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Carroll Garland: Gentleman Banker, Tree Farmer And A Friend To Many

Carroll Garland is as solid as the rock on which he sits at Yellowstone National Park.

By Sherrie Norris

Carroll Garland is no stranger to the High Country, or anywhere for miles around. Many know him as a fair  businessman and a man of his word — one who has never let retirement slow him down. Many remember him as a star football player and later, a gentleman banker who encouraged young entrepreneurs to believe in themselves while doing all he could to help them succeed.

All who know Garland can attest to the fact that he’s “a good man,” one with a big heart — and one who enjoys life to the full, with perhaps a little mischief thrown in for good measure.

It doesn’t take long for even strangers to warm up to the sharp-witted Garland, who at first glance might appear as a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact individual. While there’s little question about “who’s in charge” when he’s around, there’s usually a quick word or two, often with a chuckle, to dispel any misgivings about the fun and compassionate gentleman that he is. 

Retired from the banking business since 2006, Garland has filled his time with family enterprises, including his Christmas tree business, Hawk Mountain Tree Farm, and “hanging out” in the summer with his adult children, Sonya and Carroll Alan, around their landscaping business, Hawk Mountain Garden Center, or during the winter months at  their Highland House Ski Shop, in the Tynecastle area of Banner Elk, which his late wife, Gayle opened in 1977.

 He enjoys quality time with his family and close friends, and especially his grandsons, Ryan and Lance Loveless, Wade and Wyatt Garland.

These special people in his life have helped fill the void left by the untimely death of his wife, Gayle, on Sept. 11, 2013, which, he admitted, was the hardest thing he’s ever endured. She was his longtime sweetheart and the love of his life until her death to lymphoma. They were married 49 years.

In recent years, he became reacquainted with Norma Ellis, a life-long friend of his sister who also had lost her husband to an early death;  together, they are forging a new path as life partners. Ellis has only good things to say about Garland, as most people do. “He’s a wonderful, fun, loving man and I’m enjoying our time together.” Garland’s children love Norma and they all are making the most of this new chapter of life and their “blended families.”

Turning Back the Pages of Time

 Garland, who makes his home in the Foscoe community of Watauga County, was born in the Mitchell County seat of Bakersville on  December 13, 1943, to parents, Frank and Jolene Hampton Garland. He grew up with two siblings on a dairy farm, located where the current Mitchell High School is today; his older brother, Calvin, lives in Atlanta, Ga., and their younger sister, Susan Garland Saunders, lives in Madisonville, Tenn.

Their father worked in the  sawmills and had sawmill camps in Kentucky, to which the family traveled during the summer. Garland remembers, as a youngster, carrying water to the men who were logging “up near Neon, Kentucky.” 

Back in the day, Carroll Garland and two great friends, Charlie Wallace (left) and Burton Woody
(right) In Nashville, share one of many good times together. 

When Garland and his family went back there to visit eight years ago, 58 years had passed since he, at 12, had last been there, but he was able to find  the exact location where the camp had been. It was indeed a special time for him, as he reminisced about those days.

He also recalled how his mother cooked for the men at the logging camps and worked as a nurse and a “lunchroom lady” back home.

His fondest memories of childhood include taking their work horses to drink water from the creek.

Carroll admits that he might not have been an outstanding student in school,  but he was a force to be reckoned with on the football field.

Garland, bottom left, with team mates and good friends including Ronnie
Boone top left, and Jerry Duncan top right.

He was a tackle, #77 on the Bowman High School football team. And, there might have been a few times when he was thrown out of the game for throwing an occasional elbow or fighting.

He made forever friends in high school, some of whom he still enjoys meeting up with today for reunions and getaways.

The hardest lesson he learned in school? Having to work when his friends were having fun.

Garland  #77, a force to be reckoned with on and off the field at  Bowman High School in Bakersville.

After high school, Garland went to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee to play football, but quit after three months, ironically, to go to work. His first job was with the Ciba-Geigy factory in Charlotte, before he moved back to Spruce Pine and started working as a teller with Northwestern Bank.

Garland had already gotten a glimpse  of his future wife, Gayle Biddix, when she was playing basketball for Harris High School against his Bowman High School. He thought she was a “damn good basketball player.”  After they graduated, they bumped into each other one night in Spruce Pine and started dating; they were married on May 19, 1964.

A young couple just starting out in life, Carroll and Gayle Garland enjoyed many years together before her untimely death. 

The couple started their life together in the Estatoe  community of Mitchell County;  over two years later, on November 16, 1966,  they welcomed their first child, daughter Sonya Ann.

When Sonya was just six months old, Garland was transferred to Boone with Northwestern Bank — where his banking career really took off — and for which he is best known by folks in the High Country. The family welcomed son, Carroll Alan, born in Boone on March 23, 1969.

Carroll and Gayle Garland never missed a ballgame during which their grandsons were playing, no matter the sport.

Garland worked under the supervision of Alfred Adams at Northwestern Bank, a man from whom he learned a lot, he said, a great mentor to him in those early days. It came as no surprise to anyone that Garland was named Adams’ successor when he retired.

Garland worked with Northwestern Bank for 26 ½ years; Northwestern Bank was bought out by First Union bank, which Carroll worked for 18 months.

“Every bank that wasn’t already in Boone was calling to try and get dad to be their city executive, so they could move into Boone,” said Sonya. Finally, he went with Southern National Bank, which became BB&T; he finished his banking career there, after 20 years.

Garland said he loved banking and meeting people. He loved being able to help people by giving them an opportunity. Among his favorite projects was helping with the development of Beech Mountain, working with Carolina Caribbean Corporation, and the development of Hound Ears and Elk River with the Robbins brothers. Working with Samaritan’s Purse was a favorite, as well.

Hard Work, Honesty and Friends for Life

Good friends and fun times on the porch: From back left: John Hicks, James Burleson, Garland, Gene Ledford and front Jerry Duncan.

Garland’s biggest influences in life included his father, Frank, who taught him to work hard and always be honest, traits he easily adopted as his philosophy in life. And according to his children, he raised them with the same beliefs. Sonya and Carroll Alan have made him proud by having great work ethics; he is happy that they work so well together — whether in the ski shop or with him in the Christmas trees. He is most proud of his four grandsons and that they, too, have inherited those same characteristics.

After both became widowed way too early, Carroll Garland and Norma Ellis are forging a new path together.

And, as mentioned before, Garland said that Alfred Adams had a great impact upon him, having taught him basic business practices that proved to have positive long-term impacts.

Garland has had many friends in his life. One of his best friends was the late Charlie Wallace, his co-worker throughout his 46-year banking career and business partner in cattle and Christmas trees. Wallace lost his battle to ALS seven years ago; his picture stays above Garland’s sun visor in his pickup truck as a fond reminder of their friendship.

Another of his life-long friends is Jerry Duncan, with whom he grew up in Bakersville, played football at Bowman High School, worked at Northwestern Bank — and they still go to the beach golfing together.

Siblings Susan Garland Peake Saunders, Calvin Garland and Carroll Garland always enjoy special times together.

Duncan shared with us: “Carroll and I were in school together from the first grade through graduation. We both went to Western Carolina, but Carroll didn’t cotton to college life too much. One semester was good enough for him – three was good enough for me. Carroll came back home and went to work for Northwestern Bank in Spruce Pine and from there, he transferred to Boone to work for Mr. Alfred Adams. He thought the world of Alfred Adams and vice versa.”

It wasn’t long after that, Duncan said, that he, too, got a job with Northwestern Bank and transferred to North Wilkesboro, where he worked “for a good number of years.”  He stayed close to Garland, he said, but admitted their high school days hold more memories than anything else.

“We were as close as brothers could be and still are, as far as that goes,” he described. “We’ve spent a lot of time together through the years, traveling and playing golf.”

He remembers Garland as a good student, but “somewhat mischievous, and could pull some good pranks.”

A Bowman High Class reunion wouldn’t be the same without Carroll Garland and his friends for life.

Duncan continued: “We were in Bowman High School before they consolidated, and our school had a coal-fired heating system. Carroll and another buddy or two would often get in trouble and their punishment during lunch hour was to go shovel coal into the hopper to heat the high school. I thought he’d get tired of that after a while.”

The boys had a lot of good times, Duncan recalled. “We played football together. The most of a game Carroll got to play was about three quarters. He couldn’t make it through a whole ball game without getting riled up.  He might throw dirt in an opponent’s eyes or do something to get escorted off the field and onto the sidelines.”

Calling those years “a joyful time,” Duncan said Garland and his dad, Frank, helped fill an emptiness in his life as a youngster.

“My dad died when I was about 3 1/2 years old. Carroll’s dad was a mighty fine fellow who treated me about as well as he did Carroll. I’d have lunch with the Garlands about every Sunday and I never left (that I ever remember) that Frank wouldn’t ask Carroll how much money he needed. Carroll would say he didn’t need any, and then Frank would ask if I needed money. Our family kinda struggled along and I was really fortunate to have Carroll as a friend for that many years. And I was fortunate to have his dad kinda watching over me. Carroll is one of a kind. His dad was one of a kind — and he’s just like his dad in many ways. He will be straight with you and will never tell you anything that’s just not exactly right. He’s always been that kind of a fellow. He was a pretty good size, compared to some of the other boys in school, and just by looking at him, you would think he was a bully, but he was more like a big old teddy bear with a heart as big as the outdoors. To this day, If he hears of someone in need, like one of our classmates, he’s the first one to call and get us together and say, ‘We’ve got to help them out.’ He’ll do anything for anybody, but he’s not one to draw attention to himself. He’ll never tell me about this magazine article you’re doing. I’ll have to find it on my own.”

At the same time, however, Duncan added, “He can be quite a character. He’ll keep you laughing. And there’s more I could say, but you probably couldn’t print it.”

Appropriately staged, Dianne and Sherry Burleson have a little fun with Garland during one of their many family trips together. They are pictured here in Virginia City, Montana, where gold was discovered in 1863.

Another of Garland’s best friends and fellow bankers was James Burleson who passed away last year.  Dianne Burleson, James’ widow, of Newland, had this to share:

“Carroll and James worked at Northwestern Bank together. Carroll moved to Boone and James to Newland. They were also in the Christmas tree business. Sonya and Carroll Alan and our children, Steve and Sherry, were close in age and we did most everything together  for many years, including work and play. Vacations we had with them are still wonderful memories we share. The Garland family is truly our family. Great work ethics were shared. They are a fun and loving family to us and so many others. Carroll is a very generous man. I am honored to be his friend of many, many years.”

A huge part of Garland’s life has been spent not only with his children, but also his grandchildren, along with his daughter-in-law of 26 years, Paige Huffman Garland. From attending every ballgame the boys ever played, to giving them golf lessons, to joining them on amusement park rides, bird hunting, riding four-wheelers, fly fishing the Yellowstone River, to helping pick out their first trucks, Garland has been there. Seeing these boys grow into successful young men has been his greatest pleasure, he said.

Recalling the years she and her brother were growing up, Sonya said they couldn’t have asked for more caring, dedicated parents.

“They were always there for us, no matter what. Our friends were always welcomed in our home. We were always taught that everyone was equal – we never knew anything about race or social division.”

As the brother-sister duo has grown older, they are now enjoying doing business together, and with their dad, from whose example they have learned so much. At the same time, Sonya adds with a laugh, “We let him think he’s the boss, but Carroll Alan and I have to keep him grounded.”

When asked his thoughts on the current state of affairs in our country, Garland didn’t hesitate. “It’s a bit of a mess right now and seems to be going backwards, rather than forward.”  But, he added. “There are lots of positive things going on the United States and I feel that it’s still the greatest country in the world.”

With his grandsons at Christmas. From left: Wade Garland, Lance Loveless, Garland, Ryan Loveless, Wyatt Garland and special family member, Miguel Perez.

Having served on multiple boards of directors throughout his career, we thought it only fitting to ask if he had ever considered running for a public office.  His answer was a resounding, “Hell no!”

Given the opportunity to change something about his life,  what would it be? “Not a thing. I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have had in his life and I’m grateful for all of my blessings.”

The life of Carroll Garland might seem easy to some – a retired banker and successful businessman with a wonderful family. But none of it came easy, we’ve learned. He worked hard, he lived by the Golden Rule — treating others like he wants to be treated. Sounds like a good path to follow.

On The Farm

Carroll Alan works as farm manager for their dad’s wholesale Christmas tree business, Hawk Mountain Tree Farm, which was started as a partnership with friends in 1977; currently with over 1500 acres on several parcels spread mainly in east Tennessee, the farm produces some of the finest Fraser firs found anywhere that eventually find their way all over the country. Sonya’s son, Ryan, serves as his grandfather’s office manager.

Down on the farm in Neva, Tenn., nearing the end of the 2022 Christmas tree harvest.
From left: Juan Rodriguez, Tom Cogar, Carroll Alan Garland, Carroll Garland, Sonya Garland, Sergio Paniagua and Dale Ellis.

Carroll Alan and Sonya are partners in the landscaping and wholesale nursery business, which, since 1996, has been considered  one of the area’s premiere custom landscaping design and installation businesses.

Additionally, the sister and brother team owns and operates Highland House Ski Rentals, which gives them little to no time to rest after the tree harvest ends. When asked if their dad helps, Sonya said with a chuckle, “Yeah, he has a recliner in the shop.”

The Garland  family  each admit they couldn’t do any of it without each other — and without the help of their Hispanic workers and other longtime employees, several of whom have been with them for 20 or 30-plus years.

The camaraderie between the Garlands and their employees is something special, as we witnessed during the recent Christmas Tree harvest on their sprawling farm in Neva, Tenn. The trees had been cut and brought into one of several loading docks, headed for upstate New York at the time. Everyone knew his role and did it well, as “Big Daddy” or “Big D” as Garland is known among the crew, watched the process, sternly it seemed at a distance. But, as one drew closer, it was easy to see the smile on his face as he was surrounded by those he loves and who love  and admire him.

Each of his workers had a story and most were eager to share, mainly about how they appreciated Garland’s faith in them, how they are treated like family by the Garlands, and how they knew as long as they did what was expected of them, there would be no problems. One said emphatically, “He’ll give you every opportunity, but what you do with it is up to you. If you don’t hold  up your end, well, that’s just too bad.”

We learned in that tree field that Garland is a humble man, always meets others on their level — and never assumes that his position in life is superior to that of anyone else.

A family that works together stays together as  Sonya, Carroll and  Carroll Alan Garland prove, day after day.

Sergio Paniagua who has worked for the Garlands for 22 years  told us that he wouldn’t have a home without Garland’s help. And we heard how a phone call to Paniagua’s children on Christmas Eve was from Santa, despite the caller ID indicating it was Garland on the other end. “He didn’t have to do that, but that’s just the way he is. He’s a great person. He’s more than just a boss to me. He has helped me a lot without me even asking. I owe a lot to that man.”

Juan Rodriguez has been on board since 2002 and said about Garland, “He’s the best man I could ever work for. He treats me like family. I have my family here now from Mexico and this family is good to us all. They take care of me and I help take care of them.”

Dale Ellis has worked for the Garlands for 30 years and remembers being in the third grade when the Garlands came to Watauga County. “They’re some of the best people I’ve ever known,” he said. “I started working in the ski shop when I was 14. They’ve always treated me well. I’d go off and work on my own a little while through the years, but I’d always come back.

West Virginia native Tom Coger has worked for the Garlands “about 40 years,” he said, “Big D/Big Daddy has been like a daddy to me. He expects a lot of you, but if you work hard and do what he asks you to do, you won’t have any problem. They are good people and we have a lot of fun.”

And the stories they shared were endless — or could’ve been, if there hadn’t been a truck to load.

While there’s little question about “who’s in charge” when he’s around, there’s usually a quick word or two, often with a chuckle, to dispel any misgivings about the fun and compassionate gentleman that Carroll Garland truly is.