‘Around Davidson’ column has 50 years of history
BY LAURIE DENNIS
It is, in some respects, an unfathomable transformation. What began as handwritten scraps of paper assembled into articles for a weekly newspaper is about to be transformed into online postings that can be read anywhere in the world. “Around Davidson,” a society column that dates to at least the 1960s, will debut this Thursday, Jan. 10, as a regular feature on DavidsonNews.net.
As envisioned by Brenda Barger, the column’s internet incarnation will carry on a tradition started by the late Elizabeth Woods, who spent 40 years detailing births (but not deaths), visits, travels, luncheons, marriages, baptisms and other assorted happy news of Davidson.
“Everybody read it,” said Judy Schuh, who was an occasional ghost writer for Mrs. Woods and has written it in recent years with Ms. Barger. The Schuh/Barger partnership produced “In and Around Davidson” for a 10-year period that ended with the Jan. 2 issue of the Lake Norman Times.
Now Ms. Schuh is retiring and Ms. Barger is taking the column to the Net, hoping to keep a new generation of Davidsonians connected.
Elizabeth Woods was the wife of the town doctor, Jim Woods, and the occasional receptionist in Dr. Woods’ South Street office. As an involved community member, she was privy to much of what was happening in Davidson.
That’s probably why at some point, no one can remember exactly when, she was approached by the publisher of the Mecklenburg Gazette, Davidson’s weekly newspaper from 1948-1997, to write about town folks. Mrs. Woods agreed and gave a sheaf of handwritten notes to Gazette staff member Belle Banks, who requested that Mrs. Woods try typing things up. Thus was born the “Around Davidson” column.
For much of the rest of the century, Mrs. Woods regularly turned in several inches of dense newsprint with no pictures. Her columns were a record of local happenings, delivering items of interest as well as details residents may already have known about themselves, but still enjoyed seeing in print.
“The standard phrase after saying so-and-so entertained was ‘delicious refreshments were enjoyed by all,’ ” said Ms. Barger.
(Though it would no doubt surprise Mrs. Woods to think it possible, you can click right here to see snippets from some of her columns, including a Centennial Book Club meeting on cryogenics and the struggle of the Shaw Smith family to find each other in a New York City hotel lobby.)
“Around Davidson” occasionally contained “the whimsical stuff,” especially when Mrs. Woods went on vacation and turned the column over to friend Ann Currie, who addressed such topics as the tendency to wave at familiar cars rather than the indiscernible drivers inside and the interesting names of local dogs.
“I have very clear memories of my mom gathering ‘news’ about town and, as a teenager, demanded – as only a teenager can – that she NEVER mention me in the column,” recalled John Woods, who nonetheless made a few appearances in “Around Davidson” and remains newsworthy even today as the town’s new mayor.
Mrs. Woods typed her columns on a manual typewriter and did not always hear the bell signaling the end of the line, which could cause a few lost words here and there. And she still had those little handwritten notes to decipher.
“She had scraps of paper all over the house, which could make things jumbled, but that was part of the charm of her column,” said Ms. Barger. “People talked about it and laughed about it and loved it.”
FROM READERS TO WRITERS
As Ms. Barger and Ms. Schuh explain it, in the 1960s and 70s, “Around Davidson” was essential reading material for a place where newcomers were provided with an official sponsor and introduced in September at a “newcomers’ picnic.”
Mrs. Woods was known to show up at the home of a new neighbor, ready to take notes for her column.
One day in February 1975, shortly after Ms. Schuh moved to Davidson, “there was a knock on the front door and here’s this little old lady with a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other,” Ms. Schuh recalled. Mrs. Woods did not realize that the man moving boxes in the house was Judy Schuh’s visiting father from Indiana, not her husband Merle Schuh, the new chemistry professor at Davidson College. Therefore, the news item that soon came out in “Around Davidson” stated “Dr. Schuh has arrived here with his young wife.”
Ms. Barger and her husband, Hugh (a Davidson College alum), moved to Davidson four months after the Schuhs. Brenda and Judy became friends through mutual book clubs and church activities. They were faithful readers of “Around Davidson,” but involved in their own work – Ms. Schuh as a high school French teacher and Ms. Barger as the mother of four children living at the Barger family farm on what was then the outskirts of town (and now borders the McConnell development).
By 1988, Ms. Schuh was helping out at The Pines at Davidson retirement community during a brief hiatus from teaching. At the same time that Elizabeth Woods, now a widow in her late 70s, was moving into The Pines and still trying to keep her column going.
“She said, ‘I just can’t write it’ – she was talking about stopping it altogether,” Ms. Schuh recalled. “People said ‘No, no, we’ll help you.’”
Ms. Schuh soon became one of the “ghost writers” who kept the column alive. It was taken over for a few years by Ethel Rhodes, and then by 1997 fell into the lap of Ms. Schuh, who immediately called in her friend, Ms. Barger.
“I said I wouldn’t do it alone,” said Ms. Schuh.
“And I said I wouldn’t do it alone,” added Ms. Barger.
So began the partnership that lasted for a decade.
ENTERING THE WEB
They started out at the Mecklenburg Gazette, but eventually had a falling out with the editor.
“He started chopping off our endings,” Ms. Barger explained.
The two were introduced to Scott Hinkle, who was starting a new paper – The Lake Norman Times – and was interested in making it the new home for “Around Davidson.” By April 1998, the column was back in print, this time under the slightly revised title of “In and Around Davidson.”
“With Scott we had a nice run,” said Ms. Barger.
The column was published every Wednesday, with the exception of one issue from which it was mistakenly left out.
“But we had it up,” Ms. Schuh stressed. “They just forgot to print it.”
Elizabeth Woods had three rules for her column – save the death notices for the obituary page, wait until families returned home before writing about their vacations and always get permission before running someone’s news.
“In and Around Davidson” in the Lake Norman Times continued that tradition. However, the two new partners added photos, and also subheads and a listing of upcoming events called “Noteworthy notes.”
Week after week, the pair produced an entire page of news about Davidsonians – their travels, their honors, their marriages and more.
In July 2003, the two commented on the tenth birthday of the Lake Norman Times: “Hard to believe it has been that long, but we feel strongly that our weekly column does perhaps keep our town ‘connected.’”
As 2008 approached, the veteran columnists faced new uncertainties. Ms. Schuh was ready to retire, especially since her husband is retiring from his work at the college. Ms. Barger felt ready for a change, but not one that ended the column.
After discussions with DavidsonNews.net founder David Boraks about how he was using the internet for community journalism, Ms. Barger decided to take her work to the web.
“Coming on board with David Boraks seems a perfect fit for ‘Around Davidson’ at this time when residents of Davidson are looking for a way to stay connected,” she said.
Working out the intricacies of how to turn a traditional society news column into an internet feature may take some finagling. Some of Ms. Barger’s friends – including Ms. Schuh – do not have email, to say nothing of internet savvy. But they do have a keen and insatiable interest in the arcana of life in Davidson, the kind of interest that has always sustained “Around Davidson,” and will hopefully bring the old standard new life in the world of clicks and links and jpegs.
Read snippets from Elizabeth Woods’ old Mecklenburg Gazette columns.
A historical timeline of The Mecklenburg Gazette, Davidson’s one-time local weekly.
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