A Man for All Seasons – Melvin Lane

This article was originally published on Sept. 23, 2002, in the Hendersonville Times-News

By Jennie Jones Giles
An innovative man of fortune left New York City in the 1930s, moved to Henderson County and left a legacy that lives on in the county’s apple industry and within numerous nonprofit organizations.
Melvin Lane, who died in 1988, would have turned 100 Wednesday. As the date approaches, family, neighbors, friends and beneficiaries of his generosity remember the man and his contributions to the residents of Western North Carolina.

Man of fortune

Lane was the only son and only grandson of a New York City family who had a successful business in greeting cards and photographs in the early 1900s.
Lane’s father was a photographer. The child in some of the printed reproductions of the elder Lane’s early photographs is his son, Melvin. One of the prints was found by Lane’s daughter, Lyn Fozzard, hanging in a local home.
The family moved to Mahwah, N.J., where Lane completed his public education at the age of 10, the youngest graduate from a public school in the state of New Jersey, a newspaper article at the time states.
Because he was too young to attend college, Lane was sent to a prep school for four years. He later attended Princeton University and Harvard law school. He established a law practice in New York City.
“He didn’t like practicing maritime law,” said Fozzard. “He drove all the way around the country and picked this place (Henderson County) to settle. It was rural and he loved the mountains.”
In 1934, Lane bought a farm in the Dana community from James Stepp, said neighbor S. Ray Hill.
“Actually, this was only a parcel of the whole 120 acres he was to acquire from 10 different landowners,” said Hill.

An apple grower

Lane, his wife, Georgiana, and his parents, Edwin and Evelyn, left the city and moved to a farm with no running water or electricity. Lane obtained his attorney license in North Carolina, but never opened a law practice in the state.
He and his parents built separate homes on the property and Lane began setting out apple trees.
“He bought a bunch of books and learned to raise apples from books,” said Fozzard. “The first eight years, when the apple trees were not bearing, he raised squash and eggplant.
“I remember picking the eggplant. We had to pick it up by the stem and it was all sticky. We had to hold it by the sticky part to cut it,” she said. “It sold for about 10 cents a bushel.”
“The first thing he did was to build a home for the helper and his family who would assist in clearing the land, planting the Stark-purchased apple trees and raising the produce to support the place for the years before the first crop came in,” said Hill. “The two mules, three cows and a hen house full of chickens followed.”
The farm managers were King and Annis McCall, parents of Fritz McCall, retired East Henderson High School horticulture teacher.
Fozzard said her father was one of the first apple growers in the county to bring in a government inspector before it was required by law.
“If the apples were stamped by an inspector, they would bring a higher price,” she said.
Lane is credited with building in the 1940s the first refrigeration unit in the county to store apples.
“Some growers used to haul apples to Asheville to put them at the ice company,” McCall said.
Lane decided to build a refrigeration unit at his first packing house near a pond and moved the grader up to a new packing house, McCall said.
“The apples were poured out in bins in the front part of the building,” he said. “They were used for juice apples. They would be boxed up in the winter and sold. Thousands of bushels were poured out in there. It held about 3,500 bushels.
“There were compressors on the outside of the building and coils inside the building,” McCall said. “Just like an air conditioner in a house.”
The Lanes and McCalls did the work in the orchard, picking, grading and packing the apples.
“Mother and Mrs. Lane did 90 percent of the grading of the apples,” McCall said. “He (Lane) drove the tractor for us when we sprayed.”
Around the mid-1950s, when Lane’s parents had died, he began to spend more time with his business affairs and less time in the orchard, McCall said.
The McCalls leased the orchard for years and now it is managed by Hill’s son, Tony.
The Lane family has only sold about 20 acres of the property, said Fozzard. The rest is still owned by the family and still producing Henderson County apples.

The philanthropist

As an only son, grandson and nephew of an aunt and uncle who had no children, he inherited the family’s assets.
“He was a funny man about money,” said McCall. “He would sell the apples and it would come time for the trucker to pay, he’d be gone. My father would put the money on the table, he (Lane) would come in, just rake it up and go. He was always in a hurry and always on the go.”
“When he chose to invest a small inheritance in the stock market, he chose the companies we always hear used in those examples of improbable luck – IBM in the ’50s, Xerox in the ’60s,” said his grandson Richard Fozzard of Boulder, Colo.
“Gogo and Georgie (grandparents Melvin and Georgiana) taught us as children that perhaps the most important verse in the Bible is Luke 12:48,” he said. “And from everyone who has been given much, much shall be required, and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.'”
Georgiana Lane was one of the founders of the Pardee Hospital Ladies Auxiliary.
“She and mother Pink Lady’d forever on Saturdays,” said McCall. “They ran the flower cart.”
She also was a teacher, Lyn Fozzard said. She was a Girl Scout leader and taught the Sadie Patton Sunday school class at Hendersonville’s First Presbyterian Church.
“In the mid-1960s, Lane met with George Stowell, former chairman of the Pardee Hospital board, and William Jamison, Pardee administrator, about his belief and interest in a nursing care unit that would provide extended care for patients, beyond hospital stay,” said Myra Grant with the Pardee Hospital Foundation.
“He committed to making the project happen by making a $100,000 gift,” Grant said. “Coupled with other funding the hospital obtained, the Lane Wing opened in 1973.”
In 1997, the hospital expanded long-term care and constructed the Pardee Care Center, a 130-bed facility.
This spring the Lane Wing became a 20-bed Subacute Care Facility and the home of the cardiology laboratory and respiratory therapy.
The family’s giving to the hospital continues with the Lane Trust, established after Lane’s death. The hospital’s Family Practice Residency program, ICU services and gerontology program all owe their existence to his vision, Grant said.
Jean Moulthrop Hoogstra credits Lane with helping the hospice program in the county get its start.
Lane’s daughter had been involved in the establishment of a hospice program in the Chicago area. She phoned the Moulthrops and set up a meeting with her father.
“Mr. Lane listened to our ideas and gave us the assurance of providing the funds necessary to bring this concept of care to our community,” Hoogstra said. “We were told to figure out how much money it would take to open our doors and that amount would be provided. We will always be grateful for Mr. Lane’s trust in us as he gave us the confidence to pursue our dream of such a ministry. He was our guardian angel.”
“His giving is very much alive today, benefiting causes across the region,” said Kim McGuire, program director of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
The Lane Trust has made an investment of more than $1 million for three years to help reach people in need across WNC, McGuire said. Beneficiaries include the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of WNC, Pisgah Legal Services, the YWCA of Asheville, Neighbors in Ministry of Transylvania County, the Marketing Association of Rehabilitation Centers to expand training and employment opportunities at 12 sites in WNC for people with disabilities and participants in welfare-to-work programs, the Burke Charitable Projects and the Asheville/Buncombe Education Coalition.
McGuire said every three years a new group of grantees is chosen.

The sportsman

Lane wasn’t just a lawyer turned apple grower or a philanthropist. He was also a man who enjoyed sports competition.
He was a champion checkers and chess player, his grandson and daughter say.
He enjoyed football games, not just watching them on television, but attending high school football games in the county.
“We went to football games every Friday night,” McCall said. “It didn’t matter how bad the weather was. We went to the games at Ninth Avenue (the former black high school) and at Hendersonville High School. He was quite a sports fan.”
“I remember New Year’s Day in Florida,” his son-in-law Harry Fozzard said. “We would go together to the Orange Bowl, with its crazy Shriners, but that was only part of it. We had to watch on TV all the other games. If there were two on at the same time, then we would line up two TVs, so that he could keep track of both.”
Fozzard said his father-in-law kept current with not only football, but baseball and basketball also.
“During March Madness we would be glued to the huge TV screen that he used because of trouble with his eyesight,” he said. “Then it was all evening watching as cigarette smoke curled past his eye patch.”
He enjoyed playing golf at the Hendersonville Country Club and his wife enjoyed her bridge games, McCall said.
“His competitiveness was obvious from the row of club and local championship bowls and plates he had,” said his son-in-law.
He began playing tennis as a youth and played on Princeton’s tennis team.
“Once in his life he beat Bill Tilden (the former tennis star),” his daughter said.
His son-in-law remembers seeing Lane play tennis in Florida. The team from Princeton was visiting and Lane played an exhibition match with the team’s best singles player at the Surf Club.
“At the advanced age of over 50, he embarrassed the young Princeton champion by positioning himself in the center of the backcourt and running the boy from side to side, until the boy was exhausted,” he said. “In the end, the boy won, but with a suspicion that Melvin simply allowed him to recover some self-respect in the end.”
Recently, Lane’s daughter was in a county garage waiting on car repairs. Three local men were sitting near her and asked her who she was related to in the county. She gave them her father’s name.
“I remember him,” one of the men said. “He was a prominent man in Dana. He not only made a success of apples, he gave back to the rest of the community.”