Hello to a new place; farewell to a legendary face

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2022

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Refreshed, reinvigorated, revitalized, and rejuvenated….that’s how these old bones of mine feel after taking a much-needed break from work last week.

While my job isn’t physically demanding, the day-to-day chore of keeping up with the local news in the four counties we serve does indeed keep me on the go. That may mean traveling to and from meetings of our local county governmental agencies or watching those meetings via Zoom, or conducting interviews for profile feature stories, or covering an outdoor event, or attending ribbon cuttings for new businesses. In other words, I stay on the go…..a lot!! And then there’s a mountain of email to sort through daily….again, that’s not physically demanding, but if I don’t keep up with that type of news gathering activity then it will bury me.

I needed a break to allow my mind to rest, recharge, and refocus. And I needed to get in that break prior to this year’s NC Watermelon Festival that opens next week in Murfreesboro. That event serves as a reminder that the opening of a new school year is less than one month away, which means more work – to include sports coverage – is forthcoming.

This year’s vacation took me to a familiar environment, but with a new twist. My wife and I are frequent visitors to the famed Outer Banks of North Carolina and we have been since even before we met. Both of us have personal memories of visiting the Outer Banks as children…back when there were long stretches of empty space along a single, two-lane road. Rustic beach cottages and mom-and-pop restaurants and single-story motels have now given way to high-rise hotels, multi-family residences, and a wide assortment of eateries that will satisfy nearly every taste imaginable.

For a change of pace, we resided last week in an area on the Outer Banks that we have previously never visited…Colington Island. While it’s technically a part of Kill Devil Hills, its quiet, peaceful environment is far removed from all the hustle and bustle of what the majority of those visiting the OBX will experience.

With 3,500 year-round residents – not to mention the annual vacationers – Colington Harbour is the largest subdivision and gated community on the Outer Banks.

The first thing that new Colington travelers – like the wife and I – notice is that the roads are curvy, a rare departure from the straight and narrow main drives along the bypass, the beach road and NC Highway 12. The second distinction is that Colington is actually quite hilly for the beach, and travelers will navigate up and down through low-lying marshlands and high maritime forests for miles before reaching the very edge of Colington Island and the Albemarle Sound.

When my grandson and I went out to explore our new surroundings, we stumbled across a sign that gave a brief history of the area. It said that Colington Island was granted to Sir John Colington on Sept. 8, 1663. It was colonized two years later by a company under the leadership of Peter Carteret. We discovered a 200-year-old Southern Live Oak growing along a sandy beach bordering the vast Albemarle Sound.

There was a well-marked swimming area along that same stretch of beach. Just beyond those ropes and buoys were those enjoying the sound by boat. Some of those vessels access the sound through a series of canals that wind their way through the Colington Harbour subdivision. From the deck of the cottage where we spent the week we viewed different styles of watercraft on one of those canals…powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, and paddleboards.

While I thoroughly enjoyed a special week with my family as well as a break from the daily routine at work, there was sad news to deal with as I was informed of the death of Percy Bunch. I met him in the mid-1980’s when the North Carolina Watermelon Festival was born in Murfreesboro. Due to the hard work of Mr. Bunch and his wife Lynette, that festival – which began as a one-day event that lasted a grand total of just four hours – transformed into one of the major attractions in all of eastern North Carolina. Now in its 37th year, the Watermelon Festival takes place over a four-day span that attracts 10,000 or more visitors to Murfreesboro.

Percy Bunch knew a thing or two about growing watermelons. He and his father, Ned, farmed the fertile soil near Murfreesboro, growing and harvesting tobacco, peanuts, cotton and corn. But they also dabbled in watermelons and maintained a reputation for growing some of the best around these parts.

Those sweet treats found their way into larger markets. Back in the day, the Bunch family would drive their produce trucks to Richmond, VA…sleeping in those vehicles at night and selling watermelons during the day. Percy Bunch would go on to operate a wholesale watermelon business out of Washington, DC for 10 years. He was elected as President of the National Watermelon Association and served in leadership positions for six years. He was also instrumental in founding the North Carolina Watermelon Association, serving several terms as President.

The family business – aka Murfreesboro Farms – continues the legacy of Ned and Percy Bunch. That legacy will once again take center stage at the 2022 NC Watermelon Festival, slated for Aug. 3-6. While Percy Bunch will be missed roaming the grounds of the festival, meeting and chatting with those in attendance, we can all bow our heads in a moment of silence to pay our respects to a great man and a great family.

Rest in peace Mr. Bunch, and thank you for making our little corner of the world a better place to live, work, and play.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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