Why Regular Joe’s (Jay’s)/Jane’s Need to Fight for Inclusion

One of the most common questions I have received since I took on my new role as Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem is: do you have a child with Down syndrome? When I say “no,” I’m then asked if I have a relative. It isn’t common for a regular Joe (Jay in my case) to leave their successful career in another field to take on a role of fighting for individuals with developmental disabilities and their rights to be included in society.

Inclusion means that all people, regardless of their gender, race, abilities, and disabilities have the right to be appreciated as valuable members of their communities.

Parents and family members of individuals with Down syndrome know way better than I ever will know what it’s like to raise a child with Down syndrome. We know they will fight for inclusion with all of their hearts. Politicians and the media will help with the fight for inclusion if it is timely and helps their cause. I don’t think our society will truly be inclusive until we have Regular Joe’s and Jane’s start to actively engage themselves in making our communities more inclusive for all.

Fighting for inclusion as a regular Joe/Jane doesn’t mean that you have to take a job at a non-profit like I did. Get involved with a local organization as a volunteer or a donor. If you are a parent, teach your kids to play with people of all abilities from a young age. If you are an employer, hire an individual with developmental disabilities to your staff.

Pictures of individuals with Down syndrome as models for big organizations are great and really help the cause. Yet, we need to strive for a world where these pictures aren’t just viral, they are common.

Until the day that it is frequent for regular Joe’s/Jane’s to be involved in supporting and fighting for individuals with developmental disabilities, our world will not truly be inclusive. I strive for the day when this regular Jay is no longer asked if I work for a Down syndrome organization because I have a family member with Down syndrome. In an inclusive society it shouldn’t matter.




Ryan Odom: Famous Winston-Salemites

Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.

Ryan Odom quickly became a household name across the country this March as he led the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) to the biggest upsetryan3 in NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament history. The Retrievers became the first sixteenth seed to defeat a number one seed when they upset the University of Virginia 74-54 on March 15th in Charlotte.


The victory quickly placed Odom on the map nationally as one of the top basketball coaches in the country. Though his national prominence happened rapidly, Odom comes from a well-known basketball family and a lot of his basketball background came from his time growing up in Winston.

ryan4Odom first moved to Winston in 1976 when his father, Dave Odom, was an assistant for Wake Forest. After attending pre-school at First Christian, his family moved to Greenville, NC and then Charlottesville, VA while his dad was an assistant at East Carolina and Virginia. In 1989, the Odom’s moved back to Winston for his dad to become the head coach for the Demon Deacons.

While his dad was building Wake into a national powerhouse, Odom was making a name for himself as a guard for the R.J. Reynolds Demons. He played three years for Coach Howard West, before heading to Hampden Sydney where he served as a team captain and finished his career as the NCAA DIII program’s all-time three-point leader.

Odom spent time as an assistant at UNC-Charlotte, Virginia Tech, American, UNC-Asheville, and Furman from 1997-2015. In 2015, he was hired for his first head coaching ryan5job at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, after being an interim head coach at UNCC the previous season. Odom led Lenoir-Rhyne to the NCAA DII Regional Finals for the first time ever.

He was hired at UMBC the following year (2016) and quickly turned the program around. The team won the 2018 America East Conference championship, which earned them a NCAA Tournament automatic bid and the chance for their historic win over UVA. Odom was quickly awarded by UMBC when ryan7he agreed in principle to contract amendments. The Retrievers and Odom were also honored in Annapolis by the Governor of Maryland.

Odom and his wife, Lucia, have two kids, Connor (16) and Owen (11). You can read a remarkable story about the family’s and Connor’s battle and success dealing with OCD by clicking here. His parents recently moved back to Winston, after Dave retired from coaching, and they live in Buena Vista.
Below Odom answers questions about his time in Winston-Salem:

Winston-Salem Questions

Where did you live in Winston?
I lived right off Country Club on Fairfax. I still consider Winston and Charlottesville home.


Who were some of your favorite teachers?
I loved both principals at RJR, Mr. Deaton and Mr. Elrod. I got a little bit of both worlds with those two. I had a great coach in Howard West, and a great mentor in my assistant coach, Mike Muse. Mrs. Deal was another favorite teacher of mine.

ryan9What are some of your favorite restaurants in Winston?
The Halfway House at Forsyth Country Club. I loved to go to the Soda Shop at Reynolda Village for a hot dog and orangeade. The Village Tavern was another favorite and BLL Rotisserie is a favorite of my parents.

Would you ever consider moving back to Winston? 
Yes, definitely. I love Winston. It has always been great to my family. It is a great spot.

Where is your favorite place to go in the NC mountains?
I loved Asheville when I coached there. My wife went to school at Appalachian State. We still love to go to Boone and to Blowing Rock.

What about your favorite NC beaches?
Our family goes to Emerald Isle. We also love spending time at Wrightsville and Figure Eight.

If you could get one right now, which would you choose: Krispy Kreme doughnut, Moravian sugar cake, or Bojangles biscuit?
I would get in trouble if I didn’t say a Krispy Kreme doughnut. I have a friend from up North that swears by Dunkin Doughnuts. We definitely take the title on that one though.

Did you ever go to Ziggy’s? If so, what was your favorite band to see there?
Absolutely. I used to love seeing Jackopierce there. My friend, John Kenneth Moser, and I used to go there to see them. It actually was named after a former Wake Forest ryan10basketball player, John ‘Ziggy’ Ziglinski.

What was your favorite game at Wake Forest when your dad was the coach?
It was when we beat Duke at the Joel. Duke and Grant Hill tried to run the same long pass play they ran against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but it didn’t work. I think it was the first signature win for my dad at Wake.

The Birth of The Man Van

The physical birth of the man van happened in a factory somewhere near the Great Lakes. You would think since the man van is a Volkswagen that it was physically built in das Deutschland. Actually, the Volkswagen Routan is just a Chrysler Dodge with a VW logo on the front and back of the van instead of a ram or wings . Who knew? I didn’t manvan2until two months after we bought it on a whim.

Some could argue that the ideological birth of the man van happened at a restaurant with some friends. We ate, we had drinks, and we talked about Uber. I went home, signed up, and the rest was history.

I would argue that the birth of the man van happened circa 2005, seven years before the VW minivan was even manufactured. One reason that the man van’s charity of the month for this April, ABC of NC Child Development Center (websitmanvan1abcofnce), is so important to me is because there most likely would not be a Callahan Clan (at least in its current form) without ABC of NC.


At that point, my mid-twenties self, was a part-time head soccer coach at Salem College manvan3(Go Spirits), and I needed another job. I spent my first two years out of college as an autistic assistant at Jefferson Elementary, while I was coaching soccer at local high schools. With my autistic classroom experience, I found out about this new school that offered autistic tutoring near my Ardmore condo that would fit perfectly with my soccer schedule.

Luckily Selene Johnson, who is still the Executive Director, hired me. I had been working a couple weeks when a tutor walked in one day who had been on vacation my first couple weeks. The minute she laid eyes on me she fell head over heels, and would not leave me alone (just kidding, more like the other way around).

We dated the next several months while we both worked at ABC of NC together. Eventually, I got a full-time job and Katie went to nursing school, but without ABC of NC we would have most likely never started dating. FINAL ubberingthroughwinston V1We were married a couple years later and started our family a couple years after that in 2010. So, in my mind, without ABC of NC, there would be no family, and hence there would never be a need for a minivan. `

I’m very lucky that I got that job at ABC of NC for obvious reason: a great wife and great kids, and this new man-VANing hobby I have. Winston-Salem is lucky to have a great organization like ABC of NC helping children and young adults on the autism spectrum reach their full potential.

Why I am Uberring in 2017

2016 was a great first year for my blog, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing Famous Winston-Salemites and Local Difference Makers, plus my blogs about family and friends. I love Winston-Salem and its people, and I wanted to add another dimension to my blog that incorporated more about our city.


Just in the two short weeks I have been Uberring, I have received a lot of questions, specifically: why I am doing this? A lot of these questions are less like: “Why? That sounds great,” but more like “Why in the world would you do that?” Or another one I have been getting is “what does your mom or your sister or Katie think about you doing this?”

My short answer to this “why?” question is: “Because it is great!”

My long answer is much more detailed. I love meeting with people that are doing great things in our city or have moved onto do great things outside of Winston, but I was missing something with these blogs and I felt I needed to search for the missing piece. Katie and I were at dinner one night with some couple friends, and somehow Uber came up. In all honestly, at that point I hadn’t even been in a car as an Uber rider and knew very little about it.


I got home that night, and it came to me that there would be no greater way to travel around Winston and to meet more of a diverse crowd besides uberring around the city as a driver. It would give me a path to meet people from all backgrounds and drive down more roads in the Dash than any other option I could imagine. Politicians travel around and meet lots of people, but I am not sure that they always listen. As an Uber driver, I have nothing else to do but listen.

The biggest obstacle to Uberring this year was making sure that it didn’t cut into any family time. The good thing is that Katie has to be at work at 5:30 in the morning so she typically goes to sleep with the kids. I don’t really sleep that much, and I have never been a great sleeper. So I usually am twiddling my thumbs after 8:00, watching television or playing games on my computer. Heck, three years ago, I wrote a book late at night (shameless plug; buy it at the top of this page). I was able to mentally clear that obstacle that I could definitely do this without missing out on my family.


After getting the whole Uber thing down, I realized that I could flip it on after I dropped the kids off for a bit in the morning or on my way home from work in the evening, and give some new friends a ride. I have met a man from Detroit in barber school here; a man from New York City living here to get cancer treatment; a woman who was on her way to Forsyth Hospital to pick up her baby in the NICU; found out there is another Jigar in Winston besides my brother-in-law; a couple from South America that spoke no English; a drunk guy; a movie star; a kindergartner who likes Paw Patrol; another drunk guy; a high school girlfriend of two weeks; lots of Wake students; a group that talked twenty more minutes about the Kardashians than I ever want to hear again; and many other Winston-Salemites. And the great thing is that I have only been doing it for two weeks!

I have people ride in my man van of all ages, races, backgrounds, orientations and most of them have great stories to tell. If they don’t want to talk that is fine too, they can just listen along to my music as we ride. Winston-Salem is a diverse place with a lot of history and I get to explore unknown territories (to me) of our city every time I turn on an app. Our family also has trips to Spain and Disney World this year, so the extra pocket change isn’t a bad thing!


Hopefully throughout the year, some of my riders will try my Uber challenges, I will be able to raise a lot of money for various Winston-Salem organizations through donations, and I will meet a lot of great people. This is just a trial a lot like my blog was just a trial last year. I have never done anything like it, and I am not sure anyone else really has either.If you do everything in life worrying about what others might think, you might not do much that you really want to try. There might be some missteps  along the way of these adventures, but I wouldn’t want people from any other city to join me for the journey.


Letters from Dad:McKinley’s 6th Birthday

Dear McKinley,

Don’t ever change! You will always be my favorite little princess!


Five was another great year for you and I can’t wait to see you continue to grow this upcoming year. This is going to be a huge year for you, since you start kindergarten just a week after your birthday. I look forward to seeing you continue to grow into a young lady. Right now, your favorite music is the Dixie Chicks, you really like Popeye, and playing with your dolls.


I have always heard that time goes by too fast with your kids, and this is definitely true. I can’t believe you are six already! Below I will share some things that make you such a special person and some reminders for the future:

You are a friend to everyone, keep it up!

For your pre-K superlatives, you were awarded the “easiest to make a friend.” You have always been very social with your peers. You will play with anyone that is willing to play with you, and you need to keep doing that. The only reason you should stop playing with somebody is if they are mean to you or others.

Keep being a hero to your brother:

Hudson is a wild and crazy dude, but he loves you to death. If some of your friends want to play without him, you already tell them no and try to include him as much as possible. Keep doing that. You two play awesome together and you are a great big sister. Keep looking out for Hudson and he will keep looking up to you!

Family makes you happy, and keep looking up to your mom!

Whether it is your cousins or grandparents, you love being with family. You also really look up to your mom. Keep doing that! She is a great role model.


You love our pets:

Just like your brother, you love our pets: Owen, Crosby, and Flo. The first thing you do when we get home is look for Flo so you can pick her up and hold her.


You are my little entrepreneur and chef:

At the age of five, you were already trying to make money and willing to donate it to charity. Whether it was a popcorn stand in front of our house or a vegetable stand on Fourth Street, you love to make food and sell it. You made a lot of money this year, and donated half of it to the Humane Society, where we got Crosby and Flo.

Just remember to keep being you and don’t let anybody change that. Love your family and pets, be a hero to your little brother, and do what you enjoy doing. You are already a great young lady, but you will always be my little princess.

Your daddy

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Garner Foods: Created in Winston

There are a lot of local difference-makers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a lot of Famous Winston-Salemites that have moved out of our great city to do extraordinary things in other places. Along with great people hailing from Winston, there are also a lot of businesses developed here. In Created in Winston, I will focus on these businesses and what Winston means to them.


When Thad Wilson (T.W.) and the Garner Family started making barbecue sauce in 1929 in Winston-Salem, they probably never would have imagined their family recipes would be such a hit. Eighty-seven years later, the Garner family is hoping to make more of an imprint on Winston-Salem as they move their corporate offices from 4045 Indiana Avenue to the heart of Downtown Winston at 614 Fourth St. in the second floor of the Nash-Bolick Building.
A rendering of the Nash-Bolick building
T.W. Garner Food Company might be most known for Texas Pete Hot Sauce, but Chief Operating Officer Heyward Garner wants people to know that “the company is working to reinvigorate our name in the community of Winston-Salem.” Garner said, “it is time to step-up to 2016 and maintain a fresh image, while being a part of the phenomenal revitalization of Downtown.” Their current operations are on Indiana Avenue and were originally part of the family farmland. 
It just so happens that the Nash-Bolick Building was built the same year that the Garner family started their company in 1929.  The building originated as a car dealership for the Nash Automobile Company. That same year, Wilson started T.W. Garner and employed several of his siblings and his parents, who are the great-grandparents of Heyward. The business started out of the Dixie Pig Barbecue stand on Liberty Street, where the Smith-Reynolds airport is today.

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In the 1930’s, the company moved to the Lawrence Hospital, which is currently the Rescue Mission. During that time they bulldozed their farm and built their original factory space on Indiana Avenue, which the company moved back to in 1942 (they have added on three times in the last sixty-plus years).
Photo courtesy of texaspete.com
When the family first started with barbecue sauce, hot sauce was not part of their vocabulary. Customers were asking for a hotter sauce and the family developed a hotter style sauce, which they named Texas Pete to differentiate it from their barbecue sauce. In the early years, they also made syrups, jams, jellies, and even Garner’s Hair Tonic. “I never saw the hair tonic, but I don’t think it is a joke,” said Heyward. 
Through the last nine decades, T.W. Garner has always been a family-run business. After Wilson, Heyward’s dad, Reg Garner, took over the company in 1994. He had control of the business until he passed away in 2009, and his sister Ann Riddle took over as Chief Executive. She is currently the only third generation Garner still actively working, while her cousins Hal Garner and Frank Sherrill, still are on the board.
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Photo courtesy of texaspete.com
There are currently several fourth generation family members working in the company. Heyward’s brother-in-law (married to Dorothea), Matt McCollum, is the Chief Financial Officer,  and their cousin, Glenn Garner is also a part of the administration.
A major part of the new image of the company is the move downtown and focusing on the brand-name, Garner Foods. “If you talk about only Texas Pete then you are only talking about half of our business,” said Heyward. “We want to let the area know about Garner Foods. Today if you walk around here, nobody knows about us. I am on a personal crusade to get our name out there.” The company also purchased Green Mountain Gringo out of Vermont in 2004, which makes salsas and tortilla strips.
Three years ago, T.W. Garner started the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival on Trade Street, and they are thrilled with its growth and the upcoming September festival. The company is also involved with the local Habitat for Humanity, Arts Council, and Second Harvest Food Bank. Heyward said, “our community involvement is understated. We have a lot of great stuff going on.”
The family hopes to be moved into the Nash-Bolick building within a month or two. The building will feature offices for the finance, accounting and executive staff; a war room, a board room, an outdoor patio, and a demo kitchen. The demo kitchen is an addition to the old building and will be used to bring in customers to sample the Garner Food products, and will also be visible to all on Fourth Street with a glass front. “It will give outsiders a peak behind the curtain, Willy Wonka style,” said Heyward. 
The move has been four years in the making. They looked at over twenty properties, and really focused on three of them before making their final decision. “We were sitting on top of each other on Indiana Avenue, but we had been doing that for years,” said Heyward. “I personally love that we get sunlight in all places since there is a cut-out in the middle of the new building.”
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Sam Garner (photo courtesy of texaspete.com)
Sixty-five employees in the operations department will remain in the Indiana Avenue facility and the company also employs fifteen sales staff that live and work in their territories. “This building is part of our effort to step up community relations. We want the community to be involved and know we have been here since 1929,” Garner reaffirmed. “This is also for our employees who all rock. We look forward to letting them walk to work and enjoy the Downtown restaurants.” 


Do you know somebody that goes out of their way in Winston-Salem to be extra nice and helpful? If so read my Winston Giveback: Unsung Heroes post to see how to nominate this person by September 15, 2016. Click here for nomination


Laurel Holloman-Notable North Carolinian

Writing about famous Winston-Salemites and local difference makers has been a great experience. Now I am ready to expand the blog to the great state of North Carolina to talk to some North Carolinians who have gone on to do extraordinary things. Notable North Carolinians will focus on these individuals favorite parts of the Tar Heel State.


Laurel Holloman (website) grew up in Greenville, NC and attended school in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, before going on to become a very successful actress and artist. Her most notable roles include a six-year stint starring with Jennifer Beals on Showtime’s The L Word and in the hit movie, Boogie Nights.

Holloman went to St. Peter’s Catholic School in Greenville, and then to EB Aycock for middle school, and Rose for high school for a year. She finished high school at St. Mary’s boarding school to in Raleigh. “I liked boarding school and wanted to go even though it was a tougher school,” said Holloman. “I thrived there and it made college seem easier.”



She went on to study at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she took an improv class during her freshman year. She took summer school at UCLA, and through those two classes she realized she wanted to pursue acting.

She also got into art during her time at UNC. “I took a sculpture class and made an A and the art teacher said, ‘you really think out of the box,’ maybe consider switching your major,” said Holloman. She was very focused on acting, and art was more on the back burner.


Holloman started painting more when she moved to California.  She painted to keep herself “sane” when she wasn’t acting.  “Painting made me feel more in control,” said Holloman. “Acting is all about getting hired to be creative and painting is basically having complete control of your creativity everyday.”

She has starred in several additional shows and movies (full list), and her art is now featured all over the world. She is known for her “vibrant use of color and large scale pieces,” which often capture “stirring emotions with movement in three dimensional effect.” She has an upcoming exhibit at the Museum Jan van der Togt coming this summer.


Holloman currently lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters, Nala and Lola. Below she answers questions about her favorite things about North Carolina:

North Carolina Questions:

Do you still have family in NC? 
Yes, both my parents and my two brothers and many cousins!!

Do your two children get to visit North Carolina very often? 
About once a year.  I love the beaches there and I love Asheville, NC.  It is a really great state.

Do you prefer Eastern NC barbecue or Western NC barbecue? 


Do you have a favorite museum in North Carolina?
Yes, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

What is your favorite beach of North Carolina?
Cape Hatteras because it is so natural still and untouched. I have gone every summer as a child and I  really love Ocracoke Island (I have camped there), and Beaufort. Oriental is another favorite, which is really sleepy, but fun.  I took my kids to Oriental last summer and they loved it. We went fishing and wake boarding. We caught a puppy drum and a local restaurant cooked it for us. We caught a Red Drum but he was huge so we put him back.


What about a favorite place in the mountains of NC? 
I love Asheville for the friendly people and the food. One of my  best friends just got married there.

What are your top three all-time restaurants in North Carolina?
Crooks Corner in Chapel  Hill  (I was a waitress there in college!!).  Fearrington House is another favorite for something special.  My dad loves ON THE SQUARE in Tarboro, NC and is a regular there, where he drives over from Greenville and it is really a special place for wine and food. I also like any oyster bar anywhere!! I love oysters and  grew up eating them because we had a second home on the Pamlico Sound and it had an oyster bed. Most people don’t know that they are a really healthy and a nutrient dense food.  I love Parker’s BBQ. Okay, I have to stop!


What do you miss most about living in North Carolina?
I miss the friendly people and how time slows down a bit. I love the beaches in the summer because the Pacific in California is so cold to me, and I miss the Atlantic Ocean. I also had a horse there, so I miss riding through the woods on a cold day!
I would say I miss North Carolina more than than ever now that I am raising kids. I remember wanting so badly in college to get out and get to NY or LA, but now that I live a very busy urban life, I appreciate what my North Carolina childhood offered. It offered me such an appreciation of nature and also the appreciation of family. My dad worked in apparel (and real estate investments), and he had summers off so we spent time at our house on the Pamlico Sound. We were free to run around and catch snakes, catch crabs from a crab pot, go skiing or tubing, and play with all with any of the kids nearby. There was no such thing as a scheduled play-date, we just walked over and played with nearby kids.
We all learned to drive cars or trucks on country roads at an early age. My brothers  and I could drive the two boats we had once we were old enough.  We also mostly ate what we caught. If we were in Greenville, we were at my brothers baseball games…… always  as a family.
As I got older, the summers were filled with horse shows. I showed North Carolina Hunter Jumper and Eastern Hunter Association.   My mom learned how to pull a double horse trailer for all of this.
This is what I miss the most as I raise kids that sit in LA traffic and have phones and iPads and scheduled play-dates and sleepovers.  I live near the beach in Los Angeles now, and I am very lucky in that regard, but I still live in a very large city. I miss the small town feeling  the most, and the friendly people that come with it.

Do you have a favorite concert you saw growing up in North Carolina? 
I dated a musician all through college so there were a lot! He took me to Neil Young, and I remember seeing Joe Satriani at the Rialto in Raleigh. I basically watched The Connells and Superchunk on a regular bases because most of the bands knew each other.  Frank, my college sweetheart played in Mary on the Dash. Chapel Hill was a big music scene at the time and full of lots of creative people. It was a fun time. I also went to  see Echo and the  Bunnymen at Duke and remember that being a really great concert. I think I wrote a paper on “The Killing Moon,” one of their songs. I really loved Chapel Hill and the  professors  I had. I credit that time in my life as a big creative exploration.

If you could only have one for the rest of your life, which would you prefer: a Bojangles biscuit or a Krispy Kreme doughnut? 
I’m a savory girl, so a Bojangles biscuit with ham.


What about sweet NC iced tea or Cheerwine? 
I’m addicted to iced tea, but I don’t like it sweet. I think I did when I was about nine though.

Did you grow up a UNC fan? Who are your favorite UNC athletes of all time? 
Yes I did!!! I would say Michael Jordan and of course Mia Hamm for soccer. They are examples of amazing athletes.

Remembering Richard


It is hard to imagine that it has been three years since I lost one of my childhood best friends. If you knew me from the ages of eleven through twenty, you also knew Richard, because we were pretty much inseparable. Three years ago Richard passed away from a quick bout with cancer and luckily a lot of his friends and family were there with him. I wrote this speech to read at his funeral. 

It is my hope that by sharing it now that people that knew Richard will spend time this week remembering your special times with him. If you did not know him, he was a great guy, and hopefully this will get you to think about the special times you had with your childhood best friends.


As I sat down to write this I was really worried that it was going to be hard to get through up here. Then I thought about how Richard would have punched me hard in the arm if I did not make it through, so I plan to get through it all.

Thanks to everyone that is here (First Baptist was jam-packed for Richard’s funeral), it is a true tribute to how great of a guy Richard was. I think everyone that was there with Richard this past Thursday in the hospital would agree on a couple things. He was truly loved by everyone in the room. He passed on in a very peaceful manner.  And everyone could see just how strong the Bagnal family really is. Mr. and Mrs. Bagnal, and Mara, I am truly sorry for your loss.


The first time I met Richard was at Striker’s soccer tryouts in 5th grade, and we became instant friends, where there were probably few days over the next 7 or 8 years that we didn’t talk.

There were a couple things about Richard that drove me crazy though. On Thursday, there was talk in the hospital room that three of his grandparents would be waiting for him in heaven. This is completely true, and I know he is there with them now. I was just hoping that they realized that they better be patient for a couple hours after his time, because I guarantee that somewhere on his way, he stopped to get ready.  And when Richard got ready, it was quite an ordeal, and anyone that knows him well knows that you had to give him a good two hours.  I am pretty sure that I spent half of my high school life waiting on Richard to get ready.


The other thing that drove me crazy was that Richard was an absolute ladies man. When our friends were trading baseball cards or playing his Nintendo in 6th grade, Richard was talking about his 8th grade girlfriends. From then on, it didn’t matter if the girls were our age, younger, older, or taller, which was typically the case for him, girls always migrated to him. It was like the show “How I met your mother.” I was the guy that kept trying to figure out a way to talk to girls, and Richard was like Barney in the show.  He would say a couple words and they would be all about him. Some people would say this was jealousy on my part, and those people would be right. I did finally get extremely lucky and marry a great woman, and Richard was there as one of my top fans.

There are countless stories I remember vividly about growing up with Richard. The time in middle school where we stuck an egg in the exhaust pipe of a van across the street from the Bagnals, because we  thought it was funny. As soon as the egg went in, we both began to freak out and try to get the egg back out. That whole night, we stayed up in the twin beds in his room, worried that whenever the owner turned the van on that the van would explode.

We both entered high school as five foot and 100 pound scrawny kids, with matching nineties mullets. Our soccer shirts on the Reynolds soccer team that freshmen year went all the way down to our wrists, and they were short-sleeved. We thought we were a lot cooler than we really were like when Richard picked me up from an exam on his mo-ped. We actually drove it through the parking lots, tried to go down the steep hill towards the children’s home and eventually wrecked the bike in some wet leaves.


The next story, I got cleared from Mara, but I still want to apologize to my mom and Vana.  The statue of limitation is way passed though, and I blame it on peer pressure.  On a weekday night of our sophomore year, when I am pretty sure our parents both thought we were at Young Life, but we decided it was time to go on an adventure to steal our first street sign.  There are a couple key factors we should have followed when stealing this sign, mainly to be quick and not draw attention to ourselves.  For some reason we decided to steal a Club Park Rd. sign, which just so happened to be right under a bright street light with several houses right near it. This was also when they had just made the street signs bigger, higher, and more secure. We parked Richard’s Explorer down the street.  Since we were so short, we had serious trouble getting up to the top of the street signs. We began to either boost each other up, or shimmy up the pole to get up so we could hang on.  Another problem was that we didn’t weigh anything, so we were having problems getting it loose. We would take turns hanging and yanking on one side of the sign. Eventually, we figured out how to both get up there, and we were each on our own side pulling down on the sign with all of our might. After a good twenty minutes, the sign finally fell to the ground with us crashing down with it and with cut-up hands. We didn’t care, we were so excited that we finally got it down through our perserverance. As we sprinted to the car carrying that sign, we felt like we were carrying a Super Bowl trophy. The funny thing is that since we were out there for so long, there was really no point to sprint.  There were probably people inside their houses watching us, too hysterical at how horrible we were at getting that sign to worry about calling the police or coming out to yell at us.

I eventually outgrew Richard in height, but I always looked up to him. He was a giant in many ways. He had a giant heart and truly cared about me and all his friends.  The last texting conversation I had with him was on April 12, 2013. He wrote:

“I heard the stork delivered another into your arms. That is awesome brother! Please tell all of the folks hello and a big congratulations to Katie and McKinley, and Hudson I guess. I’m truly happy for y’all. I honestly love you all.”

My son, Hudson, never got to meet Richard. A lot of the stories I have to tell about Richard aren’t the type a dad tells his daughter, but they are great for a dad to tell his son. After I get done telling Hudson stories about Richard, I honestly believe that he is going to imagine Richard as a giant.


If my children, Hudson and McKinley, can go through life with a heart like Richard’s, I will be a very proud father. I will always remember Richard as my best childhood friend, and just like all of you, I will never forget him. Richard, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for being such a great part of my life!


The Rence-aissance of Downtown Winston

A renaissance is a rebirth. In the early 1990’s, Downtown Winston-Salem was dead. The most famous renaissance was in Europe following the Middle Ages, from the fourteenth until the seventeenth centuries. What many people don’t know is that we had our own renaissance in Winston-Salem, but it was actually more of a Rence-aissance, because a lot of the revitalization of downtown was spearheaded by my dad, Rence Callahan.

In doing my blog interviews of Winston-Salemites that either have gone on to do great things outside of Winston, or that make a huge difference in town, it is incredible how many people describe the difference of Downtown Winston as they have grown older. I have noticed that same difference, but I have seen the change from the inside-out. I used to run from my West End house I grew up in to the Winston Tower and back frequently during my youth. Once you passed The West End Cafe, there really was not much the rest of the route along Fourth Street.


My dad has no idea I am writing this, but it is something that is very important to me. I see a lot of new places named after downtown difference makers in the newly revitalized downtown, but to me Fourth Street should be called Rence’s Way. As early as the nineties, my dad had the dream of revitalizing downtown, when it was literally a ghost town. I remember overhearing discussions he had with my mom about how people essentially thought it was crazy-talk to put new things downtown. He did win several accolades through the years including one of The Business Journal’s most influential people in 2008, 2010, and 2012. He was selected by the Triad Business Leader magazine as a “Triad Mover and Shaker.” In 2009, he won the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen and Service Award (link to article and video of speech).

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams, where the most famous line is, “if you build it, they will come.” In the early nineties, when my dad had the dream of turning Downtown Winston into a special place, the thinking was more, “if you revitalize it, nobody will come.” Everybody thought that restaurants needed to be on Stratford Road to succeed. There was no way bars could make it downtown, because it was too shady. There was no way a small movie theater or a movie festival could survive downtown. A sports stadium built downtown would never draw a crowd, because stadiums needed to be out University Road.


Looking back at it now twenty years later, the naysayers were wrong. There are terrific restaurants from Trade Street all the way to Old Salem. The Winston-Salem Dash stadium is one of the nicest minor league ballparks in the country. There is a unique and trendy artist community downtown, and a thriving movie theater and film festival. The new residential buildings fill up as fast as ants moving to a dropped crumb. Downtown Winston is now a thriving community that all Winston-Salemites should be very proud of and if it wasn’t for the big push by my dad and others, it could still be that same ghost town it used to be. Imagine the traffic out Hanes Mall Boulevard if that was the case, but it is not due to all of the hard work that many people have put into the revitalization.

My dad grew up in a small coal-town, Point Marion, in Southwestern Pennsylvania, near the West Virginia border. Point Marion is smaller than the West End neighborhood I grew up in near downtown. He left in the late 1960’s to attend college at the University of Virginia. He had never even seen the campus before, when he stepped foot there in 1968. He married my mom in the early seventies, and they moved to North Carolina for my dad to attend architecture graduate school at UNC-Charlotte and my mom to attend graduate school at UNC-Greensboro for speech pathology.


After they had my sister in Charlotte in 1976, they moved to Winston for my dad to begin work as an architect here at Hammill-Walter Associates. Eventually in 1988, he became a partner at his firm, Walter Robbs Callahan and Pierce. The firm has had a lot of success, including winning the North Carolina “Firm of the Year” in 1998. You can see the firm’s work throughout downtown and the entire southeast (link to WRCP projects).

Luckily, my mom keeps articles that my family are featured in, so I have a strong database to look back at my dad’s vision for downtown. As far back as 1992, he wanted to make Fourth St. more pedestrian friendly.


In 1997, my dad wrote a guest column in The Winston-Salem Journal about the downtown of Greenville, SC that they used as an example for the new downtown Winston plan, where he said, “the participants enjoyed being downtown on a Friday night along with hundreds if not thousands of Greenville families, walking along Main Street, listening to live music and selecting from any of 60 downtown restaurants.” I would say that less than twenty years later that is exactly what we have in Downtown Winston, thanks to the hard-work of a lot of determined Winston-Salemites.

In 1998, my dad told Triad Business News that “the (downtown) plan is not a series of steps that we will have to take to make downtown a wonderful place, but it establishes a strategy to keep things moving forward.” That same article showed just how desolate downtown was when the writer wrote, “when the day is done and Old Salem closes, (Downtown) Winston-Salem can seem done as well. Much of it is being deserted by 6 p.m.”


In a 1998 article in The Business Journal, the writer described my dad as a “downtown dreamer.” Winston-Salem’s Mayor Allen Joines, who was then an assistant city manager said, “he brings a passion and a belief that a healthy city center is crucial to the overall vitality of the city itself.”  When talking about downtown in this article my dad said, “we can have dreams, they’re worth pursuing, and maybe this is one worth pursuing.” One of my favorite quotes of any I have read from my father was in this article: “Even though the train is moving (my dad loves trains), it could come to a screeching halt and we’re still out in the wilderness. We’re getting close to the station, though, so I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to be able to pull it off, and pull it off in time for me to enjoy it.” Little did my dad know those eighteen years ago, that Winston-Salem did pull it off, and I am sure there isn’t anybody that enjoys it more than him.


I found out that my dad’s thesis in 1977 at UNC-C was about developing a NFL stadium in downtown Charlotte, sixteen years before they got a professional football team. In 2000, my dad  had a new vision for downtown, which I honestly believe was just ten years before its time. Major League Soccer was a fledgling professional league at that time, and my dad had the idea to bring a team to Winston. Some of my favorite quotes from my dad and about my dad come from an article in 2000 in The Business Journal: 

  • The writer wrote, “he speaks like a man who has spent the past decade working behind-the-scenes, through peaks and valleys, to spur on a downtown Winston-Salem’s renaissance.”
  • The writer wrote, “City centers are his hobby, and people who know him say they wouldn’t want anyone else spearheading the rehabilitation of Winston-Salem’s core.”
  • Jim Lambie said, “His heart and soul is to the downtown area.”
  • The writer wrote, “He thinks that a rejuvenated downtown- with restaurants, night clubs and retail shops- would make a perfect fit for a North Carolina team.”

Unfortunately, the Carolina Soccer Foundation wasn’t able to raise quite enough money for a stadium. Like I wrote earlier, I just think this plan was ahead of its time. This did nothing to stop my dad and several other’s dreams of revitalizing downtown.

Bizlife Magazine wrote an article about Walter Robbs in 2001, where my dad continued his foreshadowing of our vibrant downtown. “Downtown Winston-Salem is going to become not just the center of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, or maybe even of the Piedmont Triad. Winston-Salem is going to become a true destination,” my dad said in the article. The writer described him as being “so impassioned you can almost feel the electricity in his words.”


I honestly believe I get the same passion I have as soon as I step on the soccer field at Salem College that my dad had when talking about downtown in the early 2000’s. Some people don’t like my passion, particularly some referees and a couple other coaches, just like some people might not have liked my dad’s passion for downtown at that time. But he kept his dream alive. The firm moved to the Chatham Building on Fourth St. before many businesses were downtown. Then they designed and moved into Trader’s Row on Trade St., which was the first LEED Certified project ever in Forsyth County.

Throughout the last fifteen years, my dad, Walter Robbs, The Downtown Partnership, and many others carried on the dream to revitalize downtown and it is now a mecca for arts and entertainment in the region.


My sister owns a business (a/perture) downtown now, and her family moved to Fourth St. My parents plan to move from the West End to downtown soon as well. All three of my dad’s grandchildren go to school downtown. I work downtown and the entire Callahan Clan are truly Downtown Winston people.


I can’t take my daily trips through downtown without thinking how proud I am of my dad for all of his hard work. In the early 1990’s, people did not believe him when he would tell them he wanted to make downtown a special place, but my family did, because we saw his passion everyday when he was at home away from the naysayers.

I will finish this blog with another quote of my dad’s from 2001, “The opportunity to create a building, to leave a legacy that will last much longer than you can last gives you the inspiration.” Dad, your inspiration has helped pave a path for a downtown for all Winston-Salemites to be proud of and to enjoy daily. The legacy of Downtown Winston should always hold the Rence-aissance close to its heart.


My Flight From Hell

A boy landed on a flight in Sweden sitting in the airplane restroom, scared out of his mind, and it was all my fault!

I’m sure that if a psychiatrist diagnosed me writing my first novel, Collisions, about a plane crash, it would definitely have something to do with my fear of flying. When I get on a plane, the entire flight feels like I am stuck in the garbage compactor with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca in Star Wars-Episode IV. The walls of the plane feel like they are slowly closing in on me the entire flight.


No matter how long the flight is, I literally like to stare at the headrest in front of my seat for the entire time. I don’t like to talk to anybody, eat the food, or watch the movies on the flight. Before I left to study abroad in Glasgow, Scotland in 2001, my doctor prescribed me with Xanax to take on all of my flights. I still stared at the headrest in front of me, but now I could also get some shuteye on flights. I had to double up on my Xanax intake on that flight to Scotland, since it was literally one week after 9/11. I slept the entire flight, and even fell asleep in the taxi from the airport to the University of Glasgow.

In 2009, I was selected to coach an under-19 women’s soccer team representing players from all over the United States at the Gothia Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Gothia Cup is one of the largest youth tournaments of any sport in the world. There were boys and girls teams with our group from the ages of nine to nineteen.


I did okay on the flight from Raleigh to New York. About forty-five minutes before the nine hour flight to Sweden was set to leave, my nerves were in high gear. I went into the bathroom to take my dosage of Xanax, ready to be knocked out before the flight even left the runway.

Unfortunately, when I walked out of the bathroom, the director of our group was looking for me. He had a nine-year-old little boy, who just happened to be the youngest member of our group. He told me that the boy was scared to fly and had never left his parents before, and he was going to sit by me on the flight. First off, why in the world would you send your child halfway across the world for a week long soccer tournament, if he has never been away from you in his life?

As I walked past some of the other coaches in the group who finagled their way to get first class seats, the drowsiness of the medicine began to kick in. I sat down with the young boy beside me, and drifted off right after the buckle your seat belt sign lit up. In what couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, I was startled awake by a tug on my shirt. With tears in his eyes, the boy told me he wanted to get them to turn the plane back around. In my woozy state, I tried to calm him down. Once we were done talking, I popped another half Xanax to knock myself back out.


After dozing back off, I felt another tug and the boy needed me to walk him to the bathroom. We got back and I realized that there was no way I was sleeping, so I went back to staring at the headrest for the rest of the flight or that was the plan. After several more tugs on the shirt to see the boy crying, the flight attendants brought the food trays around. I didn’t eat anything, but the boy downed everything on his plate.

After the trays were removed, I popped another Xanax (these were the smallest dosage pills) and was soon back asleep. This time I was awoken with vomit to the shoes. The boy became airsick and threw up all over the floor and my shoes. This sent me into major freak out mode, and at this point I was hoping they would turn the plane around or land it on some unknown island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The mess was all cleaned up, but the boy was nowhere close to being done throwing up. He must have eaten a man’s worth of food that whole week, because is was non-stop. For the next five hours I dealt with him getting sick, wanting to go to the bathroom, or crying.

With about one hour left in the flight, I was faced with a personal ultimatum. Since the meds were wearing off, I could suffer through the last hour, or take one more pill and be drowsy when we arrived. I popped the pill in my mouth, and became super tired this time. With thirty minutes left in the flight, the boy wanted to go back to the bathroom because he had to go number two. I told him he could handle it himself this time, and I passed out as soon as I saw him enter the bathroom.

This time I was awoken by that jolt you feel when the plane wheels are positioned for landing. I noticed that the seat belt signs were on and that we were very close to landing. I looked to the seat to my left, and there was no sign of the little boy. I was also extremely groggy, but I tried to push the call attendant button and nobody came to check what I needed, since the flight attendants were already buckled in for landing. I honestly thought about getting up and going to see where the kid was, but I figured maybe he just found another seat or the attendants had him.

The plane landed in Sweden with a rather rocky landing. When the unbuckle seat belt sign came off, I stood up to see a rather perturbed looking older blonde woman escorting the boy back to his seat. The kid literally looked like he had just seen a ghost. To give him some credit, I am not really sure how anyone would handle landing in the restroom of a plane.

The flight attendant gave me a death glare and asked why I let him sit in the bathroom for the landing. I had no response, because well, how in the heck do you respond to that question? I did see the boy throughout our time in Sweden and he didn’t seem to hold any ill-will towards me, even though I am sure he still remembers landing on a plane in the bathroom. Needless to say, I didn’t have any kids to look after on the return flight, and rested peacefully for the entire trip.