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Title: Oral History Interview with Richard Lee Hoffman, November 8, 2000. Interview K-0505. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Hoffman, Richard Lee, interviewee
Interview conducted by Amberg, Rob
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2004
Size of electronic edition: 120 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2004.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-12-08, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Richard Lee Hoffman, November 8, 2000. Interview K-0505. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0505)
Author: Rob Amberg
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Richard Lee Hoffman, November 8, 2000. Interview K-0505. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0505)
Author: Richard Lee Hoffman
Description: 173 Mb
Description: 32 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 8, 2000, by Rob Amberg; recorded in Mars Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Sarah Schuckman.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Oral History Interview with Richard Lee Hoffman, November 8, 2000.
Interview K-0505. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Hoffman, Richard Lee, interviewee


Interview Participants

    RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN, interviewee
    ROB AMBERG, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
ROB AMBERG:
I am in Mars Hill, North Carolina, with Richard Lee Hoffman Jr. who we will from this point on address as Lee. We are in his office in his real estate business, where he works with his mom, Jean Hoffman. Lee, go ahead and tell me your name.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It's Richard Lee Hoffman Jr.
ROB AMBERG:
And where do you live?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I live here in Mars Hill. 788 South Main Street. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
ROB AMBERG:
Lee, how old are you?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, actually, I'll be thirty-nine tomorrow.
ROB AMBERG:
Happy birthday.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Thank you.
ROB AMBERG:
Tell me your occupation.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I'm working now as a real estate broker. I've been doing that since 1988; I worked part-time in real estate for about five years, and I taught public school during that period.
ROB AMBERG:
Elementary or high school?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Elementary. I taught Spanish. I hopped around to different elementary schools in the county, and had kindergarten through fifth grade. And then the last two years I taught at the middle school, and that broke me from teaching. [Laughter] I got

Page 2
out of that. I teach a couple of classes at the college from time to time in the CEP program. Spanish and Political Science. Real estate is my primary occupation.
ROB AMBERG:
Am I correct in thinking that Will teaches Spanish, too?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
He's in Yancey County, and he's primarily doing English as a Second Language over there. He's really trying to coordinate the Latino population and link them with services that are available, but also to develop the program there and integrate the kids into the public school system in an efficient way. I think they tend to plug kids into whatever grade their age would place them in, whether or not they're academically ready to be there. With all this emphasis on testing now in the state and that reflecting on teachers' abilities, there's a lot of concern about mainstreaming these kids. That's a big part of what's going on over there. But I was just teaching Spanish in the classroom.
ROB AMBERG:
You're married?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, married Rachel Ammons. Her family has been here forever.
ROB AMBERG:
From down near Marshall on Ammons Ranch?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No, they're from Mars Hill. Big clan here. Her great-grandfather was president of Mars Hill College—John Ammons. He was one of the first presidents of the college.
ROB AMBERG:
So your daughter really has the college in her blood.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
She's got it on both sides. Her family are all teachers as well.
ROB AMBERG:
Does Rachel teach?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
She did. She actually has her degree as a Physician's Assistant. We lived in Washington, D.C. for a few years, and then when we moved back down she practiced here for a little while but didn't like it. The situation here was a little different. So, she

Page 3
taught middle school science for four years, and then she and her mother just built a day care center here in Mars Hill. She's been doing that for the last three years now. She also has her real estate license. That's a requirement in our family. You have to at least have your license. [Laughter]
ROB AMBERG:
Your mom was just [saying that] the business has been here for a long time. How old is Hoffman Real Estate?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
She organized it in 1986, so about thirteen years. She worked with Asheville companies prior to that, and then decided to open up her own business out here. It was really one of the first full-service real estate companies in the county, and has historically been one of the leading companies out here. Of course, now there's a lot more competition, so we're sort of in the mix. But we've been around for a while.
ROB AMBERG:
You've been working here full-time for . . .
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
For six years, full-time.
ROB AMBERG:
It seems to me that there's been an increase in the number of real estate companies coming into the county in the last six years.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
There has been. There are probably five new companies physically located in the county. I would say that there are probably twenty or thirty new agents who either live in Madison County and work with Buncombe County agencies or who live and work in Buncombe but focus on Madison County. So the competition has really increased.
ROB AMBERG:
Are most of those people dealing with residential real estate?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Most, yes. The primary market here is in re-sales of existing homes and raw land. So everyone's doing one of those things, and typically a combination of the two.

Page 4
It's hard to commit to one segment of the market here, because the market is so small. You pretty well have to be open to dealing with any kind of properties.
ROB AMBERG:
Is there enough of a market to handle all of the new agencies coming in?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No, no. Just take me for example. I find that I have to do about three different jobs in order to have this job. It's going to be tougher as things go on. But I think there is going to be an increase in the level of activity. I think it's going to be a gradual increase over the years. People have looked at the road out here as suddenly "boom" there's going to be this huge surge in real estate activity, and that hasn't happened. I've begged builders to come out here and build speculatively, and I can't get them out here. Mars Hill is still looked at—from the Buncombe County side—as being way out in the country, even though it's only eighteen miles to Asheville. They still see it as being a high risk in terms of building out here.
ROB AMBERG:
That seems amazing to me. You were just saying that there hasn't really been this boom in real estate since the highway was announced and construction was started. It looks to me like there's been a definite rise in land prices.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, that's really what we got first. Prices went through the roof, because everybody suddenly thought that they had a gold mine. Really what we have seen in a lot of cases is the market just beginning to catch up with where people priced properties five years ago. We were talking about the interchange down here. Well, there's a quadrant that's been for sale there for five years—a five acre piece there—and nobody's bought it.
ROB AMBERG:
And you were thinking that would be for some kind of commercial development?

Page 5
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It's definitely a commercial tract. And there's an adjoining eleven acres, so you're talking about a big chunk of land. If someone were interested in coming out here and doing a retail something—we always hear Wal-Mart and that kind of thing, so if somebody wanted to do that kind of thing there's a piece of land sitting there. But I think the price on it has been so high that nobody's willing to come in there.
ROB AMBERG:
Is that also true of residential real estate?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No, residential is not as bad. Well, let me back up. I guess in the early '90s the average residential sale in Madison County was around $87,000. Now we're up to $130,000 for the average sale.
ROB AMBERG:
And that's for the piece of land?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
That's for a house on a piece of land. So, we've seen a big appreciation in terms of values, in terms of what people are willing to spend out here. I would say right now if you looked at our inventory of homes around Mars Hill, it probably falls into that average. Most things tend to fall right now around the $150s range. I just did a search recently to find if anything had sold around $500,000, because we just listed a piece of property there. There hasn't been anything sold in the last eighteen months that I found in that price range. The market is heading in that direction out here, and we're getting a lot higher priced properties on the market, but the buyers still are slow to come into this area to spend that kind of money. Residential properties have tended to be priced pretty well. The average time on the market, for example, used to be about eight to nine months to sell a house here. Now that's down to about three months. Activity is picking up on average, so it's not as bad. And residential real estate tends to turn over much better than commercial property does.

Page 6
ROB AMBERG:
What kind of people are buying these places on that average price?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
We've got a mix. There are people inside the county who are moving around. The majority of people we're working with right now are people who are moving in from other parts of the country, either to retire here or they're coming back to this area after having left and worked. Or they just see western North Carolina as a good place to be and want to be close to Asheville—people who have made money in the stock market, maybe, or a younger segment who are coming in looking for a tract of land to get out a little bit. Do a little bit of farming—gardening, really—and build a home. We're seeing a real mix of people coming in, but really the majority are folks that are moving in from outside.
ROB AMBERG:
It seems like I'm seeing an increase in what I would call communities. Housing developments. There's a couple of them that I'm seeing springing up. There's been a few developments throughout the county for years—Wolf Laurel, of course—but it seems like there's more of these little suburban developments.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
We're seeing more of that, and I think we'll continue to see that. I think that's going to be where our growth will come—it'll be subdivisions and these planned communities. Wolf Laurel is probably the prime example of that here. I'd say there's been more activity in Wolf Laurel in terms of property than any single part of the county. There's been a lot of activity over there in the last three years, I guess. A lot of that's driven by price, just because people from Florida—when Wolf Laurel first started they came up, bought lots, built houses for vacation homes, and now they're not using them anymore. So what you're seeing is that's sort of evolving from a vacation community to

Page 7
a full-time residential community. I'd say most of the people up there now are year-round residents.
ROB AMBERG:
And I would think the fact that there is going to be an interchange there off the interstate, it will be a really significant thing. Well, I was about to say for an elderly couple, but maybe what I'm hearing is maybe not as many people up there are elderly.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No, it's young people raising families, and middle-aged folks who want the elevation and the views. And some retirees, so it's a mix up there. But the other thing you're seeing is that you've got Wolf Laurel, which is a 5,000 acre development, and then the county just passed the zoning for some sort of a resort area that's going to be adjacent to it. It's the one where they thought there were militia guys or something. So that's going to be adjacent to it. And then across the road from that is another deal called Wolf's Crossing, which is a 300 acre subdivision. So, you're seeing more and more stuff sort of clustered right there. There's going to be a lot of residential development there close to that interchange. It's going to be a great location; it really is. And Wolf Laurel—where before it was forty-five minutes or more to Asheville it will now be twenty-five or thirty-minutes, and it will be just as close to go to Johnson City. That whole end of the county is going to open up as a result of the road and that interchange up there. That whole big Laurel section and all that property up in there—that has typically been the least expensive land in the county—is going to see increase in demand.
ROB AMBERG:
Are you speculating that when you head west into Big Laurel and Shelton Laurel and all those places, it's going to keep moving in that direction also?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I do. We don't do much work in that section, but there are a couple of real estate companies who primarily work that end of the county and even into Tennessee. So

Page 8
you're seeing it from the Greenville, Tennessee side, coming into Laurel on that end as well. That whole end of the county, before it was the "hinter lands"—the other side of the world is suddenly accessible. In terms of just talking about change, Mars Hill is sort of a change-oriented community. I think Mars Hill has become used to change at a certain level, but I think that in the county is where a lot of the impact of the change is going to hit hardest. And I think it'll be typical to Appalachian highway development— you get things that pop up on the highway interchange, and that's the extent of it. So I think that's what we'll get here. But I think in terms of sort of seeing an influx of people and the way that that affects culture and relationships and communities, I think you'll see more of that in those communities. The impact will be a little stronger over time.
ROB AMBERG:
Why do you think that is?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
What I see and sort of sense is that as more people come into the county and bring with them their world views and their expectations for how people relate to one another—I think as the population increases in those areas that the traditional modes of relating will decline even further. I was thinking a little bit about some of these things, and I was trying to think of some examples. One example that I experienced recently that really opened my eyes was in the last school board election. Historically, there's been this antagonism between Mars Hill and Marshall. We've got districts. I'm very much in favor of having a middle school here in Mars Hill, and that's been an ongoing battle here over the last few elections. So that was the main issue as far as I was concerned. I saw a lot of people who became involved in the process, which is good, but they were involved without having a very clear understanding of the history of relationships. So I think that you had people who said, "Well, I want to work in a very cooperative way and build

Page 9
bridges and work together with everybody to have a great school system." Which is really good, I think, but I think you've got a reality which will preclude that to a certain extent. At some point we have to demand rather than go in on a cooperative level. I guess what I'm getting at is there's a lot of history that still dominates decision-making and processes here in the county that people aren't aware of, people coming in. In that particular case, it sort of set back at least my goals and the people that I interact with— our goals—as far as what we'd like to see in our school up here.
ROB AMBERG:
Those people tended to be more the new people that were coming in and maybe coming from larger school systems?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, or where the model would be different in terms of how you go about getting a middle school. Or getting anything, really.
ROB AMBERG:
Not to mention the geography is going to be totally different in a lot of these places, and when you think of someone driving from up in Wolf Laurel to get to the middle school over on Brush Creek. That's a whole lot different than if you're in Asheville.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Exactly. And the other issue, too, was the money issue. I think that people who don't really know the relationship between this end of the county and the other end of the county were under the impression that if we don't just fight for this thing that we can negotiate it out later on. But what I have seen over the years is that there seems to be some sort of a political bias—for some reason all the schools tend to go down there. Now, I know that's a central part of the county, and that makes sense. But I think if you look at this end of the county in terms of this road, and if you look at growth issues and where growth is probably going to be—and if you look at it in terms of making

Page 10
investments in that future, then you have to see that this is a place where investment has to be made. But the debate doesn't take place on that level. It's more us-them. And the perception on the other end of the county is that Mars Hill has everything. The perception here is that we haven't had a new building since 1972. So that's kind of an example.
ROB AMBERG:
Kind of on the same subject but back tracked a little bit was the idea of who was buying the property and who was moving into the area; how these different people who don't know the history, who have not plugged into the ( ) and the cultural values here, how are they going to have an effect? What is the effect of those changing demographics?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I think that Madison County has been changing for a long time. I think if you go to ( ), Laurel, you see some pockets of Madison County culture the way it was. My dad came here in 1959 or '60, and he came here and affected a lot of change. I don't want to sound like all these people coming in here and change is a bad thing, because I think a lot of the change that we'll see will be good change. Just the pro-active view that Mars Hill has toward what may come down the road when I-26 is built is an example. You've got a good mix here in Mars Hill of people who have been here forever and people who have moved into Mars Hill. I think that they've put together some good ordinances and good planning to help direct and guide some of the growth that may happen. I see new businesses in Mars Hill—mostly people sort of taking a chance and doing things that aren't typical or that aren't what people are used to seeing around here. And they're contributing to the picture. So, I think that my example was a very personal one. But I think on balance you can look at planning and zoning board meetings, and you

Page 11
can look at the cell tower debates and a lot of those kind of issues and sort of see. The natives a lot of times tend to not get out and be vocal about things and issues, and don't tend to drive issues. So I see a lot of the people who have moved out here picking up issues and running with them, and driving them for the benefit of the county. They're looking at the natural beauty of this area. They're looking at all these kinds of things, and working to protect this area and to protect the culture and what makes this a beautiful area. I think that on balance these people that are moving in here are having a positive effect socially and politically, because I think they're demanding higher accountability from people who are elected. And they're helping to drive the economy. I think that on balance it's a good thing.
ROB AMBERG:
One of the things that is real important with my work and plays a role in most of my documentation here is the idea of place. What place means to me personally, what place means in a general way in the community. You were born in this county and have lived basically all your life in this county. Where did you go to college?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I went to Mars Hill.
ROB AMBERG:
So you've been here pretty much all your life, then.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah. We were in DC for a while.
ROB AMBERG:
Where'd you go to school there?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
At American.
ROB AMBERG:
I was raised in DC.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Oh really?
ROB AMBERG:
Silver Springs. I was born in DC.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I love it up there.

Page 12
ROB AMBERG:
I could go on forever about how my homeplace has changed. My parents are a mile from the beltway, and I remember very clearly when the beltway wasn't there and what has happened in the thirty-five years since that one section was built by my parents house. It's monumental!
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I can imagine.
ROB AMBERG:
So again, you're a native to this county. Is your mom from here?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
She's from South Carolina.
ROB AMBERG:
So your parents weren't from here, but you are. I'm curious about what place means to you, and then whether that might be different for someone who goes back for generations and generations in this county, and someone who has just moved in in the last year.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
That's a good question, because that was probably one of the driving factors that made me want to come back here to raise a family. My wife and I were married and we lived in Washington for a couple years, and I had a business up there. We could've stayed there and certainly made more money up there. But that whole sense of being connected to a place and being a part of a community was really important. And I saw my father's family. He's from Pennsylvania. We'd go to reunions, and I'd see the old farms where he grew up. His father's brother still had their big farm, and that was something that I really wanted for me and for my kids. My wife's family is from here, and they're a farming family. Of course, I grew up working on their farm in high school and in college, working on tobacco. So it was really something that was important to both of us. I wanted to be a part of the Madison County community, and I wanted to be a part of the Mars Hill community. I wanted my kids to experience that depth of place,

Page 13
knowing that their family had been in that place for a long time. I think there are values that come out of that with regard to keeping your space looking nice and having a certain amount of respect for the area and for people around you, and the values of interacting with your neighbors across the street. It was very important. I think for people—for example, my wife's family, who've been here for a long time—I see a little more resentment toward people who come in and want to drive issues. There's more respect there for the way things have always been done than I respect the way things have always been done. I'm much more open to different modes of operating than my wife's father; I'm more open to bringing more people into the process, I guess. I mean, I watch how things operate and I see a network there that still has a lot of power and could still control a lot of things politically. I guess in terms of just place, though, her parents still live in the house that she grew up in. And he would never sell it; he'll give it to one of his daughters, and hope that she'll never sell it. This is someone who lost his farm back in the '80s, when interest rates were so high. They've been through a lot there.
ROB AMBERG:
He lost it and was able to get it back?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No. It went into foreclosure. But it ended up that his brother ended up buying it from him, and then he ended up re-selling it. But anyway, that was a big blow. This, too, is someone who had the opportunity to take a corporate job and move away and make lots of money, but opted to stay here and work in the school system but stay in this place. I remember dad talking some when I was in high school. He encouraged us to go off—Will and I both—to travel or to go off to school. He didn't really want me to go to Mars Hill College, even, because he saw this culture as being a kind of culture that tried to hold you back in a sense. To keep you tied to the place—tied to family; tied to all

Page 14
those things that give you a lot of strength and a lot of support. I think it goes back to a definition of what is success or what kind of goals you have for yourself or your children. That was something that always stuck with me. Thankfully, we had the opportunities to travel and go away and experience other cultures and experience different things, and then come back here and be able to compare those experiences to the culture here and accept and embrace this culture—but at the same time not let it hold you back. Be able to break free from it. I feel like I could talk to anybody in this county, from the guy that's been here forever or the guy that moved in here last week, and have a meaningful conversation with either one of them. I feel really good about being in that position, because there are so many great things about Madison County and about this culture. It's a part of who I am, because I was able to grow up and work in the tobacco and all sorts of things like that.
ROB AMBERG:
When you were growing up, how did you—given that your folks moved in here in the late '50s, early '60s—how is that sense of place taught to you? How did you come to learn that?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It's kind of ironic, I guess, but I learned most of it by going to Pennsylvania—seeing that my family did have a place and did have a history in a place, and even though I couldn't be a part of that place this was going to be it right here. I didn't come to that realization until a few years ago, really, but I think that that's where I saw it—that place is important and that people stay in a place for a long time. There are a lot of people who don't ever have that sense that there is a norm out there that people stay in one place for generations and generations. Well, I grew up around a lot of the college kids, so a lot of them had come in here from somewhere else. But then at the same time,

Page 15
I had a lot of friends whose families were here for a long time. I don't know. I guess it sort of just oozed in over the years. I think probably in high school is where I got the greatest realization in seeing friends and interacting with friends at that level.
ROB AMBERG:
You mentioned that you worked a lot of tobacco. How did you come to be doing that?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
My wife's father, he was one of our teachers and coaches when we were in the eighth grade. He had a big farm here in Mars Hill. So when we got into high school—me, Kevin Barnett, who's a coach over here at the college, and Marty Reese, who's a friend of mine, worked on his farm from the time we were in high school through college. We were just like his farm hands. So that was it. He just kind of hired us all.
ROB AMBERG:
Did you like it?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah. Well, it was good. It was a way to make money, but I did like it. It's hard work, but it gave me an insight into culture that opened up a lot of doors for me in the sense that I was accepted in a lot of ways by people who may not otherwise accept me.
ROB AMBERG:
Well, it's almost like the work bound you together.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Too, it gives you a point of entry with people. "How's your tobacco?" And then you can talk about it. We worked on that farm for years and years.
ROB AMBERG:
Is that something that surprised you, that you did that?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, no, because dad always made us work. We had to work. On Saturdays my friends would all be out riding motorcycles, and I'd have to work. And I guess that's another part of it, too. He carried a lot of that stuff growing up on a farm, and he wanted us to experience that.

Page 16
ROB AMBERG:
He was all for you being over at—is that Woody Ammons?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah.
ROB AMBERG:
So he encouraged you to go up there and make your own money. You went to school—you must have been in one of the first graduating classes?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I graduated in '80. I guess the high school opened in '76, something like that. I guess I was one of the first groups to go four years.
ROB AMBERG:
Did you take the bus there?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I can't even remember. No, I didn't. I know I rode with some neighbors who were upperclassmen. I rode with them the first couple of years, and then when our group started getting their license we kind of carpooled together.
ROB AMBERG:
Was that the old route then?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah.
ROB AMBERG:
That old really windy two-lane? Well, it's still two-lane, but it's a totally different road now.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, actually they were just starting to work on 213 when they opened the school down there. I can remember we used to ride motorcycles out there, too, on the construction part.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you have a memory of when you were growing up what it was like when you left Mars Hill and this community to go into Marshall, to go into Asheville, to go up to Pennsylvania? What's different about it now?
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I can remember going to Asheville on that old road, before they did 19-23, and going down to South Carolina, to my mom's family in Greenville, before they did

Page 17
[Highway] 25. It was an old two-lane road that we'd take going down that way. In that sense, I have this sort of nostalgic feeling for these little two-lane roads and the little stores, and the way I remember things as being. But I can remember us traveling from a very early age. We'd go out west for summer one year. Going north a good bit. Going to Chapel Hill a good bit, because dad was still working on his doctorate. Of course, it was a lot harder to get anywhere then.
ROB AMBERG:
I'm not sure there was an end to that question; much more just what that was like. When I started teaching out here in '75 there was the old two-lane road all the way into Asheville. It's a totally different ball game than it is now.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I guess we've gotten so used to having big wide roads to travel on that you don't even think about it. I can remember when we were in eighth grade, we used to get out on our bikes and we'd ride way over off in Beach Glen over ( ) Fork. We'd always go out looking for our teachers for some reason—trying to find out where our teachers lived. So I can remember distinctly just riding miles and miles back in that part of the county. Of course, we were always pretty mobile anyway, because we had grown up with motorcycles. There was a lot of dirt roads around; we weren't supposed to, but we'd go on all the dirt roads drive all over the place. Of course, all of that has changed.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you remember at all what you were thinking about? You know, you're tooling down some dirt road in the county and you're fifteen or sixteen years old. What was going through your head then?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I think it was just a sense of freedom for the most part. We were always pushing our boundaries. That was one of the things that we always did, was go a little further the next time. And we were able to. One thing that I've thought about with my

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kids a lot is that they can't do that. I can't let them do that, because the boundaries have closed in so much. When I was growing up you could wander and hike and go all over the place, and not worry about getting run over or not see another house for a long time. I don't feel comfortable letting my kids venture off the way we were able to. So that whole sense of exploration is part of that sensation of going down the road. What's around the curve? What are you going to find? Our list of opportunities—things that you could do—was really broad. We could ride motorcycles; we could go fishing; we could go hunting; we could hike; we could go get in trouble. We had this big wide perimeter that we could operate in, and that's not there now for kids growing up here.
ROB AMBERG:
And you feel like that's a function of things like I-26?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, it is, yeah. It's a function of growth. It's a function of modernization, in a sense, that we want to pave all the roads. People build and they want to close off their space. It's a combination of a lot of those things. But primarily, it's just that the world is getting smaller.
ROB AMBERG:
I agree with you that the world is getting smaller. But at the same time my guess is that back then you probably knew people in most directions that you went exploring.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
That's true.
ROB AMBERG:
And my guess is that your parents probably felt comfortable that somebody would find you. [Laughter]
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Exactly. And we had a good sense of how to get back once we got out there somewhere. But that's part of it. You hear too much these days; you hear too many bad things and so everybody is paranoid to a certain extent. A lot of it's false in the sense of

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a closed-in world. A lot of it is paranoia, but it's based on some story you heard in the news or something. But I think that there were people who were looking out for us, whether we knew it or not.
ROB AMBERG:
Am I hearing you say—it's like the community would have been looking out for you, and maybe there isn't the strongest sense of that right now? Or maybe it's different?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I think that it's just a little more fragmented because you don't know everybody. I guess that's probably it primarily. That and the fact that there are just more people in general, so there's more cars and more opportunities for things to go wrong. On our street, for example, I know most everybody. But I guess when we talk about community here, it's really these institutions that create the sense of community—like the church and the school—more so than your neighborhood anymore. I think that sense of community in a neighborhood isn't quite as strong as it probably once was, when people were depending on one another more for getting things done or helping out one another. But I think the institutions in the community are still very strong. It's still very supportive, and you get a lot of that interaction there. But still, it's different. For me anyway, it's not as intimate as when I think about people sitting around the living room talking about things. So, it's different, and it'll continue in that direction because we've got subdivisions going up behind our house.
ROB AMBERG:
How many houses?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, there's like twenty-two lots. They're building two more, so there'll be four houses. So, that's okay.

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ROB AMBERG:
Well, it'll be interesting if nothing else. It seems like that would provide probably more children for your daughter to play with. In that sense, maybe broaden her sense of community.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Exactly. And it'll give her a sense of neighborhood, because we're on South Main, which is a road you can't get out on, really.
ROB AMBERG:
The road to nowhere.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Exactly. So this will be a little neighborhood kind of a thing, where people will interact a little bit more in the front yard. Which is what we do with our close neighbors. So that's going to be interesting to see how that shapes up there.
ROB AMBERG:
I'd be curious to know how you think about this, or your wife, or your daughter. When you were in fourth grade up here, which would have been fairly close to when I was just moving up here, did you have a sense that you were missing things by living here?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No, no. See, I bought into this whole deal here. [Laughter] So I wasn't missing anything, as far as I was concerned. Now, dad thought I was missing things, but I never did think I was missing anything.
ROB AMBERG:
What did your dad think you were missing?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, I don't know. At fourth grade probably not much. And that sort of goes into his interpretation of the culture and its holding me back. But no, I didn't really feel that way. I think part of that is because we had so much freedom. In fourth grade I could walk to school even though we lived a good ways a way, or we would ride our bicycles to school. Or we would walk from the school or the college and play around

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town. We had a trail that went back home, so my world was full. I didn't know what I was missing, but I didn't feel like I was missing anything.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you still know a lot of the people that you went to school with? Are a lot of them still in the community?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
A lot of them are, yeah.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you still feel like you're friends with them?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I don't see a lot of them that much, but there are a couple that I've been friends with since kindergarten that we still talk a couple times a week.
ROB AMBERG:
That's great. Well, having a history with someone eliminates so much stuff that you have to deal with.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It really does. And that's another really nice thing about place, is the people that you know and grow with. It really is not only my peers, but growing up in the church up here. A lot of the elders of the church that are beginning to pass on now—I look at those people and I wonder who's going to replace them. I see them as being at such a high caliber of person and substance. I feel a sense of responsibility on one level that I should be stepping in and filling some of those voids. I think this is another interesting thing that goes back to the question of people moving in. You look at institutions and you look at the people who have guided and nurtured those institutions for years and years and years, and now they're passing on. Who's going to step in there? What effect does that have on that institution, the direction that it goes in and its relationship to the past? I think Mars Hill College is a good example of that in the last four years or so. I'm not that involved with the college anymore, but I hear a lot and see a lot. I think that there's been a period that Mars Hill has really drifted away from its

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own history and its own ethos. I think now it's beginning to move back more to what Mars Hill has historically been. I think people are feeling better about Mars Hill because of that. I think that continuity from past to future is very important in institutions and in communities, because I don't think you can't move forward unless you're mindful of that history. I think that otherwise in a lot of ways, you're going to be doomed to fail. I guess that's a part of what I was getting at when I was talking about the school deal. What a lot of those people were talking about doing was really great. I mean, it's just like George Bush—he's going to be the bi-partisan guy, but I don't think it's going to happen. Of course, if he wins, he's got the House [of Representatives] and Senate, but maybe that's not a good example. But anyway, if you don't have a clear understanding of where you've been it's hard to move forward effectively. I see that happening in a lot of institutions and in politics in a lot of different areas. It is a responsibility for people like myself and others. Whether we accept it or not is another thing. But to step in and take leadership positions, or at least be a part of the leadership in moving things forward and being respectful and mindful of how we got to where we're at.
ROB AMBERG:
You will become an elder in your church at some point. I know we're getting close to when you've got to leave, but I wanted to backtrack to ask you another couple of questions about the highway. They have to do with what we've been talking about, but how do you see the interstate affecting the community? What do you think the effect is going to be, both immediate and down the road?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, the obvious is that it's going to stream a bunch of people through here. All those people coming through may have some effect on the environment. I think it'll have an impact economically in the sense that it will introduce more people to this part of

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the world. Some of those people will stop and like it and want to spend some money and time here, maybe buy property here or invest here in some way. I think that it's got tremendous potential to increase crime. I've heard some people talking—some law enforcement people—who say, "We don't have any idea what we're going to be looking at once that thing opens up and all those people start flooding through." So that's kind of worrisome. I think that's something that the county and the town are definitely going to have to think about.
ROB AMBERG:
What about environmentally? You feel like that's an issue?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, I think that it's an issue in the sense that—of course, all the emissions from the cars coming through. I think the environmental impact from the road itself is going to be tremendous in terms of all the cut and fill and work that's been done. I have to assume that they're doing it the best way that they can, and I'm willing to accept that they are. I'm willing to accept the degradation to the mountains in exchange for this corridor. I think that in the bigger picture it's a needed piece of infrastructure, because I- 40 is such a piece of crap. I think this east/west corridor is needed. I know that there's a huge tradeoff there, but I accept that. I think that on balance, it will have a positive impact. I think there will be some development around those interchanges. I think that hopefully we'll get some decent kind of development. Maybe we'll get some things where people can spend money in the county rather than going to Buncombe County to spend all their money, which could help benefit in terms of having more sales tax money in the county. At least I hope that we can get that sort of thing. If it helps to attract clean industry to the county, then I think that could be a good thing. But again, I think primarily what we're going to see from it will be an invitation for more people to live

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here. It'll be a convenience for people, and so it'll make this a more attractive area for people to live in. So, we'll see more people moving in here.
ROB AMBERG:
How do you balance all of what you just said, which I think is certainly legitimate. It's right on the money. But how do you balance those ideas with what you were mentioning before as nostalgia for those dirt roads? Or for those times not only when you were able to bicycle, but also what that meant to you, along with what your hopes may be for your own children?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It doesn't balance. If I have any resentment toward the whole thing and toward more and more people coming, it's because of that. I mentioned earlier that I have a lot of images in my head that I'd like to get. It's those images like the dirt road or the old barn or the tobacco field. Those are the things that I see that are going to be gone. And I think they're going to be gone whether the road comes or not. It's just a matter of time. I see the road not so much as its own problem; it's just sort of a symptom of development and growth in general that was going to find Madison County sooner or later anyway. But I hope that there are parts of the county that retain that. And hopefully I'll be able to go visit. [Laughter] I mean, there are still a lot of places around here— close around—that I'll take the kids down to the river all the time, and we'll throw rocks in the river. So, we do a lot of those kinds of things. But that's the hardest part of it, in my mind. Is seeing a way of life—it wasn't really my way of life—but seeing the mountain culture be whittled away a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more until it's something in a museum. I know we're practically there now, but I don't want to accept that, I guess. And I want to see a balance between development and—I don't know what you call it—I guess, culture. But it's hard to strike. I've seen it in Mexico,

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down in Chiapas. The Lacandon Indians. They just built a big road back into the rain forest into some of the ruins. You know, it's opened up that whole part of the world. Well, they're able to sell their artisania. They've got a certain amount of control of the road. They make people pay a little toll to go through. So, it's bringing income to that community, and the young people in that community aren't really interested in living the way their parents lived. So who am I to say that they need to maintain that culture or keep living the way that they've always lived for my benefit? So I can go look at them or something? I see the same kind of thing happening here. People want to improve their lives, and they want to have more money. They want to have more things. But there is a balance there between quality of life and having all the goodies.
ROB AMBERG:
That had always struck me about this place, too. I moved here and was hanging around with someone like Delly all the time and spending a lot of time with her. I was really captivated by these old ways, coming from the suburbs in DC. It's like I had never seen a spring or tobacco, and I was totally enchanted by it all. At the same time I looked at the people from the community—Delly's children and grand children—and they were all ready to get the hell out of [Dodge?]. They were tired of living on dirt roads, tired of being cut off from the mainstream, tired of not having any money or access or anything. And I remember being totally baffled by that. Why would you choose to leave here? Why would you choose to change it? But I think that that's kind of the way it is.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I think it is. Well, you know, there's sort of a paradox here, because I want that to continue. I don't want to live it, necessarily. I want it to be over there, so I can participate in it when I want to and claim it as part of my culture.

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ROB AMBERG:
Right. But as far as growing a crop of tobacco . . . [Laughter]
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, really! So it's kind of hypocritical on my part, but it's real none the less. It separates you. It's something you want to hold on to. I guess in some way Bailey Mountain is kind of my way—and I think our way, Will and I especially—of sort of capturing a piece of history and trying to just hold onto it and keep it and let people experience it on their own terms.
ROB AMBERG:
If you could, very briefly, because I know time is starting to become an issue for you. You had mentioned Bailey Mountain. What it is, what its purpose, its goals, all those kinds of things.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Bailey Mountain is the highest peak around Mars Hill. It's a significant landmark in that it's part of the town's seal, and it's part of the college's seal. Mars Hill high school, it was part of their alma mater. At Mars Hill College, it used to be a requirement that freshman climb the mountain. It was sort of a freshman initiation. It's just always been a fixture in Mars Hill's life, anyway. But it also has a very rich history associated with it that really has not been captured. Levi Bailey is the man for whom it's named, and he apparently was a huge landowner in the early 1800s. We've got a copy of his will from when he died. He's buried just off of 213, we just recently discovered. There's significant Native American history on the mountain. There's some African- American history there. There was a family that used to live in Hamp Gap—the Hamp family—and there's a little cemetery back there where they're all buried. Apparently, they all died one winter. So that's something that we need to research. Basically what we're interested in doing is, there was 200 acres that came up for sale, and after looking at it it seemed like it would just make sense to preserve that piece of land and hopefully

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later bring in more land to capture the whole mountain as an area for people to hike. Really, what we've got are just some basic plans to put trails—interpretive trails—on the property, with signage that would educate people a little bit about the flora and the fauna and wildlife and the history. [We also want] to develop some curricula that would be targeted at an elementary aged kid, so we can get kids up there and utilize it sort of as an outdoor classroom for small groups of kids, and also make it available to Mars Hill College students for whatever kind of research they might want to do in terms of Biology or recreation. So that's sort of the basic plan for the property. We've been able to raise about $150,000 so far. We'd gotten a low-interest loan from the McLure Fund in Fairview, so we're still in the process of paying them back. They have been very cooperative. And then the long-term plan would be to try and approach the adjoining property owners and bring in some more property.
ROB AMBERG:
And you set up a foundation surrounding that?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, dad had started up a non-profit before he died that he was going to use as—the original name was, "The Education Foundation for Expanding Human Capacity in the Global Community."
ROB AMBERG:
That's a little heavy. [Laughter]
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, it's a little heavy. But I think his ideas were to sort of develop service learning and experiential learning opportunities in western North Carolina and Latin America. He had just been to India, so he was looking at some community development models there. So, get the kids out and working in communities and really involved in social change issues. He started the foundation in '94, and he died before he really did anything with it. We used it for the first year as a way to raise money for Nabalone in

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Mexico, in supporting projects there. When the next opportunity came available it seemed like a good fit for that non-profit to develop the Bailey Mountain project. So the Bailey Mountain project is a project of what is now called the "Richard L. Hoffman Foundation." We changed the name.
ROB AMBERG:
When you were growing up, was that idea of doing service in the community something that was instilled in you?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, from an early age dad told us that it didn't matter what we did, but we had to help people.
ROB AMBERG:
That's great. And you've kind of kept that in your head?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
So, that's always been a guiding criteria. I guess it just seems like the right thing to do in most situations. It hasn't been something that was hard to live up to, necessarily, but that was definitely something that was laid out before us as being a value that we needed to embrace. And it was "demonstrate us" by our whole lives. Dad always had a family or two that he had adopted. We used to take Christmas presents over to Tennessee. It was around Morrison, Tennessee. The Lawson family. Dad used to trade land a lot. He and Dr. Sears would buy and sell land. One of the farms that they bought and were selling, this family lived there. I think in their buying and selling they were going to end up displacing this family, so they ended up just sort of helping them for the next decade or so. It was an annual pilgrimage. We'd take all kinds of presents and things and have Christmas with them. It was interesting, because when dad died there was a fundraising effort to endow a chair at the college. Not enough money came in, but the Lawsons sent $10.
ROB AMBERG:
Are you still in touch with them?

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RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Not much, no.
ROB AMBERG:
What was that like as a child? Were there children your age in the family?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, there were. I guess there were about six or eight kids. At first it was just one of those things that I just didn't want to do, because it didn't hold a lot of value for me as a teenager or as a youngster. But we went, we did it, and we learned the value of helping people and saw how lucky we were and how we could affect someone's life. It took a while for that all to sink in, but it did. Then, too, there were a lot of things that I didn't really even participate in, but I would always hear conversations around the house—A lot of things that dad would have been involved in, and grants that he was writing, projects that he was working on. It all sort of came around to reinforce these ideas that there were issues of right and wrong and justice and injustice that you needed to come down on a certain side. So that was always present. So it took root.
ROB AMBERG:
What religion was your father raised?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
I don't think he was Mennonite, but I think he was in that tradition. His family didn't practice like Mennonite, but I guess it was like Quaker. I don't know if there was a certain denomination that they were, but those values were present. I don't know when he became a Baptist. But that is how we were raised.
ROB AMBERG:
At Mars Hill Baptist?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
At Mars Hill Baptist.
ROB AMBERG:
So was Richard Price the pastor there?
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, he was pastor when I was growing up.
ROB AMBERG:
Do you know his sons?

Page 30
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, they were older than me, but I remember them. I didn't really hang out with them.
ROB AMBERG:
( ) and ( ) when I was up here. I really like them a lot. Just good folks.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Oh yeah. And then there's another thing. I didn't ever really appreciate him until he was gone.
ROB AMBERG:
Well, he left and then he converted to Episcopalism. He always told me that he thought he was a little bit ahead of his time at Mars Hill.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, that's like dad, you know? He was more Catholic or Episcopalian than Baptist. And really, I think that what dad saw in religion and in church as an institution was more, "How does this thing work to affect social change and social justice more than religion." I think that's why he got so turned on by Catholic church and movements for social change in Latin America, and then the Ghandian movements in India. Those community ( ) and other movements there that were really just looking at what social force can bind people together to affect change. The church seemed to be the most logical institution and the most effective institution for bringing people together. I haven't seen that working so much here in churches. I think it works on a project basis. Like, we just did this In As Much project. There were about 300 people that came out and did gobs of projects across the county, and it works in that format. But if you look at those movements down there, you can't get that kind of solidarity in the communities here.
ROB AMBERG:
Well, those movements by definition become more political.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, they do, and the issues are—
ROB AMBERG:
Much clearer.

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RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah, and they galvanize people.
ROB AMBERG:
Whereas here, I think that would be a movement for Mars Hill Baptist to have land reform in Madison County. [Laughter] I think that it would be a pretty hard sell.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
You're exactly right.
ROB AMBERG:
Did you happen to adopt a family in the eastern part of the state during the flood, or anything like that? The Hurricane Floyd thing. I know a lot of churches state- wide did.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
No. We got the kids and we all went through and got a lot of our things and donated them. We tried to involve our kids in it in that way—made them give things— or, didn't make them, but impressed upon them that they didn't need to get their junk out and donate it. They needed to give something that had value to them. But that's what we did. We donated a lot of work. Well, Will introduces us to families we can help in the immigrant population that he works with. So we'll go through and the kids will get together stuff on a pretty regular basis and let him take it to the kids he works with in Yancey County. But we really don't have a family that we've really adopted.
ROB AMBERG:
That's something that you and Will are both probably aware of in terms of the immigrant population in Madison and Yancey County. It's really very much a changing dynamic. It seems to be getting more and more strong every year.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
It really is. And for some reason, it's really growing in Yancey County. In Madison County there's a much larger population than I thought, because they're about to start a program at Mars Hill Elementary—a tutoring program, I think, to help with

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English as a Second Language. There may be eight kids here at this school that are immigrant kids. I think in the county there are about fifteen or twenty kids.
ROB AMBERG:
Yeah, I think there are like one or two at ( ). And that makes sense to me that it would be thirty more kids here on this end of the county. Out by Jupiter. It seems like there's a lot of them around Zeno's place.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Yeah. I think that he's got close to around 100 kids in Yancey County.
ROB AMBERG:
That's amazing. I wonder what their parents are doing, because there's not nearly as much farming there as there is here.
RICHARD LEE HOFFMAN:
Well, they'll do tobacco, then they'll go work Christmas trees. And then before the tobacco they work apples.
END OF INTERVIEW