By Sherrie Norris
The birth of a baby girl is always exciting, but especially so when she becomes the first of a family’s fifth generation.
That’s the latest news in the Fred Vannoy family, happening when Vannoy’s great-granddaughter, Indya Moretz, gave birth to her daughter, Italya Renee, on October 23.
The little girl’s birth brought smiles for several miles to the family, now spread from Todd to Marion. It was especially heart-warming to the family patriarch, Vannoy, himself, who became a great-great grandfather at the age of 93; just a few short months earlier, the death of Nancy Vannoy, his wife of 73 years, had left a painful void in all of their lives.
Little Italya’s mother is Indya Moretz ,a registered nurse in Marion. Her grandfather is Chad Moretz of Marion, who, with a doctorate in healthcare management and research, is currently affiliated with GlaxoSmithKline in Durham; Indya’s great-grandmother, Debbie Vannoy Williams, lives in Todd and, since 1989, has owned and operated Head Quarters Hairstyling.
Reaching such an incredible milestone is something to celebrate, the family members agree. But it all starts with a firm foundation — and one in which the family takes great pride. The story of how it all came to be never grows old for any of them.
The Family Patriarch: A Firm Foundation
Fred Vannoy has lived on his farm down by the New River in Todd since the early ‘’50s. He was a chicken farmer and saw miller, a Baptist preacher and Sunday school teacher. He still teaches Sunday school every Sunday. His descendants have grown up with strong work ethics and love hearing about how their history unfolded, knowing it took a lot of hard work, sacrifice and dedication when times were hard.
An Ashe County native born in 1926 just a short distance from his current home along the New River, Vannoy served in World War II for two years and married Nancy when he was discharged in 1946. They were married 73 years on August 16; she passed away less than a month later on September 13.
Losing his lifelong sweetheart, he said, was the hardest thing he ever went through. But, together, they had a good life and raised four children: Debbie, Macky, Sandy and Johnny. They welcomed four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and now, Vannoy has welcomed his first great-great-granddaughter.
The Vannoy family has long been loved and respected in their community, so much so that the elder couple was, in 2014, presented a ceremonial key to Todd, by the Todd Ruritan Club.
Vannoy loves to reminisce about his life, and especially remembers those early years, when his family was without the convenience of electricity until he was about 17 years of age. He has often said he received a good education by lamplight.
But, he did walk to school — three miles every day, in fact, and the same distance to church, regardless of the weather. Not like nowadays, he said.
When he was 16, Vannoy set out to work in a Pennsylvania paper mill; his dad wasn’t far behind him and actually became his supervisor.
Vannoy was just a boy, he said, when he went into the Army, serving in Germany during WWII. From the infantry division to artillery, he ended up driving the first tank he ever saw — for 300 miles.
He will never forget seeing the Germans handing over their guns as the war ended, and has nothing but good to say about those he fought with and against. “They couldn’t help what Hitler done,” he said.
He was far from home, but his heart was nearby in the Cove Creek Community, claimed by a young Nancy Hicks, who he had met and visited before he went off to war. A long distance romance ensued, with the couple exchanging letters during his absence.
Soon after his military discharge, the couple drove to South Carolina to get married, as did many young local couples around that same time. He was 20 and Nancy a year younger.
The newlyweds moved to Pennsylvania for a couple of years, but returned home in 1948, where they began farming and raising their family, living in a little house near Fred’s parents.
Every morning, he said with a chuckle, his dad hollered out the door to the couple — telling them that it was time to get out of the bed, “We got tired of that and figured it was time to get away from there and get out on our own.”
Vannoy went to work in construction and helped build at least 50 homes in Watauga County, he said. He also raised cattle, did a lot of sawmill work and spent 30 years raising chickens for Holly Farms in Wilkes County. He recalled building a 250-foot long chicken house that held over 20,000 chickens at one time. It was good while it lasted, he said.
The Vannoys raised their family on the farm, too, a good place for kids to roam and enjoy learning about life and work, he said. And, regardless of how much work they had to do, he always made sure his family had a beach vacation in the summer, something they all enjoyed together.
The couple both taught Sunday school and raised their family in church, serving for over 50 years at nearby Pilot Mountain Baptist Church. Vannoy served as a deacon, music leader and is also an ordained minister who has read the entire Bible many times over and memorized countless verses, which he can still recite today.
So, at 93, Vannoy still tries to find the good in every situation and is grateful for a long life, well lived.
There’s been a lot of sadness in his life, he said, especially related to the recent death of his wife, and the earlier loss of a son, but as a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and now a great-great-grandfather, there’s still a lot for which to be thankful.