Wilmington’s Walk of Fame: 20 years later

Written by: Monte Coughlin | Photography by: Monte Coughlin and used with permission from Nancy Bullock for this article

What do a 19th century architect, two former NFL quarterbacks, a world famous opera singer, and Grammy award winning country music legend all have in common?  Each of them spent a part of, or most of their life, in Wilmington.  Our area also lays claim to being the birthplace of one of the country’s first TV network news anchors, along with a member of the original Harlem Globetrotters – and speaking of Trot, Wilmington’s own Trot Nixon, major league baseball star and World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox is part of this select group. 

In 1997 the Celebrate Wilmington Committee began recognizing these, and other notable citizens of the community, with their own star in a Walk of Fame located at the Cotton Exchange in downtown Wilmington. 

Names etched  in the Walk of Fame granite stars include:  

Roman Gabriel, NFL quarterback for the LA Rams and Philadelphia Eagles. 

Gabriel played at  New Hanover High school in the late 50’s and went on to UNC Chapel Hill for a college career with the Tar Heels. He spent 16 seasons in the NFL during the 60’s and 70’s, later becoming a college football broadcaster. 

Mini Evans was a vivid artist whose work was inspired by her dreams and vision.  She was the one-time  gate keeper for  the estate of Pembroke Jones, which is the present-day Airlie Gardens, where a bottle house garden is named in her honor. Her works are part of the permanent collection of the Cameron Art Museum.

Hugh Morton, was an internationally famous photographer and preservationist of the Battleship North Carolina and Hatteras Lighthouse.  Born in Wilmington, Morton was an Army photographer during WW II, later becoming a sports and outdoor photographer,  authoring two books on the subject.  Morton also owned and developed Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina.   

Henry Bacon, a 19th century architect,  whose most famous design was the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and was also responsible for the Confederate Memorial located at 3rd and Dock Street in downtown Wilmington.  He died in 1925 and is buried in Oakdale cemetery.

Frank Capra Jr., was a film producer and the one-time president of Screen Gems Studios which got its start in Wilmington while Capra was producing the movie, Fire Starter in 1984. Capra was also on the production team of the early Planet of the Apes movie series.  He resided many years in Wilmington prior to his death in 2007. 

Caterina Jarboro, was raised on Church Street in Wilmington.  In 1898 she became the first AfricanAmerican singer to appear on an opera stage in the U.S. Jarboro went on to perform in many of the world’s great opera houses including those in Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, Madrid, and Moscow.

 Other famous locals  in Wilmington’s walk of fame include:

Robert Ruark Jr., journalist and author of Something of Value, Poor No More, and the Honey Badger was born and raised in Wilmington, attending New Hanover High and  UNC Chapel Hill before a successful  career as a newspaper and sports reporter.  He later wrote for magazines including Field and Stream and the Saturday Evening Post,  eventually writing novels.  

Althea Gibson, tennis champ and the first African American woman voted Female Athlete of the Year bythe Associated Press in 1957 was a Wilmington resident. Gibson won the French Open in 1956 and went on to win Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and U.S. Open tennis championships over the next two years.  Much of her early tennis training was completed in Wilmington where she attended Williston High School. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Hall of Fame.

David Brinkley, pioneer TV news anchor for both NBC and ABC whose career spanned more than 50 years, 

first wrote articles for the Wilmington Morning Star while  attending New Hanover High School.  He was winner of 10 Emmy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom,  retiring in 1997. He died in 2003 and is buried in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery. 

 

Charlie Daniels, a Grammy awarding winning singer was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.  Daniels was born in Wilmington and lived here until he was a teenager, when his family moved to Chatham County, North Carolina.  His music career began in the50’s and continues to this day. 

Percy Heath played for over 40 years as the string bass player for the Modern Jazz Quartet.  Born in Wilmington but raised in Philadelphia, Heath came from a musical family with brothers who played saxophone and drums.  In WW II he 

served as a Tuskegee Airman. 

Claude Howell, was a well known Wilmington artist who painted many coastal themes.  He started the art department at Wilmington College, now UNCW.  Several of his works are included in the collection at the Cameron Art Museum. 

Isaac Grainger’s star in the Walk of Fame recognizes him as an international bank president who served aspresident and chairman of the Rules Committee of the United States Golf Association, the USGA. 

Sonny Jurgensen was a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback for Philadelphia Eagles and Washington 

Redskins.  Jurgensen played football, basketball, and baseball while attending New Hanover High School in Wilmington and was both quarterback and defensive back for the Duke Blue Devils before his NFL career spanning three decades from 1957 through 1974.  Now a sports commentator for the Washington Redskins, he was inducted into the Wilmington Walk of Fame in 2004.

 

Don Payne, was a veteran writer for the Simpsons and feature films including My Super X Girlfriend, Fantastic Four, and Thor.  A graduate of New Hanover High School, he  attended UNC Chapel Hill and later graduated from UCLA as a screenwriter. Payne contracted bone cancer which claimed his life in March 2013.  Each year since then the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival has presented the “DON” award in his honor for outstanding film production.  

Meadowlark Lemon, Harlem Globetrotters legend came to Wilmington in 1938 at age six.   Lemon attended Williston High School and joined the Globetrotters in 1955 playing on the squad for 22 years and earning the nickname The Clown Prince.  

Trott Nixon, Boston Red Sox right fielder and World Series champ in 2004. Nixon played for New Hanover High School and was a first round draft pick playing in the majors for 12 seasons, most of them in Boston.  Nixon returned to Wilmington after his MLB career and is a high school football sports commentator at WWAY. 

Among the most recent inductees were Dr. Fred Eschelman founder of PPD, actor Pat Hingle who played Commissioner Gordon in Batman movies, James Goodnight founder of SAS, a business tech and educational innovator,  Champ Davis, an early railroad executive and healthcare planner along with  Grenaldo Frazier, a well known Wilmington piano entertainer. 

 Four final Walk of Fame stars are dedicated to U.S. military Medal of Honor recipients from Wilmington including: 

Col. Charles Murray, WW II veteran who was honored in 1944 

William Halyburton Jr,  USNR officer received the medal in 1945 

Admiral Edwin Anderson USN served in Vera Cruz Mexico in 1914;  and 

SFC Eugene Ashley Jr, Medal of Honor winner from the Vietnam War in 1968. 

 Cotton Exchange property manager Nancy Bullock, who was the past chairman of the Celebrate Wilmington Committee, said her parents worked with the Arts Council, City of Wilmington and UNCW to develop the Walk of Fame.  The group disbanded following the final inductions in 2014 as the spaces allocated were completely filled.

 Wilmington’s Walk of Fame is located in the center of the parking lot of the Cotton Exchange, downtown. 

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