Elk Park Patriarch: John Boone appreciates his hometown heritage
Jamie Shell / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Born in Tennessee, Boone and his family moved to Elk Park around age six. When his mother married a military soldier when he was 11, the family moved overseas, spending time living in Germany and France. Eventually, the family returned and settled in Elk Park, and Boone hasn't left since.
"I swore when I was over there that if I got back to Elk Park, it was the last time as far as moving around went, and it was," Boone explained in an interview this week.
Boone met wife, Melba, at the theater in Roan Mountain, Tenn. and, according to Boone, it was love at first sight. The two were married in 1964 and had three children: Tammy, who works in Boone in the mental health profession; Daniel, who has spent the past 10 years as a trooper with North Carolina Highway Patrol and currently serves as an Elk Park alderman; and youngest son, Tyler, who worked at multiple golf courses with maintenance before taking a similar position with Town of Elk Park.
"We're just a tight-knit family. We all live close to one another in town," Boone said. "It's important to have your family nearby where you can always see them and be around them."
Boone spent time as a young adult honing his skills in the martial art of karate. He enjoyed the discipline and won multiple tournaments, eventually going on to teach the art.
"I worked at the hosiery mill with Keith Vance, and he talked me into trying it out," Boone recollected. "I decided to go a month or so, then I decided I wanted my first belt and I was hooked. I stayed with it and moved up through my belts. I then started a school at LMC teaching for a couple years. I taught karate at Heaton and at Cranberry. I was pretty big into it at the time, competing and winning in tournaments, and eventually earned the title of East Coast Knockouts Champion."
As an officer with N.C. Department of Corrections, Boone spent 28 years as lead officer on road squads, taking inmates on projects such as litter cleanup and other tasks.
"I enjoyed the job because we were always doing something," Boone added. "In 28 years, we only had one inmate attempt to escape, and we were able to stop him. I've always thought that to be a pretty good record."
Boone explained that his career in corrections has served him well in his time as mayor.
"One of the things about being on road squad was we worked closely with NCDOT," Boone remarked. "Through that time, I learned a lot about what NCDOT does. They do a lot of things that carries over into what needs to be done in the town. If I run upon a problem here in Elk Park, I've learned from those days what can be done in working with NCDOT and other ways they can help to take care of it.
The NCDOT officials have always been good to work with us on the problems we have."
In 1979, Boone ran for and was elected to Elk Park Board of Aldermen, serving in the position for 18 years for at least four separate mayors.
According to Boone, he became overloaded from working full-time and serving for close to two decades, so he stepped away from the board. During the time away, he retired from working for the state and, a couple of years following retirement, began considering returning to public service and running for mayor of Elk Park.
"After I retired, I figured I could spend more time trying to get things done for the people of the town, which made me consider running for mayor," Boone said. "A new town hall building was important to me and partially why I wanted to run. It was something I felt needed to be done for the town and something it could be proud of and could serve them for years to come."
Boone was elected mayor in 2009 and explained that he has enjoyed what he and the town's board members have accomplished in the past three years.
"I take pleasure in being able to accomplish goals and projects that have needed done for years in the town," Boone explained. "The culvert recently installed above town is an example. There was a rainwater runoff problem present for years, and we were able to work with NCDOT and property owners to fix the problem. It's nice to be able to accomplish those sorts of projects to help people out."
Relationships mean a great deal to Boone, especially those he shares with people who are particularly close to him or who made a positive impact in his life. Boone told of a time when, during a karate tournament, he opted to forfeit a championship match because he was scheduled to compete against his karate teacher. "The promoter was upset but that was the tradition I believed in and the code I believed in upholding," Boone said.
Boone also noted Carroll Williams, a friend who practiced karate with him who was tragically killed by a lightning strike, as well as Paul Cook, former Elk Park policeman who patrolled the town when he was a teenager. One person specially sparked emotion in Boone's voice as he explained their impact on him.
"Not counting family, probably the biggest influence in my life was Lucille Winters," Boone said. "She was the first mayor of any town in Avery County, and I served on the board with her while she was mayor. She was like another grandmother to me. I was really close to her and she no doubt influenced me more than anybody. When her grandson was killed in a car accident, he had a Cranberry Wildcats license tag and I remember her bringing that to me. It was important to her that I have it, like she wanted me to be a part of her family."
Elk Park town staff members who work alongside Boone each day are proud to serve alongside him.
"John is like an uncle to me. What you see is what you get with him," said town clerk Connie Guinn, who has known Boone since age five. "He's as good as gold to me when I need time off from work, but he also expects you to do what you're supposed to do and what he asks of you."
"Mayor Boone will always work with you," said town maintenance operator/supervisor Otis Ward. "I give him a good grade because he's always been good to me, and I know if I ever need something he makes sure I have it."
Boone loves the people of Elk Park and Avery County, and would never dream of living anywhere else.
"The people in Avery are different from folks away from here," Boone said. "The people in Avery County are like one large family. Everybody kind of knows everybody, which you don't find off the mountain. The people in this area are genuinely good people."