Mayor, Commission honor ‘Hometown Heroes’

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Several local residents were named “Hometown Heroes” during a special ceremony held Monday afternoon.

The “Hometown Heroes” project was launched a few months ago by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey as a way for him and members of the County Commission to honor citizens for their accomplishments and contributions to the community.

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Previously the presentations had been held during the County Commission meeting, but in November the Commission voted to have the ceremony as a separate event before the Commission’s monthly meeting.

Among the group of honorees for December were several residents who have served their community in a variety of ways — from serving in the armed forces, as law enforcement officers, and as stewards of the community.

• The Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation was honored for their work to develop and maintain a community park in Roan Mountain as well as projects such as the Appalachian Trail Days festival, the Roan Mountain Farmers Market, the Roan Mountain Community Christmas Tree Lighting, and the Overmountain Victory Trail Association education program each year at the park.

In the wake of the historic flood of 1998, the Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation was formed with an initial project of establishing a park on some of the lands which had been damaged by the flood waters. Since that time, the Foundation has continued to grow and so has the park. Throughout the years the Foundation completed a number of additions to the park to increase its usage.

“It’s obvious to me the Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation is committed to making Carter County a better place for us all,” Humphrey said.

• Former Carter County Sheriff George Papantoniou was honored for his service to his country in the military and his service to this community as a law enforcement officer.

Papantoniou was born in 1936 in Greece. At the end of the 1940s, his home country was embroiled in a Civil War, which is often considered one of the first conflicts of the Cold War Era. Along with his family, Papantoniou left Greece and in April of 1951 they arrived in America. George was 15 years old at the time and spoke no English, but he quickly began learning. In 1953, he joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17 after his father signed consent. He served in a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron. He received his discharge in 1956, and in 1959 he married a girl from Stoney Creek. After moving to Carter County in 1971, Papantoniou had the opportunity to purchase the Lynnwood Hotel and Cafeteria. He took a job in 1974 as a deputy with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office under then-Sheriff Harry Buckles. In 1976 Papantoniou was elected to a two-year term as Carter County Sheriff. In 1978 he was elected to that post for a four-year term. After leaving the Sheriff’s Office, he took a job with the U.S. Postal Service where he remained until he retired.

• Billy Lyons was honored for his service to his country during the Korean War.

Lyons was born in Hampton in 1931. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to the Roan Mountain area where Lyons grew up. In 1951, Lyons joined the United States Navy and was deployed to serve in the Korean War.

After receiving his discharge in 1955, he moved to Maryland where job opportunities were more plentiful and took a position with Chevrolet. After working for the auto manufacturer for some time, Lyons decided to open his own automobile repair shop. He later retired from his business and moved his family back to Carter County. He then took a position with an insurance company and remained there until his final retirement at the age of 80.

• Ivan McQueen was honored for his service to his country in World War II.

McQueen was born in Elizabethton in May of 1922. He took a job at North American Rayon Corporation and in 1941 married the love of his life, Virginia. At the age of 20, he joined the United States Army. One week after he deployed for his training his first child was born.

After his training, McQueen was deployed to the European Theater of World War II. McQueen was awarded the Bronze Star for his “heroic actions” during combat in Germany in December of 1944. McQueen and his platoon scouted enemy routes of advancing enemy troops and inflicted heavy casualties, preventing the German soldiers from advancing. He was also awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Distinguished Unit Citation.

While he never sustained serious injuries in combat, he recalls on one occasion when his field jacket and a metal-clad Bible he carried were both damaged while he himself avoided injury. During his deployment in the European front, McQueen captured a Nazi flag which had flown over an opera house in Germany. The flag became a prized possession because it contains the names of all of the members of his platoon written inside the white area on the flag.

After the war, McQueen returned to Elizabethton and once again went to work at North American Rayon Corporation. He recently celebrated his 76th wedding anniversary with his wife Virginia.