Laurie Wommack Johnston Ė Class of 1988
Curator, North Carolina Room
Burke County Public Library

ďCountry roads, take me home to the place I belong . . .Ē This lyric from one of my favorite songs from childhood sums up my journey to the place where I am today. I am right back home where my journey started so many years ago. In fact, I work every day only a couple blocks from the exact location where I was born, at the old Grace Hospital that stood where the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium stands now. The path to get here has not been a straight one. Iíve traveled to the other side of the world and never thought I would end up back at the starting gate. Much like a country road, it has taken me up to the peaks and down into the valleys, around long and winding curves. Although I couldnít have predicted this path long ago, I am comfortable here in this place I have always called home.

Iíve lived in Burke County most of my life. My mom and dad moved into a modest home between Drexel and Morganton when I was just six months old. I lived in that house all my young life, attending Drexel Elementary School, Drexel Junior High School, and then East Burke High School. Some of my favorite memories growing up were of activities at the R.O. Huffman Recreation Center, playing basketball a little bit and cheerleading for Drexel PeeWees, Mighty Mites, and Midgets football games. In junior high, I cheered for the Wolverines at all the football and basketball games and played in the band directed by Miss Siphers. Some of my favorite teachers there were Dottie Perkins, Denny and Marie Young, Jim Ball, and Ken Clough. I was also active in the Morganton Swim Club from the time I was 8 years old until I swam for the high school team at East Burke.

In high school, I divided my time between academics and working at Winn-Dixie as a cashier. I spent many hours doing homework and projects for my classes with Mrs. Lillian Pendley, who challenged, encouraged, and inspired me to enjoy and examine the best literature and culture and to be creative in everything. I learned to love history from Mrs. Cindy Smith, to appreciate the ancient societies of Greece and Rome from Mrs. Karla Blakey, and to improve my writing and grammar skills from Mrs. Sherron Prewitt. Mr. Dennis Whitener and Mrs. Beth Robinson inspired me to explore my artistic side in drawing, art, and calligraphy classes and provided me the opportunity to visit New York City art museums and sites on a special field trip. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane, but it would not be the last.

I graduated East Burke High School in 1988 and went on to Elon College with a NC Teaching Fellowship. At Elon, I had the opportunity to travel on a History Study Tour of the eastern US, to attend a Leaders on Leadership seminar in Washington, DC, and attended the inauguration of George H.W. Bush, Sr. I spent a semester studying in London and visited Europe during spring break at a time just after the Berlin Wall had fallen. I also took a history course that took me to the Soviet Union and Hungary. So in college, I developed an increased interest in history and had many unique opportunities to see and experience the world. My horizons were opened, and I never expected that the path would lead me right back home, to the mountains of North Carolina again and again.

In 1992, I graduated from Elon College with a degree in Middle Grades Education and got a job back at home, teaching 7th grade language arts and social studies at Table Rock Middle School in its opening year. I taught there for several years, taught at Heritage Middle School, then moved out of state for a couple years, following my husbandís career path and higher educational opportunities. Then, we decided to move back to Burke County.

I earned my masterís degree in Library Science from ASU in 2012, in the fall of that year, I was privileged to get a job as the Media Coordinator at Drexel Elementary. There, I loved working with the staff and the students, and it sure felt good to be home. Then in the fall of 2014, I was offered a job opportunity to work in the public library in Morganton as the curator of the North Carolina Room, so I decided to take a different path than I had expected for my life. It was a Robert Frost moment and I took that second road, the one less traveled, the one I hadnít expected, but it led me to where I am today, and it feels like the right path for me. All the years I spent in Burke County and in traveling the world, experiencing and enjoying history and culture, have led me back home where I get to help preserve and share the history and culture of our area. My history is here in this place, and I have come to a point in my life where I have the pleasure and opportunity to preserve and share the history of the place I call home.

The North Carolina Room is a special place that I feel like many locals may not even know about. But if you need it, its treasures are there for you to explore, and I can help you find them. I get to be the keeper of history, the guide to help you find information about our local area. The mission of the NC Room is to document, preserve and share our local history. It is a special room in the Morganton library where you will find books and files on local clubs, schools, organizations, businesses, people, families, industries, historical events, etc. We maintain an archive of the local newspapers, including The News Herald, going back to the late 1800s. You will also find school yearbooks, a collection which I have made it my mission to expand and to share. Thanks to fellow alumnus, Ed Hallyburton, Yearbook Advisor and teacher at EBHS, our yearbook collection in the NC Room now has many more yearbooks from East Burke High School. I have worked to digitize many of the yearbooks in our collection, which may be found on www.digitalnc.org. These yearbooks must be at least 50 years old to be digitized, so the EBHS yearbooks are not yet online but may be viewed in the NC Room at the library.

You may be surprised that people visit the NC Room from all over the country to research their family history. Burke County was formed in 1777 and once encompassed much of western North Carolina, so it was very important in the settling of the west, and people from all over the country trace their history here. We are very fortunate in Burke County to have the NC Room, housing a large and varied collection of local history and genealogy resources. In a typical year, we have hundreds of visitors from at least 35 different states. When they visit, they often comment about what a rare and wonderful collection of resources we have at our disposal and what a beautiful home we have to explore here in Burke County.

I am so grateful to be working in a job that I love, helping people research their familyís genealogy and our local history. It is thrilling and rewarding to help people find what they are seeking. I am particularly fond of helping people connect to their own family history because I feel it is important work, often with a very emotional and personal connection. Since Iím a Burke County native, I have memories connected to many of the people and places here. It is important to me to preserve and to share this information with others who seek it. This is my home, and working in the NC Room feels like home too.

When I graduated from East Burke, I planned to go to college and to teach, but I couldnít have predicted all the trips and turns that my path has taken me through life. I am grateful for the chance to experience many types of education, see the world, and travel the many winding country roads that led me back home.


Home Page