By Jim Dunn

Sometimes life gives you great gifts.  My experience has shown those gifts frequently show up in the guise of people.  There are five people who will be big in my memories of the Hickory Nut Gorge.  For without them, The Hickory Nut Gorge Foundation (HNGF) would not exist as it most certainly does.

We have over $100,000 in our endowment with another $100,000 pledged in the next several years.    We are well on our way to a quarter of a million dollars.  That is essentially our savings account for the Gorge.  It speaks well to the relatively small number of folks who live in the Gorge.  It speaks to our love of the place.

Tommy Hartzog always seems to be at or near the creative center of the Gorge Community.  From being a good neighbor to WAVE (We Are Very Enthusiastic – a group of local business leaders), to the Chamber of Commerce. If it means it’s good for the Gorge, Tommy pitches in.  A WAVE breakfast was where the idea of the HNGF was germinated.

Ann Herrmann-Nehdi was one of the original three founders.  She served on the board for several years.  Her world class insights into the ways that people think was instrumental in the fundamental aspects of the HNGF as it exists today.  She has been a major supporter of the foundation since the beginning.

Tom McKay was the second of the Three Musketeer founders.  He served on the board until this year.  Tom is one of those unique people who quietly gives to the community of his time and resources.  He loves this community as much as anyone I have met.  He has been there through the beginning.

Valerie Hoffman is the creative genius who has been there from the start.  The tag line “Giving Beyond the Horizon” was solely Val’s work.    As always, her words are accurate and moving.    Gifts to the endowment require a certain amount of faith as the real benefit to the Gorge will be more clearly viewed by those who follow.

Joe Satrape is the visionary who, early on, saw the lasting value of the HNGF to our community and signed on.  He came up with the concept of Founder’s Circle.  We would have stalled without Joe’s leadership and generosity.  He has been instrumental in raising funds for operations.  He took the reins of leadership for a term.

I am the last of the guilty parties.  With Susan and me spending most of our time in Florida, it isn’t conducive to being a good board member.  Our bylaws call for three terms of three years, and we are eight years into it.  And it is time to Susan and me to move on to our own new horizons.

There were some surprises along the way.    Both good and bad.  The initial funding strategy went by the wayside with the economic downturn.  And Founder’s Circle (FC) was birthed out of necessity.  There are now over 30 community leaders who are setting the way for building/preserving a generous community spirit by leaving a permanent legacy in our beloved Gorge with a $250 annual contribution to the HNGF.  The ultimate target is one hundred donors.  That would grow the endowment by $25,000 per year.

Our goals for the Gorge we love are both small and large:

Small injections of capital to help our charities, fire departments, school, towns, and other community organizations do their jobs just a little bit better.

Recognizing  folks who have made a positive significant contribution to the Gorge,

Helping  establish a community where dignity and respect for each person is non-negotiable and the first question we ask is not “What’s in it for me?” but rather “What’s the right thing to do?”.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that we found that many of the new initiatives in the Gorge show up on the HNGF radar screen early in the process.  It is in some ways like being on Shark Tank without the cameras.  Frequently HNGF support helps move critical initiatives down the road a bit.  Twenty years from now, the endowment will be of a size and caliber to provide significant help to the folks who are fortunate enough to live in the Hickory Nut Gorge.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve and be on the right side of history.    I hope the Hickory Nut Gorge finds value, over time, in the endowment. I was honored to be part of its beginning.

Editor’s note: Jim Dunn was honored at a HNGF reception June 25, Lake Lure Inn, for his initial vision of the Foundation and his tireless efforts in making it a sustainable success.