by Bruce Boyer
There have been many adaptations of “You can’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been,” and it certainly applies to Barbara Bull’s passion for history. A tour of her H&R Block office is proof positive. Office walls are lined with historic paintings and art prints by Mildred Ballard, Henry Shore, Richard Hedgecock and others, providing a glimpse of Kernersville generations ago. Tucked away in a safe place are three ledger books of Bodenhamer Grocery and Ice Cream, showing purchases of many legendary Kernersville people dating back to 1906.
History has been paramount to her personal life, too. All the furnishings in her home are antiques, as honoring heritage is very important to her. She and her husband, Ned, live on the same Stigall Road tobacco farm where she was born. History is “in her genes,” passed down to her from her grandmother, aunt, and dad. Her grandson has a degree in History and Religious Studies, and is seeking a master’s degree in anthropology. The family restored their grandmother’s house in Winston-Salem as well as their current H&R Block office building on North Main Street, originally constructed in 1934.
In her youth, Barbara was taught to “preserve what you have and then to make it new.” She has done just that with one of Kernersville’s key landmarks – the 1873 Railroad Depot in downtown Kernersville. Originally a freight depot, Barbara rallied the community to move it off the railroad right-of-way before it could be demolished by Norfolk & Southern Railroad. Under Barbara’s leadership, the Depot has been converted into an authentic passenger depot with a ticket window and waiting area. Barbara led the effort to raise funds for the restoration project and she has joined the newly formed Kernersville Museum Board, which partners with the Depot to form a coordinated oversight group to allow people to appreciate the history of the area.
Barbara Bull owns Kernersville’s H&R Block franchise, which has both a North Main Street and Union Cross Road location. Her career with H&R Block began in Greensboro in 1967 and she obtained the rights to the first Kernersville location the following year. Forty-eight years later she is still growing strong, with no plans for retirement or slowing down.
Barbara is a great example of what it means to give back to your community. She is, and has been involved in many organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce where she received their lifetime achievement award, the Community Distinguished Service Award, in 2004. She was one of the organizing members of the American Business Woman’s Association, joined the Kiwanis Club of Kernersville in 1986, served on the Körner’s Folly board, was active in the Kernersville Women’s Club, and has always been active in her church, Union Grove Baptist Church. Education is important to Barbara as well. Not only has she taught tax preparation classes, but she serves on the Forsyth Tech Advisory Board for Entrepreneurship.
She has been influenced by many people who served as mentors and motivational encouragement for her. Barbara credited a number of Kernersville business people as being influential to her including John Lain, Hugh Ingram, Moir Whicker, Solly Coltrane, and Hafford Porter. She also commented that Charlie Snow’s advice to keep investing in equipment each year helped her to stay current with technology at her business.
Over the years Barbara Bull has shown a true entrepreneurial spirit. She chuckles when she remembers that her first paying job involved picking worms off tobacco plants for 25 cents per quart. She would later work in a different role in the tobacco industry as the Executive Secretary for Export Sales at R. J. Reynolds, before starting her career at H&R Block.
When we asked her what makes Kernersville a special place, her immediate answer was the great people in the community and a town government that cares about its citizens. She is particularly pleased with the quality of schools in Kernersville. She feels Kernersville has a great hometown atmosphere, with plenty of things to do, especially in the sports area. Barbara also listed Kernersville’s location as special; geographically convenient to the larger cities in the Triad, but also to the beach and the mountains.
She considers her two biggest contributions to the community to be the saving and restoration of the Depot, and helping people reduce their tax bill through H&R Block. For Barbara Bull, Kernersville is home. She has no plans to live anywhere else, and the rest is history.