Meet Neil Pierre-Louis, UNC athletics’ social media superfan

By Kamryn Hailey 

“Nothing, and I really mean nothing, gives me more pleasure on here than being a hater.”

This is just one of over 8,600 tweets from Twitter user @young_pierre24, aka Neil Pierre-Louis. 

To his more than 3,800 followers, he always seems to find himself at the center of attention on social media whenever any UNC team is playing. Whether he’s posting fake emails or ruffling the feathers of opposing teams’ fans, it’s hard to imagine him pulling for any other school than the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Tar Heel born

Pierre-Louis is the epitome of a born, bred and dead Tar Heel. Both his parents graduated from UNC-CH, which made the Durham native a Carolina basketball fan since childhood. Despite his familiarity with the school, he once had no desire to follow in his parents’ footsteps. 

When it was time for him to decide on a college, his interest in engineering narrowed his options down to Duke University and North Carolina State University. He got accepted into both schools; but, as time would tell, he would choose to keep the family tradition alive. 

“I feel like I want to go to UNC,” he concluded four years ago. “I’m glad I made that decision.” 

Although Tar Heel fandom was already in his blood, he brought new meaning to being a Carolina sports fan when he enrolled in 2019. Only a few weeks into his first semester, his peers started to see that his school spirit stood out from the rest. 

Greear Webb, a senior from Raleigh who met Pierre-Louis during their freshman year, said Pierre-Louis was always in the stands and encouraging people to support the teams. 

“I got the vibe that he was a die-hard Carolina fan,” Webb said. “He’s definitely someone I wouldn’t mess with on game day.” 

Taking to Twitter

In time, messing with Pierre-Louis on game days would become the norm. Regardless of the sport being played, he would find himself on social media  — Twitter specifically — talking about everything as it happened throughout the game. As expected, his tweets began to gain attention. 

Sage Staley, a political science major from Salisbury, said she enjoys the humor that Pierre-Louis brings to often-stressful game days.

“Neil’s humor provides such a comic relief,” she said. “He has always been a sociable person on and off Twitter.” 

Although the positivity he brings to game days is well received from the UNC community, fans of opposing teams aren’t always as receptive to his tweets. While the back and forth between fans from different schools can typically be well-disposed, there are always a few bad apples. 

“A guy said he’d rather join ISIS than join us,” Pierre-Louis said in reference to online rivals. “They’ll say anything.” 

These fans won’t just say anything — they’ll do anything as well. He once attended a game in Carter-Finley Stadium, where the Tar Heels took the lead in a heated matchup with N.C. State University. Unable to hide his excitement for his team, his friend warned him that they would have to leave the student section if he wanted to avoid getting beaten up. 

He recalled a time where an NCSU fan resorted to physical violence. While at a tailgate in Raleigh, Pierre-Louis accidentally bumped into a Wolfpack fan, which resulted in him getting punched in the face.

Even when fans seem to take things too far, he always knows when it’s time to take a step back. 

Racism rears its head

“There’s a couple times where a State fan or even a Duke fan or just someone in general was being racist. But, at that point, I just block and move on. I never thought it would get to this point, but you just have to not take what anyone says at face value,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s literally just a game. It’s not that deep.” 

Even with it being “just a game,” Webb thinks there’s a deeper meaning as to why Pierre-Louis often gets so much backlash on social media. 

“It points to the agency that Black people have in 2023. We should be able to speak our minds as Black people, especially about sports where we dominate, and have historically,” he said. 

Even with Black athletes dominating in their respective sports, Statista reported that in 2021, African American males only made up 16.5% of student athletes. For these young men, it’s disheartening that playing sports at the collegiate level means dealing with racism. It’s unnerving that even the fans have to deal with such discrimination on social media as well. 

Webb said when it comes to sports, things get complex. He explained that Black athletes in the sporting realm were initially put there for entertainment. Unfortunately, a lot of North Carolinians get upset when Black fans have an opinion about Black athletes on the court or field.

“There are often racial undertones that I see on Twitter from other fans and just from people on Twitter that are trying to cause a hard time for Neil,” Webb said. “I think that’s prevalent and relevant and something we should keep an eye on and continue to discuss. Because in North Carolina, with its rich racial history and its rich sports history, those two are bound to overlap.” 

The pros and cons of the platform

Even with the inevitable negativity, the good always outweighs the bad. A few weeks ago, Pierre-Louis was at Goodfellows, a bar on East Franklin Street, when a fan from Twitter bought him a drink. He is appreciative of the relationships social media has brought him and the opportunities that come along with his platform. 

“Those conversations we have would not exist in any other medium, so that’s probably the best part,” he said. “It’s definitely added a lot to my experience at Carolina.” 

Edited by Fleet Wilson and Christian Ciocoiu

Grace Bustamante: from high school track to world championships

By Jessica Walker

Grace, Bustamante’s bedroom walls are bare except for a taped sheet of paper with 85 kg. and 110 kg. written on it. 

The first is her goal for weightlifting snatches, which is lifting a weighted barbell overhead in one swift motion. The other is her clean and jerk goal, when she lifts a heavier barbell to her shoulders, and then overhead.

Next to her door is her collection of medals she’s won during local competitions.

Bustamante’s bedroom, however, is mostly for sleeping. During the days, she’s at her weightlifting gym, Oly Concepts (OC), in Casselberry, Florida.

Her world revolves around weightlifting, a sport she started two years ago. 

Bustamante’s childhood revolved around sun-filled days of soccer, horseback riding and swimming in Colorado.

When she moved to Florida at 13 years old, she wanted to continue being active. In middle school, she ran around her neighborhood every day at 6 a.m. 

“Over time, my mom was like, ‘You’re not running outside anymore because that scares me,’” she said, “so then we got a treadmill.”

Bustamante’s family built a gym in the garage where she spent most of her time outside of school.

Eventually, Bustamante wanted to put her strength to the test.

In high school, Bustamante tried out for track and field and threw the weighted ball for shot put. She impressed her coach and joined the team.

“I kind of just got obsessed with it because it was something I wasn’t good at,” she said. “And I wanted to get really good at it.”

Three years after graduation, she still holds records at her high school. By her senior year, she was a contender to win states and ranked 10th in the nation. Her school even hired a shot put coach because of her.

Shot put training is what introduced Bustamante to weightlifting. She lifted weights casually at first until she realized she wanted to perfect her form. 

She reached out to strength coach Jose Colon. 

“He was like, ‘Honestly, I was waiting for you to ask me to help you because you look so hopeless at the gym,’” Bustamante said, laughing. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” 

By her senior year, she heard from university track teams. Ultimately, she decided to attend the University of Central Florida as a walk-on. She was on the team, but didn’t have any financial obligations, like scholarships. 

However, Bustamante started to doubt her commitment to track. 

“Over time, I just knew weightlifting is what I really wanted to stick to,” she said. “I found more love for it. Even after all the hours that I put into throwing, that was just because I was spending time finding something else that I wanted to do.” 

Throwing was no longer a passion so Bustamante chose weightlifting right before the fall season of track began. 

Her next step was to find a coach specific to her new sport. 

Oly Concepts is an Olympic weightlifting gym founded by former Olympian Daniel Camargo.

Bustamante’s first experience with OC was at a meet when she asked its coaches for help.

Two years later, Bustamante practically lives at OC.

“I think she’s going to go far because she copes with failure well, and knows how to resolve conflicts with good perspective,” Camargo said. “And that’s a sign of a good athlete.”

Although this Olympic-level gym intimidated Bustamante at first, now most of her friends are from OC.

OC isn’t like a typical commercial gym where no one really knows each other, she said. Everyone knows each other. 

“It makes training that much more fun, because it’s not only like you’re watching someone get better, you’re watching your friend get better,” Bustamante said. 

Bustamante also has support from other women weightlifters at O.C.

“It was funny because our team specifically became so women-dominated [that] instead of Oly Concepts, they called it ‘Ovary Concepts’, because [there are] so many females,” she said. “It was kind of refreshing.”

It isn’t always easy for Bustamante in the weightlifting space.

“I definitely sound like I have it all figured out,” she said. “You should’ve seen me prep for finals. It was a weird shift for me.” 

Before the final level of Bustamante’s last competition, she couldn’t lift the necessary weight. 

She would cry in her car after the gym because she didn’t know what was wrong and didn’t ask for help. She even took a month off of training.

What ended up helping her through this process was journaling. 

“One thing that I had a problem with was identifying myself with how I performed in my sport,” she said. “I had to do a lot of mental work to kind of separate myself.”

Bustamante also has a support system in her family. Back in high school, her family even helped her hop the track field fence on the weekend to get extra training.

However, when Bustamante made the switch from shot put to weightlifting, she had a tough time trying to convince them.

“They were like, ‘But you’re so good at throwing,’” she said. “‘Why would you want to throw it all away and try something new? You don’t even know what’s going to come from it.’”

Her father, Angel Bustamante, knows a lot about sports, yet she chose the one sport he knew nothing about.

“I had no clue how and where I could help or support her,” he said. “I was kind of a little confused [with] what are the things that need to be done.”

Ultimately, her father supports her dreams. He hopes that, whether or not she goes to the Olympics, she’s happy. 

Despite only being two years into weightlifting, Bustamante wouldn’t change her journey because it led to her athletic maturity, she said. 

“I wouldn’t trade anything that happened because I learned so much more than I thought I ever could,” she said. 

Bustmante’s academic future will always be there, but it isn’t a priority to her.

“School is such a side hustle,” she said. “I’m getting so much more experience being an athlete.”

In the next few years, Bustamante hopes to graduate college with a major in kinesiology. She is considering a career in personal training or coaching for strength and conditioning. 

Her top priority is training. She thinks she has a chance to compete on an Olympic level in the next two to five years. 

Since the U.S. weightlifting team is competitive, she has considered representing Chile — where her father is from. 

Bustamante ultimately knows that whatever she does in the future, it will involve weightlifting 

“If I quit, it won’t be my choice,” she said.

Edited by Courtney Hicks and Halsey Ziglar

‘More than just bricks and mortar’: UNC Naval Armory faces demolition

By Kristen Snyder

The bricks of the memorial pathway line the entrance of the Naval Armory, engraved with the names of Carolina’s service members to remind cadets of the legacy that guides them — but perhaps not for much longer.

“If the armory is torn down, their memory will also vanish,” Air Force Cadet Katie Goldman said.

 This year, Goldman wonders if her team will be adding to the memorial pathway. She is not sure whether to begin engraving bricks or end the tradition and wait for the pathway to be destroyed with the rest of the armory.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s plan

After UNC-CH finalized its 2019 University Master Plan, the Naval Armory fell under the list of buildings set for demolition. The plan envisions a new Institute for Convergent Science at the current armory site.

Surface 678 is the architecture firm providing planning for the new proposed layout. The university expects the institute to give STEM majors a place to connect, expand their research and develop participation in the market.

But for cadets like Goldman, memories of weekly drill sessions, leadership classes and late-night bonding might soon be replaced by the rubble of the armory and its broken traditions and legacies.

Goldman recalled the day she was contracted into the Air Force in the shadow of the American flag flying over the armory. She, and other first-years, stood tentatively before the lieutenant colonel and swore allegiance to the Constitution and the U.S. to lay down their lives, should their country require it. For her, that memory lives closer to her heart than to her mind.

 “I would have the same reaction as if they bulldozed the Old Well or the planetarium or the Bell Tower or the Dean Dome,” Lt. Col. Mark Clodfelter said.

Clodfelter taught at UNC-CH from 1994-1997, serving as the Aerospace Department Chair while also heading the Air Force ROTC program. Clodfelter trained over 70 Air Force cadets in the halls of the armory. He showed them the pillars of the Air Force, not only as a military branch, but as a brotherhood.

 In the drill deck, Clodfelter reminded cadets to strive for excellence in their performance and their morale. He bonded the cadets together as a family, inspired by the belief that they will fight in the greatest military for the greatest country in the world. 

“This building is a symbol of that…the commitment to service and if necessary to lose one’s life in that service to the nation…and thus you take this building down you have lost that symbol,” Clodfelter said.

 Clodfelter and other members of the community have rallied around the armory in the hopes of saving both the building and the memories within it.

Preserving history

 “The armory is more than just bricks and mortar,” Rob Rivers, a member of the UNC-CH Naval ROTC Alumni Association, said.

 Rivers has worked closely with Sandy Henkel, to form a preservation committee to advance the status of the armory as a historical landmark and preserve its place on campus. 

Henkel spoke of the building’s assets, which make it unique and augment the committee’s case.

“Obviously historical significance based just on World War II and the service that this building gave to the UNC- CH, to America… and under architectural significance.”

 In 1940, then-UNC President Franklin Porter Graham, fought to save the university by bringing naval funding to campus. His success brought new buildings, a foreign language program, a pre-flight school and one of the first Naval ROTC programs.

The Naval Armory was designed by Archie Royal Davis, a leading architect at the time in North Carolina, and built in 1942 to meet the needs of the ROTC program. Henkel said that Davis’ design further contributes to the historical significance of the building.

The design of the building was meant to reflect the colonial look of the Carolina Inn while also giving a modernist approach to the inside. The drill deck placed in the center of the armory was built to fit the needs of trainers preparing midshipmen to serve as leaders. One of those trainers was Gerald Ford.

 But in 1996, all cadets and midshipmen were consolidated to the armory as the university accepted more students, and there was less of a need for military training. The armory became the military hub of UNC-CH, as it remains today.

Yet, ground is still set to break on the site in 2027.

Why the Naval Armory?

Many, including Rivers and Henkel, are confused. Other potential demolition sites, like Whitehead Hall and Venable Lot, provide more economic and strategic sense than replacing the armory.

 The armory is still used for its intended purpose. Moreover, it is valued amongst current students, alumni and visitors who recognize the building’s significance to the university’s history. 

 Rivers and Henkel spoke to the willingness of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and the UNC-CH Board of Trustees to recognize the significance of the armory. While they determine the university to be receptive, the main question still goes unanswered.

What aspects of the armory set it apart from other antiquated buildings on campus for demolition?

 The answer: no one knows.

 UNC-CH Facility Services declined an interview about the building’s deficiencies. There seems to be limited documentation indicating why the armory and institute cannot exist simultaneously.

For those who train and work at the armory, that answer is not only necessary but deserved.

Four years from now, a student might walk past a construction site on a North Campus corner. They won’t know that the bricks that surrounded the armory may very well have been laid by the Pre-Flight Naval school. They won’t know that Davis constructed each element with the hope to augment the training of future officers in the United States military. They’ll forget that there used to be a flag for cadets to salute and remember the UNC-CH military legacy that existed since World War II.

 Or, they might just walk past a historical landmark. A symbol of military service and tradition. And perhaps, they might just see a few more engraved bricks in the ground.

  Edited by Preston Fore and Lauren Fichten.

Phenom Chapel Hill reporter blazes new path for young journalists

By Isabella Reilly 

Six years ago, 9-year-old Teresa Fang applied to become a reporter for the award-winning international journalism program, Scholastic Kids Press

She wasn’t accepted. 

“‘We liked your writing, but you’re a bit too young,’” the editor said.

The following year, she applied again, inspired by a fifth-grade wildlife reserve visit. “I saw these birds flying in synchronized blocks,” she said. “They looked like clouds.” 

Moved by the “clouds,” Fang’s second application, an article on bird migrations, landed her a spot as one of only 50 chosen kid reporters. Scholastic Kids Press Editor Suzanne McCabe said the competitive program annually receives around 400 applications worldwide. 

Fang’s acceptance to the program would soon afford her a collection of high-profile interviews – some in-person, some on live television – with former presidential candidates, well-known astronauts, Olympic gold medalists and more. 

“[Teresa] seemed extraordinary from the start,” McCabe said. “She showed a willingness to learn and grow all the way along. By the end, she was leading me.” 

‘Nothing to be afraid of’

And willing she was – within a year at Scholastic, Fang landed an interview with NASA astronaut Christina Koch at 12 years old, reporting a story on Koch’s first space expedition in 2019. 

Fang said she wrote directly to the government agency, and recalled her message being “one of the hardest, most time-consuming emails” she ever wrote. 

NASA responded to the young reporter and invited her to interview Koch on a live broadcast of NASA Television. 

With the day off from school, Fang recalls dialing into the livestream at 8 a.m., patiently waiting her turn among reporters from WRAL News, ABC 11, CBS News and others. 

“I wasn’t intimidated,” she said. “There was nothing to be afraid of – I just needed to speak.” 

Ten months later, Fang emailed U.S. Figure Skating and requested an interview with Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Nathan Chen. Soon after, she was on the road to Greensboro, North Carolina, having scored an invite to the 2020 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships to meet Chen. 

“It was cool to see such a famous person who looks like me,” Fang said.

McCabe said although Fang wasn’t the first kid reporter to earn a high-profile interview, she was surprised by her skill and determination. “She’s not going to take no for an answer,” she added. 

Fang remained a Kids Press reporter from 2018 to 2021. “I only stopped because they said I was ‘too old,’” she said, grinning. 

‘Determined’ and inspiring student

At the same time, Fang was also a middle school student. In late 2019, Erin Kellas, Fang’s seventh-grade social studies teacher, tasked each of her students with a hefty assignment: enter C-SPAN’s annual national video documentary competition, StudentCam

Tapping into her Scholastic confidence, Fang reached out to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for her video. She recalls a month of coordination with the head volunteer for Yang’s South Carolina campaign rally before securing the interview. 

Her family riding along for the 2 1/2-hour drive, Fang recalls meeting Yang backstage at the rally, wearing his signature scarf and snacking on popcorn. Even after her interviews with Koch and Chen, it was the interview with Yang that made Fang realize “famous people weren’t really that hard to get to,” she said.

Kellas said she was “floored” to hear about Fang’s interview with the former presidential candidate but wasn’t surprised. 

“Teresa is a determined student,” Kellas said. “[Her work] was an inspiration to the rest of us.” 

The final documentary, “America: This Equality,” highlighted social, racial and socioeconomic inequality, winning third place in 2020 and a $750 prize. Fang said the competition pushed her to become more active in finding solutions to social issues and helped her learn the importance of communicating those solutions to wider audiences. 

Former Chapel Hill Town council member Hongbin Gu, who was also interviewed for the documentary and since has become a mentor of Fang’s, said she greatly admires the now 16-year-old’s passion for civic involvement. 

“She is actually aware of what is going on locally and at a national level,” Gu said, “and she’s very confident in presenting those ideas.”

Use your voice

Since her prize-winning first year, Fang has entered C-SPAN’s national competition annually, winning second place in 2021 for “U.S.-China: Survive or Thrive” and an honorable mention award in 2022 for “Stand and Deliver: Our Youth Voices.” 

To encourage her classmates to participate in the competition, Fang founded East Chapel Hill High School’s first documentary film club. She said she hopes the club motivates her peers to use their voice. 

“I wanted more teens to jump in because that’s what high school is about,” she said. “It’s a pathway to be the person you want to be.” 

As for paving her own path, Fang is already well on her way. In July 2022, she sent an email to Jessica Stringer, editor at Chapel Hill Magazine, looking for summer volunteer work. 

“I’ve always wanted to contribute to my community’s media and especially to your magazine,” Fang wrote in her email to Stringer. 

And just like before, Stringer responded, too. 

“She said, ‘Can I call you?’” Fang recalls. “She offered me an internship right then and there.” 

Stringer said she was impressed by Fang’s experience and thought it would be exciting to guide and mentor the young reporter. She spent a month as the summer’s youngest editorial intern, sandwiched between third and fourth-year college students at the Sage Road office. 

“I didn’t think of her as, ‘Oh, she’s the high schooler,’” Stringer said. “I thought of her as somebody who’s considerate, mature and driven beyond her years.” 

Despite a lengthy list of experience, the high school student isn’t sure journalism is her future. Fang’s loss of several family members to COVID-19, she said, helped her discover a new passion outside of reporting. 

“After the pandemic, I was inspired to save lives,” she said. She is considering studying medicine after graduation and aspires to go to an Ivy League. 

Even if Fang doesn’t continue to pursue journalism, she describes her journey as “magical,” with one thing certain – no matter what she does, she hopes to be a “trailblazer,” adding, “it’s all about grasping opportunities and using them to the fullest.”

Edited by Harrison Clark and Valeria Cloës

College content creators provide insights, make their mark on campus

By Chantel Gillus

Brianya Chambliss grew up in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where she had big dreams of becoming an entertainer.

As a child, she aspired to be in the spotlight, whether it was through music, dancing or both. 

She also served as a role model to her younger sister, Destiny, encouraging her to stay focused in school and strive towards her goals. 

Kelsey Boyd lives thirty minutes away in Enfield, North Carolina. She started out taking pictures in her snazzy outfits throughout middle and high school, and she created a YouTube channel called DKNZ with three of her closest friends in highschool. 

Boyd was in her freshman year of college, when she was encouraged by a friend and fellow content creator to take content creation seriously. This led to her creating a solo YouTube channel, purchasing a camera and documenting her adventures. 

Jordyn Middleton, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., also had a passion for fashion along with a strong connection to poetry and spirituality. 

She said she remembered going to a church conference when she was younger and being driven to content creation after being touched by the devotion of one of the women she met there.

“I remember the Holy Spirit coming over me,” she said. “And as soon as I got back to Washington, D.C., I remember I wanted to be a part of this and I wanted to share about God just as other people have and how he’s touched me and moved me in my life.”

Different approach, same passion

Boyd, Chambliss and Middleton are all up and coming content creators who have three different, yet slightly similar missions. 

The trio are currently attending different universities. Boyd and Middleton go to UNC-Chapel Hill and Chambliss goes to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Chambliss said she wanted to become an influencer so she can have an outlet to do the things she couldn’t or was too afraid to in person. She wants to use social media to connect with other people. 

Boyd said she got into content creation because she loves fashion. She loves trying to find ways to make things look aesthetically pleasing. 

She describes herself as a micro-influencer with a minimalistic aesthetic. She enjoys creating content for the fun of it, exhibiting her life, outgoing personality, and style in her own unique way. 

“There is no one else at all like Kelsey,” she said. “So me being me, just me being my loving, goofy, just showing my personality, my bubbly, social self. I think that’s what I bring, along with being a resource to people.” 

Outside of fashion and lifestyle content, Boyd and Middleton like to use their platform to exhibit what life is like for them as Black women at UNC-CH for current and future college students.

Boyd said there aren’t a lot of Black students at predominantly white institutions like UNC-CH, and there are even fewer Black students with an online presence like hers. So, she tries to use her platform to answer questions other Black students might have about going to school there.

Middleton said Black womanhood is very important to her. She said being the best version of herself she can be is critical to both herself and Black women and girls in general. 

“I just try my very best to be intentional about the words that I say because I know that the little, young people that are coming behind me are looking at me, and I just want to make sure I’m making decisions that will be positive on them,” said Middleton. 

Unlike Middleton, Chambliss often posts Q&A’s, vlogs, dances and original music. She said she likes to post things she comes up with because she likes the feeling of making her mark on the content she creates.

All of them said they try to come up with unique content and be their most authentic selves.

“I am a firm believer that if it’s meant for you, then it’ll be meant for you. If I continue to be myself, I’m not gonna do anything that is outside of my comfort zone just because it’s a trend. I am going to stay within my realm and do what’s comfortable for me,” Boyd said.

Being a light for others

The three of them said that, as content creators, there’s a gratification that comes with garnering love from your audience and being a beacon of light for others.

Boyd said she can see the impact she’s had on people through her interactions with people on campus. She said people would see her and tell her they watched her YouTube videos and encouraged her to keep making content.

“I definitely see the influence in that and it does make me feel good, and it makes me want to keep going because you never know who’s watching,” said Boyd. 

However, they all said they were careful not to rely on validation from others.

Chambliss said it was important to acknowledge that people might not know what others are going through. So, she said she doesn’t care how others feel about her experiences. Only she knows what they have been like for her and how to express that in the content she creates.

For Middleton, being herself and making content that reflects that is a testament of what God wants her to be. She doesn’t want to get caught up in trying to be who other people want her to be. She just wants to be herself.

To them, the importance of being a content creator is all about reveling in your individuality and never letting up. 

“Believe in yourself. Take time for yourself and say, ‘I can do this.’ Taking the time to sit back and really tell yourself if this is what you want, you’re gonna find a way to do it — no matter how long it takes,” said Chambliss.

Edited by Katie Lin and Guillermo Molero

‘The poetry of agriculture’: Fricks Apiaries shows love to Chapel Hill through beekeeping

By Isabella Braddish

February weather is a guessing game for residents of the Tar Heel State. One day, it’s snowfall. The next, a beautiful 60-degree day that calls for an extended lunch break.

Conditions may be unpredictable, but North Carolina apiarists — also known as beekeepers — start their seasonal work on February 1. Rain or shine.

Chapel Hill residents Guy and Ingrid Fricks began their beekeeping careers when they purchased two bee hives in early 2000s and opened Fricks Apiaries. Following a move from Carolina Beach, the couple became invested in protecting the local environment and building a community of honey enthusiasts

A former yacht carpenter, Guy Fricks turned to beekeeping — a practice he said is a dying art. A proverb has circulated in the hearts and minds of the couple since moving to Chapel Hill.

“Beekeeping is the poetry of agriculture,” Guy Fricks said. 

Nothing short of necessary’

In the United States, more than one-third of all crop pollination requires some sort of insect pollination. Therefore, bees aid in the production of about one-third of the food supply. They also help prevent soil erosion. Without the presence of bees, the diversity and availability of fresh produce would drastically decline. 

“Beekeeping is nothing short of necessary for this world we live in,” Guy Fricks said. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that bees and butterflies help pollinate approximately 75% of the world’s flowering plants. Not only do bees pollinate roughly 35% of the world’s food crops like fruits and vegetables, but they are responsible for providing stable ecosystems for other animals and insects.

The process of pollination provides stability in numerous ecological settings. 

“For decades, honey bee populations have been on the decline,” Guy Fricks said. “From pesticides to parasites to destruction of habitats, they just can’t seem to catch a break.” 

This perpetual decline has been occurring for some time. But in recent years, the decline of pollinators has dramatically worsened, largely due to a phenomenon that the United States Environmental Protection Agency calls  “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD.

CCD occurs when environmental circumstances or human intervention cause worker bees to flee the hive, leaving behind the queen bee and the remaining honey supply.

‘Innovative? Always.’

After learning just how powerful beekeeping is in terms of environmental sustainability, Guy Fricks said he decided to translate his interest into a business.

This drive resulted in the genesis of a full-time family venture that revolves around community, passion, dedication, and sustainability. To Guy Fricks, it also ensures the future of local beekeeping. 

“Innovative? Always. Boring? Never,” Guy Fricks said. 

The Chapel Hill-based farm offers an array of products and services that revolve around the beauty of bees and the art of beekeeping.

Fricks Apiaries produces and sells raw, unfiltered honey from honeybees that forage across Orange, Chatham and Alamance Counties. It sells raw local honey, creamed honey, comb honey, bee pollen, handmade beeswax candles and other hive products.

The farm also sells N.C.-raised queen bees from their locally-adapted stock, typically available from April to September. To ensure continued demand for beekeeping in the area, the family offers pollination services to farmers from February to September. 

For $40 plus shipping fees, patrons can buy Carniolan or Italian Queens, the two most common N.C.-raised queen bees. Fricks Apiaries prides itself on its honeybee selection, Guy Fricks said, as its stocks are selected to thrive in North Carolina while resisting pests and diseases.

‘Nothing quite like their honey’

For the benefit of patrons’ health and individual wellness, the honey from Fricks Apiaries is completely raw and unfiltered, which allows for the honey to retain its pollen particles and natural enzymes.

One of the apiary’s products, freeze-dried bee pollen, has a long history of medicinal use. Propolis is a resin-like material that honeybees father from bark or buds and mix with their wax. Medicinal use of this substance dates back to ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, where it would be used for its healing properties. 

Loyal customer and Chapel Hill resident Mary Voelkel was quick to rave about the quality products Fricks has to offer. 

“There is nothing quite like their honey,” Voelkel said. “Not only is local honey crucial for allergy sufferers like myself, but it also tastes amazing.” 

Another customer, Carolina Ramirez, was eager to offer tips for consuming Fricks’ honey. 

“Honey is one thing,” she said. “But hot honey seriously changes the game. You can put it on anything and see how it instantly transforms a flavor profile immediately.” 

Fricks Apiaries’ products can also be found at fan-favorite shops such as Maple View Farm Ice Cream. 

“Those products sell out quite often and definitely seem to be a hit,” a spokesperson for Maple View said. 

Although Guy and Ingrid Fricks said they love to see customers enjoying their products, they urge buyers to understand how important the art of beekeeping is in sustaining a fully-functioning and lively environment. 

“We need to put environmental issues at the forefront of more minds,” Guy Fricks said. 

As both local and global populations increase, bees are essential in providing a sustainable and constant source of diverse agriculture. 

Local beekeeping and businesses like Fricks Apiaries are one piece of conservation efforts in North Carolina and across the county. Their efforts are possible only with the support of the community.

“It all starts and ends at the individual level,” Guy Fricks said. “We need people to really care about this cause because its effects can be seen both at the micro- and macro-level.”

Edited by Allie Kelly and Mattie Collins

Chapel Hill resident educates community on native plant species

By Anna Connors 

Jerilyn Maclean arranges dozens of native plants on a folding table outside Woods Charter School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In front, she props handwritten signs with the name of each plant and how to care for it. When someone stops by her table, she explains how native plants changed her life. She hopes she might convince them to buy one.

Maclean didn’t know her passion would touch the lives of hundreds of her neighbors in two short years.

“Jerilyn has changed my life,” said Kathleen Southworth, a neighbor of Maclean. “Nature is coming back to my yard. And it’s all because of her.”

Maclean is the founder of the Briar Chapel Native Plant Club, a neighborhood organization with more than 500 members. Every Saturday morning between March and June, she sells plants in the parking lot of Woods Charter. 

Almost every other day of the week, she can be found gardening in her yard and in the park behind her house, offering advice to neighbors, fighting for change in her neighborhood’s landscaping practices and giving talks about native plants. Maclean is on a mission to prevent the extinction of native species — one plant at a time. 

Gardening was not always the focus of Maclean’s life. In her hometown of Napa, California, she began her career in accounting. 

But in 2014, with four kids between the ages of 5 and 11, Maclean was diagnosed with a chronic illness. The doctor’s prognosis was bleak. Her illness was incurable.

Maclean’s garden became her escape. Outdoors, with her hands and feet caked in dirt, she felt at home.

The more she planted, the more her backyard filled with life. Hummingbirds began to feed on the coral honeysuckle by her back fence. Monarch caterpillars crawled up stems of milkweed. Snakes slithered through blankets of woodland phlox. Bees buzzed around blossoms of coneflower.

“If you plant, wildlife will come,” Maclean said. “Every plant makes a difference.”

Maclean began posting images of her yard in neighborhood forums like Nextdoor. And her neighbors began to notice.

In the fall of 2021, Amy Coughlin, Maclean’s neighbor and owner of Breakaway Cafe, asked Maclean if she wanted to sell her plants outside Breakaway. Those plant sales helped spread the word about Maclean’s business.

“She got a lot of attention, and she had a lot of opportunities to promote the importance of native plant sales,” Coughlin said. “Customers and patrons really, really liked it.” 

Soon, Maclean had customers driving in from Cary, Apex and High Point to buy her plants. Not everyone, however, was happy about Maclean’s burgeoning business. 

The Briar Chapel Homeowners Association protested Maclean’s unruly yard — saying her wild greenery was too messy. A tenant next to Breakaway Cafe complained to the complex’s landlord about Maclean’s Saturday plant sales, forcing her to move her sales elsewhere. When Maclean asked her HOA if she could hold her sale in Briar Chapel, they refused.

Maclean didn’t give up. 

Briar Chapel is a suburban sprawl of 2,000 identical row houses. It prides itself on green grass and perfectly pruned trees. The manicured look comes with a price.

Maclean said the Briar Chapel HOA spends $150,000 per year on pine needles alone, which are used to cover empty garden beds surrounding non-native trees. Sod, the neighborhood’s grass of choice, requires constant watering in the summer. Hired landscapers blow leaves on the medians and sidewalks three times a week.

“They want an old-fashioned, colonial look,” Maclean said. “Even if it means the extinction of our butterflies, bees, birds, moths, fireflies, amphibians.”

Nearly one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, some within decades, according to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

With estimates of private land ownership in the United States as high as 78%, Maclean says the onus falls on private landowners to make a difference.

The American fascination with manicured lawns dates back to the 1600s. A New York Times video “The Great American Lawn” explains that, as European farm animals ate through native grasses, foreign seeds were imported to replace native grasses. Green lawns became a symbol of wealth and status — a symbol that continues today.

Maclean said the American ideal of a manicured lawn needs to change.

“Five years ago, there were butterflies all over my yard every day,” Maclean said. “And now I see fewer and fewer, even with all the food that’s available to them. Do people care about that? How much do you care? Do you care more about having your four little round shrubs and your sod? Or do you care more about the future of the planet, for your children and grandchildren?”

Maclean’s yard is small, no more than 1,000 square feet. Every inch is covered with native plants. Bee balm, golden alexander and coreopsis — now dormant for the winter — run along her front sidewalk. On either side of her house crawl tangles of mountain mint and goldenrod. In the back, framed by a white fence, lies a patchwork of potted plants, their leaves only just starting to peek through the soil. Come spring, Maclean’s yard will be teeming with life.

On a cold day in early February, Maclean walks through her garden, pulling out the occasional weed and admiring the baby leaves of her plants poking through the soil. Spring is on its way, Maclean said, and this year will be her biggest year yet. She’s ordered 1,400 milkweed plants from a local nursery, fronting the cost out of her personal bank account. Her backyard is brimming with hundreds more potted plants she’s cultivated over the winter in preparation for her spring sales.

In the last two years, Maclean has sold more than 5,000 native plants, she estimated. She’s given away hundreds more to those who can’t afford them.

Soon, Maclean plans to announce her newest initiative: the Briar Chapel Pollinator Pledge. She hopes to commit 10% of the neighborhood — 250 houses — to planting community gardens of native plants.

The difference she’s made is tangible, her neighbors said.

“What Jerilyn has done is educate so many neighbors like me who had the same mission and goals, we just didn’t know how to get there,” said Rhonda Jones, Maclean’s neighbor and member of the Briar Chapel Native Plant Club. “I probably have a hundred different species now… that I’ve bought from [Jerilyn]. I haven’t been back to a garden center in two years. And I see my little plot of land flourishing.” 

But Maclean doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to keep selling her plants. With four kids and her aging mother all living in Maclean’s house, the bills are piling up — and her plants can’t always pay them.

“I have a grand idea in my head,” Maclean said, her eyes glassy as she gazed toward the community garden behind her house. “But I don’t know how to get there.”

Maclean’s dream is to find an investor to back her work. If someone could fund salaries for a team of three to five people, Maclean said her team could give talks about native plants and work with local organizations to help them develop plans to make their land more sustainable.

“If we could report on what we’re doing around the Triangle, we’d have HOAs calling us and asking us to help save on their maintenance costs, help with runoff and erosion and help bring butterflies and bees and birds back to neighborhoods,” Maclean said.

“Plant by plant, yard by yard,” Maclean tells people. “They won’t go extinct unless we let them.”

Edited by Anna Neil and Noah Monroe

Arguments in Arabic: Duke debate team wins national championship

By Renata Schmidt

A coin spins in the air, casting a small shadow against the projected blues and reds behind it. Majed Al Munefi stands still and follows the coin with his eyes, but there is a confidence revealed in his smirk. The judge turns to Majed for a decision: does the team wish to argue pro or con?

Majed and his teammates Danah Younis, Saad Lahrichi and Zeinab Mukhtar are representing Duke University at the U.S. Arabic debating championship at Stanford University. By the coin flip, the team has competed in five rounds — each win pushing them closer to a spot in the international competition for the second time.

QatarDebate Center runs these debates. The organization was created in 2008 and sponsored by the former first lady of Qatar at the time — Sheikha Moza bint Nasser — according to the organization’s website.

The organization hosts events across the globe from Doha, Qatar to Davos, Switzerland. Last year, the Duke team placed eighth in the international championships held in Istanbul, Turkey.

An experienced leader

A large part of the team’s win was due to Majed’s training. The team captain has been debating in Arabic since eighth grade and was captain of Kuwait’s national debate team in 2021. 

Danah recalls her initial reaction to Majed’s dedication to the team, even before they made it to the international event.

“This kid is so intense,” she said. “I don’t know if he knows who he’s working with. I was like, I feel so bad, like I’m going to disappoint him.”

On the contrary, Majed’s no-nonsense approach to feedback — on top of the confidence he has in his teammates — has created team chemistry that is a mix of late-night talk show repartee and academic rigor.

“When I say something and don’t get to finish it, I know for a fact that Majed is gonna come up and finish what I said,” Danah attested. “And when Majed doesn’t get to something. I know that Saad is gonna come up and say what he didn’t finish.”

Familiar faces

The team’s first debate was scheduled for Saturday morning Oct. 15 against the Islamic University of Minnesota, and the four Duke teammates arrived at the Citrine Hotel at various points Friday night, with Danah being the last to arrive at 2 a.m. Despite the little sleep and the looming competition, she said there is a feeling of camaraderie amongst the participating teams.

“It’s not that I was scared that they would beat us. It’s that you know these people really well, and you don’t necessarily want to go against them and lose against them, or have them lose against you.”

Danah and her teammates have competed enough to recognize faces at competitions like these. She said the teams take over the hotel. 

Maha Houssami, an Arabic professor at Duke and the team’s coach, said the lobby was a place for coaches and judges to debrief.

‘A language that is alive’

The competition is a mix of university students, many of who are Arabs. Some of these competitors are native Arabic speakers — but not all, by any count.

Debaters need to have an intermediate command of Arabic, Danah explained, but your grammar and pronunciation don’t need to be perfect. It’s a speaker’s argument and logic that the judges grade.

“Arabic is a language that is alive,” Houssami said.

Arabic dialects range from regional, such as the Egyptian or Levantine dialect, to classical Arabic, which is used in the Quran. Modern Standard Arabic, also called Fusha, is a dialect somewhere in the middle of the register spectrum. It is used by news broadcasters, politicians, and student debaters.

The rounds are structured so each of the three debaters has seven minutes to speak, and can be interrupted by questions from the other team. After both teams have spoken, each team gets three uninterrupted minutes to make their final points.

Support from the sidelines

Duke alumni from the area came to watch the debate — a show of support unique to Duke despite being on the opposite coast, according to Houssami.

 Houssami said the alums grabbed the team coffee and Advil during their breaks. One alum, a friend of Danah, doesn’t speak Arabic so he couldn’t understand what was happening during the 45-minute rounds.

 She said, “He was just going off the vibes the whole time.” And the vibes were high as Duke beat Yale, securing their spot in the final round.

‘And in first place…’

 Once again, a coin spins in the air, casting a small shadow against the projected blues and reds behind it. Duke wins the toss.

 A few minutes later Majed huddles with his three other teammates backstage in Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The wood planks and switchboards scattered backstage remind Danah of her middle school theater days, but instead of lines, she reads the motion to start the debate.

Danah isn’t confident in her pronunciation, so the team’s alternate, Zeinab, grabs the paper and begins underlining words in different colors under the dim lights.

On the other side of the curtain, the audience is filling up. Seven judges sit in front, some of their knees brushing the underside of the small wooden desks attached to the chairs, no larger than a dinner plate. The carpeted auditorium may have once been as cardinal red as the school that owns it, but now is a muddy burgundy. As the students file onto the stage, the light on them casts a deep shadow on their audience.

Since Duke won the coin flip, Danah takes to the podium first to read the motion. Above her in clear script is “جامعة ديوك” and “جامعة هرفارد”:

Duke University and Harvard University.

The topic for the final round is climate change, and Duke is arguing that countries should take action against countries that allow environmental abuses. 

An hour or so later, the four students are seated in the front row of the auditorium with the Harvard students directly behind them. The announcer says the vote was not unanimous, leaving Danah to wonder what that could mean for her team.

“And in first place…” the announcer says in Arabic as the audience begins drumming their hands on the rickety desks.

 “Of the U.S. Universities Arabic Debate championships…” he laughs, drawing out the suspense.

 “Duke University!”

 Danah turns to hug Zeinab before the rest of the team collides in a group hug. The Harvard students are on their feet as well.

 “I remember waiting and knowing that we won, but I don’t remember the buildup or him announcing it,” Danah said. “It’s a blur.”

 Edited by Jasmine Baker and Hannah Collett.


UNC alum revives trivia, crowds at Linda’s Downbar

By Hannah Kaufman

The underground bar is teeming with people. Elbows brush up elbows. Beers slosh.

Students and adults alike attempt to squeeze just one more person—the last one, they swear—around their table.

The five wooden booths lined against the far wall are rivaled only by the high-rise tables, which, despite their small surface area, are covered with the arms, hands, pitchers and french fries of about 15 people per table.

No one says a thing about the claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s a Wednesday, after all.

Deep teal walls are hardly visible behind many pints of bold, crisp beer signs: “Budweiser: King of Beers.” “Samuel Adams.” “Yuengling.” “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon COLD BEER.” “Bourbon Street.” And of course, the ivy-covered wooden plank that reads, in a delicate cursive font: “Linda’s.”

There’s a $1-off special tonight at Linda’s Bar and Grill, but that’s not the reason for the bustle.

Let the games begin

“Thank you for joining us tonight,” the steady announcer’s voice rang out through the clamor of shouts and laughter. “It’s now time to start Linda’s Wednesday trivia, as we do every Wednesday. The rules are up on the screen, make sure to tip all your lovely bartenders generously—and remember that the winner has the chance to win a $25 gift card.”

The voice belongs to Patrick Wiginton, a 29-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill alum. Patrick is of average height with a big straight-toothed smile and newly dyed blue hair. By day, he’s a remote data analyst at Cisco, but by night—Wednesday night, that is—he’s the star of his own show.

Patrick has been hosting trivia at Linda’s for 15 months, and he’s hardly missed a single Wednesday. He reignited a Chapel Hill tradition that had been lost to the isolating lull of Covid-19, a tradition that packs Linda’s basement bar, the Downbar, with up to 100 students, graduates and locals. And Patrick works for free.

“I’m just doing this for my own fun,” Patrick said.

What is … backstory

Unlike most trivia lovers, his trivia experience didn’t begin during college, but much earlier. At 12 years old, Patrick was an only child and avid reader. He and his mom began watching Jeopardy every night after dinner, competing fiercely to see how well they could do. One night, his mom proposed a challenge that she thought couldn’t be done: guessing the answer to the Final Jeopardy question based on the category alone.

“My mom thought it was impossible,” Patrick said. “I got it three times.”

At UNC-CH, he majored in public health and minored in biology. He met his roommate and best friend Aaron Gross sophomore year. By junior year, they were regulars at Linda’s. They befriended owner Chris Carini and cheerfully annoyed the waiters.

Patrick now lives 15 minutes from Chapel Hill but is often in town. He and Alya Butler, his girlfriend of two years, attend football games and occasionally stop by Franklin Street.

But two weekly traditions are set in stone: Linda’s on Wednesday nights for trivia and Sunday afternoons for what he and Aaron call “church day.”

Beers over bibles, right?

Spinning wheels of fortune

On the most recent church day, it was 3 p.m. and Love Island was playing on the TV. A few customers were mingling around but most of the noise was coming from the bar, where Alya, Patrick and Aaron were seated.

It was Halloween weekend and Aaron was wearing a cowboy hat with a red El Toro Tequila cap-turned-hat glued to the top. Patrick took a sip of his drink and looked up at a short-haired waitress inquisitively.

“Kirsten, when did you start hating me?” he called out.

“Must’ve been the first day I met you,” she deadpanned.

“Yeah, day one,” he agreed.

The staff doesn’t actually hate him. In fact, Patrick’s seven years of friendship with Chris was what landed him his trivia job in the first place.

In 2020, the pandemic forced almost all of the restaurants in Chapel Hill to shut down operations. Linda’s was no exception, and with its loss of business came the loss of a 20-year tradition: trivia in the Downbar.

After things opened back up again, trivia wasn’t the same. Turnout was low and the previous trivia host couldn’t work Wednesday nights. Linda’s had taken a massive hit. But there through it all was Patrick, the ever-so-loyal regular.

“I’ve known Patrick for a very long time,” Chris said. “He’s hilarious, he’s got a really honest vibe about him. He’s just a sweet guy.”

Sitting at the bar one day, Chris mentioned offhandedly that he wanted to start up Wednesday trivia again. Patrick volunteered without a moment’s hesitation. He had never hosted before, but he liked bar trivia and had watched a lifetime of Jeopardy. Plus, he wanted to help Linda’s however he could.

“How hard could trivia be?” Patrick said.

Becoming Wednesday Guy

He refused Chris’ offer for payment, instead opting for a guarantee of free food and beer, and began learning the Downbar’s ropes. His first Wednesday trivia night was August 25, 2021. Only six or seven teams showed up, and while Patrick had prepared the proper amount of rounds and questions, he didn’t even have a working PowerPoint. That didn’t stop him from coming back the next Wednesday, though. And the following. And the following.

Now, it’s November 2022 and Patrick just finished announcing the answers to the Current Events round, which is always the first round. Next might be a wordplay round called Before and After or maybe Movie Title Math. Patrick suspects that the crowd is rooting for Musical Numbers, in which he plays the first 30 seconds of eight different songs and teams have to guess the song and artist’s name.

What the 20 teams in the Downbar don’t know is that each trivia night requires around three hours of preparation. During the actual game, Patrick is also required intense concentration in announcing every round, displaying the answers and reading out each team’s score and name.

(A few weeks ago, Aaron chose the team name: “Terrible Trivia Host Says What?”).

At last, around 10 p.m., the so-called Terrible Trivia Host reads out the final scores. One team shrieks with joy while the rest pat each other on the back disappointedly. The crowd files out, but not before shouting a thank-you to Patrick, who is standing in his corner, face flushed from the past two hours. Somehow, he still has the energy to smile and wave at his fans.

“It takes someone like Patrick to create that type of community around trivia culture,” Chris said.

While generally humble, Patrick sometimes jokes that his trivia nights are gaining him something akin to celebrity status around Chapel Hill. He isn’t far off. Last week, he was walking to a UNC game and stopped by the Student Stores to buy a hat. At checkout, the cashier took a long, hard look at him.

“Oh, I know you,” the cashier said. “Trivia.”

“Yeah,” Patrick replied. “I’m Wednesday Guy.”

Edited by Caleb Sigmon

God save the pumpkin: One Raleigh resident’s Halloween tradition

By Meg Hardesty

When a celebrity dies, Kenny Krause receives a text message.

“It becomes a little bit morbid, because whenever someone dies, my first reaction is always like sad that they passed away,” his daughter, Katherine, laughed. “And my second thought is always – without fail – like I wonder if that is pumpkin worthy.”

His friends and neighbors in his Raleigh, North Carolina neighborhood nag him about his annual tradition.

“Good pumpkin.” 

“Oh, surely this will be the pumpkin.”

Kenny Krause is no artist. He neither draws nor paints. He doesn’t dabble in any other artistic medium except pumpkin.

Every Halloween, Kenny picks a celebrity who passed away in the previous year and carves his or her picture into a pumpkin. Neighbors and friends spend the year predicting and guessing whose face will be on the pumpkin come Oct. 31.

This year, a number of universally known celebrities died: Bob Saget, Olivia Newton John, Loretta Lynn and Queen Elizabeth II, to name a few.

Kenny’s pumpkin boils down to a choice; there can only be one.

So who will it be this year?

The magic behind it all

Each year on Oct. 31, Kenny sits in his sunroom with eye goggles on and a Dremel drill in hand. Elbows deep in it, he guts the pumpkin, ridding it of its pulp and seeds. His shaving and drilling are precise, and no surgeon could match his meticulous methods. 

From years of practice, he’s perfected his concoction of two-thirds water and one-third bleach that he soaks the pumpkin in. The bleach keeps it from rotting before the big reveal on Halloween. If one side is drooping, Kenny might add some shading for more support. But, it can’t be shaved down too thin or it will droop. It’s a race against time for Kenny.

He uses a computer software program to generate a pattern of the celebrity and reduces it down to three colors. When carved onto the surface, these three parts become pumpkin, shaved pumpkin or no pumpkin at all.

After years of perfecting his craft, Kenny knows what works and what doesn’t.

Selecting each year’s celebrity 

Kenny carved his first celebrity pumpkin when Johnny Cash died in 2003.

Kenny is an avid country-western fan, so he found a jack-o-lantern pattern for Johnny Cash “out in lonely internet land.”

In the following years, Kenny found patterns on the internet for Ray Charles, Johnny Carson, Steve Irwin and Luciano Pavarotti. All became pumpkin worthy, each in his respective year.

In Kenny’s opinion, no one of any prominence died in 2008, and there wasn’t a new pattern on the internet for him to use.

Creating the pattern for the celebrity’s face has become his biggest time consumer, making it an operation.

When Kenny selects the celebrity for a pumpkin, he believes the person has to span generations and interests.

“He’s a big baseball fan, and if somebody kind of obscure to the lay person dies – but it’s a real big baseball guy – I kind of have to talk him off the ledge going ‘nobody is going to know who that is,’” his wife, Leigh, said. “I mean he did do Ernie Banks one year. Ernie Banks is not just your normal baseball character.”

He stays away from politicians and suicides, although he did make an exception for Robin Williams in 2014. He avoids anything controversial or divisive, and often takes input from his daughters, Eliza and Katherine. But, he doesn’t always take their advice.

“When Amy Winehouse died – and I’m a big Amy Winehouse fan – I was so upset that she wasn’t the pumpkin,” Katherine said. “I remember being so upset at the time because that was my suggestion, and he didn’t take it.”

Amy Winehouse died in 2011; Elizabeth Taylor beat her for the pumpkin.

A neighborly affair

Neighbors and friends can suggest, plead and text all they want to. However, Kenny usually keeps it a secret until the reveal on Halloween night.

“I would always try and creep by the sunroom, and he would put things up so that I couldn’t see,” Katherine said. “Our neighbors would always ask us and try and get it out of us, but joke was on them because we didn’t know either, so it was kind of funny.”

Part of the spectacle of Kenny’s annual pumpkin is the secrecy; it’s all part of the fun. Katherine even suspects Kenny gets paranoid sometimes and carves from their basement.

Karen Rindge, Kenny’s former next-door neighbor, said she’s already heard who the pumpkin is this year.

“I told my husband, ‘Ooh, I got the word! I already know who it’s going to be!’” Karen laughed, admitting that there is a sneak peak some years. “Sometimes, I think since we were next-door neighbors, he couldn’t help himself, and he had to let somebody know.”

For each pumpkin, Kenny tries to find music to correspond with the person’s life.

When Michael Jackson died, he played “Thriller.” When Andy Griffith died, he played the Andy Griffith theme song. Neighbors anticipate whom they’re going to see on the pumpkin when they hear the music.

“I’ll always listen for the music,” his neighbor, Molly Simmons, said. “The year that Florence Henderson died, I was sitting over here and I could hear the Brady Bunch theme and I was like ‘Oh Lord he did Florence Henderson.’”

When Pavarotti died, opera music played all night long, accompanying the trick-or-treaters on Kenny’s doorstep.

“If you walk by our house on the street and you hear opera music on Halloween and you don’t know the tradition, you might be a little bit confused,” Katherine said “But, it pulls you in, I guess.”

Kenny has built a reputation and community around his pumpkins, bringing a lighthearted, fun and innocent occasion to the University Park neighborhood each year. 

 “They were always the neighborhood house where everybody gathered, and the pumpkin was the draw because everyone wanted to see the pumpkin,” Molly said.

Kenny and Leigh tag-team the celebration each year. Leigh prepares Brunswick stew and ham biscuits for their guests each year and hands out candy. Kenny serves beer and wine for adults and takes care of the pumpkin.

“I remember Halloween as getting home from school and we’re folding napkins, we’re getting soup ready, we’re working on the crockpot, Dad’s downstairs.” Katherine said. “It’s a whole production for sure.” 

Friends and family look forward to it. Kenny sends a picture of the pumpkin to his mother in Wisconsin, and she sends it out to more friends. Leigh sends it out to her father and his 88-year-old friends. Work friends in Wilmington and old high school friends text to ask about it. Even the head of Krispy Kreme texts Leigh each year asking who will be on the pumpkin.

“I get fussed at if I don’t get it on Facebook pretty early into the evening. I’m like, ‘Excuse me, I’m handing out candy,’” Leigh laughed.

To say it’s far-reaching sounds silly, but Kenny has added delight and tradition to his community for many years to come.

2022’s grand reveal

An animated Headless Harry stands to the left of the yard, removing its bloody head over and over. A blow-up coffin sits in the grass filled with beer and wine. Full-sized Snickers, Reese’s and Hershey bars lie on a fold out table next to the pumpkin. A British band plays over the speaker.

Kenny removes the tarp and lights a candle inside the pumpkin. Oohs and aahs fill the front yard.

None other than Queen Elizabeth II shines through the twinkle of the pumpkin.

God save the Queen. And the pumpkin.

Edited by Jane Durden and Mackenzie Frank