Fireside Chat — A Time to Reminisce

Solomon so wisely instructs us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) As the dawn rises on our 40th anniversary as a Village, we find it a time to laugh, a time to remember, and a time to reminisce.

On Thursday, September 22, 2022, Covenant Village hosted an inaugural 40th Anniversary celebration which included dinner and a gathering of residents, staff, and friends, in a “Fireside Chat.” There was no fire, or even a fireplace at this gathering, but it was CEO Dale Melton’s desire that this time be informal and intimate, where attendees could freely share and/or ask questions about Covenant Village’s history.

At the gathering, Mr. Melton referenced a brass plaque which commemorates and honors the men and women who were part of the original Planning Committee and Board of Directors. This original Board consisted of a couple bankers, a number of business professionals, community leaders and volunteers, a contractor, a cotton merchant, a Christian educator, a doctor, an interior designer, an investment manager, a couple lawyers, a senior pastor, seven textile executives, a veterinarian, and a wholesaler. The plaque can be found under the covered walkway at the main entrance of the A-Building.

Three original Board members, Mr. Tom Efird, Mr. Tete Pearson, and Mrs. Janice Stowe, shared stories of the mountains that had to be climbed to plan a church-sponsored retirement community (from scratch) and to fundraise for Covenant Village. At that time, the Committee was tasked with raising $2.5M (~1/3 of the initial amount needed to construct CV), which equates to $20M in today’s economy. Mr. Pearson shared, “Almost everybody participated in that [giving to the fundraising cause] through the churches principally.”

Mr. Efird explained that Dr. Jim Stuart had the vision for a retirement community in Gastonia as he was writing his thesis on care for the elderly while pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree.  Describing the early days of carrying out Dr. Stuart’s vision, Mr. Efird said, “All we knew, was nothing,” in which the crowd roared with laughter.

David Ratchford, Covenant Village’s first staff member, shared that he was hired by Dr. Stuart to help fundraise; act as the project manager over the development process; be the “gopher” between CV, Raleigh, and construction companies; and head up marketing and sales.  Mr. Ratchford said he was extremely blessed by the role he played, and that Covenant Village is and always has been a “blessed community.” Similarly, Mrs. Stowe said, “It [helping lay the groundwork for CV] has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Mr. Efird made sure to note that Covenant Village started as a mission and is still a mission today. He explained that there was never a desire for CV to be fancier than anyone else, but rather to be a place where people could enjoy all their years. Dr. Stuart understood that people have needs in this life that aren’t always financial. Some people have needs because they have lost a spouse. Others have needs because they have lost some of their health. Those are the people Dr. Stuart wanted Covenant Village to minister to, per Mr. Ratchford.

Another central figure in the birth of Covenant Village was Mr. Bill Lawson.  Having searched through archive materials, Mr. Melton shared that Mr. Lawson was Chair of the original Planning Committee, the first Board Chair, signed the original deed for the 33 acres with a few others, made the fundraising process a success, and to top it off, chaired the new and needed Master Plan that came just four years after CV’s opening. It is remarkable to note that just four years into CV’s life a new Master Plan was needed.

In speaking of what has been learned in the past that can be carried forward, Mr. Ratchford said, “Don’t be afraid of progress. Keep moving forward…Just because it’s great doesn’t mean that you can’t be even greater in the future.” He noted that the best thing about the proposed Village Park-Homes and Stonecrest Villa expansion projects that are in the current Master Plans for Covenant Village is the wonderful people that will be coming to live in them.

In sum, the beautiful, overarching theme that saturated the memories and stories shared at the Fireside Chat was the Providence of God. From Noni Taylor asking people to pray daily at 9am for Covenant Village to come to fruition, to being at the right place at the right time for networking and collaboration, the original Committee members said they saw God’s hand in it all.  Looking out at the next 40 years, Mr. Efird confidently exclaimed: “Now is a time when Covenant Village is really going to shine!”

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