By Bill Hensley
Construction has begun on an indoor athletic facility as part of the Williams YMCA of Avery County. The 20,000- square foot structure will feature two basketball courts, a volleyball court and a batting cage. It will be completed in 2017 at a cost of $1.3 million, most of which was raised by John Blackburn.
Appropriately, the new facility will be named the John M. Blackburn Indoor Athletic Facility in recognition of Blackburn, one of Avery County’s most distinguished citizens, enthusiastic promoters and tireless civic workers for over three decades.
“That’s good news,” said Boone businessman Kenneth Wilcox, “because he is most deserving. He is Mr. Avery County. I wish they would build a statue of him with a cape on it so everyone would know that he is Superman. John does a fabulous job with anything he undertakes.”
Being deeply involved in a variety of community affairs is nothing new for Blackburn, the president and general manager of Linville Resorts which is composed of the Eseeola Lodge, the Linville Golf Club, a spa and a resort neighborhood. He began his extensive volunteer work around 1980 while working for the Avery County Bank.
“My inspiration was Martha Guy,” Blackburn stated. “She was a vital part of numerous good causes and worked diligently to improve the quality of life in our area. She taught me to look for things to do that would be helpful and then assume a leadership role. She was my mentor, and she was a good one.”
“I also learned to give back to my home area from my parents,” he continued. “They were strong believers in being a good corporate citizen.”
Blackburn left banking and a two-year stay with Merrill Lynch as a bond salesman to join Linville Resorts. He began his career in 1983. Previously, he had worked at the resort in high school as a waiter and bartender and while he was a college student he served as a desk clerk, desk manager and assistant manager. Both his grandmother and his father had worked at Eseeola over the years.
With some spare time on his hands during the winter months when the famed country inn and golf course were closed, Blackburn looked for things to do to stay occupied.
“My deepest interests are in creating quality jobs and improving educational and healthcare facilities,” he explained. “I feel that these three are essential to a community’s welfare so they are a high priority.”
His list of accomplishments over the years is long and impressive. Blackburn helped raise $20 million to establish the Cannon Hospital in Linville, $13 million for the YMCA, $30 million for Crossnore School and untold amounts for other local needs. His commitment to excellence has no ends.
He has served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Crossnore School, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cannon Memorial Hospital, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Appalachian State University, Chairman of the Linville Foundation, Chairman of the Linville Volunteer Fire Department Trust, Chairman of the Cain Scholars Program in Avery County, and a co-founder of the YMCA.
In addition, he has been a valued member of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, a director of the Sloop Memorial Hospital, a director of the Watauga Medical Center, and has worked on the United Way of Avery and Watauga Counties, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, Hospice of Avery Co., and the Avery high school scholarship and athletic program.
“I don’t know anyone who has done as much as John,” offered area entrepreneur Spencer Robbins. “He is an amazing person with a track record of success that can’t be matched. He is a human dynamo.”
For his numerous efforts, Blackburn was named the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer in North Carolina in 2000, and Western North Carolina’s Outstanding Volunteer in 2002. He won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from King College, his alma mater, and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the State of NC.
While most of the assignments he undertook were enjoyable, there was one that proved to be extremely difficult. “I think the toughest thing I ever did,” he recalled, “was to help establish Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville. There were many obstacles to overcome, including political protocol, and all proved to be cumbersome and complicated. It took the hard work of a lot of strong-minded people to bring that project to fruition. But it was worth all the problems we faced, and I am proud that we were diligent in our efforts.”
The fact that Blackburn persevered during adversity was no surprise to Trey Oakley, CEO of the Williams YMCA.
“John embodies the true definition of selflessness,” he said. “Everything he does within our community is for the betterment of his fellow man and to give voice to those in need. He is a true inspiration to me in both my personal and professional life to do all I can when I can and for as many people as I can. It is with great pride that I call him my friend.”
Blackburn, 65, was born in Avery County and attended Avery High School before enrolling at King College in Bristol, Tn., where he received a BA in Economics and Business and served as president of the student body. He received an MBA degree from Virginia Tech with a concentration on Finance and Human Resources.
At Linville Resorts he oversees one of the nation’s finest country inns, North Carolina’s oldest golf course and a Donald Ross classic, a spa, a club of 320 discerning members and a residential area of 250 houses. “My work here is demanding but purely enjoyable in every phase of activities,” he remarked. “I wouldn’t trade jobs with anyone.”
When he isn’t supervising a luxury resort and club, Blackman is an avid reader and a fitness buff who works out daily with a strenuous physical regimen. “I’m also a political junkie who likes to keep up with what’s going on in the world.”
For vacations, he usually heads to Hawaii and its beautiful islands.
As his friend, the late Hugh Morton, once said “John is an outstanding business executive who sincerely cares for our area. Not only does he run a fine lodge and club, he is one of the hardest working and most dedicated civic leaders I have ever known. He does things quickly and quietly.”
And so he does. When important things need to be done in Avery County and the High Country, folks look to John Blackburn for help, and they are seldom disappointed. He is indeed a Superman.
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