For nine decades, Our State has made its way into homes across North Carolina, the United States, and the world. To celebrate, every month this year, we’re paying tribute to the readers who inspire us, offering a taste of our earliest recipes, and revisiting old stories with new insights. Follow along to find out how our past has shaped our present.
John Hall isn’t too keen on talking about himself. What he’s keen on is Hickory. “Demographics don’t show it,” he says of the city of about 40,000, “but we have a SALT Block.” This salt block isn’t meant for livestock, though. Instead, SALT is an acronym for Science, Art, and Literature Together. “In a radius of just a block,” John says, “Hickory has a very fine science center, the second-oldest art museum in the state, a planetarium, an aquarium, a professional orchestra that performs for eight counties, and a minor league baseball team.”
John’s pride for Hickory runs in his blood. His family has been in Catawba County since the 1700s; his great-aunt even designed the county seal. Add Lenoir-Rhyne University to the list, and John’s ties to Hickory grow even stronger. His great-grandfather, a Lutheran pastor who drew the first map of Catawba County — now safeguarded in the Library of Congress — was one of four individuals who founded the university in 1891. John’s grandfather and father were Lutheran pastors as well.
After John graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne — or “LR,” as he refers to the university where he was a scholarship kid and worked multiple jobs — he began his career in its admissions department before taking a position as a copier salesman.
“I thought I’d lost my mind,” he says with a laugh. It turned out that John was very good at sales, and he remained in the office hardware and networking business for 35 years. “I developed a great respect for salespeople,” he says. “Walk across college campuses and ask people what they want to do when they grow up, and nobody says ‘sales’ — but a whole bunch of them wind up doing just that in some fashion.”
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Thirty years ago, John’s sons were high school cross-country runners, a tough sport that requires tenacity and determination and doesn’t offer a lot of glory. “I wanted to give these athletes their day in the sun,” he says.
So he partnered with United Way, where he’d been volunteering for years, to found the United Way Cross Country Invitational, an annual event that draws 900 runners from 35 high schools across North Carolina. Each year, the event features a theme and a keynote speaker and “doesn’t raise a dime,” John says. Instead, it highlights life lessons such as perseverance and the importance of helping others.
That’s John’s way, too. He helped bring Hickory’s interactive children’s park to fruition, but he credits the “young folks” who are members of Friends of Hickory, as well as Lowes Foods. “We’ve been blessed with incredibly generous corporate citizens,” he says.
Press John for the innumerable ways in which he advocates for the community that his family has been part of for hundreds of years, and you’ll only get: “I love where I live, and I try at every opportunity to pitch in and help make it better.”
Right now, John’s hurrying to get to a basketball game at — where else? — Lenoir-Rhyne. He’s a busy man — in church and at Rotary, on boards and behind the scenes. Most important, he’s a father of three, grandfather of 11, and great-grandfather of seven. John Hall is a Hickory hero, and he’s an Our State reader.
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To commemorate our 90th anniversary, we’ve compiled a time line that highlights the stories, contributors, and themes that have shaped this magazine — and your view of the Old North State — using nine decades of our own words.