Albert Keiser ’66

Albert Keiser Jr.: Hero, legend, quite a character

I never met Albert Keiser Jr., a Hickory native who died April 26, 2022, at Conover Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, but I know enough about him now to say I surely would have liked to interview him. I would find out what motivated his zeal for the arts and sciences, genealogy, economics and finance, education, and so forth. I would also ask why he generously shared his wealth and expertise with so many organizations and individuals.

I’d have asked him what his childhood had been like. We’d likely have exchanged reflections on being only children. We’d have talked about our parents and grandparents. Thanks to Albert’s friend, folk artist and author Barry Huffman of Hickory, who wrote a short biography of Albert in 2016, I know Albert’s father, Albert Keiser Sr., was a German immigrant who completed theological studies at Wartburg Lutheran Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and attained a doctorate in English literature from the University of Illinois. After professorships in South Dakota and South Carolina, Albert Sr. moved to Hickory in 1925 and taught at Lenoir-Rhyne College until 1957. In 1959, he died a wealthy man from stock market and real estate investments.

Albert’s mother, South Carolina native Lena Virginia McGukin Keiser, attended Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina, and then received a master’s degree from Duke University. She taught English and French in South Carolina schools and at Wingate University. Lena met Albert Sr. through nieces of Hickory businessman George Ivey. They married in 1942 and had Albert Jr. on July 3, 1944.

Knowing that Albert was a family history buff and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I’d tell him I, too, was keen on learning my ancestors’ stories. We’d have swapped secrets buried generations deep. Then, he’d have detailed his lineage to the American Revolution, and I’d have testified to my own descent from our nation’s founding women and men.

We’d have reminisced about the births of Hickory’s art museum and science center and about how downtown Hickory used to look. We’d have extoled the glory of Catawba County’s oldest homes and structures and eulogized by-gone eateries, stores, and familiar faces.

The topic of education would have come up. Albert would have told me he was valedictorian of Hickory High School’s class of 1962 and that he graduated fifth in a class of 230 from Davidson College in 1966, his major being history. He’d have mentioned a one-year stint studying law at Harvard before returning to Hickory and setting his sights on the business world.

Following his death, a cry went up that Albert needed to be known and remembered. I turned to the people who knew him, including his closest friend, Hickory resident Lynn Blackwelder, who said, “I hope he realized how many people loved him. I’ve had messages from people around the country.”

Lynn and Albert became friends a few years after they graduated from Hickory High. “I’ve been looking after him ever since,” said Lynn, who described Albert the philanthropist, financial advisor, stockbroker, genealogist, real estate professional, and one of Catawba County’s biggest fans. “He’d lead groups on tours of Hickory, where he’d point out historic structures and places and explain their significance,” said Lynn. “He was absolutely one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Lynn emphasized that Albert never bragged about his philanthropic efforts and had a sense of humor. “He told me about an ancestor woman from the 1700s. He said she had a beard and was fat,” Lynn stated, laughing. “He couldn’t have known that. He just made it up. He liked to shock his good friends with his joking.”

Like Lynn, Barry offered a list of Albert’s contributions, pointing out, “There’s a Keiser [Community] Room in the [United] Arts Council [of Catawba County] building due to his generosity,” a fact also highlighted by arts council Executive Director Ingrid Keller, who called Albert a significant contributor to the area’s arts and culture community and a person whose impact on the community will live well into the future.

Barry and her husband, retired physician Allen Huffman, are Southern folk art collectors. From their personal collection, they partly donated, partly sold 153 pieces to the Hickory Museum of Art, “the first folk art pieces at the Hickory Museum of Art to any extent,” said Barry. Albert, who was much involved in the museum and possibly hadn’t been introduced to folk art prior to that time, loved them.

When Albert discovered that Barry and Allen took regular trips to Buford, Georgia, for the Slotin Auction, a private auction company that specializes in American folk art, he asked if he could accompany them, and a tradition brewed: Huffman-Keiser folk art buying trips.

Explaining Albert’s fondness for folk art, Barry stated in his bio, “He feels a connection with the artists who have stood outside the mainstream and created amazing art that reflects the strength and wonder of everyday living.” From 2012 to 2018, the trio traveled to Buford seven times, with Albert amassing a collection to donate to HMA.

Museum director Jon Carfagno said, “Visitors to our galleries now have the opportunity to experience the creativity, ingenuity, and creative expression of leading artists such as Purvis Young, Lorenzo Scott, Clementine Hunter, and many more. We are grateful for how [Albert’s] gifts have elevated our collection to rival the holdings of the best museums and collections in our nation.”

Barry considered Albert a hero. In a written statement of Albert Keiser recollections, Hickory Landmarks Society director Patrick Daily called him “a legend.”

After listing examples of Albert’s support of the society, Patrick stated, “There is not one single person, by far, who has been there for us for so long during our organization’s 54-year history.”

In a 2016 recording of Patrick interviewing Albert, I heard Albert’s voice, his utterly Southern accent. He talked about going to Davidson, where excelling in the classroom was a much bigger challenge than high school had been. He admitted to brown-nosing the professors, which, coupled with quadrupling his study time, proved beneficial. A difficult emotional time plagued Albert for a while, his mental health sliding. Even at this low point during his young adult years, Albert supported the Hickory Landmarks Society, having already developed an appreciation for many of Hickory’s significant structures.

Albert said that in the 1970s he’d sit in the Lenoir-Rhyne library and read the Wall Street Journal from cover to cover before making stock purchases. He made a lot of money, and then “things changed around,” he reported, and he lost it all. Thinking he might declare bankruptcy and off himself, he talked to his financial mentor Claude Abernethy Jr., who suggested that neither was a good idea and tutored Albert in the importance of patience in the money-making game.

Albert became a financial advisor to a variety of people, many of whom he considered disreputable but financially successful, so much so that working with them helped him amass his own fortune.

He became interested in researching his family, including the black sheep therein, and he helped others look into their family backgrounds. Then he began unearthing the histories of old houses and drawing conclusions about whether a place should be preserved or forgotten. Hickory’s 1882 Propst House, restored by the Hickory Landmarks Society, was one Albert deemed important to save.

As the recording continued, Albert shared the good, the questionable, and the scandalous backstories of all sorts of prominent and lesser known Catawba County people, but the tattle-telling was not as surprising as the abundance of details Albert plucked from memory with remarkable ease.

Recording concluded, I thought to myself that Albert, who held nothing back when he was in a tell-all mood, could have had a successful career on TV: The Keiser Report: First the Facts. Then the Truth.

There’s more. So much more. Major contributor to the Catawba Science Center; North Carolina pottery aficionado; 2018 million-dollar benefactor of a digital art professorship at Davidson College; co-author with Angela May of 2004’s “From Tavern to Town Revisited: An Architectural History of Hickory, North Carolina” and so on.

My conclusion is that Albert Keiser found joy, fascination, and purpose in all sorts of places, things, ideas, organizations, and institutions, and he felt moved to do whatever he could to sustain their existence for this and future generations.

A hero and a legend and quite a character.

A celebration of life for Albert Keiser is being planned for a later date.

Reprinted from Hickory Daily Record

Bryan Livingston Blackwell ’47

Hartsville — Bryan Livingston Blackwell went home to meet his Lord and Savior on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Florence, SC, at 96 years of age. Born in Hartsville, South Carolina, on June 25, 1925, he was the son of Barney Edward Blackwell and Maggie Lee Rogers Blackwell, as well as Anna Jane Berry Blackwell, who became his mother at the age of three after Maggie died. He was forever grateful to Anna Jane for becoming his mother.

Bryan was a graduate of Hartsville High School, class of 1942, and a graduate of Davidson College, class of 1947, with a BS in Economics. While at Davidson, he studied voice with Earl Berg and Dr. James Christian Pfohl, the founder of Brevard Music Center. There he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Music Fraternity. Bryan built his career as a rural mail carrier with the United States Postal Service on Route 4 and as choir director for Sardis Baptist Church (Timmonsville, SC) and Swift Creek Baptist Church. He also served as tenor soloist for performances of Handel’s Messiah throughout the region. Additionally, Bryan was a highly respected soloist for weddings and funerals.

A lifelong lover of music and an accomplished operatic tenor, Bryan began his musical career with the First Baptist Church Choir of Hartsville. He went on to sing with the Davidson College Glee Club and as a featured soloist on local radio stations WJMX in Florence and WHSC in Hartsville with his own weekly programs. He appeared as Bob in the opera The Old Maid and the Thief at Coker College. Other musical highlights include being one of eight members of the prestigious Montreat Presbyterian Conference Center Choir under the direction of Dr. Austin C. Lovelace and working as a music counselor at the Brevard Music Center (Brevard, NC) in the 1940s.

Bryan began dating the love of his life Martha Ann Anderson Blackwell, a student at Coker College while singing at a Boy Scout banquet when he asked Martha Ann to be his accompanist. This led to a proposal at Prestwood Country Club, and the two were married on September 2, 1950. For over 71 years of marriage, they were inseparable and were a devoted, loving couple.

A devout Christian, Bryan was an upstanding member of the Hartsville community. He led Sunday School Opening Assembly music at First Baptist Church and was a member of the Men’s Sunday School Class. In his later years, he and Martha Ann also attended worship service at First Presbyterian, Hartsville. Bryan was a member of Civitan International being named Hartsville Civitan of the Year (1996 – 1997), Outstanding Carrier of the Year by the South Carolina Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (1984), and Treasurer of the South Carolina Association of Music Clubs for 22 years. He was proud to be a Life Member of the National Federation of Music Clubs. He was recognized by the South Carolina Federation of Music Clubs in 1984 for his many years of service. In his earlier years, he attended many state and national Rural Letter Carrier Conventions.

Bryan loved pulling for the Hartsville Red Foxes, Davidson Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, and San Francisco Giants. He enjoyed watching baseball, basketball, and football on TV while cheering his teams on throughout the regular and postseason play. He loved reading and was a student of history as well as family genealogy and sports trivia. Bryan could be found most of the time working in his yard until age 92, riding his lawnmower, pulling weeds, and growing tomatoes. He liked dogs and cats, feeding songbirds, playing with his children and grandchildren during their childhoods, and valued spending time with his family. Bryan had a great sense of direction and knew how to navigate anywhere before a GPS and smartphones were invented. He will be remembered for being honest, kind, and having moral integrity.

Bryan deeply loved his children, Joan and Barry, and relished taking his family on trips to see the beauty and majesty of America. Before his passing, Bryan traveled to 46 of the 50 states and also took vacations to Canada and Mexico. He had a deep appreciation for the Western landscape, especially Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. He loved the Blue Ridge Mountains and annual family vacations to Sunset Beach, NC. He and Martha Ann’s golden years were spent traveling to the National Federation of Music Clubs Conventions throughout the USA. One of Bryan’s greatest joys in life was becoming a grandfather. He was a doting grandparent to his grandchildren Kimberly and Brent and with them he shared his love of music and history through summer trips to American historical sites.

He is survived by his wife of 71 years Martha Ann Anderson Blackwell; daughter, Joan Blackwell Hoover (Gary) of Aiken, SC; son, Barry Anderson Blackwell of Charlotte, NC; granddaughter, Kimberly Michelle Hoover of Aiken, SC; and grandson, Brent Michael Hoover of Aiken, SC, as well as several beloved nieces and nephews. In addition to being predeceased by his parents, he was predeceased by brothers, Lester Blackwell, Alton Blackwell; and sisters, Miriam Blackwell Myers and Martha Blackwell Martin. He was also predeceased by older brothers Cecil Blackwell and Barney E. Blackwell, Jr., who died in early childhood. Bryan was the last living member of his siblings.

Thank you to the many wonderful individuals who cared for Bryan at Southland Healthcare Center over the last two years. Visitation will be held from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Brown-Pennington-Atkins Funeral Home on Friday, April 15, 2022. A Service to the Witness of the Resurrection will be held on Saturday, April 16, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. to celebrate Bryan’s life at First Presbyterian Church Hartsville. In memory of Bryan, please make a contribution to the Virgil and Alice Smith Music Scholarship at Coker College or a charity of one’s choice.

Brown-Pennington-Atkins
Published by SCNow on April 15, 2022.

Ralph Lee Futrell ’52

Ralph Lee Futrell, 92, passed away on Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Brookridge Retirement Community.

Ralph was born in Winston-Salem on January 9, 1929, to Pete Harvey Sr. and Ida Hanes Futrell, the youngest of seven children. He graduated from John W. Hanes High School in 1947 where he was active in band, chorus, and sports. He was named outstanding male athlete of his senior class.

Ralph attended Davidson College and graduated from High Point College in 1952. In July of that year, he married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Jean “Bobbie” Morgan. After serving two years in the Army during the Korean War, Ralph and Bobbie moved to Richmond, VA.

In 1955 Ralph attended art school at Richmond Professional Institute (VCU). He graduated in 1957 with a bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis in commercial art. His career began at Alderman Studios in High Point and later continued at Long, Haymes and Carr in Winston-Salem. In 1969 Ralph began his freelance graphic design business, gRalphics, which he continued until his retirement in 1996.

Ralph was a lifelong member of Burkhead United Methodist Church. He sang in the church choir since his teens as well as at many funerals and weddings, including his son and daughter’s. He was also a member of the championship Auctioneers barbershop chorus. Ralph’s greatest loves were creating art and spending time with his family.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his sisters, Ruth Futrell, Alice Futrell, Hilda Pardue, Martha DiPrima, and brothers, Charles Futrell and Pete Futrell, Jr. Surviving are his beloved family including his wife, Bobbie; daughter, Connie Stockburger (Eric) and their children, Nicole and Matthew; son, Dan Futrell (Nancy) and their children Nathan (Sarah), Natalie Shore (Alex), and great-grandchildren, Madelyn Futrell and Beau Shore.

A graveside service will be held at 11:00 AM, Saturday, January 8, 2022, at Woodland Cemetery in Winston-Salem. Please observe masking and social distancing. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Burkhead United Methodist Church. Online condolences may be made at www.hayworth-miller.com.

James “Jim” Lee Binkley ’64

James Lee Binkley “Jim” passed away peacefully at his home in Reston, VA on November 27, 2021 after a long illness.

A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), Jim served at the national level for over three decades as a passionate, cutting edge and effective champion for sustainable design and design excellence. Over the course of his long career in the Federal Government, he led three agencies in refining sustainability and building design standards that have made the government a leader in progressive, green design.

His influence extended far beyond the Federal Government to the culture, policies, processes, and technical programs of state and local governments and the entire building industry. Jim had lead roles at the Federal Government’s General Services Administration and in the U.S. Department of Energy. As senior architect for the U.S. Postal Service, Jim helped direct the design of 29,000 buildings, improving customer satisfaction, efficiency, and sustainability. Jim received the prestigious AIA Thomas Jefferson Award in 2011 in recognition of excellence in architectural achievement in his career as a public sector architect who managed and produced quality design within his agencies.

Prior to his Federal Government employment, while working for Gold Medal winner Pietro Belluschi in Boston, Jim became a registered architect. For 32 years Jim was an award-winning adjunct professor of architecture at Catholic University of America (CUA), where he created the School of Architecture and Planning’s initial courses in sustainable design and taught at least 4,000 senior level students on the specifics of this, using public architecture as examples.

In late 2020 The James Binkley Prize was created by CUA’s School of Architecture and Planning to honor him. The prize is to be awarded annually to winners of CUA’s juried Integrated Building Design Studio projects.

Jim was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on March 12, 1942. He was proud to have been an Eagle Scout and to have received the God and Country Award and the Explorer Silver Award. Following his graduation from Davidson College in 1964 with a B.A. in English, Jim enrolled in North Carolina State University where he received degrees in Philosophy with high honors and Architecture, as well as a U.S. Army commission as second lieutenant. Jim served in the military in a combat unit as captain, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Korea from 1969 to 1971, and was a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal.

Jim is survived by his wife of 26 years, Frances Knox Bastress and his loving children and step-children: John Binkley and his wife Jen, Kevin Binkley and his wife Amy, Jessica Binkley and her partner Jack Brown, Jennifer Bastress, and Matthew Bastress. He is also survived by his grandchildren Luke and Levi Binkley and step-grandchildren Andrew, Cassie, and Tabitha Bastress.

Jim was proud to describe himself as a soldier poet. He advocated that whenever possible in war and peace, do no harm. In line with this, he frequently said, “May all sentient beings be well, happy, and peaceful.”

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Jim requested that any contributions in his memory be made to Fellows Scholarship Endowment sponsored by the Washington Architectural Foundation found at www.aiadc.com/donate“>www.aiadc.com/donate. (After selecting an amount, click on the dropdown menu to find Fellows Scholarship Endowment. You may note Jim’s name as what inspired your gift.)

Published by The Washington Post from Dec. 3 to Dec. 5, 2021.

Elisabeth Crawford (Betty) Ervin

Elisabeth Crawford (Betty) Ervin died at Grace Ridge on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, after a life well-lived. 

Betty was born on May 15, 1928, in Charlotte to Robert Taylor Crawford and Elisabeth Fore Crawford.  Although the family moved frequently during her early years, she always considered Charlotte her childhood home.  After completing high school in Roanoke, Virginia, Betty attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (then Woman’s College), earning an A.B. in 1950.  Upon graduating from college, Betty served as Assistant to the Dean of Students at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, until 1952, when she married Samuel J. Ervin, III, and moved to Morganton, where she lived for the rest of her life. 

From 1953 until 1955, Betty taught at the North Carolina School for the Deaf.  After taking time away from the workforce to raise her four children (she once said of television that anything that could keep four children quiet for an hour couldn’t be all bad), Betty resumed her career in education, teaching social studies at Morganton High School and Freedom High School from 1971 until 1985, during which time she taught the first Advanced Placement history course in Burke County. 

While at Freedom, Betty was the sponsor for the CLOSEUP Program, which provided educational trips that allowed students to meet with governmental leaders in Raleigh and Washington, and worked with the American Field Service, an international exchange student program.

Betty also played an active role in North Carolina higher education. She was deeply involved in the UNC-G alumni association, serving on that organization’s board of directors from 1987 until 1990 and as its president in 1990.  She was a member of UNC-G board of trustees from 1994 until 2000 and chaired the board during 1999-2000.  In addition, she served on the board of trustees at Sam’s alma mater, Davidson College.

In addition to supporting her husband’s lengthy career in public service, Betty dedicated herself to the life of her community.  She served on the Morganton Board of Education from 1964 until 1967, during which time she supported the decision to desegregate the City’s schools and was involved in planning for the consolidation of the Morganton, Glen Alpine, and Burke County school systems.  Betty served on the Morganton Zoning Board of Adjustment, including a stint as its chair; the City of Morganton Historic Properties Commission; and the Western Piedmont Community College 2001 Task Force.  For many years, Betty was the Registrar or an Elections Judge for Morganton No. 5 precinct. 

After her retirement, she participated in the activities of numerous local charitable organizations, such as the American Field Service, the Pilot Club, the Burke County United Christian Ministries, and Hospice of Burke County, having served as the president of all four organizations.  Betty was very active in the First Presbyterian Church of Morganton, where she sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, volunteered as a youth advisor, served as president of the Women of the Church, and was a member of two different pulpit nominating committees (chairing one). 

Betty was the first woman to serve as the chair of the church’s Board of Deacons and was one of the first women to serve the church as a ruling elder.  In the wider Presbyterian denomination, Betty was a member of the presbytery’s New Church Development Task Force and the board of directors for the national Presbyterian Historical Society.       

Throughout her life, Betty was a force of nature who sought to leave the world better than she found it.  Betty was troubled by the injustices that she saw around her and tried to do something about them.  She went out of her way to help young people who needed a helping hand and made it possible for a number of them to obtain further education or to otherwise succeed in life.  She worked hard to ensure that women took their rightful places in the leadership of her church, her community, and her state and nation.  She impressed upon her children the dignity of all people, the critical role of life-long education, the importance of involvement in one’s community, and the necessity for knowledge of and contact with the wider world. 

Although Betty later enjoyed traveling to destinations all over the globe, she made sure that each of her children had the benefit of foreign travel before going abroad herself.  She greatly enjoyed spending time with her many friends at her beloved beach house outside Wilmington and was privileged to help raise an entire generation of Ervins, Crawfords, Sassers, Pattons, Smiths, and Lachots on Woodside Place and during annual trips to the beach.  More recently, Betty enjoyed visits from her canine friends, Poppy and Sadie.  Betty doted upon her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and, more recently, her great-grandchildren, and the other members of her extended family.

Betty was predeceased by her husband; her parents; her brother, Robert Taylor Crawford; and her in-laws, Sam J. Ervin, Jr., and Margaret Bell Ervin.  She is survived by her children: Samuel James Ervin, IV (Mary); Elisabeth Fore Ervin (Ken Razza); Robert Crawford Ervin (Dana); and Margaret Ervin Bruder (Joachim); grandchildren Davin Patrick Coutu, Kelly Stephen Coutu (Amanda), Samuel James Ervin, V (Kaya), Michael Worth Ervin, Cameron Virginia Ervin, Caroline Elisabeth Ervin, Valentin Joachim Bruder, and Samuel Wilson Bruder; and great-grandchildren, Elise Madeline Coutu and Cedar Everett Ervin.

The family is grateful to the many caregivers who provided assistance to Betty in recent years, including Dr. Martin Gessner and the staff at Grace Ridge, who provided her with loving care during her final years on this earth and became her friends as well as her caregivers.

A graveside service will be held at Forest Hills Cemetery at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 11, 2021, with the Rev. Beth Ann Miller, presiding.  Memorial contributions may be made to the Betty Crawford Ervin Fellowship in History at UNC Greensboro, PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170 or the Taiwanese ministry of John McCall (contributions should be sent to Presbyterian Church USA, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15269 and designated for John McCall, E200487).

The service will be live-streamed beginning at 11 a.m. on the Facebook page for Sossoman Funeral Home (www.facebook.com/sossomanfh).