ONLINE APRIL 8, 2021 • VOL. 3,
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
(click highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
A typical Smithfield scene when azaleas and dogwoods bloom --- this one captured Wednesday afternoon with a drive-by camera shot from Chestnut Drive.
MARCH RAINFALL WAS BELOW NORMAL (FOR A CHANGE)
Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield recorded 3.02 inches of rain last month --- first time in a while we've had precipitation below normal levels (U.S. Climate Data says average rainfall here in March is 4.31 inches). Even so, we're still above normal since January 1 with 17.55 inches total. Average rainfall for the first three months of the year here is 11.25 inches.
Let's try this again:
BACK TO SCHOOL for students in all grades
Normally, we celebrate "Back to School" near summer's end. But that didn't happen this past year. And while many students have returned, somewhat sporadically, to the classrooms of Johnston County Public Schools since the coronavirus pandemic arrived 13 months ago, this coming Monday will be the first time students in all grades will be allowed back at school for more than a couple of days each week.
They'll be attending Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays but remaining at home on Wednesdays through the rest of the 2020-21 academic year, which ends May 28. Wednesdays continue to be set aside for "deep cleaning" on all campuses and also for teachers to assist individual students who are falling behind in their studies.
Some students, by choice, will continue with remote "virtual learning" at home through the rest of the term. All students will be required to take part in online assignments on Wednesdays.
The Johnston County Board of Education's monthly meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday (April 13). VIEW the agenda once it's posted on the schools' website>
Vaccine eligibility extended to all age 16+;
drive-thru clinics scheduled this weekend
All North Carolinians age 16 and older are now eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, although it appears only the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available to persons under 18 years of age at this point.
Even so, the easing of the state's restrictions on who can receive COVID-19 protection kicked in Wednesday when 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were claimed in short order at a first-come, first-served clinic conducted by the Johnston County Health Department at North Johnston High School.
A similar clinic is scheduled for 8 a.m. this Saturday (April 10) at the Brightleaf Flea Market on US 301 beside the Neuse River. The Health Department plans to have 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine available.
In addition, the Health Department has a scheduled a drive-thru clinic to administer 300 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine only starting at 1 p.m. Friday (tomorrow) at Johnston Community College.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 46,429 Johnstonians had received the first of two required doses of Humana and Pfizer vaccines as of midnight Tuesday, with another 30,571 fully vaccinated.
The state says those numbers work out to 22.2% of Johnston's population age 18 and older partially vaccinated and 14.6% fully vaccinated. That's lagging behind statewide percentages of 38.9 and 26.6.
VISIT myshot.nc.gov for a directory of upcoming vaccination opportunities>
The County of Johnston reported 729 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday morning: 713 recovering at home and 16 in hospitals. That's up from 691 cases a week ago. One more death was reported this past week, raising the toll to 210.
VIEW the current list of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Johnston County>
FEBRUARY BROUGHT MORE JOBS FOR JOHNSTONIANS
The jobs picture continues to improve in Johnston County, with February's report from the N.C. Department of Commerce showing 95,410 Johnstonians employed --- up from 94,653 in January --- while the number unemployed declined from 5,188 to 4,982. That dropped Johnston's unemployment rate to 5.0% in February. It was 5.2% in January.
Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived last spring, Johnston's unemployment rate was just above 3% with more than 98,000 Johnstonians employed.
VIEW the February employment report covering all of North Carolina>
LIBRARY OPEN AGAIN WITHOUT APPOINTMENTS REQUIRED
The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield is open once again without a requirement for making appointments in advance, but patrons "are encouraged" to check out books and other materials in 30 minutes or less "in order to meet health and safety guidelines." The Computer Lab is available without reservations for sessions lasting up to one hour, and the library now offers laptops for check-outs. Operating hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Curbside pickup is still available "and encouraged." VISIT the library's website to learn more>
Town facing replacement of two veteran
department heads; council split on process
Smithfield's Town Council paid tribute at Tuesday's monthly session to retiring Public Works Director Lenny Branch, then found themselves at odds over employing a recruiter to help find a replacement for Fire Chief John Blanton, who has announced his retirement effective June 1.
Mr. Branch, 51, has worked for the town for 26 years. "I receive more compliments about your department than any other," Mayor Andy Moore told him at Tuesday's meeting after reading a resolution praising his service.
"I love this town; I love this job," responded Mr. Branch, adding this creed about his work: "Rain, sleet, or snow: the trash must go!"
Supervisor Lawrence Davis is in charge of the Public Works Department until a successor to Mr. Branch is named.
Regarding Chief Blanton's replacement, Town Manager Mike Scott asked the council for authority to sign a proposed $12,347 contract with the Triangle J Council of Governments for assistance with the search. "I want to make sure we're getting the best possible candidate," he said.
Councilman Roger Wood objected, preferring that "we do it ourselves" rather than spend the money on a recruiter. "I feel an in-house committee can do it," added Councilman Travis Scott. They were joined in voting against the manager's request by Councilman Marlon Lee, yet it won approval without objection from the other four council members: David Barbour, John Dunn, Steve Rabil, and David Stevens.
Manager Scott noted that the town has received more than $100,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds that can be used for expenses like recruiting a new fire chief.
READ MORE about actions taken by the Town Council Tuesday>
COMMISSIONERS PICK LAND-USE COMMITTEE MEMBERS
The 16-member Johnston County Comprehensive Land-Use Plan Update Steering Committee over the next several months will direct an overhaul of County Government's regulations on residential and commercial development that's on a record-setting pace despite the past year's coronavirus pandemic.
READ about that and other matters considered by the County Board of Commissioners on Monday>
Tucker Furniture's home at Market and Fifth streets since 1966.
DOWNTOWN FIXTURE ENDS 95-YEAR RUN
Edwin Tucker (left) is the third-generation owner and operator of Tucker Furniture Company, a business started by his grandfather in 1886 that ended with the closing of the family's Smithfield store this past Saturday.
Garland S. Tucker's first store was in Raleigh, followed by stores in Clayton and Selma as the entrepreneur looked eastward by traveling along the North Carolina Railroad in the late 19th Century.
Tucker Furniture arrived in Smithfield in 1926, occupying a couple of different storefronts on Third Street before purchasing the former Farmers Cooperative Exchange (FCX) building at the northeast corner of Market and Fifth streets in 1966. That's where the story ended.
At one time Tucker Furniture also operated stores in Wilson, Rocky Mount, Tarboro, and Greenville.
G.S. Tucker Jr. joined his father in the business in the early 1940s, followed by grandson Edwin in 1973 who started out managing the Smithfield store while residing in Mrs. R.S. Fleming's famous boarding house an easy walk from the store on Davis Street.
Following his marriage in 1976 and succeeding his father in overseeing all the Tucker Furniture stores, Edwin moved to Wilson in 1979.
He closed things out with an extended "Retirement Sale" over the past couple of months, shutting the Wilson store before finishing up at Smithfield last weekend. None of his children were interested in succeeding him, he said.
After taking a few minutes to speak with the Sun's editor during the Smithfield store's final hour Saturday afternoon, Edwin went back to helping employees load some of the day's "SOLD" items for customers to take home. He plans to donate much of what's left of the inventory to Smithfield's First Baptist Church, which distributes clothing and household necessities to persons in need.
Flame for Learning semi-finalists include
a pair of Smithfield-Selma High Joneses
Smithfield-Selma High School has two of its faculty members on the list: Bethany Jones, a teacher of Exceptional Children in the SSS Life Skills Program, and Brian Jones, the school's band director (they are not related). Ms. Jones has been on the SSS staff for 16-plus years; Mr. Jones, for 18 years, according to Principal David Allen.
Ms. Jones was nominated for the award for her "best practice" entitled Unifi Sports --- a Special Olympics initiative that "celebrates athletes of all ability levels playing together," Mr. Allen noted.
Mr. Jones was nominated for a "best practice" entitled Engaging Students During a Pandemic. "As anyone could imagine, leading a band through video meetings can be daunting, but Mr. Jones has pulled it off," Principal Allen said.
The winner of this year's Flame for Learning Award will be announced May 6 and move on to represent Johnston County in regional competition leading toward the naming of North Carolina's "Teacher of the Year."
VIEW the complete list of semi-finalists on the Triangle East Chamber website>