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Sixties Student Sweethearts Revisit Lees-McRae after 55 Years

Jim and Kathy Neace

Jim and Kathy Neace of Raleigh visited the High Country last week after a gap of 55 years to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary where they met – in Banner Elk, at the then Lees-McRae Junior College. Business student Kathy, from Winston-Salem and football scholar Jim, from Key West, FL, fell in love almost immediately on meeting and 18 months later, in 1966, they tied the knot with all the family present in the only time slot available when Jim’s father, a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, was stationed to San Diego. Jim, a navy volunteer of the Vietnam War, also went west that December, leaving his bride just five days before Christmas, “which was very hard,” said Kathy. She was one of the first employees, said Jim, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the first public arts conservatory in the nation, launched in 1963. Kathy worked there for 33 years. After four years in the Navy, Jim worked at several jobs, finally retiring from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company after 24 years. They lived in Winston-Salem for many years, traveled all over to competitions with their figure-skater daughter, Mary Beth, and ultimately settled in Raleigh. On Friday (July 30), they spent the morning visiting the Lees-McCrae campus and Banner Elk – now transformed from those distant rural days when strict dress and behavior codes governed their student life – which nevertheless failed to stop them making a go of their relationship and which has led to a very happy and successful life.