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PUBLISHED ONLINE MARCH 24, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 12

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)

Johnston Arts Council celebrates 50th anniversary

Smithfield's John Hobart was the honored guest at last Sunday's reception celebrating the founding of the Johnston County Arts Council in 1972.

He's regarded as its founder while working as dean of students at newly established Johnston Technical Institute (today's Johnston Community College).

Appropriately, Sunday's event was staged in the Frank Creech Gallery at JCC, acknowledging the college's supporting role in getting the Arts Council off the ground. The event also marked the opening of an exhibit of artwork by current Arts Council board members that will remain on display through April 24: open 10-3 Saturdays, 3-5 Sundays.



Johnston, as most of N.C., rises to "low risk" status

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for this week the first time shows North Carolina with NO counties at "high risk of illness and strain on the health-care system" because of COVID-19, and only seven of the state's 100 counties with "medium" risk (one of those is neighboring Wayne). Johnston and 92 other counties are now at "low" risk of rampant infections, according to the CDC.

The Johnston County Public Health Department's mid-week report shows why:
Just 212 new coronavirus cases were detected here in the past week, with just seven Johnstonians hospitalized as of Wednesday because of COVID-19.

Still, three more deaths were recorded, while just 170 more residents joined the ranks of those fully vaccinated, leaving our rate at 54% of the county's total population (88% of Johnstonians age 65 and older are now fully vaccinated).

This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed 17 active cases among students and just one among staffs, up slightly from a total of 15 last week. West Smithfield Elementary reported 2 cases among its students while Smithfield Middle School reported 1 (same as last week).

VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>


Case total
since 3-20 
(last week)
since 3-20 
(last week)

(last week) 
Fully vaccinated *
[got boosters]
( 56,366)
112,743: 54%**
6,454,918: 62%**
UNITED STATES 79,844,751
  217,184,868: 66%**
WORLDWIDE 475,935,572
total doses
* 2 doses Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or 1 dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
** Percentage of total population (all ages)

Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:23 p.m. March 22
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:15 p.m. March 23
Johns Hopkins University at 8:20 a.m. March 24

A scene from County Government's planning retreat: On the left is Commissioner Ted Godwin, seated next to Commissioner Dickie Braswell, County Manager Rick Hester, and County Attorney Jennifer Slusser. (County of Johnston Facebook photo)

County Commissioners debate capital priorities

At their two-day planning retreat at Campbell University last week, Johnston's commissioners agreed that their most immediate priority is funding two construction needs: new schools and new administrative offices for county agencies.

Which of those two should get the most of about $350 million likely available for capital projects over the next couple of years was unresolved.

Commissioner Fred Smith got the debate going when he declared building a new County Government administrative campus at an estimated cost of $180 million "the most important thing facing us today." Furthermore, he said Johnston has "enough schools in place today to accommodate all students" – if attendance districts were adjusted to relieve overcrowded schools.

"I'm on the opposite side," responded Commissioner Ted Godwin, who said a less costly option would be a new office building for the Department of Social Services that would free up several buildings it presently occupies for other county departments in need of more space. (A consultant's study to provide options and costs for relocating county offices is "near the end," County Manager Rick Hester told the board.)

Commissioners didn't get into the details of school construction during the retreat, except to remind themselves that a deadline is looming on the size of a school-bond referendum to add to ballots for November's General Election. Recent discussions with school-board members have brought forth mention of $250 million.

During last Thursday's opening session of the planning retreat, commissioners were told by Kyle Laux of Davenport & Company that the county has saved about $27 million in bond-interest expense over the past 20 years because of upgraded credit ratings, plus another $45 million saved through bond refinancing at reduced interest rates. (Davenport has been advising the county on financial matters, especially on steps to raise its credit ratings, since 1999.)

After hearing requests from two service providers at Monday's meeting, the board agreed to contribute up to $1 million from the county's pot of federal COVID-relief funds to whichever company wins a state grant to extend high-speed Internet service to rural areas of Johnston that currently don't have it. BrightSpeed (taking over Lumen/Century Link later this year) and Charter (Spectrum) presented proposals for serving specific areas of Johnston, mostly in southern and northeastern sections, and said they will proceed with those plans to some extent even if requested grants of $4 million from the state are not awarded.

Dr. William E. Smith of Smithfield's Willowrun Veterinary Hospital was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Johnston County Board of Health. VIEW the complete roster>

TELECASTS from both days of the commissioners' planning retreat as well as Monday's regular meeting of the board are on the county's YouTube channel>


As the seasons change,
so do the signs in yards
of our satisfied customers.


A new high: 100,000+ Johnstonians hold jobs

While the unemployment rate in Johnston County rose to 3.2% in January, the number of Johnstonians employed topped the 100,000 mark for the first time, according to the latest monthly report from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

The January tally shows 100,184 Johnstonians in a total labor force of 103,548 were employed, leaving 3,364 out of work – resulting in a jobless rate of 3.2%, up from a revised rate of 2.8% in December.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago, Johnston's jobless rate soared to a peak of 11% in May when the number of employed Johnstonians dropped to 82,005 while 10,667 were unemployed.

Johnston's jobless rate of 3.2% in January was below the statewide rate of 3.8%


20 teachers semi-finalists for "Flame for Learning"

They're in the running to be named Johnston County's "Teacher of the Year" by the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce next month. This is the 28th year of the "Flame for Learning" award, a project launched by Johnston's public schools in cooperation with the county's chambers of commerce.

Amanda Atoske
Amanda Jackson
Patience Spivey

On the list of semi-finalists are Beverly Harper and Patience Spivey of Smithfield Middle School, Amanda Atoske of Smithfield-Selma High, Amanda Jackson of South Smithfield Elementary, and Kristine Gear of the Innovation Academy at South Campus in Smithfield.

The other semi-finalists are Jennifer Beninate of Four Oaks Elementary, LiAnn Cheong and Karen Newhart of Riverwood Elementary, Maria Eby of Dixon Road Elementary, Shannon Gibson of Pine Level Elementary, Rachel Hardin of West View Elementary, Lee Hudson and Will Marshall of West Johnston High, Carlos Jimenez of Selma Middle, Gail Lawhorn of River Dell Elementary, Melissa Pearce of Cleveland High, Meredith Rakowski of Clayton High, Robin Tingle of Thanksgiving Elementary, Abigail Valdes of Cooper Elementary, and Brandy Williams of Selma Elementary.

The award presentation is scheduled for April 26. Last year's winner was Brian Jones, long-time band director at Smithfield-Selma High.
VISIT the Triangle East Chamber website for more about the award event>



real-estate broker


Absentee voting begins Monday; early voting April 28

Important dates from the Johnston County Board of Elections regarding the Primary Election scheduled for May 17:
• Monday, March 28 – Absentee voting by mail begins (ends May 10).
• Friday, April 22 – Deadline to register to vote is 5 p.m.
• Thursday, April 28 – First day of early voting.
VISIT the Board of Elections website for more information>


Weekly prayers for peace on Tuesdays at the Courthouse

Dr. Troy Lesher-Thomas, interim pastor of Smithfield's First Presbyterian Church, is leading a weekly prayer vigil for peace at 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the World War I statue on the grounds of the Courthouse at Market and Second streets. "Space will be given for individual prayers," he said. "The prayers last  5-10 minutes with time following for fellowship or allowing people to return to work as desired."

Johnston County 4-H schedules Summer Fun programs

Registration opens Monday (March 28) for 11 programs for youth: 4-H Junior Master Gardener June 13-17; Beekeeping 101 June 15; 4-H Farm to Fork June 21-23; 4-H Horse Camp July 11-12; Carolina Mudcats game July 13; 4-H Cloverbud Crafts July 14; 4-H Congress July 16-19; Archery/Air Pellet Camp July 21; 4-H Cloverbud Cooking July 26-27; 4-H Cooking in the Kitchen July 28-29; Sewing 101 August 1-2. For more information visit this website>



Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

JULIUS KENT WIGGS, 62 – died March 23

JOHN WILLIAM STEARLEY, 84 – died March 21



TERESA WOODARD CARTER, 63 – died March 19





Smithfield's "Highway Man" is still at work

Durwood Stephenson has made a name across the state as a promoter of economic development. Yet his specialty appears to be highways, starting with his service some years ago as a member of the N.C. Board of Transportation. I wasn't aware of his latest official role in all that till he invited me to attend last week's meeting of the I-42/US 70 Corridor Commission that's pushing for upgrades to U.S. 70 from the capital city to the coast.

Not until I arrived at the meeting held at the Johnston County Agricultural Center west of town did I learn that he's executive director of this organization. Not a full-time job, he said. But it is another feather in his well-worn cap as an advocate for progress in our region.

The "breaking news" at last week's meeting is the official designation of the US 70 Clayton Bypass as well as the Goldsboro Bypass as the first segments of a new Interstate highway: I-42. As 70 is upgraded to Interstate standards elsewhere – like the current project that's replacing crossroads and stoplights with bridges and interchanges at Wilson's Mills – I-42 will take the place of today's US 70 all the way to Morehead City.

A puzzling footnote to this story is a move to re-number NC 42 through Johnston to avoid confusion for motorists and first responders, especially. The obvious question is why did the Federal Government have to pick the number 42 for this Interstate?

AASHTO is to blame, I was told. That's the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials who insisted on the I-42 designation, for some reason. What an inconvenience for all those folks facing an address change along NC 42, which stretches from Asheboro to Ahoskie and cuts though the heart of Johnston County's most populous suburban communities.

I'm relieved the Smithfield Town Council avoided confusion when it named the reconstructed portion of Booker Dairy Road and its eastward extension the M. Durwood Stephenson Parkway. That also makes me all the more proud of my high-school basketball teammate of six decades ago!


For more than 30 years the Rotary Club of Central Johnston County has organized this event to raise money for scholarships awarded to deserving graduates of Johnston County's high schools as well as students attending Johnston Community College – more than a million dollars' worth since the event's establishment.

This year's event will be held FRIDAY, APRIL 8 at the Country Club of Johnston County.

If you'd like to participate as a supporting sponsor or a player, contact Tournament Chair Joy Callahan: 919-818-7376; e-mail>

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