Most folks know Angela Shur as a successful businesswoman in downtown Mount Airy who also helps operate a family farm and orchard, while still finding time to aid numerous charitable causes.
But there’s more to the story of the local resident with a thick New York accent — a hold-over from her former life — who resists being stuck with a label often attached to transplanted Northerners.
“I mean, people don’t know who I am — they just think I’m this damn Yankee from up north,” Shur said recently from her Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies operation on North Main Street. “I’m a Yankee, but I ain’t no damn Yankee.”
Something one learns pretty quickly after meeting “Miss Angel” is that there are two predominant influences in her life which have served to shape virtually everything she does: family and food — perhaps more accurately, a combination of the two.
That first became evident during her childhood on Long Island, New York, where Shur spent about the first 45 of her 61 years — and love often proved to be a worthy substitute for lack of money.
“We were raised in poverty,” Shur said of a family that also included three brothers.
“I mean, my dad once sold blood for us,” she explained, “just to get Christmas gifts.”
Family patriarch James Nolfo had enjoyed a successful career in a management position with Fairchild Aircraft, but battled chronic heart disease for 10 years, hampering his ability to work. Shur’s mother, meanwhile, was a stay-at-home mom raising the four children.
Meals provided bond
Despite their economic hardships, life for the Nolfos was rich in other ways, reminiscent of the quintessential Italian families portrayed through movies and television shows.
“Family was so important,” Shur said, recalling that each Sunday, anywhere from 20 to 30 people, including uncles, aunts and their children, would gather for a feast.
“Unless we were dying, we had to have our big family dinner every Sunday right after church services.”
Everything — pasta, sauces, desserts, whatever — was prepared on the spot.
“And no one spoke English,” Shur added. “It was all Sicilian at the table.”
Apart from those large get-togethers, Shur’s immediate family members embodied the same sense of unity.
Of course, the entire crew gathered around the table each night for dinner, and Mr. Nolfo — after a long shift at work — still had plenty of time to hear about everyone’s day.
“He instilled the importance of family in me,” Shur observed regarding their close-knit bond. “I was always Daddy’s little girl.”
Her mom was always baking and cooking, a precursor to how Shur would spend much of her time after moving to Surry County.
“The kitchen smelled like Christmas every day,” Shur said. Other members of her family also ran a bake shop in Brooklyn which she visited frequently.
Father instilled kindness
The family would suffer a blow during the 1980s, however, when Shur’s father succumbed to his chronic heart disease — an event that made an indelible impression on a daughter then only in her mid-20s.
Mr. Nolfo was in a coma, on a ventilator for a week and at one point was clinically dead for about 15 minutes before being revived. Shur is thankful for having a chance to communicate with her father at the end.
“I was there when he died,” she said of an experience that supplied “my test of faith” as a religious person.
“He always called me by my nickname, Angel,” she said. “I was his angel at his side on his deathbed.”
Shur admits being angered by her father’s death, but it also allowed her to learn a major lesson about the ability for someone to live on in a sense, even after he or she is gone.
Miss Angel sought to have her father’s strength, and concern for others, survive through her, a generational continuation Shur also has sought to instill in her own three children.
“We never had much, but he would donate his last penny when he had to feed someone,” she recalled. “My father was probably the most-kindest man you ever met in your life.”
Earlier farming roots
After Angela’s marriage to Randy Shur, the couple was involved in an agricultural enterprise long before their farm and orchard operation would become reality in Surry.
“We had a 16-acre farm in New York,” Shur said, which specialized in nursery stock of exotic trees and was located near the Atlantic Ocean. Randy’s work also included a large irrigation operation before he was sidelined by a broken spine in a farm-related accident.
“So we decided we would move,” his wife said of their relocation to the Mount Airy area in 2005.
North Carolina was a natural choice, since Angela had relatives in Raleigh. Yet there was still a question of exactly where the family would settle in the sprawling and diverse Tar Heel State.
Angela had one requirement for the decision: “I wanted to go within one hour of culture,” translated as somewhere in the vicinity of metropolitan areas including Charlotte, Raleigh or Winston-Salem.
“I didn’t want to be in the sticks.”
Randy then embarked on a search via computer which crisscrossed the state, checking on crime and other statistics focusing on 30 to 40 different localities. That process eventually narrowed the field to five finalists, including Surry County.
There the family would buy a 62-acre horse farm owned by Phil Marsh, now the president of the Downtown Business Association.
“I said, “Wow, there’s just something about this land,”’ Angela thought at the time, along with an inner realization that “this is going to be home.”
The site west of town near Interstate 77 reminded her of the property they had in New York, only mountains were the prominent feature rather than a large body of water.
Despite his spinal injury, it wasn’t long before Randy Shur — who holds degrees in horticulture and agriculture from The State University of New York — had planted a couple of fruit trees. This eventually became a large pick-your-own orchard bearing such products as peaches, apples and blackberries, with vegetables also grown on the farm.
“I always thought it was my destiny,” Angela said of occupying the former horse farm and launching a major agricultural enterprise.
She couldn’t help there at first due to working as a substitute teacher in Surry County Schools for three years, which included making treats for students.
That later evolved into marketing her fruit delicacies at a harvest festival of Shelton Vineyards and at a small location at the Dairy Queen business center near I-77.
As the orchard blossomed, Angela decided to expand its reach by opening the Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies bakery in downtown Mount Airy in 2013, once again employing the culinary skills learned from her mother and aunts. “When those apples became plentiful, Miss Angel’s was born.”
Supportive of community
The growing success of Shur’s business endeavors has been matched by her financial support of many charitable causes locally.
This has included preparing and donating food for soup kitchens, homeless and children’s shelters and persons actually living on the streets.
Earlier this year, Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies was one of 10 winners in a nationwide promotion sponsored by Dawn Foods, and Shur contributed the $5,000 cash prize she received as a result to Trinity Episcopal Church.
The local church provides access to groceries for those in need though its food pantry, medical equipment and comfort for the sick, among other services.
More recently, Shur mounted a six-month effort to feed front-line health-care providers serving coronavirus patients which culminated with a feast for them at her farm on Labor Day.
That effort was triggered by the fact Shur’s daughter, Jamie Buhagiar 34, is a nurse at Forsyth Medical Center, who relayed to her mom the strain medical personnel were undergoing as COVID-19 cases began infiltrating area hospitals.
“She said, ‘we don’t even have time to eat,’” Shur’s daughter reported shortly after encountering her first coronavirus patient.
Shur’s other children are Melanie, 23, pursuing a career in the psychology field, and Brandon, 19, who has received a $66,000 scholarship to study horticulture at N.C. State University.
When asked to name which community activity is nearest and dearest to her heart, Miss Angel mentioned that at present, it’s a cause once again relating to a situation faced by a family member.
“Probably Alzheimer’s, because that’s what I’m living with.”
Shur’s mother Angie, 88, who “has always been my angel,” she said, was diagnosed with the disease in 2017, which led to her moving onto the farm to be properly cared for and spend her last days in a tranquil setting.
It also has prompted Shur to aid others facing the same ordeal by launching the Miss Angel Charitable Trust in Mrs. Nolfo’s honor.
When established in 2019, Shur said it would be a private, non-profit foundation to provide annual enjoyable activities for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients, caregivers, family members, memory-care-associated residential nursing facilities and professionals in the Surry County area.
The ongoing aid rendered to her fellow man reflects a desire by Miss Angel to embrace her home in Surry County, while also not forsaking her roots.
“I’m proud of New York — but right now I want to be part of them,” she said of local residents. “I’m helping them — a damn Yankee wouldn’t do that.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.