At Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, the session is made up of twelve active elders, plus a clerk of session. This group is elected by the congregation to serve in leadership positions to develop the annual budget, support and encourage mission projects, and to make decisions regarding the work and programs of this particular congregation.
Rev. Rachael McConnell, Pastor and Session Moderator
Read about Rachael.
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 elder and now as clerk of session.
Carol Larson – Class of 2021 – Missions
Carol moved from Long Island to Cape Cod when she was 10. This was in the day when only the decedents of the founding families lived there all year round! Since her mother was a Nickerson they were IN! After high school, she attended Wells College, a small women’s college in Upstate New York. She met Dick in her freshman year, and they were married a week after she graduated. They moved every three months for the next 18 months while Dick was in the flight training command. They were then stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. She began teaching sixth grade and stayed there while Dick was in Vietnam. She became good friends with one of the chaplains who was a Christian mentor for her during that difficult time. Dick returned to Beaufort, and they stayed there until he began medical school at Duke. So, they moved again! She began teaching in Durham County Schools, and they joined Westminster Presbyterian – a young and vibrant congregation. Ten years later, Dick had finished his training, and they moved to Greenville, North Carolina where he joined a surgical practice and she became a stay-at-home mom. With some free time for the first time ever, they became involved in new church development. That culminated in the building of Peace Presbyterian Church. Carol served as an elder, on the building committee, on the CE committee and every other committee they had because there were so few people to start with! They soon discovered that if they stayed in Greenville when Dick was not on call, he would get called into the hospital. So, they began looking for a home in the mountains. They began with a small home on Beech Mountain, then a larger one when Dick retired, then moved down to the Elk Valley when the winters on Beech became too much. They have lived here full time since 2000 and transferred their membership to BEPC shortly thereafter.
At BEPC, Carol has served on the Mission Committee, helped run the CLUTCH program, coordinated Spaghetti Suppers, worked with the prayer shawl group, was a member of the last Pastoral Nominating Committee, and a member of the kitchen/fellowship hall remodeling committee. She is also helping Dick with Feeding Avery Families.
Bob Blalock – Class of 2021 – Membership / Outreach
Bob grew up near Statesville, N.C. He served in the United States Marine Corp with a tour in Vietnam with the 3rd Marine Division. After returning home, he attended Appalachian State University earning a B.S. degree and then off to Greenville, N.C. to receive a Masters from East Carolina University. Bob spent 30 years in the field of education as a counselor and coach and held other positions in high school and junior college administration. Because of their love for the mountains and to be closer to their twin daughters, Laura and Katie who work at A.S.U., Bob and Susan moved to Banner Elk in the summer of 2015. They also have a son, daughter-in-law, and three grand-daughters who live in Winston-Salem. Katie and husband Lawson Fields, have the newest grandchild, Hugh.
Lyndsay Ennis – Class of 2021 – Communications Committee
Lyndsay Ennis lives in Banner Elk with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Libby and Beau. She was born and raised in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. She attended NC State and obtained a degree in Agriculture, before returning to her hometown, eventually becoming a State Bar certified paralegal and obtaining a second degree in Paralegal Technology. She settled in Banner Elk in 2010 and joined our church in 2014. Lyndsay currently works for Carolina Mountain Title as a title insurance agent and underwriter. She serves on our Christian Education Committee and teaches our Sunday School class for our youngest children.
Bob Todd – Class of 2021 – Buildings and Grounds
Bob Todd grew up in Bristol, Tennessee where he was part of a Presbyterian youth group, which annually spent a week at Montreat camp. After attending UNC for both undergraduate and graduate school, he taught high school math for two years before joining the USAF for a 24-year career. Besides attending Banner reunions with his wife Angela (the Banner), he was also stationed near Laura Banner Russell’s father in Alaska, South Carolina and Korea, where Earnest was instrumental in helping Bob and Angela adopt a brother and sister from Holt International Adoption Agency. After retiring from the Air Force, he taught high school AFJROTC and middle school math in Raleigh for 12 years. Since moving to the family farm in Plumtree, he has designed and built their house, raised beef cattle, and begun renovating their 100-year-old guesthouse.
Murry Haber – Class of 2022 – Personnel
Murry and his wife Sharon live on Sugar Mountain. They moved here September 2014, and they live here year-round. They moved here because of the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the mountains, and the cooler temperature. Murry is inspired in worship; he loves the warmth of the congregation; and he is in agreement with the commitment to mission endeavors.
Murry is a retired pastor and has served a variety of churches for 41 years in Iowa, Ohio, Texas and North Carolina. He has served on Presbytery committees, was Moderator of New Covenant Presbytery, and President of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. He is a Fellow with the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He was ordained by the Grace Community Church of Raleigh in 2000. He operates the Food Pantry at Reaching Avery Ministry; he is a volunteer with Caldwell Hospice; and he has just joined the choir here at BEPC.
Murry says, “My faith journey is the most prominent experience in my life. It has sustained me during the losses in my life; and inspired me when my dreams have come into being. My experience as a husband and a father have caused me to grow into the person that God created me to be. My experience as a son and a brother have showered me with grace. I continue to be amazed at the way that God has brought healing to the broken experiences in my life journey.”
Don Hilsmier – Class of 2022 – Fellowship & Nurture
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Don moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to attend Florida State University on a Basketball scholarship and was coached by Hugh Durham. There he received a BS degree in American History and joined the Army Reserves. He began a career in the field of Financial Services, first in Tallahassee and later in Boca Raton, Florida. As a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Boca Raton, he served as a Deacon and Elder.
Don and his wife, Judy, have been married 50 years; They are the proud parents of a daughter and son and grandparents of six. In 1990, the couple built a vacation home on Beech Mountain and began attending attending Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. When they retired and began spending more time in the mountains (and on the Beech Mountain Club golf course) They transferred their church membership to BEPC. Since that time, Don has served on several committees, taught Sunday School, and has served two terms as an Elder. He has worked several years on church finance; however, his primary interest is in church evangelism.
Deka Tate – Class of 2022 – Congregational Care
Service to church and community has been the byword for returning elder Deka Tate. Deka served Banner Elk for 12 years as mayor, and five years as mayor pro tem. She also has served on the town’s board of adjustment. She’s active with the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, currently serving as vice-president, and was a founder of the Banner Elk Heritage Foundation. She came to Banner Elk more than 45 years ago, and raised her three sons here. In addition to multiple stints on Session, and on various church committees, she has long volunteered as “flower queen,” organizing bouquets for worship and special events. The flowers in her life extend beyond her yard and the church – into her accomplished flower-powered art that has been displayed in the sanctuary.
Luana Anderson – Class of 2022 – Fellowship & Nurture
While proudly proclaiming her Italian heritage, Luana Anderson was born and bred a Presbyterian; she joins our Session as a first-time elder. “I pledge to give my time and effort to this church as an Elder following in the footsteps of my late husband, who served many times over in this capacity,” Luana relates. She and George devoted untold time and talent to Banner Elk Presbyterian following their arrival in the high country in 2001. The “coffee lady” and always reliable kitchen worker for years’ worth of fellowship events now becomes Chairman of the Nurture Committee. She has served on multiple committees, currently including Outreach, and many terms on the Nominating Committee.
Donna Dicks – Class of 2023 – Christian Education co-chair with AC Marriott
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, which is popular with all who come into the Historic Banner Elk School, enjoying the former library space which has been renovated into a welcoming place to donate and borrow books.
She has served our church as an elder previously, working with different committees. Currently, Donna and AC Marriott are co-chairing the Christian Education Committee, working to provide varied opportunities for learning and connecting. “Our church is blessed with members who are committed to reaching out to those beyond our walls, both with time and financial support. Many folks in our church regularly volunteer by serving in community organizations, while also actively supporting in-house programs and activities for our church family. It is a privilege to serve as an Elder with this caring congregation as we seek to further God’s Kingdom here.”
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, S.C. 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 a PhD comes from LSU. A member of the church for over 35 years, she has served as 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.
Alice Buttery Johnson – Class of 2023 – Missions; Preschool
Alice is a born and raised Texan and she moved to the mountains in June 2017, to fulfill a lifelong dream and escape the Texas heat. Her hobbies are singing, playing hand bells, sewing, quilting, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, paper crafting, reading, working jigsaw puzzles, and caring for her guinea pigs, Ethel and Lucy. She has two sons, two daughters-in-law, five grandchildren and one grandson-in-law. She was raised as a Presbyterian and looks forward to serving this congregation.