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HHS inducts five into Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame inductees were Tom Williams, represented by his widow Kay, Jim Sparks, Carey O’Cain, Betty Gash and John Whitmire. Hall of Fame inductees were Tom Williams, represented by his widow Kay, Jim Sparks, Carey O’Cain, Betty Gash and John Whitmire.

The mayor of Laurel Park, a golf course turf and landscape specialist, two longtime teacher-coaches and a longtime city School Board member who raised two Bearcat star athletes were inducted into the Hendersonville High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame on Oct. 12 before the Bearcats homecoming game versus Smoky Mountain.

After a welcome by principal Bobby Wilkins, the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the alma mater, “Hail to the Red and White,” Alumni Association President Jason Pyles introduced presenters who recognized the inductees.

  • Betty Anderson Gash, presented by her son, Eric, moved to Hendersonville from South Carolina in 1957 and graduated from Ninth Avenue School in 1963. Her sons Sam and Eric were star athletes who won a state championship in basketball; Sam went on from high school and Penn State to an 11-year career as a fullback in the NFL. Betty Gash served on the city School Board and was on the county Board of Elections for 13 years. She currently serves on the Blue Ridge Community College Board of Trustees, chairs the board of the Salvation Army, serves on the Usher Board of Star of Bethel Baptist Church and is District Deputy Grand Matron of the Eastern Star P.H.A. and a member of the Carnation Club. “Most importantly is in her devotion to Jesus Christ which is evident in the way she lives her life in service and kindness to others.” After 28 years working at General Electric, she went back to school and became a medical technician. She currently cares for residents at Heritage Hills. She has 10 grandchildren — two of them HHS graduates and one a senior.
  • James Carey O’Cain, a 1968 graduate, presented by his wife, Lutrelle, earned a degree in architectural construction from Clemson University. He worked in construction management across the U.S., from Colorado to Alabama to Raleigh. After his retirement in 2005, he came home and joined the Laurel Park Town Council and was elected mayor in 2011. “We were one of the last classes that started first grade here,” he said. “We were from a different time. We would play tag before school on the slope between Stillwell and the old granite gym. Many times juniors and seniors would avoid tagging a small second grader.” He has been prominent over the past three years in advocating for a construction plan that would renovate the historic Stillwell classroom building and auditorium. “Our question about this grand lady should not be, can she survive another 50 years,” he said. “Our promise should be — allow her to survive another 200-300 years.”
  • James “Jim” Sparks, a 1980 graduate, presented by his sister, Brenda Sparks McCleerey, started his career at East Tennessee State University and later transferred to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, where he earned National Junior College All-America honors. After graduation, he founded Course Doctors, a leader in golf course construction, maintenance and repair. He owned Highland Lake Golf Course for 10 years before selling it to the Village of Flat Rock to become a park. He’s now the owner of Flat Rock Ciderworks. In 2007, along with his brother and sister, he started the Connie and Ricky Sparks Scholarship Fund, which has awarded a total of $154,000 to HHS graduates. “I say this for my brother,” Sparks said of Ricky, a special needs adult who was murdered along with his mother in 2007. “He always said, ‘Go Big Red.’”
  • John Whitmire, class of 1959, presented by Larry Turner, started teaching at Hendersonville Junior High School after he earned a degree in social studies from East Tennessee State University. In 1968, he moved to Edneyville High School as a teacher and coach, compiling one of the winningest records in the N.C. mountains. In 1984 he left the classroom and the gym to become coordinator of school bus safety for the NCDOT. After retiring from the state in 2004, he went back to coaching basketball at North Henderson. A member of the Elks Club and Kiwanis Club, he is active in fundraising efforts for his class. “I am living proof you don’t have to be an A student to make the Hall of Fame,” he said. “We were a clan of Bearcats,” he said, starting with his father, Class of 1920. “All six of us played basketball for HHS and four of us were captains of the team. … I still love the Bearcats. There’s only a few days in my career when I didn’t. That’s when I was coaching against them.”
  • Tom Williams, class of 1953, presented by Kay Williams, received an undergraduate and master’s degree from Western Carolina University. After teaching and coaching, he became assistant principal of East Henderson High School and then principal of Hendersonville Middle School. He came out of retirement in the early 1990s to oversee a renovation project at HHS. Active in the Elks Lodge and American Legion, he was also a trustee for the First United Methodist Church. He died of brain cancer in February 2016.