A look back at 2021’s top stories

Dixie III restaurant on Dixie Drive in Asheboro on August 28, 2021. (PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL)

ASHEBORO — As 2021 draws a close, Randolph County’s year is going out with a bang in terms of major news stories. While the year was filled with important news stories from Randolph County, the biggest story of the year came in the last month. Toyota Motor North America announced on December 6 that it will build a large-scale battery manufacturing plant in Randolph County, bringing 1,750 jobs to Liberty.

While the Toyota story was felt worldwide, there were many other important news stories in 2021 in Randolph County. Here’s a look back at what transpired on the pages of the North State Journal.

To mask, or not to mask?

No single issue received more coverage on the pages of the North State Journal than the issue of school masking policies. In Randolph County, the three major school systems dealt with the issue in different ways. The county’s largest public school system, Randolph County Schools, made an early move to make masks optional only to succumb to pressure from Raleigh — in the form of a letter from Gov. Roy Cooper — to move back to mandated masks. Randolph County Schools and Uwharrie Charter, eventually moved back to mask optional environments as COVID number declined and vaccination rates climbed. Asheboro City School District, which made a late summer decision to keep masks on students finished the 2021 year with masks mandated. 

Political currents are building

Randolph County’s N.C. House Delegation will look different after the 2022 elections as long-time Rep. Allen McNeill announced in December that he would not seek another term in the General Assembly. Rep. Pat Hurley, the senior member of the Randolph delegation, is seeking another term but faces a GOP primary from Republican county school board member Brian Biggs. Bennet pastor Neal Jackson is the only announced candidate seeking to replace McNeill.  

At the local level, conservative candidates swept non-partisan school board races in Asheboro in November. School board newcomers Hailey Lee and Adam Hurley joined incumbents Beth Knott and Baxter Hammer as GOP-backed candidates won all four open seats on the city school board. 

Times they are changing

The year 2021 marked an end to a beloved local eatery in Asheboro with the closing of the Dixie III Restaurant on East Dixie Drive. The restaurant closed after 39 years in business. Fortunately for hungry patrons, the building was quickly leased to a North Asheboro staple — Paw-Paw’s Place — who opened a second location and hired many of Dixie III’s staffers who wanted to work. 

Big-time roles

The people of Randolph County had many neighbors to be proud of this year. Asheboro School Board member Gidget Kidd ascended to the chair of the UNC Wilmington Board of Trustees this summer. Kidd will guide the school through a chancellor search in the coming year. 

Asheboro native Trent Callicutt took his banjo playing to the highest level with two gigs at the Grand Ole Opry this year. He played the banjo for Dailey & Vincent, an American bluegrass music group. Callicutt, 32, has been playing banjo since age 12. His training, in part, came through lessons from Asheboro’s Tim Moon.

Another Asheboro native, Josie Perdue, took her talents to the world’s largest stage as a model in New York Fashion Week. The Southwestern Randolph junior modeled for designer Marc Defang on September 12. 

Andrew Vial, of Liberty, topped the charts with the largest watermelon ever weighed at the State Fair. Vial’s latest big watermelon came within nine pounds of the world record. He has grown four of the top 10 largest watermelons in the world, according to his record-keeping.

Events and cancellations

Events — the ones that happened and didn’t happen — were also big news in Randolph County. For the second year in a row, the Asheboro Fall Festival was canceled. Asheboro’s loss was Ramseur’s gain as the eastern Randolph town hosted one of its largest fall festivals with vendors moving east to engage with patrons excited to roam the streets. 

Cox’s Harley-Davidson celebrated its 60th anniversary in style with events and concerts. The dealership, which employs about 25 people, brought country music star Sammy Kershaw to Asheboro to perform as part of its celebration. 

Past and future

The year also included a look back at the epic run of Farmer High School to win the 1970 state baseball championship. The documentary “Just Plowboys” was shown at Asheboro’s Sunset Theater in August. 

The future of healthcare in Randolph County took shape this year with the acquisition of Randolph Hospital by American Healthcare System. The group bought the hospital out of bankruptcy. State funding and local leadership were pivotal to securing the deal which totaled $10.2 million.

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