Tommy Hartzog with wife, Julie, Sonora and Logan

As The Mountain Breeze celebrates its 30th anniversary year serving the greater Lake Lure area, we are recognizing local history makers for each of our Breeze editions this year. Here is our Breeze interview with local history maker Tommy Hartzog:

When did you first arrive to Lake Lure?

1986 was the first time as an adult that I “put down roots” in the Hickory Nut Gorge. My first recollection of the lake was in 1952 swimming here on a family vacation. We moved here full time in 1992.

What led you here?

Mountains and lake, flora and fauna, quality of life, authenticity of relationships, proximity to aging parents, slower pace, healthful living.

Please tell us about your family.

I was raised in Cherokee County, SC which lies adjacent to Rutherford County. I have three brothers and three wonderful sister in laws and many nieces and nephews. My immediate family consist of five kids and five grandkids. Our last two were raised here. In fact, our 22 year old daughter, Sonora, is very likely the only living person that was physically born within the town limits of Lake Lure.

Do you have a favorite hobby or sport?

Time is a precious commodity but, when time permits, yoga, golf, hiking, skiing, with a bit of hunting.

What is “WAVE” and how did it start?

WAVE is an acronym for “we are very enthusiastic” and was initiated casually in Feb. of 2003 with an open invitation to a Community Betterment breakfast. 27 people showed up and agreed to meet monthly to identify and initiate ideas that would make our greater community more connected, focus on essential needs, foster teamwork and advocate with jurisdictional bodies. It grew in the first three years to host over 100 people monthly. Of course, in the beginning, ideas included a school, a grocery store, a unique and vibrant festival that would we would own, essential infrastructure expansion, constructive public discourse.

What a fun, optimistic “can do” and dedicated group of people. We had no dues, no officers and were freewheeling. As ideas matured a “champion” would rise to the surface and “own” a project. As an example, Doug Long suggested a regional sports festival and The Lake Lure Olympiad became a reality. I attended a social function in October of 2003 in Asheville and, in the kitchen of that house, had a great conversation with Bob Ingles Sr., and the next week hosted his real estate advanced team to evaluate of what is now our Ingles market. Bill and Rae Frykberg were passionate and persistent about a school and planted many small seeds of what is now Lake Lure Classical Academy.

Each month a different individual or business would agree to buy everyone’s breakfast the following month. The unselfishness was amazing. We would have guest speakers occasionally and politicians and County staff began to show up.

WAVE fizzled a bit as my business and kids grew, and as the Chamber restarted and reinvented itself in 2012, WAVE became less relevant.

Breeze readers have a good sense of the local business climate through “Your Chamber at work” column. As Hickory Nut Gorge Chamber executive director, what is your vision and hope for our Gorge community?

The Hickory Nut Gorge exist in my head as “the little engine that could”. We make a lot happen here out of very little. The resolve and practical resourcefulness exhibited here are dramatic. We, demographically, are a tiny community. Yet we generate well over half the annual funds for the County TDA. We generate an enormous amount of property tax revenue for the county.  We feed the “top end of the funnel” for resettlement and investment in our region. Our business owners and organizations like the CDA in Chimney Rock are my heroes. Our low base population and our seasonality present challenges that most small business owners are not willing to face. Balancing employee expense, fixed operational costs, predicting inventory needs in a wildly fluctuating cash flow scenario is emotionally unsettling and can be overwhelming. The good news is, over the last 20 years, the shoulder seasons have strengthened and the gap in the winter dead period continues to shrink.

A final word, please.

While doing Saturday chores with my youngest daughter nine years ago I heard an incredibly profound sentiment expressed by that precious child. “Daddy, I can’t believe we get to live here” will forever remind me of how fortunate I am to experience this magical place we call home. There is no standing still in life. We must have forward momentum to meet the needs of an ever changing world. Our collective challenge is to grow in a directed, managed manner that preserves the character traits we so dearly treasure within our community. The only way to do that is to communicate openly about our concerns and plow through disagreements with a spirit of teamwork.

Thank you, Tommy, for your extraordinary skill and determination to make such important and significant history in this community. Your continuing efforts are deeply appreciated by those who visit and those who call this wonderful place home.