Lenoir-Rhyne University A Capella singers photo

The LRU College Singers will perform for the Catawba Valley Dinner Club at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Lake Hickory Country Club.

A club that presents informative speakers on a wide variety of subjects is gaining regional appeal.

The Catawba Valley Dinner Club will celebrate its 75th anniversary during its 2019-20 season, according to a press release from the group. The club was established in 1944 by local business leaders and Lenoir-Rhyne College (now University) officials.

“My guess is that they were looking for a little cultural life for the people they were trying to hire in both institutions,” said club member Chuck Adair. “They started offering programs where they would bring in speakers from various colleges and universities, and speakers who had a national reputation. In those days, (Hickory) was sort of a central place for cultural life. They had the funds to bring in speakers from NBC, CBS and the New York Times. They had a very interesting set of speakers the first few years.”

He said the organization has evolved over the years and remains committed to its founding purpose of providing members with “good food, stimulating programs and warm fellowship.” The group has more than 150 members from Catawba, Burke and other surrounding counties.

“I think the social contacts and interactions are what people enjoy as much as anything,” Adair said.

The club offers six dinner meetings a year. Each meeting begins with a social time at 6 p.m., followed by dinner service at 6:30 p.m. in the dining room of the Lake Hickory Country Club in Hickory. Programs take place from 7:30-9 p.m.

Adair said members submit topics each year they would like to hear presentations about and then vote on them. The club seeks presenters for the most popular topics.

Members are excited by this season’s lineup of speakers. The first meeting of the season will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and feature Dr. Rand Brandes, professor of English and director of the Visiting Writers Series at Lenoir-Rhyne University, according to the press release. Brandes earned graduate degrees from Emory University and is an expert on contemporary British and Irish poetry. He will speak on the topic, “The Publishing Life of Seamus Heaney.” Heaney is an Irish poet whose work has been the focus of much of Brandes’ academic career.

Other speakers will include:

» Tuesday, Oct. 22: Dr. E.C. Fields Jr.

Dr. E.C. Fields Jr., a widely known and highly credible impersonator of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, will bring the famous Civil War general and 18th U.S. president to life. Fields bases his meticulous presentations on the written and spoken words of his subject, or on first-person accounts written by Grant’s contemporaries. He earned advanced degrees in education from Michigan State University and has portrayed Grant at various prestigious commemorative events, including the dedication of the Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University.

» Tuesday, Nov. 19: LRU College Singers concert

Club members will enjoy another benefit of its lifelong relationship with Lenoir-Rhyne University, a private concert by the LRU College Singers, a select ensemble drawn from the membership of LRU’s flagship A Capella Choir.The group performsa wide variety of genres and time periods, from medieval to contemporary, on campus, in the community and at times on international tours. Ryan Luhrs, assistant professor of music is the director of the choir.

» Tuesday, Feb. 18: Dr. Elliott Engel

Members highly anticipate the return of perennial club favorite, Dr. Elliot Engel. Engel earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at UCLA and taught at the University of the North Carolina, the Carolina State Universityand Duke University. This year, the topic of his biographical portrait will be the “Master of Mayberry: The Miraculous Life of Andy Griffith.” A brilliant stage and movie actor, Griffith became a Hollywood immortal as a result of the “Andy Griffith Show,” which ran from 1960-68.

» Tuesday, March 17: Richard Eller

Hickory’s “finest hour” will be the subject of Professor Richard Eller’s talk at the fifth club meeting. “The Miracle of Hickory,” will highlight the heroic efforts by local residents to confront and fight the polio epidemic of 1940. Crucial to this effort was the conversion within 54 hours of the Catawba County Fresh Air Camp to a fully functional treatment facility. Eller is the Historical Association of Catawba County’s Historian in Residence at Catawba Valley Community College.

» Tuesday, April 21: 75th Anniversary Celebration

The evening will be devoted to celebrating the 75 years of the club’s existence. Along with a featured program, past presidents and board members will be honored, memories of the club will be shared, and future prospects and opportunities for the club will be discussed.

Members are eager to invite those who have never attended a club event, especially newcomers to the region, to share in the celebration of the group’s past and to participate in the critical role members play in determining its future.The annual membership fee is $150 for couples and $100 for individuals. The meal fees for each program event are $24 for members and $32 for each guest or visitor.

Anyone interested in becoming a club member or in visiting a program should contact Meg Spivey, club president, at catawbavdc@gmail.com or 704-453-7691.

In addition to Spivey, the club’s board of directors includes Dr. Jim Goodwin, vice president; Rick Hammer, treasurer; Bruce Blackburn, Dr. Paul Caporossi, Kelly Kowalski, Janie Peak, Larry Robinson, Kay Schmucker and Mary Catherine Taylor.

Tammie Gercken is a staff writer and can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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