Longtime UNC School of the Arts supporter dies at 96

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Helen Copenhaver “Copey” Hanes

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Helen Copenhaver “Copey” Hanes, a longtime supporter of the Winston-Salem arts community who was instrumental in helping establish UNC School of the Arts, died Saturday morning at Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home. She was 96.

“Copey Hanes, no matter who she was with or what she was doing, was always herself: warm, friendly, interested,” former UNCSA chancellor Alex Ewing said in a statement. “She was a great lady and a wonderful chum. The very best of Winston-Salem.”

In 1963, Hanes’ husband, the late Gordon Hanes, a state senator at the time, sponsored legislation to establish what would be known as N.C. School of the Arts (the name was changed to UNC School of the Arts in 2008). The following year, Copey Hanes and other volunteers organized a phone bank that called almost every phone number in Winston-Salem, raising more than $850,000 to ensure that UNCSA would be in Winston-Salem.

She continued to play an active role in UNCSA, including serving on the school’s board of trustees as a UNC Board of Governors appointee from 1989 to 1993. She also was a founding and longtime member of the UNCSA Board of Visitors. Hanes was an emerita member of the Board of Visitors at the time of her death.

Hanes and her husband commissioned a sculpture of dancers for the school that stands in front of Performance Place on campus. The couple also helped rebuild the school’s sculpture studio after it burned and asked that the studio be named for the late Martha Dunigan, a faculty emerita in the School of Design and Production Visual Arts Program, the school said in a news release.

UNCSA said Hanes was a charter lifetime member of the school’s Giannini Society and was a member of the Founders Society, Encore Society and the Chancellor’s Circle at the school. She also served on the Giannini Society gala and the Stevens Center’s gala opening committees.

“She was a remarkable woman with great energy,” said her son, Eldridge “Redge” Hanes. “She was an extraordinarily generous person with her time. I doubt there’s an institution in town that she wasn’t involved in.”

Copey Hanes was born Oct. 2, 1917, in Marion, Va. to the Rev. Eldridge Copenhaver, a Lutheran minister who was interim president of then-Marion College, and Margaret Greever Copenhaver. She attended Marion College for two years and then went to Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio. After graduating there, she studied voice and drama at UNC Chapel Hill.

In 1940, she moved to Winston-Salem to teach voice and drama at Salem Academy and College. She also met her husband, James Gordon Hanes Jr., the president and chief executive officer of Hanes Corp. The couple married on Aug. 30, 1941, and had three children, James “Jim” G. Hanes III, Redge Hanes and Margaret Drewry Nostitz.

Gordon Hanes died in 1995. Redge Hanes said his mother had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A third great-grandchild is expected in February, he said.

Copey Hanes was also involved in a number of other organizations in Winston-Salem, helping to establish Old Salem Museum and Gardens, the Winston-Salem Symphony, and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the school said.

She was also either a trustee or board member of Salem Academy and College, the Moravian Music Foundation and the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh, according to the school.

Hanes also supported other agencies, including Senior Services Inc., Crisis Control Ministry, Habitat for Humanity and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Redge Hanes said his mother was active at Centenary United Methodist Church. She also established the Centenary Scholarship Endowment Fund at Duke Divinity School, scholarships at The Outdoor Academy of The Southern Appalachians and many endowed funds at UNCSA. For her work, she received several honors and was inducted into the N.C. Women’s Hall of Fame.

In 2003, she received an honorary degree from UNCSA. She also received the Giannini Society Award in 2006, along with her husband, who received it posthumously.

“She was one of the best women Virginia ever sent us,” said John Ehle, an author and one of the founders of the UNC School of the Arts.

Redge Hanes had a ready answer when asked what his mother would want people to remember her for, and he used her own words:

“If people want to know, just tell them I lived here, I loved it, and I believed in it and it’s been an important part of my life.”