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Faces of Friendship



Figuring out what it is that makes up the footprints of friendship seems most often quite ambiguous.

Similar personalities? Not really. Common backgrounds? Not always. Good looks? Oh, come on. Our friends love us through extra pounds, wrinkles, perpetual
bad hair days, tear-stained faces.

Is it a shared set of political beliefs? As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her dear friend, the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia demonstrated, also no.
Quite often, as Rocky Balboa famously said, together we fill gaps. Our friends fill gaps in our lives that perhaps we didn’t even know were there.

True friends show their loyalty even during the times when it would be much easier to turn away. They are the people who cheer us on passionately, even when they could really care less about the game itself. They are the people who sing our praises, even when they don’t know all the words to the song.

Fayetteville is unique in all the ways it offers diversity, variety and pleasant surprises when it comes to the bonds of friendship. For those of us who live here, our next best friend might be someone who was born here, went to high school here. Or it could be someone whose career path landed them and their family right around the corner.

Or, because Fayetteville is nestled next door to one of the world’s largest military installations, our next best friend may be, at this very moment, stationed halfway around the world – just waiting for the opportunity that will bring them here to us, ready to leave lasting footprints on our hearts.

Pictured are the families of Walson and Leah Metzger, left, and Tiffany and Andrew Pennink at the Penninks’ Skye Drive home. The Metzger children are Kieran, 6, and Emre, 4. The Pennink children are Brooks, 5, and Stella 2. Keeping watch over the action is the Penninks’ rescue dog, Mia. The two families have been fast friends ever since the Metzgers moved down the street and Andrew Pennink moseyed over to introduce himself to his new neighbors. They happily include others into the mix. “We’re about to have about 10 kids over here tonight,” Andrew Pennink said.

True Friends are Like Brothers

Sometime this month, the eggs will be scrambled, the cards will be shuffled and dealt, hooks will be baited and cast over the side of the Topsail Island Pier. It’s a tradition between retired Seventy-First High School principal Gerald Patterson, his brothers and other family members. And right there in the middle of it all will
be Bernie Poole, who became an honorary member of the family a long, long time ago. After all, if Bernie Poole has said it once, he’s said it 100 times. “If I could go some place and pick a brother, I’d want it to be you,” he says of Patterson. To which Patterson replies, “If I picked out a brother, I’d pick one out like Bernie. If he called me today and said, ‘Gerald, I need thus and such,’ I feel like it would be done.” The two bonded long ago when Patterson was principal at Anne Chesnutt Middle School and hired Poole as a teacher. It was clear from the start that Gerald Patterson and Bernie Poole would be friends. “Without even trying to be,” Patterson said. When Patterson stepped into the role of principal at Seventy-First High School, one of his first orders of business was to hire Poole, who eventually would go on to become the school’s basketball coach. Both have since left Seventy-First, though they’ll always be loyal Falcons. Patterson has retired; Poole moved to the coast and coaches at Dixon High School in Surf City. They talk a lot about sports, very little about politics. And that's just fine with them.
“Good friendships,” Poole said, “start with good people.”

True Friends Adapt

Sometimes, you find yourself in unusual places in the name of friendship. Winnie McBryde Grannis may never have dreamed of visiting Seoul, Korea, but there she was on a 17-hour flight by herself in the mid 1990s, set to land in the midst of a city with a population of nearly 10 million. All in the name of visiting one of her dearest friends, Maureen McNeill, whose husband was stationed there. “I’d never been to Korea,” Winnie said. “It was a big step for me.” After all, true friendship sometimes moves you out of your comfort zone. It’s a friendship that really had its origins along the hallways of Terry Sanford High School. Winnie was a hometown girl who had lived in Fayetteville all her life. Maureen, whose father, Gen. Edward M. Flanigan, was commander of Fort Bragg’s JFK Center at the time,
was accustomed to the new faces and new places that come with growing up in a military family. Though the Class of 1969 numbered some 560 students, the two recognized each other when, years later, their sons were in kindergarten together at The Fayetteville Academy. Theirs is a bond forged over classroom parties and Boy Scout meetings. Maureen’s husband Dan, a retired four-star general, served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and commander of Coalition Forces in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003. His career brought the family to Fayetteville when their son Dan Jr., now 39, was in kindergarten. Winnie’s husband, the late Ed Grannis, was in the midst of a 35- year career as Cumberland County District Attorney and their sons, McBryde and Whitaker, were about the same age as Dan Jr. The two couples and their boys became fast friends, traveling together, enjoying dinners together. Maureen was among those at Winnie's side when Ed died in 2015. Theirs is a bond that has held fast. “It’s just been an easy friendship,” Winnie McBryde said. “We can always find something to talk about or do.”

True Friends are Forever

Every day for much of the past year, Zula Wood was among the faithful friends who called to check on Judy Dawkins. After all, Frank Dawkins, Judy’s beloved husband of 62 years, had died Oct. 4, 2019. True friends don’t let one another grieve alone. “I needed Zula,” Judy Dawkins said. “And she was there for me.” But then the unthinkable happened. Zula, one of the original group of volunteers with the Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center and dedicated to the cause for all of the 32 years since the center’s inception, was herself diagnosed with cancer early this year. “She never complained and always had a positive outlook and spirit,” Judy said. Zula underwent treatment and was declared in remission in July. A nurse snapped a photo of the two friends in the center’s parking lot to celebrate. But the next day, Zula called to say she was having trouble breathing. She died Aug. 11 of complications from pneumonia. “I have never experienced a greater pain than the loss of my husband, and now I have lost my closest friend,” Judy said. “All within 10 months.” The two couples – Judy and Frank and Zula and Johnny Woods –
had formed a fast friendship that dated back to 1982 when the Woodses joined Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, as well as Judy’s and Frank’s Sunday school class. Along with other close couple friends, they laughed together, traveled together, went out to eat together. Losing the love of her life and a treasured friend in the span of just a few months hurts. But some people talk about faith; Judy Dawkins is one who lives it. The tears still come, but she keeps a smile on her face. “I know I will see both of them again,” she said. “I have a mountain of happy memories of them. I carry both of their hearts within my heart every day.”

Christel Haworth had been admiring the painting for quite some time. It featured sailboats and was hanging at the end of a hallway in the home of her friend Jeanne Player. She was amazed when she learned the name of the artist who’d done the painting: Jeanne Player. “Jeanne,” she said to her friend of some 16 years. “You need to do something with this. You need to put it out there and share your talent with the world.” Player has loved to paint for as long as she can remember. She put that love mostly on hold through the years, first to earn a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then to raise a family in Fayetteville. But Haworth’s encouragement has helped her talent take off and has led to more paintings, a website, some sales, some rave reviews and, most recently, to Player submitting one of her paintings for consideration for “Sea Of Change,” a Mid- Atlantic regional exhibition featuring artists from South Carolina to Pennsylvania. She was elated to learn her painting “Aqua” was among those chosen. The exhibit was on display in the Virginia Beach Art Center in September.
“I love water, and I love open spaces,” Player said. “Aqua shows the beauty, peace and expanse of a wide-open beach.” The two friends met the way many of us
meet our best girlfriends – their children were in preschool together. at St. John's Episcopal Church. Now those boys range in age from a high school sophomore to college juniors. Though Haworth had been to the Players’ home many times, she had been too busy chasing youngsters to notice very much about the artwork.
“Once your children grow up, your eyes see different things,” Haworth said. In Player’s art, there are soothing watery landscapes to see, along with bright flowers
and colorful landscapes. “You don't buy art just to buy art," Haworth said. "I think art has to make you feel good. It should make you happy. Jeanne’s art does that.”

Young Friends

By: Michelle Karilla

Adults are not the only ones who can appreciate the value of a good friendship. The demands of military life can be stressful for anyone, but particularly for the
youngest members of the family. For many children of military families, friendships necessarily come and go. Sometimes, however, a friendship just has certain qualities that give it a measure of resilience. That’s what has happened with Danny and Jack Kearney and Lillian and Eleanor Pence.

When the Kearney family relocated to Fort Bragg in the summer of 2017, it was the fifth move for Danny, then 9, and Jack, who was 6. The all-too-familiar sight of boxes, a packed moving van and an overwhelming feeling of newness had been a part of the brothers’ lives since they were born. So they weren’t surprised when, having just wrapped up their first school year at Fort Bragg, they noticed a moving truck parked outside the house next door. It wasn’t until their mom pointed out that their new neighbors had daughters about their same age that Danny went over and introduced himself. “I went over one day, we had fun, and it became a recurring thing,” Danny said.

With each passing day, they said, Danny and Jack and their new friends, Lillian and Eleanor Pence, realized they had similar personalities. Lillian and Danny, the quieter siblings, would ratherstay inside playing video games, in particular, Minecraft. Eleanor and Jack, the more talkative duo, prefer pretend games played outside.

But in spite of their collective similarities and differences, they said they savored the time they were together, regardless of how they spent it.

The quartet crossed back and forth between their stucco houses each day after school to watch movies and entertain themselves. They constructed a fort between their two houses inside a hollowed-out and overgrown bush.

It was these seemingly small but significant moments that moved their relationship from warm neighbors to best friends.

“Probably just sitting on the couch all scrunched together,” Eleanor said, in response to her favorite memory involving the Kearney boys. The next summer, the four attended a summer camp focused on marine life and oceanography at the North Carolina Aquarium.

They purchased matching otter stuffed animals, a recurring centerpiece of games they played at the local playground.

Only together for one year, the friendship that formed initially out of close proximity was put through the test of long distance. Danny and Jack moved to Somerville, Massachusetts, while Lillian and Eleanor moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Danny and Lillian, who were old enough to have cellphones, managed to stay in touch through text messages.

“We texted every once in a while,” Danny said. “Really the only communication that we had was between me and Lillian texting.”

But in August, there was a bright spot in the midst of globally challenging year. Both families moved back to Fort Bragg. The two mothers, Bronwen Pence and Lauren Kearney, planned a surprise reunion for the children at the Kearneys’ house. Danny and Lillian, now 13, Eleanor, 11, and Jack, 10, picked up right where they left off with the daily banter, entertainment and conversation. The days that have followed their homecoming have marked a return to the old days.

Now, when she reflects on their friendship, Eleanor said her friendship with the Kearney boys feels more similarly to that of family.

“They’re our cousins,” Lillian quipped in agreement. Contributing writer Michelle Kurilla is a junior at Harvard who lives on Fort Bragg with her family.