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Joan Palmer: Memories of NSSA

Writer

From left, Joan, Petie and Hank Palmer celebrating Hank’s election to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in 1988. File photo

By Joan Palmer

Special to the Salisbury Post

As the daughter of two of the founding members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, Hank and Petie Palmer, I grew up in the “good old days” of those fancy (and I mean fancy) home cocktail parties. I learned to carry trays and take coats at a very young age.

Since my dad was the director of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, he, good friend Dr. Ed McKenzie and other friends jumped on the bandwagon to take on Pete DeMizio’s dream. My mom, Petie, became the first secretary, and my sisters and I had the fun of helping with the mailings — putting the ballots in the envelopes around our dining room table, and yes, we thought that was fun.

I have tons of memories. If you’ll indulge me, I would love to share just a few in the hopes of giving understanding of how these wonderful, famous people became like family to us and all of Salisbury.

There was the time when Chris Schenkel, in the early ’60s, showed up in our driveway one afternoon to take my mom for a spin in a fancy little sports car. Mom was pretty excited about that. I think Dad looked a little jealous — not of Mr. Schenkel, of the car.

I remember the first time I met Jesse Owens. He attended the cocktail party at our house wearing the famous gold Lincoln-Mercury jacket — one of the big sponsors we had in those days. I’m sorry to say I didn’t know who he was then, but I knew he must be important because, when he spoke, everyone turned around to listen to him. Mr. Owens (I later came to call him Jesse) sat down with me, a shy, awkward teenager, and we talked for a good while. And every year after that for several years, he became a regular visitor, even if he wasn’t scheduled to come to our house, just to see how I was doing. I found out much later that it was kind of his “thing” to take a special interest in teenagers — wanting to “walk and talk,” to listen and give advice when needed. He was a very special person and I feel very privileged to have known him.

It was Dad’s and others’ friendship with Lindsey Nelson that helped put the icing on the cake for Salisbury to become an All-America City in the ’60s. Many already know that story of how Lindsey happened to be staying at the same hotel in Miami during the presentation and put in a good word for Salisbury, off-the-cuff.

In much later years, I’ve enjoyed telling my sons-in-law while watching sports on TV with them, “Oh, yeah, there’s Bob Costas (or Jim Nantz, and others!) — we’re good buddies!” to which they would reply, “Yeah, right” and then I would once again try to explain NSSA to them (they don’t live in Salisbury).

And what can you say about Arnold Palmer — no relation, unfortunately — but my parents played golf with him many times. What a gentleman, and he remembered my mom and dad the last time he came here, just a few years ago.

This wasn’t just a “weekend” thing to my parents and to the many other supporters over the years — and you know who you are. They worked on it for the bulk of the year, and the weekend was the celebration of their hard work. Things changed and evolved over the years. The Holiday Inn became the host hotel (more recently, the Marriot) and the fancy home cocktail parties became a thing of the past, but the hometown feel was always still there, and that’s what all of the winners who came back told us, year after year. It’s still very special to me!

Salisbury isn’t just going to miss NSSA (sorry, NSMA) but Salisbury is going to be missed. I don’t know how they will duplicate the small-town feel in Winston-Salem. Will they be able to get the townspeople involved? Will it become just another awards ceremony?

I’m as disappointed as everyone else here, but I plan to stay involved as much as possible, and I sincerely encourage all the good people of Salisbury to do the same. The regular attendees are going to need to see some familiar faces. It has been a wonderful thing for our town, but it was started because one man many years ago wanted to reward the sportscasters and sportswriters for their hard work, and that’s ultimately what the dream should still be.

Joan Palmer lives in Salisbury.

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