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Phyllis Lang Stands Up Again for Buncombe County Special Collections


Phyllis Lang was a founding member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room Board in 2013 (currently the Buncombe County Special Collections). Her duties as a board member included assisting staff, helping to create public programs, and acting as an ambassador for the collection. Phyllis attended almost every Friends-sponsored history program throughout her tenure. Hers was the friendly face always standing at the door, welcoming guests, and she always stood through each program usually against the back wall. Afterwards, she could be found at the door, thanking people for coming, ready to answer any questions about the archives, and encouraging people to support the special collections.

Phyllis Lang is always standing—a tall woman, with a calm presence. The archives could not have had a better ambassador for so many years. She freely gave her time, energy, and expertise to help collect and preserve Asheville and Buncombe County’s history.

During the 1990s, each year she taught a freshman class at UNCA as the Director of the Honors program. “I thought it was important for them to know about Asheville. So their assignment was to research Asheville that particular year 100 years prior.” She introduced the students to the North Carolina Room for their research. “Some of them loved microfilm and some loved the old maps. Some of the students took it very seriously and did great research. One student recreated a year in the history of the Grand Opera House.”

And then in the late 1990s, Phyllis Lang researched Thomas Walton Patton (1841-1907), son of James Washington Patton, who was the son of immigrant James Patton. Thomas Patton was a Captain in the Confederate Army who became the mayor of Asheville in 1893. Her research grew into a video, Thomas Walton Patton: Asheville’s Citizen and Soldier, which she and UNCA graduate Chanse Simpson created, using the resources found in the North Carolina Room. The video was purchased by UNC-TV. With that video accomplished, Phyllis and Chanse forged ahead, collaborating on two more historical documentaries, again using resources in the North Carolina Room: a documentary covering 200 years of the Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, Forward through the Ages, in 2001 and Signs of Grace: Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church : the first fifty years, 1953-2003. The videos are available through the Buncombe County Library system.

Phyllis loved conducting research. “Research never seemed like work—just a lot of fun. And my days were brighter when I came to the North Carolina Room.” She spent so much time in the North Carolina Room that she brought her own cushion which was kept in a locker for her.

Her accomplishments included a six-chapter history of West Asheville, research on women land owners in Buncombe County from 1850 through 1880, and a manuscript about a trip Charlotte Kerr made from Charleston, South Carolina to Quebec, entitled, An 1837 Journey. Charlotte Kerr was the sister of Henrietta Kerr, who married James Washington Patton, father of Thomas Patton. Phyllis and her husband later re-traced Charlotte’s route, photographing the sites mentioned in Charlotte’s journal.

In 2016, when the North Carolina Room presented a six-part series, "Asheville in the 1980s: A Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It," Phyllis Lang was front and center, researching and co-moderating the fourth program in the series, “Arts, Theater and Music.” Lang’s work as editor for the The Arts Journal had well qualified her for the task.

Due to her husband’s health, (the late Professor Wayne Lang of UNCA), Phyllis Lang resigned from the Friends of the North Carolina Room Board, but her heart stayed with the special collections room.

In 2021, she stands up again by bequeathing the Buncombe County Special Collections (BCSC) with a two-part 2021-2022 gift of $15,000. Part of her gift has been used to create a Buncombe County Timeline that runs the entire length of the back wall in BCSC. Phyllis Lang’s donation will also be used to expand the special collections to help further research. Her pillow is still in the room, and she and all the staff welcome you to come in, explore, and enjoy your local history room.