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BANNER ELK – Opening July 11, the latest production from Lees-McRae Summer Theatre puts the spotlight on one of Avery County’s most notable people.

“From the Mountaintop” tells the story of the Rev. Edgar Tufts, who came to Banner Elk in the 1800s and went on to found organizations that would evolve into some of the most important entities in the area, including Lees-McRae College, Grandfather Home for Children, Cannon Memorial Hospital and Banner Elk Presbyterian Church.

The achievements accrued over the years, with a boarding school for girls founded in 1900 that would go on to become Lees-McRae and maintain the motto, “In the mountains, of the mountains and for the mountains,” a 14-room hospital founded in 1909, and followed with Grandfather Home for Children in 1914. That facility has stayed true to its original purpose since its founding, though it has become part of Children’s Hope Alliance.

The play is an original production of Summer Theatre Creative Director Janet Speer, with music by John Thomas and Tommy Oaks. The play company is made up of 48 people.

“I have always been intrigued with the Edgar Tufts story,” Speer said. “And even did some small dramatic presentations on the subject in the past. I wanted to see that expanded however, and thought a musical with John Thomas and his dad, Tommy, would be a significant event in our community. I pitched the idea to John Thomas last year, and he was fully on board.”

Speer and John Thomas have collaborated on several shows in the past. The other local history focused on the life of Moses Cone, a major industrialist figure with a lasting legacy in North Carolina.

Speer said there is local excitement for the show, and many notable families make appearances in the play. There was also a committee of historians and people from the institutions Tufts founded to help spread a campaign called “Celebrating Banner Elk’s Heritage of Service.” The campaign placed display boards around Banner Elk with scenes from early in the town’s history and there is a display on Tufts in the Banner House Museum. There will be performances of music from the show around town as well and walking tours to outline where events in the play occurred.

Speer added her favorite thing about the show is the heart.

“Our town was tireless in its dedication to improving education, offer a safe home to children in need and heal those who were sick,” Speer said.

“From the Mountaintop” closes after its show on July 18. Showtimes can be found online at or over the phone at (828) 898-5241.

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