Freda Nicholson knows a lot about firsts. She was the first president and CEO of Discovery Place, one of Charlotte’s top museums. As a result, she was also one of the first women to helm a major metropolitan museum in the U.S.


In addition, Freda was the first woman to win the Excellence in Management Award presented by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte Rotary Club of Charlotte and The Business Journal of Charlotte in 1996.


And, she and her husband, retired surgeon Dr. Henry H. “Nick” Nicholson, Jr., were one of the first couples to buy a lot and build a house at Hound Ears Club. Naturally, Freda served as the first female president of the Club’s Board in 2005.


The Nicholsons are one of the few couples who have been members of Hound Ears Club over the entire 50 years of the Club’s history.


In 1964, Hound Ears Club was known for skiing as much as golf, boasting a small, but popular ski run behind what is now the Clubhouse. Marcus Hickman, attorney for Hound Ears co-founder Grover Robbins, invited the Nicholsons for a visit after Nick performed surgery on him. While Nick enjoyed the ski slope, Freda had other concerns as she was pregnant with their fourth son.


Freda said the beauty of the area, coupled with its accessibility to Charlotte, made Hound Ears a perfect mountain retreat for a growing family.


“We have thoroughly enjoyed our time at Hound Ears Club,” she said.


But despite her initial enchantment with the mountains, Freda expressed some apprehension when Nick discussed buying a lot 50 years ago. “I thought he’d lost his mind when we bought the lot,” she joked. “Here we were expecting our fourth child, and we didn’t have a lot of money at that point.”


However, Freda said she knew their little slice of mountain paradise would soon be a valuable fixture in their family life. By 1965, the couple had completed an A-frame house and would expand it over the years to encompass their large family. They still own that house today and reside there throughout most summers.


Even as their Hound Ears house took shape and grew, Freda began to build an equally strong edifice in Charlotte as one of the co-founders of Discovery Place.


Freda had been teaching nursing at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte when she was asked to help develop an exhibit for the nearby Charlotte Nature Museum in 1978. Discovering a knack for museum management, Freda was named the first president and CEO of Discovery Place, a spinoff of the Nature Museum. In 1981, Discovery Place opened its doors with 72,000 square feet of space and has since grown to a 160,000-square-foot facility in uptown Charlotte. During her tenure, Freda was responsible for a $5-to-$6-million-per-year operation.


“If we educate adults, they will be more likely to vote as responsible science-literate people for issues that are important to our environment and health as a nation,” Freda said of the museum’s purpose in a 1996 speech. “If we educate the young in science, we will all benefit.”


During the early 1980s, women in museum leadership positions were rare. “It was me and one other woman in Ohio,” Nicholson said in a 2005 Charlotte Observer interview. “We were the only ones. It was a different time and place.”


Recognizing her vast contributions, the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau presented a lifetime achievement award to Freda in 1998 “for her contribution to the area's travel and tourism industry.” During that time, Nick also served with the N.C. Air National Guard, retiring as a colonel.


Despite juggling successful careers as museum president and noted surgeon (not to mention raising six children), the Nicholsons have always found time to visit Hound Ears Club and have been able to expand their residency following their retirements – Nick in 1999 and Freda in 2001.


Freda recalls many fond memories of Club life. In the early years, the Club founders worked to maintain an image of a Bavarian ski lodge -- both in the design of the Clubhouse and in the first homes. “There was special entertainment in the Clubhouse every weekend,” she said, and it was not uncommon to see ski instructors roaming the Clubhouse singing and yodeling.


Although Freda and Nick have always been avid golfers, Freda said she especially enjoyed the ski slope, which closed in the 1980s“It was a great place to teach six children how to ski,” she said, adding that the Club served as a family-friendly way to get their children out of the city for a weekend or holiday.


After the Club shifted from developer-owned to a member-owned equity model, Freda was once again sought for her leadership skills, becoming the Club’s first female Board president in 2005.


“I certainly learned a lot more about the Club’s activities,” she said of her tenure, adding that “having a financially stable year was a wonderful accomplishment” for which she was thankful.


Although she and Nick have long enjoyed the world-class golf, dining and pool at Hound Ears, Freda said the people have made their Club experience a cut above the rest.


“The employees have always been great -- just above and beyond,” she said, adding that the longevity of so many employees has created a feeling of close-knit community at Hound Ears. “They have made sure you were taken care of … I always felt very safe with six children. I knew if I needed them they would be there,” she added.


“We’ve always thought Hound Ears was special,” she said.


Hound Ears is celebrating its Golden Anniversary in 2014 with a variety of events that express the Club’s unique position as one of the region’s most celebrated “escapes” from the hectic pace of modern life. Envisioned in 1964 as a refuge for those seeking a gentle, yet playful, lifestyle, Hound Ears Club will look back at its heritage even as it looks forward to a healthy future as the premier mountain experience.


Today, the member-owned Club remains a family-oriented mountain community. Hound Ears is known for its casual elegance and authentic charm and offers dining, golf, tennis, swimming, hiking, and a fitness center, as well as a full calendar of annual social events. With approximately 300 members, Hound Ears Club cultivates a small-town feeling, an echo of a simpler time, while still embracing the latest in amenities and technology.


Since its inception, Hound Ears Club has contributed to the local community in many ways. For example, the Club holds an annual golf tournament benefitting the local hospital system. The tournament has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help purchase needed equipment for the hospital. “The tremendous support of Hound Ears Club greatly increased our ability to provide specific services such as cardiac care and cancer care for the people of our region,” said Appalachian Regional Healthcare System president Richard Sparks in a recent interview.


To celebrate the milestone, Hound Ears Club will partner with the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum to present a communitywide historical exhibit June 20-September 7. The Club will also invite residents to experience a special Gala event as well as a 50th Anniversary Golf Tournament, followed by a Tour of Claus Moberg Homes.


For more information, visit the Hound Ears Club website at