, film and book programs for children, and the educational film services were chartered. He established its film collection and its classic film program; in 2011, the children’s reading room at Pack Memorial Library was named in his honor.
Bridges also originated the Asheville Symphony’s Tea & Symphony program, which introduced generations of music-lovers to upcoming concerts. Bridges also performed himself, appearing in more than 60 productions at Asheville Community Theater and, as a young man, singing as a tenor soloist in churches and synagogues throughout Asheville and in New York City.
Joe Eblen led the Eblen Oil Company throughout his career, but his renown came with his establishment of Eblen Charities, which has grown into one of Western North Carolina’s major charitable organizations. Eblen Charities began in the 1990s with a golf tournament fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis, when Eblen discovered that there were no organizations in Western North Carolina that assisted individuals and families living with illness or disability regardless of income.
In 1991, a yard sale raised money for his new organization and in the first year assisted 300 families; today the group helps thousands of Western North Carolina families. In recognition of Eblen’s 70 years of refereeing, in 1997 he was inducted into the WNC Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he was awarded the Distinguished Official Award by the NFOA for his unselfish devotion to interscholastic athletics.
Eblen has served on the board of Asheville Community Theater and the Asheville Symphony and assisted with the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Mitzi Tessier has been a teacher of children with special needs, a regional educator of our cultural heritage, a field adviser for the Pisgah Girl Scouts Council, a ceramics arts teacher, an expert dancer and team sponsor of clogging, big circle and square dancing, a historian and an author of two books.
After guiding hundreds of young girls involved in Girl Scouts she became a teacher at Erwin High School and the faculty sponsor of the clogging team. For years she led student teams across the nation to compete and display this unique part of our Appalachian heritage. Then, with her husband Jack, she founded Mama T’s Music Pavilion to present mountain square dancing and clogging with local bands.
Tessier has also worked with the Preservation Society and the Historic Resources Commission, under whose auspices she wrote The Pictorial History of Asheville, followed by another pictorial history, The State of Buncombe, and she served as a member of the team that planned and implemented Asheville’s Urban Trail.
The Urban News joins with Asheville Living Treasures in thanking and honoring these outstanding citizens for their lifetime of service.
To nominate a worthy elder as a Living Treasure, visit www.ashevillelivingtreasures.com. Nominations open January 1, 2013.