In the North Carolina mountains, there’s a name that echoes eternally – O’Barron Delaney Calhoun of Spruce Pine.
Most folks called him O. D. Calhoun, but he was “Cal” to his closest friends. Mr. Calhoun lived from 1910-2016. He died at the age of 106 years, 10 months and 4 days.
O. D. was the founding editor of the weekly newspaper now named the Mitchell News-Journal in Spruce Pine.
Above all else, O. D. was known as a promoter. He once served as public relations manager for what is now the International Festivals & Events Association and helped establish the Rhododendron Festival in Bakersville, the Dogwood Festival in Statesville, and the Blueberry Festival in Elizabethton, Tenn.
O. D. provided marketing and advertising counsel for many mountain tourist attractions. Among them are: Blowing Rock; the Blue Ridge Parkway; Grandfather Mountain, the Horn in the West outdoor drama, Linville Caverns; Mystery Hill and Tweetsie Railroad.
The Calhouns owned and operated a small chain of local theaters in several towns throughout western North Carolina. One was The Carolina Theatre in Spruce Pine.
In Spruce Pine, O. D. and his partner, J. Myron Houston, brought in a live local radio broadcast – the Carolina Barn Dance in 1949. The theater would be packed on Friday nights, and the show was carried by the Liberty Broadcasting System to 512 radio stations across the country.
Performers included Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, Sonny James, Kitty Wells, Chet Atkins, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Scotty and Lulu Belle Wiseman. The barn dance and radio show continued through 1954.
(J. Myron was the father of Gloria Houston who wrote the classic children’s story, “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree,” about growing up in Spruce Pine. Total sales since 1988 are approaching 4 million copies.)
The world’s best professional golfers have a connection to Spruce Pine as well.
Spruce Pine “white sand” fills all 44 bunkers at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, home of the Masters, one of the four major tournaments on the men’s PGA (Professional Golf Association) tour.
Golf photographer Sam Greenwood of Getty Images says that each Augusta National sand trap is “majestic and hazardous in its own right. The glistening sands look impossibly white, radiating in such a way that only nature could produce something so pristine.”
“It’s called Spruce Pine sand, named for the mining district in western North Carolina,” but “it’s actually quartz, and is so pure that it prevents golf balls from burrowing into devious lies,” Greenwood said.
“The sand has filled these bunkers since 1975, ever since Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts was moved by its texture and how it contrasted beautifully with the emerald fairways and shimmering ponds of Augusta National,” Greenwood added.
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Roberts had a seasonal home at Grandfather Golf & Country Club, and he knew that nearby Linville Golf Club was using Spruce Pine sand.
Claude Greene, who owned Spruce Pine’s Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership and had mining interests, put the deal together with help from Bill Norris of Feldspar Trucking.
They calculated that 13 railroad boxcars of quartz were needed to fill the Augusta bunkers.
“Greene and Norris refused payment for either the sand or transporting it,” Farmer said. Otherwise, since the fine quartz sand was a byproduct of the mining process, “Greene’s company would have had to dig holes to bury it.”