Community Owned. Local News. Burke County, NC.

Sandy Turner was a driving force in Alder Springs creation

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Board Chairman Sam Avery calls Sandy Turner “the heart and soul of the Alder Springs community.”

Turner deflects that praise but confesses, “I have basically worked full time on this since my retirement from N.C. School for the Deaf in Morganton.”

Turner came to work as a substitute teacher at NCSD in the early 1970s. She had no background in deaf education.

A native of Maiden, Turner recalls, “A short-term fill-in turned into a 30-year career.”

Turner came to the NCSD campus to apply for a temporary position teaching physical education. The principal handed her an alphabet card for sign language. “Learn it by Monday,” he said. “And you’re hired.”

Turner said it was her students who taught her how to sign, showing great patience with the young woman who knew nothing about their language.

“I just kind of fell into my career,” she said. “But I loved every minute of it. I had so many great students. I had some great basketball teams. I made a lot of deaf friends. It was a very rewarding experience. I retired in 2001.”

Turner was board chair of the N.C. School for the Deaf Foundation, an independent, nonprofit corporation established in 1991 with a mission to enhance the educational experience of NCSD students, including workplace experience, scholarships, and emergency financial assistance, when the idea of an apartment community for the deaf first arose.

“We realized that many older deaf people felt isolated,” Turner said. “They wanted a community where they could communicate with their neighbors, where they could feel like they belonged.

“We knew we would have to raise a lot of money,” she continued. “But we wanted a facility that was totally nonprofit and free of government funding and regulations.”

And so the genesis of Alder Springs was born.

Grant money and large donations were sought under Avery’s guidance. “Sam Avery is the cog that turns this wheel,” Turner said, laughing.

But small donations were sought as well. Students at NCSD made and sold ceramic bowls. Thousands of candy bars were sold at the State Employees Credit Unions around the county.

The late industrialist and philanthropist Otto Woerner made the gift that allowed the purchase of the land for the campus on College Street in Morganton, just across the street from the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium and adjacent to the Morganton Department of Public Safety.

“In many people’s minds, this is truly a historic site,” Turner said, “because it’s where Morganton High School, home of the Wildcats, stood for so long.”

The original master plan for the campus called for four buildings to be built at once, “but we decided to start with one building,” Turner said.

“We began taking reservations and deposits before we ever broke ground,” she recalled. “Of course, they had to be totally refundable. Of the first deposits that were put down, not one of them moved in.”

Since that somewhat rocky start, Alder Springs has been on firm financial footing with a waiting list for apartments and visits from people all over the country looking to see how such a community is successfully constructed.

“We truly are a community,” she said. “And we truly are a living miracle. This was meant to be. I’m glad I have stayed with it and I’m proud of everything this community has accomplished.”

Bill Poteat is editor emeritus of The Paper. He may be reached at 828-445-8595 or via email at bill@thepaper.media.