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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.”
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A little over a year ago, Susannah Brinkley and a friend launched an experiment. They hoped that it would help them — and others — learn a lot more about all the cool places and amazing people that can be found in the Triangle. All they needed was a smart phone, an Instagram account and the help of hundreds of strangers.
And guess what? It worked.
Susannah Brinkley, with some of the photos (below) she shared from her recent day with the baton.
Brinkley, a 2011 graduate of NC State’s College of Design, and her friend, Brittany Iery, recently celebrated the first anniversary of RDU Baton. Brinkley and Iery describe RDU Baton as a collaborative photo project in which strangers with only one thing in common — their love of the Triangle — spend a day taking photos of places and people that make Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill special to them. They then use Instagram to share those photos with the 2,000 people who follow RDU Baton online before handing off the virtual baton to someone else to do the same thing the next day.
“It’s a neat way to discover new parts of where you live,” says Brinkley, a freelance graphic designer. “I had lived in Raleigh for six years, and had my own little corner. It’s really nice to be opened up to other people’s little corner.”
When Brinkley took the baton recently to celebrate RDU Baton’s first anniversary, she shared photos of the “Listening Vessels” near the Brickyard, a cup of coffee she enjoyed at Scratch Bakery in Durham, a view of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the pizza she enjoyed at Lilly’s Pizza in Raleigh’s Five Points for lunch.
Others have recently shared photos of an alley in downtown Raleigh, a scene from the Kings & Queens Bowling League and the insides of a gym in Seaboard Station. One recent “runner” proudly posted a photo of an NC State cup. “Gotta show some pack pride,” she wrote. “I’m so glad to be part of this wonderful community of Raleigh. I have met some truly amazing people here!”
About 250 people took turns holding the baton during the first year. Brinkley and Iery manage the project in their spare time, so they only hand the baton out on weekdays. They also ask that those holding the batons steer clear of an Instagram staple – the selfie (or self portrait, for those not familiar with the term).
“We want people to enjoy their day with the baton,” Brinkley says. “We want to see a normal day in their life, showcasing the things they like to do.”
There are a few other rules — post only photos you took during your day with the baton, don’t post more than 6 to 8 photos during your day, and write captions to let others know what they are seeing — but Brinkley and Iery otherwise leave it up to each day’s photographer to decide what to shoot and share.
“Personally, I like to hear their stories,” Brinkley says.
Brinkley and Iery got the idea from a similar project in New York known, appropriately enough, as NYCbaton. They got permission to start a similar site in the Triangle, and have been surprised and pleased with the results so far.
“We like to watch where the baton is going,” Brinkley says. “One time we were out to eat together, and we looked on Instagram and someone had posted from the same restaurant where we were. That’s so awesome.”
RDU Baton has tilted toward Raleigh, Brinkley says, with few submissions from people in Durham and Chapel Hill. Brinkley says she hopes that changes, and that they welcome “runners” from anywhere in the Triangle. Slots in November have already been assigned and there are about 30-40 people are on a list waiting their turn with the baton.
Brinkley moved to Charlotte, N.C., earlier this year. But she has no plans to abandon RDU Baton, at least for the foreseeable future. She enjoys being known as a “baton girl.”
“It’s cool,” she says, “that people are excited about it.”
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E.T. hit movie theaters in 1982, chronicling a boy’s friendship with an kind alien from outer space.
But on this day almost two decades earlier, NC State was home to its own alien invasion. According to a 1961 article in The Technician, a crowd gathered to see — and welcome – the extraterrestrial, which had landed his spacecraft on top of Harrelson Hall.
“Hundreds of students, mistaking him for the Great Pumpkin, surrounded the flying saucer where they knelt in silent reverence and presented offerings of candy, popcorn, and one unfortunate professor,” the article read.
But, according to The Technician‘s report, once students realized it was an alien, he was vaporized: “It was not until the invader said, ‘Take me to the College Union’ that the students realized he was from outer space. He was immediately disintegrated by an [electrical engineering] major with a modified slide rule.”
We weren’t there, but we’re guessing this was an ”unreal” experience for the students who saw it.
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We hope you enjoyed the many different Wolf Dens that we featured in the recent issue of NC State magazine. From the Wolfpack museum that Rod Essick has created in his home in Harrisburg, N.C., to the Pack House that Grey Blackwell and his family have made in Oxford, N.C., we tried to capture the wide range of Wolfpack spaces that NC State alumni have created in their homes.
We had so many photos, though, that we couldn’t fit them all in the magazine. So we created a page on the Alumni Association’s website where you can see the additional photos taken by Durham photographer Ted Richardson. (There’s a sampling below to give you a feel for some of the photos.)
But we also also know that there are a lot more Wolf Dens out there that we didn’t photograph. We would love for you to share photos of your favorite Wolfpack space – be it your den, basement or bedroom. Visit our Wolf Dens page, and submit your photos of your red-and-white space. Go Pack!
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