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Executive Director Cherishes Caldwell County 'Homecoming'

Executive Director Cherishes Caldwell County 'Homecoming'

The following article commemorates the return of Communities in Schools of Caldwell County to its original home. It appeared in the May 11 edition of the News-Topic newspaper of Lenoir, which serves Caldwell County, and is republished with permission. Jason Hensley served on the Communities in Schools of Caldwell County Board of Directors for 13 years prior to becoming executive director of the North Carolina Bar Association and participated in last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Rankin House Occupied Once Again

By Jordan Davis
Lenoir News-Topic

Jason Hensley cuts the ribbon as Communities in Schools of Caldwell County returns to its original home after 2.5 years of hard work.

What was old is now new again for the employees of Communities in Schools of Caldwell County.

CIS, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent dropouts by providing mentors for at-risk students, has finally returned to its original home, the historic Rankin House, after operating from the Freedman Cultural Center for the last eight months while the house underwent a short move and some renovations.

The house, originally built in 1843, had been behind First Baptist Church of Lenoir since 1985 but in October was elevated onto wheels and moved a half-block east, to 313 Ridge St. NW. CIS acquired the land there in a swap with the City of Lenoir for land CIS owned a short distance north, next to J.E. Broyhill Park.

Debbie Eller, the executive director of CIS, said being at the new site on Ridge Street, rather than tucked at the back of a public parking lot far from the street, makes the building more visible and easier to find.

“It looks beautiful,” Eller said. “I have an old black-and-white picture of the house from when it was down in the valley and it looks the same, just great.”

This photo captures the community-minded spirit that enabled Communities in Schools of Caldwell County to return to its original home.

CIS held a donor reception on Thursday to display the house and also to thank the Caldwell County Master Gardeners, who contributed the landscaping, and everyone who helped with the renovations or donated funds for renovations or donated items for the house.

“All of the community has been involved,” Eller said. “You know what makes everything work for Communities in Schools? No matter if it is our renovation here or the children we are serving, it is all about funders, having an engaged board, having community involvement and people who volunteer to give back to these kids and be a positive role-model.”

The interior of the house still contains the original hardwood floors, windows and fireplaces to resemble what the house looked like more than a century and a half ago.

The house, regarded as the second-oldest house in Lenoir, was built by James Harper, the founder of Lenoir, and was the longtime home of the Rev. Jesse Rankin, who was the first pastor at Lenoir Presbyterian Church.

The house once sat on Kirkwood Avenue, but in 1985 John Christian Bernhardt, the great-grandson of Rankin, established the Jesse Rankin House Fund to help save the building from demolition and the house moved to a lot behind First Baptist Church.

CIS moved into the building in 2007.

Wilkie Construction Co. Inc. of Lenoir spent the last eight months making the renovations. Additional space has been added to the back of the house, it was put on a brick foundation, and a basement was built with space for a training room for CIS employees. The house also now has a kitchen area and a full-size restroom – an amenity not included before renovations.