At Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, the session is made up of the ruling elders and the pastor. The members of Session are is elected by the congregation to serve in leadership positions, to develop the annual budget, to support and encourage mission projects, and to make decisions regarding the work and programs of the congregation. Each session elder has responsibility for at least one of the congregational committees.
Susan Carter – Clerk of the Session
Susan Carter is a child of the church, lifetime resident of Banner Elk, daughter of Margaret, wife of Lynn, mother to Karen and Andy, mother-in-law to David and Stephanie, step-mother to Ryan and Grant, grandmother to Lawson, Emerson, and Isabelle. She enjoys playing hand bells, singing in the choir, hiking, reading, knitting, and traveling. Susan is a retired educator of developmentally delayed preschool children through the Avery County Schools system. Susan has served in many capacities in our church: a church nursery school teacher, Sunday school teacher of young children, an active member of many congregational committees, several terms as a ruling elder and now as clerk of session.
Donna Dicks – Class of 2023 – Christian Education
Donna and her husband, Bill, have lived in Banner Elk for almost 50 years and have been members of our church for nearly that long. Their children, Jennifer and David, were born and raised here but are now living in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively. Twin grandchildren, Maddie and Jaxon, are special joys, but they are growing up too quickly! Donna worked as Banner Elk Elementary School’s librarian for almost 25 years before retiring in 2008, now wondering how she ever had time to work with so many other opportunities. One particularly meaningful endeavor has been the town’s Book Exchange, the former library space which has been renovated into a welcoming place to donate and borrow books. She has served our church as a ruling elder previously, working with different committees.
Rick Garrett – Class of 2023 – Building & Grounds
Rick is originally from Person County, located in the Northern Piedmont Region of North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Rick enjoyed a career as a community college instructor and administrator. He worked at three colleges in North Carolina and was at a college in Florence, South Carolina for seven years. Rick retired from the State of North Carolina in 2016. He has resided in Avery County since 1999 and initially was a member of Newland Presbyterian Church. He has attended Banner Elk Presbyterian Church for most of the years since about 2005. Rick currently serves on the Building and Grounds Committee. At present, Rick volunteers one day a week with the Avery County Habitat for Humanity construction crew and works part-time at the RAM’s Rack Thrift Store and Food Pantry. Every other year he contracts with the Westat Research Group for a couple months to conduct testing for the National Assessment for Educational Progress project. Rick enjoys snow skiing, hiking, some golf, carpentry work, and reading.
Janet Speer – Class of 2023 – Worship
Janet is retired as Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Lees-McRae College, but continues as Artistic Director for Lees-McRae Summer Theatre. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees come from Texas State University, and her PhD comes from LSU. A member of the church for over 35 years, she has served as ruling elder several times, helped found the “spaghetti supper” for LMC students, facilitates the Faith Seekers Adult Sunday School class, and chairs the Arts Worship Committee. Janet also leads the Stephen Ministry and enjoys being with the Comfort Makers each week. Janet’s husband, Allen, is a retired history professor and author, and she is mother to Donovan and Barton and grandmother to Donovan George.
William Dethlefs – Class of 2024 – Communications/Outreach
William grew up in Miami, Florida, and joined the U.S. Coast Guard when he graduated from high school. In 1987 he moved to North Carolina and eventually migrated to the mountains with his wife Trish. They built their dream home in 2010 after searching for two years for the perfect location. William recently retired as a Data Engineer and plans on enjoying the mountain lifestyle of hiking, fishing, hunting and relaxing by a crackling fire. William has been an elder in the Presbyterian church in the past and looks forward serving the congregation here.
Chappie Petree – Class of 2024 – Stewardship & Finance
Chappie is a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He graduated from Guilford College in 1973 with a BS degree in Business Management. In 2012 he retired from a career in the banking industry. He was a 30-year member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he served three terms on the session. He was a member of the finance committee for 17 years at Highland Presbyterian, and he served nine years as chairman. Chappie and his wife, Deb, have been married 51 years, and they have one son, John. They bought a weekend home on Beech Mountain in 1988. In 2015, they moved full-time to Beech Mountain. They transferred their membership to Banner Elk Presbyterian in August 2016. Chappie joined the Stewardship and Finance Committee in 2020, and he served as chairman in 2021. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf and working in the yard in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Jesse Pope – Class of 2024 – Permanent Funds
Jesse is a native of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a naturalist concentration from Lees-McRae College and a master’s degree in environmental education from Montreat College. He is the executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, following a 13-year stint on the mountain as a naturalist. His interests, of course, include bird watching, hiking, camping, fishing, golf and traveling. Jesse is married to Michelle who came to LMC in the footsteps of her grandmother, who attended BEPC in the ’40s. She and Jesse met as students, married, and have now been in this area for over two decades. They have three children—Spencer, and twins Trevor and Lily. Jesse and Michelle joined the church in 2017 on reaffirmation of faith, with church backgrounds both Presbyterian and Baptist. Michelle is full time at home with children but loves reading and camping. She reports skill in writing and working with computers. Jesse notes he has a botany background, and experience in carpentry and landscaping.
McNair Tornow – Class of 2024 – Personnel
McNair grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University. After graduating from law school, McNair served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, with a tour in Vietnam. Afterwards, he established a law practice in Winston-Salem and became a member at Highland Presbyterian Church, where he served as deacon and elder. At BEPC, McNair has served as a ruling elder and chaired the Pastor Nominating Committee. He and his wife, Debi, live in their “retirement” home on Beech Mountain.
Sara Brewer – Class of 2025
Sara was born and raised in Banner Elk and baptized in Banner Elk Presbyterian Church by Rev. Dan Thomas. Previously, she has served 3 terms on Session, as well as on search committees for an Associate Pastor and Pastor. She currently is enjoying retirement after working 39 years as general manager of the High Country ABC Store. Son Corbin is back in this area, working at the Blue Ridge Mountain Club in Blowing Rock.
Debi Hagna – Class of 2025
Debi moved to Avery County in 1982 and has been a member of BEPC for nearly 40 years. Though originally from Vermont, she has been here so long she now considers herself a southern girl. She spent her career serving as a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Room and now retired, she continues to do private duty nursing. Debi traveled to Guatemala with our church years ago and says it changed her life. She has a grown son, Will, who was confirmed in our church and attended NC State School of Design. Now living in California, Will spends every available moment in these beautiful mountains
Ann McConnell – Class of 2025
Ann was born and raised in central Florida. Before retiring and moving to Seven Devils in 2021, she lived in Greenville, NC for 31 years, working at East Carolina University in the Clinical Laboratory Science educational program. She has been married to husband, Tom, for 39 years. They have two children and two grandchildren. Ann is a lifelong Presbyterian and has served the church as an elder, deacon, and member of the handbell choir. Her favorite things to do include visiting family, reading, ringing handbells, gardening, cooking, craft projects, and being outside.
Nancy Owen – Class of 2025
Nancy grew up in Southern Illinois but moved to the High Country right after college. She is married to Rick Owen and they have one son, Hampton, a freshman at Lees-McRae College. Nancy has been an Elder, served on two different Pastor Nominating Committees, several different standing committees and is a current member of the Christian Education and the Nominating committees. She is active with the youth/children of the church as well. Nancy is Director of Tourism, working for the Town of Banner Elk. In her spare time she loves to play pickleball.
Laura Russell – Class of 2025
Laura’s faith has always been an important part of her life. She grew up as a daughter of an Army chaplain and was exposed to many different places and worshipping communities during those years. She has played the piano and organ at times for worship services. At Banner Elk Presbyterian she has served on the Worship, Stewardship and Finance and interim Pastor search committees. She is an ordained elder, currently serves on several presbytery committees, and has represented BEPC on two trips to Guatemala. Laura retired as a hospital pharmacist a few years back and is happily enjoying family life with her husband, Feild, four children, and three grandchildren–one more on the way this summer!