Looking back at the highlights of the past year in The Town of Friendly People, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say the town nearly saw it all.
A major-league balloon festival settled on Zebulon as the main site of a Memorial Day weekend celebration, but overwhelmed the town’s roads and, just like that, it was gone.
Both the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce and the town itself came under new leadership. And the nearby Bunn community celebrated the best season in its high school football program’s history, ending in a first-ever appearance in a state title game.
Below are recaps of some of the most notable things to take place in this town in 2015.
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Recognized for service: The Zebulon Chamber of Commerce in February named Allen Boyette Zebulon’s 2014 Citizen of the Year, noting the things he’s done for others as the main reason for his selection for the honor.
Boyette has coached, organized and promoted local youth athletics and has been an active supporter of the town’s parks and recreation department.
He’s done a fair amount more outside the town limits.
He served active duty with the Army’s 2nd Engineering Group in Korea, 7th Infantry Division, and the 82nd Airborne. He joined the North Carolina National Guard in 1994 and spent 18 months deployed in Iraq with the Guard. He still serves as a colonel in the Guard as Commander for the 60th Troop Command.
One nominator said “he is very loyal, dedicated, and caring for what he holds precious in his life, which are his love of God and country, his beautiful wife and three sons, his family at large, his friends and the community in which he lives, Zebulon.”
A fresh site in town: The Zebulon Farm Fresh Market opened for business at the start of May, an addition to town made possible initially by a grant from the John Rex Endowment.
The market found a home at the Zebulon Community Center, but featured more than just fresh foods. Music groups, chefs, dance groups and community center offerings made the location a one-stop shop for weekend fun.
The market accepted Electronic Benefit Cards and came together at a relevant time, not long after much of town was identified as a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Cutting ties: Town staff decided in March to finish the process of creating a new set of land use rules on its own after members of the the Lawrence Group, the consulting firm Zebulon hired to develop its Unified Development Ordinance, began taking jobs elsewhere.
The lead consultant initially pledged to complete the work despite working for a different firm, but the town cut ties after not getting the desired results.
The Lawrence Group completed about 70 percent of the UDO work, town leaders said. The contract on the total project was for $125,400, of which the firm was paid $93,461.
Planning staff later in the year said the work turned out to be more than they could manage on their own, and that they were looking into hiring another firm to complete the UDO.
Gone with the wind: The prospect of a major hot-air balloon festival staking itself in Zebulon in May was exciting for the town.
But organizers of the Freedom Balloon Fest, held over Memorial Day Weekend, didn’t expect the kind of crowd the event attracted.
They had anticipated somewhere in the range of 35,000 people would show up at the Bennett Bunn Plantation, the festival’s primary location, and Raleigh’s Spring Forest Road Park between Friday evening and Monday morning.
When the dust settled, they estimated the 43 balloon crews participating at the two sites drew a cumulative attendance closer to 85,000.
Traffic became an issue, and quickly, on opening night at the Zebulon site, which saw an estimated 20,000 people who came to see a mass ascension of balloons followed by a night glow. The back-ups also prevented several of the balloonists who participated in the ascension from returning in time to participate in the night glow, and ultimately drew criticism from frustrated visitors.
In November, is was announced that the festival was relocating to Fuquay-Varina in its second year.
The organizers said Zebulon proved not to be the best fit because of the traffic setbacks associated with its location along two major east-west highways, and on one of the year’s biggest beach weekends.
New Chamber chief: Denise Nowell was named the new executive director of the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce in June, filling the post previously held by Kim Valentine, who had resigned in April.
Nowell came from the Garner Chamber of Commerce, where she spent five years as vice president.
Her start in Zebulon came at the completion of a four-year certification program through the Institute for Organization Management, the professional development program created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Zebulon Chamber President Mike Almquist said that was a selling point when chamber board members interviewed Nowell.
“We were, as a board, ideally looking for someone who could come in with some solid chamber experience,” Almquist said. “When you combine her five years in Garner, a respected chamber of commerce, with this certification, it was very appealing.”
Drag-racing deaths: Police in July charged a Zebulon man with four counts of murder after a drag-racing crash that killed four people and seriously injured three others near the Johnston-Nash County line.
Jimmy Pearce Jr., 37, was driving one of two cars that were racing on Simon Road when he lost control of his car, veered off the pavement and struck a group of people watching the race, the Highway Patrol said.
He was initially charged with three counts of second-degree murder for the three people who died at the scene: Undra Montrell Taybron, 40, of Wilson; Carlton Ray Brooks, 42; and Garland Earp, 39.
Earp’s nephew, Arrington Earp, 23, was also hit and died after being rushed to the hospital, resulting in the fourth charge.
Under new management: Commissioners hired former Brevard City Manager Joe Moore as Zebulon’s new town manager in late July.
Moore replaced Rick Hardin, who resigned in November, 2014 following his second arrest for allegedly driving while impaired in the past seven years. Hardin’s final salary was $113,657. Moore’s starting salary was $118,000.
The town underwent a lengthy search process that produced two finalists who “did not work out,” said Mayor Bob Matheny.
Meanwhile, consultants helping Zebulon in the search introduced the town to Moore, who wasn’t an option during the initial search process.
Moore was attracted to Zebulon because of its potential for growth.
“The final thing that sold me was when I took a look at what the mayor, board of commissioners and citizens did in rallying to save that (Wakelon) building and turn it into the municipal complex,” Moore said the day he was hired. “That told me they have a community that is civic-minded and really believes in good government.”
Bunn’s big season: The Bunn community turned up more than 5,000 strong to watch its Wildcats football team compete in its first-ever state championship appearance in December.
Bunn (13-3) fell 38-19 to undefeated Monroe in the NCHSAA 2AA title game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Wildcats, who rallied after falling behind 28-0, produced 281 total yards in the loss. Tevin Perry, Bunn’s Offensive MVP, finished with 158 yards on 28 carries. Josh Terlizzi, who had an interception in the championship game, was tabbed as Bunn’s Defensive MVP.
The Wildcats had rallied late to claim wins in both the state quarterfinals and semifinals. They also realized a three-decade goal of coach David Howle – who pocketed his 200th career win in the regular season – of taking his club to a state championship game.
“We had the whole town on fire because of us,” said Bunn fullback Davonte Caldwell. “I wasn’t surprised to see all of our people here.”