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A Denney for Your Thoughts – She’s back home, willing to serve

By Connie Denney

A Unicoi County High School graduate, Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz is back on campus as Culinary Arts instructor.  But that’s not all she’s got cooking.

With travels and experiences galore, the Unicoi County native wants to give back to the community she has always considered “one of the most beautiful places.”  Having been appointed in January to fill the unexpired term of the late Sue Jean Wilson on the Erwin Board of Aldermen, she has a means of doing just that!

Filling in the details a bit, Rachelle recalls taking dancing lessons from Range School of Dance for over 10 years and playing softball and basketball, on the Y, Little League and high school teams, along with a couple of years of golf in high school.  A full softball scholarship at Tennessee Wesleyan College (now University) led to a degree in business administration.

Her formal education also includes Culinary School at Sullivan University, Louisville, Kentucky, where she earned associate degrees in baking and pastry and professional catering. “Cooking, specifically baking and pastry, has always been what I wanted to do,” Rachelle explains. “I used to sit on my Mamaw’s kitchen counter and pat out fried pies, bake pies and help her make biscuits for my Papaw.”

Her parents, Ricky and Robin Hyder, were “incredibly supportive” as they allowed her to travel during her college years, when she went to Italy for a month’s international business internship.  During culinary school she had the opportunity to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to bake for the USA House and High Performance Center.

After school it was on to Vail, Colorado, and some cool assignments.  She became the pastry chef at The Arrabelle at Vail Square, with more travel taking her to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  While working for Four Seasons Vail, she went to Costa Rica for a month.

“More importantly,” she says, “while working at the Four Seasons, I fell in love with my husband, Jay Shurtz.”  They were married here in her parents’ backyard, then went back to Vail. The teaching opportunity here came upon the previous teacher’s retirement.  Rachelle had visited the class and “loved helping the students.”

“It has definitely been an adventure getting back to Erwin!”  Rachelle explains that while they were moving she found out she was pregnant with Willa Rose Grace.  While they love hiking, biking, fishing and being outdoors, there’s not been a lot of time for that since they’ve been back.

She has become involved with RISE (Rejuvenate, Invest, Support and Energize), a local group that shares her passion for getting more involved in the community. The upcoming Outdoor Festival, an example of events they support, “brings attention to the beautiful area that we live in. We have hike in, hike out availability to the Appalachian Trail, mountain biking, rafting and fishing.  We need to promote those things!”

An added thought about Unicoi County:  “I have lived and visited many places, but have never experienced a community of people that support each other the way ours does….”

From her Grandmother’s kitchen counter to teaching others, from a love of community to having a vote on the town’s governing board, there’s reason to anticipate good things to come.  It will be interesting to see what Rachelle brings to the table!