When the kids run around in Oxford, N.C., in the summer and see town staple Charlie Easton and his full white beard hanging well below his chin, they ask the inevitable question: Is he Santa?
“What I tell them is that I’m Santa’s best friend and I help him out,” says Easton.
And it’s this time of the year when Easton, 76, says he helps his friend out the most by embodying the jolly old elf, donning the red suit as “Santa” Charlie in holiday parades and at Triangle malls and private functions.
“It’s the best job I ever had,” says Easton, who graduated from NC State’s Agricultural Institute and worked for 35 years in the textile industry. “I tell people I’m just a granddaddy whose grandchildren got too big to sit on his lap. So now I get to hold everybody else’s.”
Easton can be seen regularly sitting on his throne at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, his main station for helping Santa out the last seven years. He started about 10 years ago when he first rode as Kris Kringle in the Oxford Christmas parade. He has his own Santa business card and had to go through a job interview that would objectify candidates if it was any other profession. “They just look at you and see what you look like,” Easton says.
His routine starts in early November with his annual swig of cold medicine to fight the cough he knows he’s going to get. He and other area Santas get a tour at Toys “R” Us to acquaint themselves with what the children ask for. The only day Easton gets off during the season is Thanksgiving. He works in four-to-five-hour shifts and will continue to hold babies and judge the naughty and nice right up until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Every Christmas season, Easton comes up with a theme to develop. This year, it includes his charge to each child who sits on his lap with telling their parents they love them on Christmas morning. (“That’s the greatest gift they can give,” he says.) And he has a little toy, Pete the Penguin, which he says is usually a pretty good remedy to get an unruly or scared child engaged.
There are his regulars who come by, like a group of ladies who are in their 90s who come by every year to have their picture taken with him. And there are always firsts for him, like last year when he got to hold 9-month-old quintuplets.
Or like the time when a daughter requested her mother and father sit on his lap for a pic, only to be surprised by their other daughter, who had been deployed in Afghanistan for 15 months, popping around the corner. “Everybody cried that day,” he says. “Even Santa.”
In his decade of evoking Santa’s spirit, Easton has seen things change. He’s had to deal with the explosion of Elf on the Shelf, the popular toy that “watches” children’s behavior up until the day of Christmas. Children’s wants have changed from footballs and dolls to iPhones and iPads.
And kids have become more inquisitive about how Santa delivers all those toys. “You know, a lot of houses don’t have chimneys,” he says. “I tell them I have a mouse that can get in their house and let me in.”
But what hasn’t changed is Easton’s sense of joy this time of year and his faith in the spirit of Christmas.
“You’d be surprised at the number of children who come up and ask that all the children who don’t have anything get a present from me this year,” he says. “I still believe in Santa.”
When the protests against the Vietnam War first hit the NC State campus, the hecklers may have outnumbered the protestors.
At least that’s what appears to have happened on this day in 1967, according to a front-page story in the Technician. The headline indicated it was the first draft protest to be held in Raleigh.
“The anti-draft movement has hit Raleigh in the form of a rally on the State campus Friday and the picketing of the South McDowell Street Induction Center yesterday,” read the story.
The story described how a representative from an anti-war group based in Durham and Chapel Hill known as “The Resistance” tried to “drum up support for the picketing” behind the student Union. The story said the group amounted to a “handful of sympathizers” that was “drowned out by the shouts of the loud but orderly audience.”
Additionally, the story said the protest was met by “catcalls and jeers from the crowd of about 450 students.” One student carried a sign that read, “Vietnam or no Vietnam, you owe this country six years.”
One student compared the protest leader to Hitler. “I pulled four years with Uncle,” the student said. “You people make me sick. When it comes your turn to go, you hide behind the laws.”
The protest leader countered that the draft discriminated against the poor and that it was wrong to draft someone before they were allowed to vote.
Reynolds Coliseum has seen its share of great performances, from the rock ‘n’ roll stylings of the Rolling Stones to David Thompson’s leaps over opponents.
But on this day in 1961, the arena was treated to something just as enticing as Thompson’s acrobatics when the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company performed there.
The performance, which was a part of the Friends of the College series, was presented in five parts to illustrate the cultural heritage of the Philippines.
One of those parts included the Maginlatik (above). The Technician described the all-male dance as one “characterized by horse-play and the beating of a staccato tattoo on sets of coconut shells positioned on the thighs, hips, chests, and backs of dancers. The dance has its origins in a mock fight for latik, which is the coconut meat residue after the oil has been pressed from it.”
The Bayanihan visit would be a precursor to another dance troupe’s performance at NC State several weeks later. In another performance in the Friends of the College Series, the Polish Mazowsze (below), not to be outdone, wowed another Reynolds’ audience.
Ken Blackburn was, in 1983, an unknown junior in aerospace engineering at NC State who had but one dream — to own the sky.
And it was on this day 30 years ago that Blackburn’s anonymity died and his dream took off as he set the world record for indoor paper-airplane flight in Reynolds Coliseum with his cutting-edge pulp glider, “Bossy,” that cut through the air for 16.89 seconds.
“‘Bossy,’ the record breaking plane, is constructed from a piece of standard-sized typing paper,” the Technician reported, quoting Blackburn as describing his design as being “highly modified” from a design he saw in a book in elementary school.
That November day had been a long time coming for Blackburn. According to the Technician‘s account, he’d been cradling that dream since the sixth grade. He had broken the record, which had been on the books since 1975, by three seconds a year before the historic flight in Reynolds. Unfortunately, there was no official representative from Guinness World Records to record that initial flight.
Even on the record day in 1983, “Bossy” wouldn’t have joined Blackburn on the unfolded pages of history if not for a simple twist of fate taking down another of his planes. “During warm-up, ‘Old Betsy,’ his previous record-breaking plane, gave her life as she drifted into the speaker system in the rafters of Reynolds Coliseum,” the Technician reported.
Ken Blackburn’s launch was captured by a Technician photographer.
According to the story, only six people were on hand to see history that day. But that, and the wear-and-tear that paper airplanes can inflict on their launchers, didn’t deter Blackburn from enjoying his glory. “Blackburn said that his right arm would be sore for the next few days, but this did not take away from the excitement of his accomplishment.” the Technician‘s account read.
Blackburn, who graduated from NC State in 1985, continued his upward trajectory after college. According to his website, he set another record in 1987 with a 17.2-second flight. He wrote and published The World Record Paper Air Plane Book. And he set another record in 1998 inside of Atlanta’s Georgia Dome with an airplane that whirled and twirled for 27.6 seconds.
According to Guinness World Records’ website, the current record for a paper airplane’s flight stands at 29.2 seconds and was set by someone else in Japan in 2010.
It’s not uncommon to hear complaints that college sports have become too much like a business, with a similar focus on the bottom line of wins, losses and making money. Such laments often bring a yearning for the good old days — a time when college sports were were about nothing more than friendly competition, school pride and the values of teamwork.
But how far back does one have go back to find such good old days?
On this day in 1951 — more than 60 years ago — a front-page article in the Technician spoke to concerns then that college sports were becoming big business. The reason for the concern was the money that NC State was spending on college athletics — $417,799 was the athletics budget for 1950-51.
“When the half-million mark is reached, sports becomes big business,” read the article. “As such, intercollegiate sports at State have brought with them intricate problems of finance. There has been considerable discussion in the nation’s press about the profit-loss relationship of sports.”
The story broke down how the money was being spent at State, with basketball getting $174,490 and football getting $132,370. A total of $79,200 was paid in salaries.
“In this day of $20.00 shoulder pads and $19 football shoes, it is not surprising that the cost of the sports are so high,” read the article. “However, the most significant factor in the cost is the growth in the size of the teams.”
The story noted that the football team had grown from 20 members in 1930-31 to 90 players in 1950. The basketball team had grown from 15 players to 35 over the same time period. The number of scholarships in the two sports had grown from eight to 88.
The concern seemed to be less about the amount of money being spent, but in making sure that it was accounted for properly. The story noted that the only auditing of athletic expenditures had been done at the end of seasons, but that the Athletic Council had adopted a policy to audit the spending after each game. It was hoped that more frequent audits would give the university better control over costs associated with athletics.
“The new control is not expected to raise the profit side of the picture, but through its more analytical aspects it is expected that a good deal of money will be saved,” read the story.
When millions of Americans tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning, 1976 alumnus Mike Trageser will have a slightly different point of view. As a parade volunteer, he’ll greet thousands of New York City residents and tourists as he escorts a float through Manhattan.
“It truly is a great experience,” Trageser says. “To be in that parade and walk down the streets of New York and there’s just thousands of people that are there, it’s so much fun.”
This is Trageser’s third year as a float escort. In 2011, he escorted South Dakota’s float dressed as a park ranger and in 2012 he escorted “The Big Apple,” a New York-themed float, dressed as a taxi cab driver. This Thanksgiving, he’ll walk alongside the Marion-Carole Showboat float and its entertainers, the cast of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, as they make their way down the parade’s 2.5-mile course.
While the parade may seem larger-than-life to those watching on TV, Trageser says being there in person is a completely different experience.
“You feel like you’re on Main Street, U.S.A.,” he says. “It’s one of the world’s biggest cities and you feel like you’re on Main Street, U.S.A.”
Just a few years ago, Trageser never could have predicted that he’d be a part of it.
That changed after a conversation with one of his employees at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Penn., where Trageser works as the director of marketing services. The employee had just finished walking around the casino floor asking customers to pick a balloon and pop it to see if they’d won a prize.
“I was joking around with her and said, ‘You really handled those balloons well,’ and she said, ‘Well, I should, I’m a balloon handler in the Macy’s parade,’” Trageser says.
To be in the parade, volunteers need to either work for Macy’s, be related to an employee or be sponsored by an employee who’s in the parade. Trageser’s employee, who also works at a Macy’s part-time, offered to get him in as a balloon handler if he completed the necessary training. But he said he didn’t have time. She then suggested becoming he become a float escort, which requires no training.
“I’m in,” Trageser said.
Trageser quickly realized what he likes most about escorting a float is the same thing he likes about working in customer service: Having the chance to make people happy.
“You walk down the street, shake hands and you touch a lot of peoples’ lives that day,” he says.
As he was making his way along the route in 2011, he came across a boy wearing a hat that said, “Cancer sucks.”
“I just went over and shook his hand and wished him a happy Thanksgiving and he had a big smile on his face,” Trageser says. “That was just really, really touching.”
The same year, he shook the hand of an elderly woman watching the parade with her family and wished her a happy Thanksgiving.
“She just brightened up,” Trageser says. “You could just tell that she was enjoying that parade. It just brings joy to a lot of different people.”
Being in the parade has also given Trageser a deeper appreciation for the work that goes in to it each year. With 82 floats and more than 10,000 volunteers and performers, the event requires months of planning and coordination to pull off.
“The team that puts this parade together just does an incredible job to make it happen,” he says. “People don’t see all of the work that goes in to this.”
On the day of the parade, Trageser arrives at a hotel near the 34th Street Macy’s at about 6 a.m. From there, he picks up his costume and is bused to the staging area along Central Park West.
Once his float leaves the staging area, Trageser says it takes about an hour to reach the end of the route. Depending on where his float is in the parade, that could be any time between 11 a.m. and noon. After that, all Trageser has to do is drop off his costume and he’s free to leave for his brother’s home in New Jersey for dinner.
Trageser says he hopes to continue his participation in the parade and wants to be there for the 100th anniversary in 2026.
When the news of the assassination of President Kennedy reached the NC State campus on this day in 1963, the reaction was one of horror and disbelief.
Many students were in class on that Friday, while others were already getting ready for the final home football game of the season — a Friday night clash against Wake Forest.
As the news started to break, students rushed to the Union or their dormitories to gather around television sets “to listen in disbelief as the confirmation of the President’s death was announced,” according to a story in The Technician.
At 5 p.m., the Memorial Bell Tower played the national anthem. University officials announced that the game that evening would go on as planned, and be played in memory of Kennedy.
Not surprisingly, there was a somber tone to the game. The bands from the two schools took the field “at a funeral cadence, not the customary excited pace,” according to a story in The Technician.
Chancellor John T. Caldwell spoke to the crowd before the game began. “This is a day of deep tragedy for our nation and all mankind,” he said. “Let not the playing of this game tonight diminish our sense of respect for our great departed President and the office he held.”
Then, following a moment of silence, Caldwell read the last stanza of the national anthem.
NC State went on to win the football game, 42-0, to assure itself of a tie for the ACC title. All university classes were suspended between 11 a.m and 1 p.m. the following Monday.
With his creation of tournament basketball in the South, the freight-train speed of his fast break or his gimmicks like the applause meter inside of Reynolds Colisuem, Everett Case changed the game of basketball at both ends, and off of the court.
It turns out those innovations stretched even to Hollywood. Case was known for having his games and practices recorded, and those tapes were used for him to grow the sport and to teach others about his unique view of the game.
And it was on this day in 1950 that The Technician reported that NC State games would be recorded in Technicolor for the first time. While most of the games would be recorded in black and white that 1950-51 season, the matchups with the other teams of the Big Four — Duke, Wake Forest and UNC — got the innovative rainbow treatment on film.
The Technician reported that it was Reynolds’ state-of-the-art lighting facilities that allowed for Technicolor filming for Wolfpack games for the first time.
“Requests from all over the United States and from overseas occupation units have been placed for the films,” read The Technician article. “Uncle Sam appears to have taken a special interest in them. The American command in Munich, Germany wishes to use the movies to aid in their athletics program. …High school basketball teams in every section of the country are studying the offensive and defensive plays of the Wolfpack by the means of these films.”
Jessica Roush, a 2010 NC State graduate living in Milwaukee, Wis., has been listening to public radio for as long as she can remember.
“My parents are pretty avid NPR listeners. Growing up we would listen in the car and on road trips,” says Roush, who works as a textile designer for Kohl’s department stores.
So when Roush heard about the My Sound World competition on Threadless, an online site that designs and sells clothing, she jumped at the chance to design the official T-shirt for NPR.
Roush’s design, “NPR: Plugged In,” features a pair of over-the-ear headphones topped with urban, suburban and rural landscapes and the cord spelling out NPR below. It was inspired by how Roush listens at work.
A few weeks later, her design was selected out of more than 150 submissions as the winner. She was at work when she received the email.
“It was fantastic, I was completely flabbergasted,” Roush says. “I totally screamed at work and everybody kind of gathered around my desk. I assumed I wasn’t going to win anything, so it came as a huge surprise.”
In addition to having her design sold as the official NPR T-shirt, Roush won a cash prize, Threadless gift credit, a special edition iPod dock, an autographed copy of “This is NPR” and a private tour of NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Roush plans to take the trip over her Christmas vacation and is looking forward to visiting the NPR music office, home of the Tiny Desk Concert series, and putting faces with the names of some of her favorite radio personalities.
“I really lucked out,” Roush says. “A lot of people I know that have entered on Threadless have dozens of entries that don’t win and sometimes you just luck out, so I was really fortunate.”
Though Roush designed for NC State’s Art2Wear in 2009 and double-majored in art and design and textile technology, she says designing the shirt was different than any of the work she did at State, where she was an Anni Albers Scholar.
“In school it was more print pattern-based and more dying and weaving and things like that,” Roush says. “It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started to do more graphics.”
She says designing a T-shirt for a Threadless competition was also different than the work she does at Kohl’s.
“It’s a younger audience and a younger buyer versus Kohl’s,” Roush says. “I don’t get to do as many younger or kid-friendly designs.”
Roush says entering design competitions on Threadless is a way for her to do some “work outside of work” and broaden her portfolio.
Though she had only entered a few times before winning the NPR contest, Roush says she plans to enter many more in the future.
Roush’s “NPR: Plugged In” T-shirt is available online in the NPR shop.
Richard Holcomb loved growing up around his family’s feeder pig farm in Whiteville, N.C. — so much so that he considered going into farming himself. When his family moved to Conway, S.C., he worked on local farms as hired help.
But when Holcomb graduated from high school in 1979, he says the conventional wisdom in farming was “get big or get out.”
“I got out,” he says.
He studied computer science at the University of South Carolina for three years and and then started his master’s in the same field at NC State in 1983. A year later, he left State to work in the software industry for more than two decades, founding and investing in more than 30 local software companies. Along the way, he returned to State and completed his master’s degree in in 1989.
“Software when I started it in my early 20s was really exciting,” Holcomb says. “The IBM PC had just been invented, things like Microsoft Windows had just come out. Everything was new — everything needed to be done. A small company with just a couple people could make a really big difference.”
But by the early 2000s, Holcomb says the industry had changed and the days of garage startups were all but gone. Much of his workdays were spent attending business meetings and watching PowerPoint presentations. Holcomb says it was time for him to change course.
Richard Holcomb tending to the chickens (Photos courtesy of Jamie DeMent, Coon Rock Farm)
In 2004, he moved from his inside-the-Beltline home in Raleigh to the 65-acre Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, N.C. to get in on the local and organic farming movement.
“It was time for something new, and the organic and local farming movement was just starting to really take off,” Holcomb says. “I decided if I’m still young enough to make that move, I’ll follow what I wanted to do when I was 17. [Organic farming is] almost like being 20 again because it’s so exciting and fun to do. It doesn’t involve a lot of meetings and it never involves a PowerPoint.”
Today, Holcomb and his staff of five full-time employees and five to seven interns grow more than 100 varieties of heirloom vegetables without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. They also raise chickens and grass-fed livestock on the farm and on 300 acres of land in and around Orange County.
On the farm, sheep, pigs and cows are rotated through the gardens to eat weeds and provide natural fertilizer for the crops.
“Although it’s the farming they used to do 1,000 years ago, it’s exciting and fresh,” Holcomb says. “There’s a lot of new, young people getting into it and the market is growing very rapidly.”
With the ramped-up use of pesticides and genetically modified crops in mainstream agriculture, Holcomb says the growing popularity of organic foods is due largely to health concerns.
“You can look at different scientific studies if you want,” he says, “but at the common sense level, if I’m spraying something on a plant that’s going to kill a bug and then I’m going to eat the plant, is it going to kill me?”
Holcomb purchased a farm-to-table restaurant in Durham, N.C. called Piedmont in 2010 and a produce delivery service called Bella Bean Organics in 2012. According to Holcomb, Coon Rock Farm makes an estimated 500-1,000 shipments each week through Bella Bean and Community Supported Agriculture, another delivery service. Coon Rock also sells produce and meats at various Triangle farmers’ markets.
Holcomb says he’s committed to showing that it’s possible to eat local, healthy and organic foods year round, even if it means getting up early on a cold January morning or working through a hot summer afternoon. Although he admits working in extreme heat and cold is one of the hardest parts of his job, Holcomb says days when the weather is just right are by far the best and most rewarding.
“Seventy degrees. The sun’s not too bright, but it’s not cloudy. It’s perfect to be outside planting seed or picking okra or riding the tractor,” Holcomb says. “It’s days like this that make farming worthwhile.”