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Jon Laughter surveys properties, his family legacy

By Pete Zamplas –

Jon H. Laughter surveys more than properties, as a diligent tracker of his 16-generation family lineage and civic contributor to local history.

Laughter is best known to many for serving on Hendersonville City Council, from 1993-97. Just before that, he served 12 years on the city school board until city and county systems merged in 1993.

He is the face of the civil engineering and land surveying firm of Laughter, Austin & Associates. It has been at 131 4th Ave E Hendersonville since 1974. Nearby, at Fourth and Main, is the former bank building with large outdoor clock. It houses the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society, with the popular Mineral & Lapidary Museum downstairs. “That’s a classic design,” Laughter said. “I appreciate our town,” with such stylings.

Most of his projects are subdivisions in Henderson County. His landmark one was in upscale Kenmure, the gated development in Flat Rock. He “started it from scratch” in 1979, designing 20 miles of road and “all (700 or so) lots, condominiums, water lines and tanks.” He said there is room for more Kenmure lots, conceivably and once the economy eventually improves. His newer projects include the nearby Berwick Downs.

Laughter estimates he has handled 16,000 parcels in this county. He updates maps for Kenmure and for the Village of Flat Rock, which incorporated in 1995.

Laughter has worked 45 years in his field, after serving in Vietnam in 1967. He earned the bronze star for valor. In the Air Force, he was at a multi-branch base at Cam Rahn Bay, at an inlet of the South China sea on the central coast of what was then South Vietnam. This was a major cargo-airlift facility, and tactical fighter base.

Laughter helped design and build the taxi runway, airport parking and ammunition storage. He was in combat construction in RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers), which emerged a year earlier as the equivalent to Navy Seabees. He served five years in the Air Force.

That stint was deferred until after he earned his civil engineering degree, from N.C. State in 1962. His 1957 Hendersonville High classmate, Tom Orr, went to rival UNC-Chapel Hill. “We’ve been friends for a long time,” Laughter said. “Tom was such an excellent student.” Laughter was a football lineman on the HHS squad that reached the 1956 state title game.

His younger brother Sam was a county building inspector. Sam’s daughter, Jaime Laughter, is the Mills River town manager. As such, she is among 50 women nationwide in a new book “Democracy at the Doorstep, Too” about women in local government management.

Jon’s wife Linda (Connell) Laughter was part of East Henderson’s inaugural class, of 1961. Their four daughters are all HHS alumni, and three from N.C. State and the other from UNC-Charlotte. All live in this state. There are nine grandchildren, making for busy and fun holiday visits.

They can survey the family tree, which Laughter posts in various forms at work. He traces his roots 16 generations back, to hatter Henry Laughter near Philadelphia, Pa. Two of Henry’s sons fought in the Revolutionary War, and were rewarded with land near here in what is now Polk County. The first Laughter born here was Wyley, in 1775. He lived 71 years.

Jon’s grandfather Hannon Laughter farmed. His son, Jon’s father Harvey, was a builder. So was Frank Laughter. He and Harvey were “double first cousins,” related on both sides of the family as “the Laughter boys raised in Saluda married Moffitt sisters from Etowah,” Jon explained.

Frank was father of Joseph, Jon’s second cousin who has run Joseph Laughter Clothier. Joseph’s brother Jimmy Laughter retired two years ago after coaching football for 51 years including as assistant for his son B.J. Laughter, the head coach.

For more about Laughter, Austin & Associates, call 692-9089.

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