By Nathan Ham
June 30 will definitely be a bittersweet day for Ashe County Arts Council Executive Director Jane Lonon.
Lonon will retire from her position at the end of this week after serving as executive director since 1988.
“It’s just been the best job in the whole world. I’ve been privileged to be a part of an organization that cares so much about the community that it serves and works so hard to use the arts to affect change, from downtown beautification and revitalization to quality programming that we’re able to pass on to the next generation,” Lonon said. “It’s just been a busy, active, positive effort by lots of people and I have been fortunate enough to get to be a part of it.”
Lonon moved to Ashe County in 1981 and initially began serving the Ashe County Arts Council as a volunteer and a board member before accepting the executive director position in 1988. All in all, Jane has dedicated 38 years of her life to promoting arts in the community with the Ashe County Arts Council.
In addition to all of the recognition she has received from those in and around the High Country for her work in the arts, Lonon was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2013. That award is the highest honor that a citizen can receive in North Carolina.
Many of the events organized by the Ashe County Arts Council have been planned long in advance. Lonon says that all of their concerts through next June have been planned as well as all of their gallery exhibits through December of 2020. That doesn’t mean that she’s going to miss her job any less.
“I have definitely sat around and shed a few tears. I did not make the decision lightly, it was with lots of thought. I will miss the people, I will miss the projects and I will miss being a part of the arts council,” said Lonon. “I am going to miss being at the forefront of those events. It’s going to be fun sitting there as an audience member or as a volunteer, but it’s a little bittersweet. The time was right for me and the time was right for the arts council. I’m a firm believer that things happen at the right time when they’re supposed to.”
Lonon will pass the torch to the new executive director, Jeff Fissel. Fissel, who started working on June 19 alongside Lonon to get some hands-on experience within the Ashe County arts community, graduated from Appalachian State University and lives in Boone.
For the previous nine years, Fissel served as the Executive Director of Historic Rural Hill in Huntersville.
“Board members who have been involved in the search for a new executive director are pleased the Jeff Fissel has accepted the position,” said Ashe County Arts Council Board President, Ed Perzel. “Jeff is an outstanding young man with eight years of experience in the non-profit arena. His easy style and confidence provide what the arts need to continue to thrive in Ashe County.”
Jane has no doubt that the arts council will be in great hands under new leadership.
“Jeff is going to be great. I have enjoyed meeting him. He and I will have a few days overlapping with the job. He won’t miss a beat, he’ll be just fine,” she said.
Jane says that one of her favorite parts of retirement will be not having a schedule to follow every day.
“I’m not going to have a schedule, that’s the whole purpose of retirement,” she laughed. “My husband and I have some travel plans with a couple of trips in the works and otherwise, with summertime in the mountains, you get to sit back and relax and enjoy everything that Ashe county and this region have to offer. That will be a treat.”