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Interview with Bettie C. Fennell, May 6, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Bettie C. Fennell, May 6, 2009
May 6, 2009
A southeastern North Carolina native, Bettie dropped out of high schoolin Pender County before senior year to marry, have 3 children, and dream of an eventual college degree. After earning GED, attended UNCW as a non-traditional student obtaining a degree in Political Science. Bettie began sending articles on Pender and Columbus county to Star-News, and she was given "correspondent" status six months later hired full time as investigative reporter. She stayed 22 years, earned the nickname "one live wire", respected for thorough reporting with a no holds barred attitude, and retired in 2004. Ran for State Senate in 2008, narrowly lost, says will run again. This interview discusses her views on education, including charter schools, growth, infrastructure, and our elected officials. A very common sense attitude during trying times. Bettie Fennel is down to earth, hard working, and a champion of education reform.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Fennell, Bettie C. Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Boyle, Erin Date of Interview: 5/6/2009 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, May 6, 2009. I'm Carroll Jones with Erin Boyle for the Randall Library Special Collection Oral History Project. We're in the Helen Hagen room of Special Collections UNCW. Our guest this afternoon is Bettie Fennell, a native of southeastern North Carolina, a 22 year veteran of the Star News, and one live wire as she is known, and by her own admittance, in her email address. She tells me her children gave her the name. Bettie is forthright and clear in her opinions and is passionate in her views on wasted tax money, education and high dropout rates, teacher pay, competitive education, and charter schools. She decided to stop complaining and do something so ran for office in our last election, narrowly lost and is more dedicated than ever to making a difference. Good afternoon Bettie and thanks for visiting us.

Fennell: Hi. Nice to be here.

Jones: Good. Let's begin learning a bit about you, where you're from, your education background, years with the Star News. And on that subject I think it would be interesting, from a woman's point of view, particularly since you were there such a long time, to talk about the changes that you experienced in a daily newspaper or the news business.

Fennell: Well to begin with, where I'm from, I was actually born in Columbus County. My father moved--or my parents moved to Pender County when I was about three years old. He was looking for--or accepted a job to improve his family's economic condition. So I grew up primarily in Pender County, married actually before I graduated from high school, I was a high school dropout, and began to have a family very early. Ended up with three girls. About eight years after I was married I took the GED. I knew at some point that I would finish my education so when my children, my girls, were in high school, I began attending UNCW as a non-traditional student. And I had to prove that I could do college work for, I think, two semesters. So I completed my college education and got a job at the Star News where I worked for 22 years. I had always been interested in politics during my college years. My husband wanted to--tried to encourage me to, you know, get in business or some other career that he thought I'd make a lot of money. My--by that time we were living on a farm and--but I told him at my age I was going to college to--and I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed. And after taking one semester of business I absolutely hated it. And politics was something I was--had always been interested in so in my junior year I declared political science my major.

Jones: Here at UNCW?

Fennell: Here at UNCW. And during that time I met someone who had a friend that worked at the newspaper. And I had no earthly idea what I was going to do when I graduated, not with a political science degree. But this friend encouraged me to start stringing for the newspaper and so I began writing as a correspondent, covering education in Pender County. And after about six or seven months the job came open at the Star News and I applied for it.

Jones: So you were a correspondent?

Fennell: I was a correspondent.

Jones: On education?

Fennell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Well good for you. Go ahead.

Fennell: Well I was a reporter for 22 years covering, primarily, local government, cities, towns, counties. I--at one point I covered the health beat. I covered the farm beat for five years, covered my home county for about three and a half years. I covered Columbus County, my birth county, for a year, and retired in 2004. I had kind of got burned out, and it happens often in the news business. I was one of those reporters who, you know, you throw me a little tip and if I think there's anything crooked behind it I will work night and day to uncover it.

Jones: We noticed. I think that was a plus.

Fennell: Uh-huh, but it can burn you out pretty quickly too. So I retired in 2004, was enjoying my retirement, working in my yard, trying to get a lot of projects done at home that I had neglected for--

Jones: Did you miss that beat?

Fennell: No, I did not--I missed the people that I worked with at the newspaper and I missed the people that I worked with on the beat. I didn't miss the writing and the deadlines and the politics at the office. And--which always goes on anywhere, absolutely. I didn't miss all of that. And I--but I was enjoying everything until one day I read the, I think it was probably the Wilmington Star News, that reported on an incident in which the Pender County commissioners, in secret, tried to actually redrew districts in the county in which there would be--they would increase the districts from five to seven. You could only vote for the county commissioner in the district that you lived in. You could not vote for the others. And a lot of this was done in secret, most of it was done in secret, had been going on since like December when we found out about it, maybe January, February. And needless to say, when I read that I was livid. And I called a friend that I knew that had worked with me on a previous stories, or some previous stories back a decade or more earlier, 'cause I knew she would be interested as well. So I called her and I said, "Did you see what the Pender County commissioners did?" So we started fighting to prevent that from happening 'cause I knew it was not the best form of government, not when you've got seven districts and each commissioner's only interested in what goes on in his district not the whole county. And so we began fighting that effort. And it was a lot of fun, great fun, being on that side of the fence. So we got that squashed or quashed and from there I got interested in, you know, doing more in politics. I missed politics. So I had some folks encourage me to run. One of the reasons I had thought about running is because in order to get those districts changed they would have to, the County commissioners would have to go either to the house or the senate, North Carolina House, North Carolina Senate, to get a bill introduced to get it passed. So one way to stop that is to--you be the one that they have to go to. So that was one reason I decided to run. I initially thought about running for Thomas Wright, representative Thomas Wright's seat, who is, of course, we all know, now in prison for a lot of reasons. I initially thought about running for that seat but I was encouraged to run for R.C--Senator R.C. Soles seat because I think the Republicans in this state knew that he was vulnerable. And they felt like that I had a better chance of beating him than a lot of other people who had tried in the past, or some other people who had tried in the past. So that's kind of what got me involved in politics. And I tell people I have to thank the Pender County commissioners for making me so angry I couldn't even sleep that night. I was just so angry.

Jones: I want to get back to Pender County in a minute, but could we go back a little bit. Talk to us about the changes you saw as a newspaperwoman in the newspaper business under--how many publishers were there during your time?

Fennell: Oh, good grief. I would guess five or six publishers.

Jones: And probably managing editors and so forth.

Fennell: As well, yeah.

Jones: Each has their own flavor and so forth.

Fennell: That's true. That's true.

Jones: I guess Chuck Carree was probably the only one that's still there that was there then. What was it like? If you'd been there 22 years and you retired in 2004, you were there during a time of a lot of changes.

Fennell: Well I--a lot of people thought that I knew something about the linotype machines that--which is how newspapers were put together years ago. I started working at the newspaper pretty early on when they--that transition from linotype to word processing began. I started work there, I had never seen a linotype machine. The only one I've ever seen was the one that was on display in there, in our lobby as you go into the news room. And we were working on--it was basically glorified typewriters but it was still PCs, or it was still word progressing programs, you know. And then as time progressed, you know, we got our own PCs. Things were--there were a lot of things that went on that were different over the years. Course I think things are probably changing more dramatically now than they did when I was there.

Jones: How many women worked there?

Fennell: There were lots of women. And it could be that the gentleman that ran the newspaper enjoyed seeing young nice looking women running around in his room. I don't know.

Jones: That is a possibility.

Fennell: There was a--when I first started working there was a group of women and they were all very young. You have to understand now that I'm much older than these ladies. I already have a family, you know. My children are grown. And these are just young ladies who are fresh out of college. Course that's pretty much . . .

Jones: Well we see that now. Wait six months, you see a different name.

Fennell: That's true, and they're generally young people right out of college 'cause they work cheap. They don't have to pay the, you know, high wages for somebody that's real experienced. They'll take them on and train them. Sometimes there's advantages and disadvantages of that 'cause I personally think people fresh out of college are very idealistic and naive and, you know.

Jones: Thank God. Being idealistic they're not afraid, and I think that's great.

Fennell: And--but anyway, these young women actually--they--when I first started working there was sort of a camaraderie that did not exist after these women began to move on and find other jobs, moved on to bigger newspapers or other careers. And these young women, though, had--it--they--working at this newspaper back then, which was in the early '80s, had such an impact on them that that group still meets annually for an annual reunion here in Wilmington. Well actually, at Wrightsville Beach I think. And it was just held this past weekend. I didn't know anything about it. I was not, you know, I mean I knew these women, and in some ways some of them were mentors, but I was, you know, not of their generation so I never did feel like I fit that comfortably in with that group. Course it was kind of like that when I went to college, too, you know. I was--didn't fit in with the group. I was--kind of stood out there, you know.

Jones: Maybe that was better. You stood out other ways too.

Fennell: Mm-hmm. But these--but the newspapers are already--always had a lot of women. Course I think by the time I started working at the New York Times, by that time the 800 pound gorilla had been sued for discrimination I think, so I think they were probably being very careful making sure they hired a variety of, you know.

Jones: It used to be, because I'm an old lady, it used to be that in big newspapers, I'm thinking of the Washington Post specifically, and a lot of large newspapers across the country, there was a women's section, or the society section, which is totally separate from whatever else, and they would start their young things there. You seldom found a woman's byline in the hard news, whether it was local or taken off the wire, or what. The New York Times, of course I know you're not New York Times--New York City quality, but still, they oversaw everything. I just wondered in the '80s how equal it all was for a woman.

Fennell: Well there were lots of women in the newsroom that were covering hard news. There was--actually I, you know, now we have Facebook and I'm on Facebook, and I, in the last 24 hours, have been reconnected with a woman who was covering education at the time when I first started working at the New York Times, Laura Mercer. And there was another woman, Deborah, and I cannot remember the last name, covered Brunswick County. And I'm telling you, she was uncovering every scandal you can think of involving the County commissioners and, you know, corruption and things going on in Brunswick County 20 years ago, 25 years ago. So there was--women were well represented, even in the newsroom, then.

Jones: Do you think women have a different way about them that makes it easier? They get something in their mind, I want to do this, and they're not quite as brusque as a man. They have a different method of getting to news and uncovering it. Just by the sake of being a woman and how you go about things. Our brains are different.

Fennell: That could be. That could be. Course I can tell you I always felt like my advantage at the Star News and as a reporter, you know, I have this extreme southern accent, I certainly recognize that, and I'm female, and, you know, I may be perceived as being a little, you know, ditzy or, you know, not very well educated, maybe not your average--

Jones: Why aren't you home baking cookies?

Fennell: Yeah. Maybe my grammar's not all that great sometimes, you know. And I think that was an advantage because . . .

Jones: You were a secret weapon.

Fennell: I could ask questions and get away with it and, you know, as-- particularly as a female. And it didn't bother me to ask questions, all kinds of questions, you know.

Jones: Who was the gal, she's 90 something, who's in the White House press pool?

Fennell: Oh, I know who you're talking about.

Jones: Helen.

Fennell: Helen, yeah. I know who you're talking about.

Jones: Nobody pays any attention to her but she doesn't mind asking questions which other people are thinking about. Been there for 110 years.

Fennell: Uh-huh, that's true. That's true.

Jones: You really enjoyed your work, though, right?

Fennell: Yes, I did. It--course I can tell you the first two years I worked there, you know, I had a political science degree, didn't have a journalism degree. When I was hired the managing editor gave me a book that--and he pointed out a chapter that explained the pyramid method of writing. That was my extent of journalism.

Jones: You mean they didn't use the New York Times manual of?

Fennell: No. No. And--but that was my extent of journalism education. And I learned on the job. And the first two years that I worked there I went to work every morning thinking they were gonna fire me.

Jones: I think a lot of people have had that feeling.

Fennell: I felt that way for about two years. I felt that way for about two years and then . . .

Jones: Who was managing editor when you first started?

Fennell: The managing editor when I first started.

Jones: Or the publisher.

Fennell: Oh, Bill Coughlin. Bill Coughlin. He's still living. He lives in Southport. He was the one, basically, that helped me get a job at the Star News. And actually there was--I don't--the managing editor when I retired was--actually moved up to executive editor was the young guy, and I cannot remember his name. I'm having a senior moment. He was supposed to be the youngest executive editor I think in.

Jones: Oh, I thought that was Timmy.

Fennell: It was. Tim Greggs. Yes. That was--he was there when I retired. And--but I had a lot of fun, I really did. There were a lot of times when I couldn't believe they paid me to do what I was doing.

Jones: Isn't that wonderful?

Fennell: It is. It really is.

Jones: Tell us about some of the more interesting or--what did you uncover that nobody scooped on, the things that you were proudest of?

Fennell: Well I think probably the big story of my career was ThermaCAM. And it--ThermaCAM involved a chemical company by the name of ThermaCAM that wanted to build a hazardous waste incinerator in Pender County, on 421. The County commissioners at that time had been talking secretly with the owners of this company, and with some state officials. The state wanted this plant located in Pender County. They would burn hazardous waste from all over the Southeast. And not only would they burn it, they would use hazardous waste as the fuel that fueled. Absolutely. And when Pender County residents found out about it they were absolutely furious. I mean it was the biggest uproar, to be sure, and it lasted, I'm guessing, for three or four months. There was a young guy on the beat in Pender County at that time. I had been on farm beat for about five years. But they knew I knew where the bodies were buried so they asked me to come back to--and start covering my home county 'cause I knew everybody. And it didn't take long to start uncovering, you know, lies and deception. And it was--it just--it was unbelievable.

Jones: And they did this with the knowledge that it was harmful.

Fennell: I don't know whether they knew it was harmful or not. I don't know whether they even cared whether it was harmful. I think there had been deals made, we think, beforehand that, you know, a lot of counties were having problems finding where to take their household waste garbage, and I think they were promised that if they-- if Pender County would allow them to build this incinerator they would burn our waste. And our county commissioners apparently thought that was a great idea. And maybe they were gonna get some other money and other benefits. I think about the first week I was on the job, about third day, I figured out what they had been promised, and it was a long list of things that the county commissioners had been promised. Well companies don't promise things like that unless they've got something they're hiding or, you know, you just don't make those kind of promises and give away those kind of things unless you know that you're probably gonna have a tough time locating that plant somewhere. So I--there were times when I would stay up 'til two o'clock in the morning. We didn't have a lot of the conveniences that we have now, like reverse telephone lookup on the internet. I'd stay up 'til two o'clock in the morning trying to figure out who's talking to who, you know, and trying to connect the dots. And the newspaper, in the end we won second place in public service from the AP at the state level and we were nominated for a Pulitzer for that coverage.

Jones: Really? That's wonderful. At least being nominated is an honor.

Fennell: Yes, it sure was. It sure was.

Jones: Did you get any paperwork or a plaque or anything?

Fennell: For the nomination? Not for the nomination, no.

Jones: New York Times recognize you?

Fennell: Oh yes. Yes. I got three days off.

Jones: That's a memorable thing.

Fennell: And I think the biggest disappointment was, you know, you know what they say, money talks, and if you feel like you do a good job you feel like you expect the compensation. And it wasn't quite there. And that was a big disappointment .

Jones: What were some of the changes that you experienced--what have you experienced since the opening of I40 and the tremendous influx of population into southeastern North Carolina?

Fennell: Oh, it has been--it has just changed this area tremendously, and a lot of the people don't like it. A lot of people do not like it.

Jones: I hear this and then I hear it's wonderful.

Fennell: Well, you know, you have to realize that because of the people that came in, moved to this area, it has improved our healthcare tremendously. We would not have the kind of healthcare, not have the kind of doctors, the specialists that we have in Wilmington if it had not been for the people who could support that kind of medical expertise. It has, you know, we have--of course the culture has improved. We have, you know, a lot more activities that we can participate in, a lot more entertainment, a lot more restaurants. It has just increased--because of the people are here to support it. They were not here before, you know. And I have people talk about, "Oh, I remember when Market Street ended at Whitey's restaurant."

Jones: That's true. Well the other thing we learned, I didn't learn this, it was told to me by our up until recently university librarian, Sherman Hayes and his group did a lot of categorizing after the last census. It became apparent in talking to people, both natives and those who have come here, retired here, and brought their resources with them, including their own brainpower, that the expansion or the renewal of the downtown area has been mainly done by newcomers who have made this their home. So I found that to be kind of interesting. Have you found that?

Fennell: That's true. That's true. It--there has been a tremendous amount of change in the area that would not have occurred had it not been for people who have moved here.

Jones: Do you think it's all . . .

Fennell: This university wouldn't even be as big as it is. It's, you know, it would not have grown like it has had it not been for I-40.

Jones: That's true.

Fennell: The university has--I'm not even sure how much bigger it is than, you know, after I graduated, but I know it was very small.

Jones: It's continued to grow and it's now the number two employer of personnel in the county. The hospital being number one. Okay, a couple things talking about growth. What do you think about the expansion of Cape Fear Community College in downtown and what do you think about the Convention Center? There's been so much about the convention center, that it's not needed, it is needed, it's a white elephant, etc.

Fennell: Well I've heard a lot of stories about the convention center and I can tell you the--when I was writing stories I don't think there was but one convention center in all of the U.S. that was making money. It was either one convention center in all the U.S. or all of North Carolina, but only one, and I do not remember which one it was. Convention centers do not pay for themselves, do not make money. They may attract people here that will provide jobs. The only thing about it people have to understand, these are primarily service jobs, and service jobs do not pay a lot of money. Service jobs generally pay minimum wage, you know. It can, I guess, can benefit in some ways, benefit some people. I don't know about, you know, that it would be that tremendous of a benefit.

Jones: I heard a Rotarian recently talk about--most of them have to find a place to meet, whether it's for breakfast or lunch or whatever. The downtown rotary club has had to move from downtown convention to Roudabush's to somewhere else, to somewhere else. The theory has been the high school graduations, they had no place to go except a convention center. The theory was there could be permanent usage of some of the spaces there, not just for conventions. Including fundraisers, if we ever see an influx of money anymore, etc. I think it was trying to sell the case, plus give jobs.

Fennell: But if that convention center--are these schools going to pay to rent the convention center or is it going to be offered to them free since, you know, it's a public facility, you know. I think that's something people have to be mindful of, are they going to use these facilities for free. I think a lot of people would like to see the convention center pay for itself. Course and the economy--with the economy the way it is now and we certainly don't know how long that this is going to last, you're probably going to have companies taking fewer trips out of town and going to conventions. And if they do they're probably gonna be close by, not far away. So I don't know. I don't know what the . . .

Jones: It's an interesting thought. I can see both sides of it. There is a drawing card here which Phoenix, Arizona might not have. As soon as you cross that bridge, if you're coming north into Wilmington you've left bedroom land and you've come to an area that's alive with all kinds of entertainment for everybody. Places to eat, I heard that you could eat out every night of the week for a year and a half and never hit the same place, now that would include fast food. This is when the population was estimated to be below 90,000.

Fennell: Oh, it's much larger than that in New Hanover County now.

Jones: I know, 106,000.

Fennell: 106,000? I want to think it was 160,000.

Jones: This is the county.

Fennell: All of county. New Hanover--I think the city of Wilmington's population is over 90,000.

Jones: How about PBD down there? Do you think it was a good idea? I mean they're relating you've got a commercial building down there. Well it was a sore subject--well a sore eyesite too, so they've done something.

Fennell: Well--and most--of course I know a lot of people don't like to see the high rises but I mean most big cities have high rises.

Jones: And that's kind of out of the way.

Fennell: Uh-huh.

Jones: How about the encroachment of Cape Fear Community College in historic downtown?

Fennell: I have a--

Jones: When they've got all that land out there.

Fennell: I've got a lot of mixed feelings about Cape Fear Community College expanding in downtown Wilmington. I know it may be convenient for a lot of young people. Course the Cape Fear Community College is--it's primarily is to people who live here, not people who are going to come here from Charlotte. I mean they have their own community colleges. The community college is primarily for the local folks. And most of those people have cars, can travel, you know, to get to their destination. With the amount of space they have on the north campus, I just don't understand why they didn't make that the focus of their--of the entire college. And there's so much that could be done with that land downtown, other uses for that land downtown. And moving to north campus would make them certainly more convenient for the surrounding folks in Pender and, you know, other areas in southeastern North Carolina to come to.

Jones: Let's talk about the schools. Tell us what you think. You can start anywhere you want, but first of all we know it's a given because the state releases certain data that our North Carolina schools are not up to par. Our elementary and high schools at least. What do you account for the dropout rate? How do you fault the teachers, or do you think the teachers are held to a certain regimen they can't go over? And the charter school system.

Fennell: Okay, when is this going to air?

Jones: It's not. I'm going to wait until you run for office and then pull it out.

Fennell: Well, 'cause I can tell you, some of the things I'm going to say people are not gonna like it.

Jones: It doesn't matter. It's your opinion. You've been here.

Fennell: And I can tell you, one of the worst things, I think, that ever happened as far as education goes is when they gave teachers tenure, because there is no incentive.

Jones: You can't get rid of them.

Fennell: There is no incentive to perform up to your, you know, as high as you can go because they know they're not gonna get fired, I think. And they were given tenure, I don't remember what year it was, I remember there was a lot of discussion about it because the general assembly legislature says we can't afford to give them a raise. They were gonna give them tenure. And I think it was absolutely the worst thing to be sure. If I worked at the newspaper and they say we don't care what kind of job you do, you're gonna be here until you retire, I probably would not have done anything. But because I knew my career depended on performing, you get out there and you perform. So that's where I stand as far as teachers are concerned. There's another thing, I think there's been a emphasis on try to make sure--trying to make sure that all children have a college education when in fact all children do not do well in college. I think one of the worst things that has happened is when they have taken vocational education out of high school. I think it needs to be put back in high schools. I support charter schools. I think it would--and I think there's a lot of opposition to charter schools because some of these teachers--I know that I have been told that teachers who work in charter schools do not get tenure. If they do not perform, if they mess up one day they can be fired on the spot. And I think maybe the teachers in regular schools see that as competition that they're going to be shown up, you know, because charter schools--now there are some that has not performed well, but they generally are shut down or they have been shut down. But a lot of charter schools are showing or improving or their students are doing much better than they are at regular public schools. I've learned a good bit about education at this Coastal Conservative Conference I attended this past weekend. One of the things that I learned, too, is some of these private schools, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about vouchers and tax credits and charter schools. I understand that there's at least some--these principals do not support vouchers because if they accept--if the parents accept vouchers, strings are going to come attached from the state if they are given vouchers. The state will set rules and they do not want to be governed by the state.

Jones: Do you believe that to be true?

Fennell: I think it probably so. I think so.

Jones: Isn't the purpose of vouchers to give a child who shows promise the capability or the ability to go to a school where they can get an education?

Fennell: That's part of--

Jones: To go out and support themselves?

Fennell: That's part of the controversy. I've heard also that, you know, you could give a poor child a voucher and he could go to the school of his choice. But the other side, these private schools a lot of them do not want vouchers because they think they will come with strings attached, and that is probably true. Government's going to give you money, when have you known government to give you anything without, you know, strings attached? So there's as lot of controversy about that or a lot of discussion about how that would work. I think a lot of people would prefer to see tax--some people would prefer to see tax credits.

Jones: Well, that would work.

Fennell: Rather than vouchers. They would support tax credits over vouchers.

Jones: Interesting theory. Do you feel that North Carolina schools are below code or below average? Or do you believe that it's the individual school and the students that they have and how they teach? I'm not sure if there is a box that is for elementary schools, teacher's let's say, and they must teach certain things and not go over the line. In other words, if they have a classroom full of fairly intelligent kids who enjoy learning because the teacher is good, instead of going forward they have to kind of slow down. Is that true?

Fennell: I have heard some discussion about that as well, too. And I believe in North Carolina, at least in some schools, they try to mix these slow learners with the fast learners, put them in the same classroom.

Jones: It doesn't work.

Fennell: And I have heard a lot of people that do not like that idea.

Jones: Now the high schools you have honors or you have AP so that you've got kids who are mixed with kids who challenge one another, and that seems to work.

Fennell: I had one school board member over in Columbus County tell me last year, actually, that people have told him that they don't want the fast learners separated from the slow learners that it would affect the self-esteem of the slow learners. And this school board member asked this person, "Well, how do you think their self-esteem is affected when they are walking in the welfare line?" (laughs)

Jones: Well, this is the other thing. Is there any statistic on the percentage of dropouts? And when these kids dropout, what do they do?

Fennell: When kids dropout? Well, now they're selling drugs on street corners, I think.

Jones: Well, there does seem to be a way to correct something about this, keep the kids in school so at least they can go to a vocational school at a Cape Fear Community College or something. But I think your idea of going back to the vocational training in the high school. If you've earmarked a student, male or female, who has no interest or capabilities for some complex class chemistry or higher mathematics, but they're great at putting things together or whatever.

Fennell: And it may not be that they are not capable, it may be that their interest is not there. They may be perfectly capable of going on and getting a PhD. But until their interest is there, they have to have some means of making a living. And I think if they--if that's--it should start in high school, so when they get out of high school they have got a way to make a living.

Jones: I'll ask you this, get out your crystal ball.

Fennell: I'm not good at predicting.

Jones: No, but just on commonsense. You've been here a long time. By the way, do you and Carolyn Justice work together at all? She's got Pender and New Hanover. That's kind of a neat trick.

Fennell: More of her seat right now is in New Hanover. More of her district is in New Hanover than Pender.

Jones: Of course, she'll just tell you "get out of my way." (laughs)

Fennell: (laughs) She is great.

Jones: She is. She knows what she's doing, I'll tell you. But it's nice to know that two women are kind of leading a trail there with some pretty good thoughts. They're provocative, but why not? You've been here all your life, you've seen all these changes, you did tell me you thought that many of these were the better, particularly in the downtown area, and providing the services we've got, we also have an awful lot of unemployment. And one of the interesting things I found in doing this series of oral histories, there was a period when I was doing a lot of the artists, the artists being paint people, metal people, tie-dye people, statues, the theater, whatever. And we have a tremendous number of young people here and they're not making any money. They're learning from one another, I guess. They love Wilmington because they can practice their work unhindered, nobody gets mad at them. But at the same time many of them are on welfare. Why did you come to Wilmington? I always ask, "Where are you from? Why did you come to Wilmington?" And I hear basically the same thing, which is very pleasing, the weather, the lifestyle, the light this apply near artist. There are places where I can go and read my poetry out loud, I can do this, I can do that, and that's true. But that's not going to sustain this society. And yet you have big businesses come in and they go through hell to get permits to establish whether it's within the city limits or outside and give jobs and produce something. What is it? What do you feel?

Fennell: Well, first of all I think a lot of people are drawn to the area by the beach. That's clearly why a lot of young people come here, and then they get involved in the arts and actually, my sister's an artist but she ended up--she found out that she had to do something else. Ended up going--she got a degree in fine arts from UNCW. Then she had to go to Cape Fear Tech and got a degree in graphic arts and worked for about 15 or 20 years for a company doing graphic work. I don't know what, I don't know what the answer is. I've got a granddaughter right now who's absolutely--she is extremely talented and I don't think I'm saying that just because I'm her grandmother. She is going to Pratt Institute for a month this summer to get an experience. But I think we all realize that, you know, there's lots of artists out there. It takes a long time to make a name for yourself. In the meantime, you need some way to make a living. And I think she has finally decided she is going to try to get a degree in nursing and then if that doesn't--you know, if you she has other opportunities to express herself in her artwork, all the better. But I think people need to--you know, you need a backup, you just need a backup. It is hard--it's like a writer, I think. I think there is probably just lots and lots of terrific writers out there. I could never even attempt to compete with them, you know, but it's just hard to get a job at some of those professions.

Jones: Well, this area particularly, we're historical. We're not a farming community. It's not really a business community, but hopefully it's an artsy community. It is a retirement community. You have to have money to live here well and retire here, and yet there's enough for those people to do who retire to add and improve, no doubt, but it's not providing jobs. So I can't help but wonder, and that's why I'm asking you. In these economic times were in and headed for, what's going to happen? Any thoughts, except what you just talked about.

Fennell: I just--they are just going to have to get--find other places to look for work. Either that or try to figure out some way to attract jobs to this area. There's still lots of buildable land, not in New Hanover County, but in surrounding counties where, you know, industry could come in.

Jones: Erin has heard me say this to several people and I'll say it to you because it fascinated me. One of the interviews I had, a big business man here and a native. He's one of the few who are thrilled to death with the changes that have taken place. He thinks it's good for everybody, and basically I think he's right. One of the things he said that's fascinating, he said eventually, he's all for a convention center. He's all for a new bridge. He's all for all of these different things. He said, "Eventually, I foresee Brunswick County and Pender County being our bedroom communities where they come to Wilmington to play for the arts, for theater, for dining, for the historic district, and that's where the money will come for here." Does that make sense to you?

Fennell: I think that's already happening. I think that's already happening. I don't think that's anything that's going to happen in the future, it's already here. I think you have lots of people that live in Pender County and Brunswick County that come to Wilmington and to work and to play, as well.

Jones: I think he was figuring, too, there's so little growth left in Wilmington or in New Hanover.

Fennell: I don't think there's a lot of, you know, a large partials of land to be developed anymore in New Hanover County, but there is in the other two counties.

Jones: That just struck me. I thought what an interesting way to look at it, but it's very possible and feasible. Anything else you want to tell us that's newsworthy, that's interesting, that you have a crystal ball. Go ahead, let it rip.

Fennell: (laughs) Oh, good grief. Well, I think there's lot of changes going on now in the newspaper industry and communications period.

Jones: Are we going to have newspapers in five years?

Fennell: I don't know. I think that's a great question. I mean, I was reading today how the New York Times has tried to get Boston Globe to take a lot of cuts in order to, in order to continue to make it. Now the newspaper here is--of course, it's owned by the New York Times and I can tell you all that I know, I've been away from the paper for five years now, almost five years. This newspaper is still making money, but it's not making as much as it was making.

Jones: But don't they rely upon advertisements to keep them going?

Fennell: Yes. They rely upon advertisements and now there are lots of ways to advertise besides newspapers. There's the Internet. Of course, you have a generation--an older generation who, you know, does not get on the Internet. But all of the--my age and younger they are, you know, they are all over the Internet.

Jones: Bettie, I've read where some of your major, major newspapers in the country from the L.A. Times, even the Chicago paper, to the Boston paper, the Washington Post is in trouble, McClatchy has been selling off some of theirs, and now the Atlanta Constitution Journal well, I don't care how they get by. But these are all major, major newspapers that people rely upon. AP and I guess UP has been gone for a long time, but they draw a lot of their news from those press services. And I can't help but think of all the people who really rely upon a newspaper, whether they get up first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee and glance at it, put it under their arm and go get the subway somewhere, or save it. It's just inherent in our way of life. To go online . . .

Fennell: For some people, not for everybody, for some people.

Jones: I guess that's right.

Fennell: You have a lot of these people doing this number, you know, with these little gadgets in their hands and they can read the newspaper and their--

Jones: Their BlackBerrys.

Fennell: Yes. So, you know, and I also foresee that, you know, we're communicating in so many different ways I foresee one day that, you know, I don't--can't see the mail coming six days a week.

Jones: Well, now that's another thing that I read about something when I was skimming around online and it was an article saying that first thing the post office department wants to--they're getting very expense. I went to mail a letter yesterday to Richmond, Virginia and it was one that had to be tracked and so forth. A letter was $5.40. But they are getting so expensive that you're not going to have birthday cards, Christmas cards, whatever, well that cuts down the Hallmark industry, et cetera. It's just a whole different way of life.

Fennell: So many things now can be done electronically. I mean, people bank electronically.

Jones: How safe is all of this?

Fennell: You save your pictures electronically. You communicate with your family electronically. You know, you read ads electronically. There's just--we're in a technological age that we are just changing so fast and I don't think we've seen it yet.

Jones: We'll sit here and think these two old fuddies. But there's something wonderful. I get a great joy, we have a long hallway in our house with montages of photos of people we know, family, the kids at certain points, animals, whatever, and it's not bothering anybody. But every once in a while I stop and think God, that was a wonderful time. You can't do that if you have to go sit and we're going to have to be wearing space glasses or something, our bottoms are going to get yah wide.

Fennell: (laughs) But that doesn't bother me. I'm one of these people I absolutely love technology. I haven't learned to use Twitter yet but I'm going to.

Jones: I feel out of it. I was told, "Mom, you've got to do a blog, you've got to do Twitter". Please, you're talking bird talk to me.

Fennell: (laughs) But I love it. You know, I do all my banking online. My husband will absolutely not have anything to do with it, but if he wants to see anything or wants to know anything, you know, he has me get on the Internet and has me look up the information. But what was I going to say, I lost my train of thought. I was going to say something about the . . .

Jones: The newspapers, you were talking about communications.

Fennell: Yes, yes. I remember a time when we had a library at the newspaper, you know, and if you were writing a story you would look up--you would go to the archives or the morgue, I think that's what they called it, and go through all these articles that had been cutout of the newspaper. Well, a library no longer exists at Star News that I'm aware of.

Jones: They don't even have it on microfiche or film?

Fennell: They probably do. They may have. I'm not sure, but the last time I was there, there was no library, there was no books, there was no--I didn't see, you know, where we used to get those--that information from the file cabinets with all that stuff in it. But you could look it up online now, you know, at least at one time you were able to look it up online. If you were looking for a story, you put in the, you know, the words that you were looking for and it would come up, or at least several stories might, and you pick out the one that you were looking for. You know, things are--it's just things are just changing so rapidly as far as technology goes.

Jones: Is there such a thing as too much information available?

Fennell: Not for me.

Jones: Okay.

Fennell: (laughs) I mean, I look at the Internet as almost like having every library in the world at my fingertips, you know, and if I want to know anything I'll just go to Google and I Google it. And, you know, it just--it has been absolutely fantastic. I have to tell you one of the things I've been doing lately. I never liked to cook. I was never-- never enjoyed cooking. It was something I had to do and I was not good at it because I just did not like it, until recently when I found a website where they rate these recipes. And you can go in and you can pick out the best recipe that got the highest ratings, and I had been cooking some of the best food lately.

Jones: But you have to cook it.

Fennell: I have to cook it but I love it. No, I love it now, though. I love it because it's recipes that I know that work, people have tried them before me, and I have just had great fun. I've got more time now, of course, since I retired and can enjoy that kind of thing more than I did before. Life was always, you know, really a big rush. But I've got more time now and just have enjoyed it so much. But it's not just that, if I want to find out about an illness, a disease, you know, just anything you want to know is available on the Internet.

Jones: That I know. As I said, I sometimes think it's too much information. I've been absolutely amazed at what there is available, just like this "boom". I think the one thing that I would miss the most, aside from a newspaper, are books. I know the publishing industry and manufacturing of books, hardcover, soft cover, is really going downhill. But you can read them online, I know.

Fennell: That's true. That's true.

Jones: But being able to take one while you're sitting in the doctor's office for half an hour.

Fennell: But there's the Candle.

Jones: There's a what?

Fennell: Isn't that what you call it, the Candle?

Jones: I don't know.

Fennell: It's a little electronic thing you take with you and you read the book using this little electronic (laughs).

Jones: Okay. Well, then maybe you could just sit in bed all day and start punching buttons. Now one I'd love is it clean the floors, clean the silvery.

Fennell: You know, there's a vacuum cleaner that's come out that, you know . . .

Jones: I read about this. It was in one of these crazy magazines that comes with all these, I don't know what. Bettie, it's been a joy. It's been a pleasure and I think that what you did from your beginning has just been amazing. A little high school girl who drops out and is dumb enough to have a bunch of kids before she goes to college. But maybe that was a lesson to your children, too.

Fennell: Oh, I tell you what--by the way, my husband and I are going to be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary the first day of July.

Jones: You were married 1959. The first day of what?

Fennell: First day of July.

Jones: Ours is going to be the middle of August.

Fennell: Oh, is it? Your 50th?

Jones: Yes. And we look at each other and say, "Oh my God. Did you ever think we'd get this far?", and you know you're an old bag. I say, "Yes, and you're just an old." (laughs)

Fennell: That's true. They said it wouldn't last because we were teenagers. I mean we were very young. He had just graduated high school and I was a year from graduating high school.

Jones: I would say it wouldn't last, too.

Fennell: It did.

Jones: If one of my kids did that, I would . . .

Fennell: Well, I can tell you there were times I wish it didn't last, but I'm glad we stuck it out.

Jones: Is he going to see this tape?

Fennell: Oh, he knows. I've told him.

Jones: Oh, that's wonderful. You're wonderful. Love it. Thanks for coming, Bettie.

Fennell: I've enjoyed it. It's been a lot of fun.

Jones: Good.

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