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N.C. looks more like home all the time

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Whatever happened to former Clearwater residents Merrill and Vicky Stebbins? They're thriving in the mountains of western North Carolina where my wife and I visited earlier this month.

Merrill covered Pinellas County for WFLA-Ch. 8 during the 1970s. Then he worked as public information officer for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and director of marketing for the Florida State Fair. Vicky owned and operated the Cobblestone Court, a specialty shop selling solid brass nameplates, door hardware and similar items.

They moved with their two children 14 years ago to Brevard, N.C., and love it. But don't try to picture Merrill in a rocking chair with nothing to do but savor mountain breezes. He has four jobs.

He is director of tourism for Transylvania County (Brevard) and executive director of Blue Ridge Mountain Host, which is a cooperative organization promoting hotels, restaurants, attractions and chambers of commerce in eight western North Carolina counties. He also has his own public relations/advertising/marketing business and is a painting contractor.

Vicky is a part-time secretary for a Brevard real estate firm. Their daughter, Sandi, 27, is an accountant in Asheville, N.C. Their son Keith, 22, is working in his dad's painting business and is considering a Coast Guard career.

Merrill and Vicky own part of a mountain where they plan to build their retirement home some day.

Look what the mail brought:

another ex-Pinellas resident

Whatever happened to Judy Rice, another former Clearwater resident? She is back in North Carolina following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather.

I met her because of a chance encounter in my brother-in-law's driveway in Fairview, a small community on the eastern outskirts of Asheville where my wife and I stayed during our vacation.

I was inside the house, but my brother-in-law had gone outside when he heard his mail carrier honking because she had a package to deliver. "Who's here from Pinellas County?" she asked when she saw my car's license tag.

"Our relatives from Clearwater," he replied. "That's where I used to live!" she exclaimed before continuing on her route.

So the next day I stopped at Fairview's little post office to meet her. She lived here with her husband, Paul, and three children from 1960 to the mid-'70s. The kids attended Belcher Elementary, Oak Grove Middle and Clearwater High.

Now Judy Moore, she has been working as a mail carrier since 1983, most of that time in the Fairview area where she lives. "I like this work better than anything I've ever done," she told an Asheville Citizen-Times reporter last year. "It's just in my blood." But it wasn't until last year that she realized how true that is.

Her father found in a box of family mementos a contract that her great-grandfather had signed with the postmaster general in 1884. Twice a week until 1896 he hitched his horse to a buggy and delivered mail along a rural route that took 13 hours to cover one way from Rutherfordton to Fairview.

Judy's son Mark is now the youth director at Grace Lutheran Church in Clearwater. He lives in St. Petersburg where his wife, Linda, is a kindergarten teacher at Mount Vernon Elementary.

Judy's daughter Kathy, a 1971 Clearwater High graduate, is married and living in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband and two children. She is a psychologist in the social services department of the University of Arizona Medical Center.

Judy's third child, Paul, is deceased.

Judy's last job locally was as secretary to Mease Hospital development director Bob Alexander. She also worked in that office with Paul Germann, who divides his time between homes in Belleair and Maggie Valley, N.C. She recently ran into Paul at Arthur's Restaurant in Maggie Valley.

Small world.