Angels return downtown

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Five days before Christmas, angels have returned to downtown Salisbury.
Four of the 39 angels usually displayed during the holidays returned Tuesday morning, freed from basement storage by a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Angels in Salisbury project was one of several items Downtown Salisbury Inc. cut from its budget this year.
Now, a quartet of eight-foot-tall wooden angels graces the front of St. John’s Lutheran Church.
“It’s great that they’re free in time for Christmas,” said the Rev. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor. “I mean, what’s Christmas in Salisbury without the brush of angel’s wings?
“We’re glad they’ve decided to reappear at St. John’s.”
Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc., said last week his organization couldn’t afford to spend more than $1,000 installing and removing the 39 angels, each weighing about 350 pounds. Downtown Salisbury must hire help to put up and take down the heavenly hosts.
“About two weeks ago, I called Randy Hemann and asked him when the angels were coming,” said Oscho Rufty, facilities manager for St. John’s. “He said the funds had been cut. That was the end of the conversation.”
As word spread that no angels would appear this year, several people called Downtown Salisbury with concern and offers of support, said Betz McKeown, special projects manager.
McKeown contacted the construction company that has helped install the angels in the past, but they were in the middle of a job and couldn’t spare the manpower.
In the past, it took 20 men and two trucks with flat bed trailers five to six hours to install 39 angels. Downtown Salisbury had used 12 city workers and eight workers from the construction company to do the job.
In addition, installing the power cords, lights and stands took two people a full day.
With the construction company unavailable, the anonymous benefactor turned to the city. A crew of 10 workers from the Parks and Recreation Department spent about an hour Tuesday morning installing the angels.
“We played a role, and we were glad to do it,” said Stephen Brown, Parks and Rec maintenance manager.
The city provided the labor for free. Brown said he’s agreed to take the angels down in three or four weeks.
A few years after the Angels in Salisbury project began in 2001, St. John’s approved installing four posts in the ground, according to Rufty.
“This was a pleasant surprise, and a great Christmas gift to know we were getting the angels in front of the church,” he said. “It was wonderful to know there was an interest in preserving the tradition of displaying the four angels in front of St. John’s.”
Rufty said local residents and tourists alike have enjoyed seeing the angels over the years.
“I think the congregation and the community will appreciate it,” he said. “This donation really shows the spirit of Christmas.”
The angels were cut from the budget last spring to help save between $6,000 and $7,000 and balance an “extremely tight” budget, Hemann said.
Downtown Salisbury recently gave Hemann a $12,000 raise to bring his salary in line with similar positions across the state, said Mark Lewis, vice president of the downtown board of directors.
Downtown Salisbury was in danger of losing Hemann to Red Bank, Tenn., where the city commissioners chose him as their top pick for city manager.
Hemann declined their offer.
The angel benefactor thanked Brown and Rufty, as well as the Lutherans in Action at St. John’s, Chris Bradshaw and Mayor Paul Woodson for helping in the effort to “free the angels.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.