Standing beside the beautifully tiled compass rose at North Carolina Outward Bound’s (NCOBS) Arthur M. Blank Headquarters, it’s hard to believe and important to remember that the School’s first headquarters was a humble brown trailer at the Table Rock basecamp dubbed “the executive suite.” The early staff were memorable individuals who were iconic in the degree to which they embodied the spirit and the values of Outward Bound. Nina Forbes, NCOBS’ first “secretary,” was just such a person.
According to Dan Meyer, former NCOBS School Director from 1971-1976, “Nina was asked by NCOBS’s first Director, Pop Hollandsworth, to move to Table Rock (which was still under construction) in 1967 and to serve as the school’s secretary… Pop’s decision proved to have long-lasting and immeasurably positive effects. Nina was a meticulous secretary, providing continuity to the School office that had four directors in as many years. That alone would have been enough of a contribution to the fledgling School, but Nina provided so much more.”
Jed Williamson, NCOBS’ Acting Director from 1969-1971, recalls Nina’s kindness and mettle. (For him, she did dispense with baby black widow spiders accidentally set loose in the School’s office.) He shared, “We will never forget—and still refer to—her loving spirit, her total dedication to NCOBS, her skills, and her friendship.” With great fondness, former NCOBS Director of Administration John Binsted (1972-1975) described Nina as “a wonderful and gracious lady, totally committed to the values of Outward Bound,” with a signature call heard round basecamp for her handsome black Lab “Ba-lew” (Blue!).
Joe Beckham, who instructed at NCOBS in 1969 (1972-1974, and 1978 ) recalls Nina’s generosity and high standards. When he came off course, Joe asked Nina if she would proctor one of his law school final exams at basecamp. She contacted Joe’s professor to seek permission for snacks and drinks, amply provided pens and a sandwich, and then hurried the exam to the post office to send it by certified mail. Mike Fischesser (NCOBS Instructor, 1972-1977, NCOBS Program Director 1978-1985) values the tone of warmth and positivity Nina instilled in the early NCOBS community.
Nina passed away in 2018 and a line from her obituary stated, “…her happiest days were working as secretary for the first three directors [four with Jed as acting director] of the North Carolina Outward Bound School.” When NCOBS learned of the extraordinary gift Nina left to the School, we were deeply moved. This champion of generosity and goodwill had quietly and humbly bequeathed a gift for unrestricted scholarships that will have immeasurable meaning in the lives of so many students. Our only way to thank Nina is to immerse ourselves in her stories.
Dan Meyer, NCOBS School Director, 1971-76
“Nina had been a secretary for an insurance company in Asheville, when she was asked by NCOBS’s first Director, Pop Hollandsworth, to move to Table Rock (still under construction) and serve as the school secretary. Pop knew Nina as an avid hiker who would join him and others on his annual climb of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains. Pop’s decision proved to have long-lasting and immeasurably positive effects.
Nina was a meticulous secretary, providing continuity to the School’s office that had four directors in as many years. That alone would have been enough of a contribution to the fledgling School, but Nina provided so much more.
She was a true Southern Lady who exuded genuine friendliness and charm. For example, when I brought my new bride, Diane, to Table Rock several months after becoming Director, Nina came to our trailer bearing a wedding gift on behalf of the staff—a handcrafted tea pot and tea cups by a local artisan. We could not have felt more welcomed, and we later learned the perfect gift had been selected by Nina, of course.
Nina had a fierce loyalty to the Mountain, the School, the staff families and the students. She gave fully of herself every single day—always smiling, always friendly, always giving. I simply could not have made it without her assistance, her commitment and her emotional support.
Nina considered everyone at NCOBS her family. Seasonal staff would send her pictures of themselves from their various adventures around the globe which she dutifully acknowledged in longhand, then posted on a large bulletin board near her desk. She had a special place in her big heart for children.
Nina shared the office with Gracie, our bookkeeper, who commuted 15 miles a day—the last six on a steep, single track dirt road. Gracie was never late and never missed a day the six years I was there. She shared the same fierce loyalty to the School, the same dedication and the same giving nature. (Children knew they were always welcome to the candy she kept for them in her bottom drawer.)
I hope these thoughts provide some sense of the contribution that Nina, and her sidekick Gracie, made to the soul of NCOBS. May God bless them for the work and love they provided while they were here.”
Joe Beckham, NCOBS Instructor, 1969, 1972-1974, 1978
“As you know, Nina was very knowledgeable about the School’s history and one of the most helpful and agreeable people I have ever known. In the summer of 1969, I had to complete a final in international law while at NCOBS. The professor gave me leave to take the exam at that time with the understanding that it would be proctored by someone at the School. That job fell to Nina. She set me up in a tent above the trailers and even brought me examination books, scratch paper, pens, etc. From time to time she would check in on me while I completed the three-hour essay examination. She brought drinking water and cookies and told me she had asked the professor if that would be okay. She collected the examination on time and mailed it certified that day when she went down the mountain. Always solicitous of other people’s welfare, she was concerned about me and brought me a ham and cheese sandwich from the kitchen (which I am sure she prepared) when she picked up the examination booklets.”
Jed Williamson, NCOBS Instructor, 1969; NCOBS Acting School Director 1969-1971
“My wife Perry and I were on Table Rock from May of 1969 and then from fall of 1969 to January 1972. NCOBS Director Murray Durst hired us to be instructors on the famous NC course for kids from Middletown, CT’s Upward Bound. We then went to Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS) for the summer. Murray contacted me in August and asked if we would consider coming back, with me as NCOBS Acting Director. We accepted.
Nina was “Secretary” at that time. (I hired Grace Racunas.) We shared the incredible “Executive Suite” (trailer) on Table Rock. She had skills that aren’t available any more. The biggest one was that she could take shorthand! Probably 80% of my communications were dictated to her. Flawless typewritten transcriptions!
In the summer of 1970, we had a full on complement of students. I had captured a black widow spider, put it in a glass jar and punctured the lid with holes so she could survive. I put her in my filing cabinet. At the start of courses, I would pull out the jar and show students a living sample of what to be sure to avoid. Well, in mid-August, I pulled out the jar and there were dozens of babies clambering out of the jar. My memory is that I asked Nina to find a way to exterminate whatever ones remained in the office. She didn’t even blink.
On October 31, our daughter Heather was born—delivered in Asheville—and spent her first year on Table Rock. Nina became her surrogate Grandma. She doted on Heather, and even though we left in 1971, Nina stayed in touch with her—and with us. Regular correspondence, phone calls a few times a year, and for me several visits because of meetings with Outward Bound and the Association for Experiential Education. I got to stay with she and her sister Norma at their Jonas Ridge home.
Nina gave us tape recordings of French carols and folk songs, sent presents every year, and was a loyal Seasons Greetings letter/card writer. We will never forget—and still refer to—her loving spirit, her total dedication to NCOBS, her skills, and her friendship.”
John Binsted, NCOBS Director of Administration, 1972-1975
“In 1972 we, John and Peggy Binsted, together with our daughter Kim, arrived at Table Rock (son Gordon was born in Morganton in 1973). We lived in the middle of three house trailers strung between Nina’s trailer and Charlie Jones’s snake cage.
The following year Rufus and Carol Little left NCOBS and we adopted their dog, Bushwack. Bushwack was a dog born to have a life of adventure—true to the spirit of Outward Bound. The only survivor of a litter of pups abandoned in the forest—she was rescued by a crew on their final expedition who had found her as they bushwacked their way back up through the rhododendrons to base camp.
Now Nina ( a wonderful and gracious lady totally committed to the values of Outward Bound; I also remember her inviting staff for tea and delighting in such gatherings) had a very handsome black Lab called Blue (named after the Blue Peter flag)—whose name Nina famously pronounced, “Ba-Lew!”— and naturally he took a shine to Bushwack. Between them they produced a fine litter of Border Collie’ish looking pups that by the end of the August Standard course were ready to leave home.
It was not hard to find homes for the litter. At the end of the course, Dan Meyer presented the Outward Bound pin to graduating students. To those students who had parental permission he also presented an Outward Bound puppy complete with certificate of authenticity!
Mike Fischesser, NCOBS Instructor, 1972-1977; NCOBS Program Director 1978-1985
“When I first started at NCOBS as an assistant instructor in 1972, I felt so welcomed by Nina Forbes, Grace Racunas and Dan Meyer. They all worked in the front trailer along the road. That office trailer and the Phillips Building were the two hubs of the NCOBS community in the wilderness of Pisgah Forest. I really enjoyed Nina Forbes because of her welcoming, cheerful personality and her black Lab, Blue, or was it “Ba-Lew?” In 1974 I was living on the mountain and Susan Sherrill gave me a black Lab puppy for my birthday, we named him Spartan, and he, like Blue, became a fixture on the mountain. Later, Nina Forbes and I visited occasionally, both of us long gone from Outward Bound, because she and her sister Norma, had a vacation home in Gingercake Acres and I had settled nearby. One of her main contributions to the formative years of NCOBS was the incredible tone of warmth and positiveness she instilled in that wonderful community. “