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Blue Ridge Arts Council names Arts Citizen of the Year

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

While Tom Eshelman doesn't call himself an artist, he's certainly familiar with promoting the arts to Warren County citizens.

Eshelman has been using his auctioneering experience for close to 10 years as a way to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Arts Council, among other charities and nonprofit organizations.

"He might not be who you think of when you think about art, but he's about promotion and being committed to this community," said arts council director Kym Crump.

Crump said she approached Eshelman several years ago when she found out he was moving back to the area. The council was tossing around the idea of auctioning off local arts as fundraiser, and she said she figured Eshelman would be the perfect person to help.

"He knows everyone in the room, and he runs a good auction," she said.

Eshelman said he was shocked to get a phone call from Crump, asking him to accept the Arts Citizen of the Year award.

"I had to ask, 'Why are you honoring me?'...I kept thinking there had to be someone else more deserving," he said. "But then Kym told me I've probably helped raise close to $100,000 over the years, so I said OK."

The award was presented during a "roast" as opposed to a normal awards dinner, Crump said. Community leaders Doug Stanley and Jim Eastham hosted the evening, and were among several others who spoke "in jest" about Eshelman.

"I was able to get back at them at the end of the night though," Eshelman added.

The night in itself was a fundraiser, costing $50 a ticket. Crump said the event was sold out with 80 people in attendance.

While Eshelman runs at least two main auctions for the arts council a year, he said he does about 15 total for a number of community organizations.

"And when he does these things, he's strictly a volunteer," Crump said. "I hope he realizes just how many places he's helped through auctioning."

Eshelman believes the arts council is an important asset to the local community.

"People don't realize how much they do," he said. "They're promoting arts amongst our youth, helping local artisans get their art work out there, and it's an incredible tourist attraction."

Crump said Eshelman has come up with a few creative fund-raising ideas and was a pivotal part of bringing music and entertainment back to the Warren County fair.

"He's a big idea person, but beyond that he is a good person to act on those ideas," Crump said.

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