Cherokee Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe passes on

The Cherokee people, the State of North Carolina, the nation and, indeed, the world is mourning today as Cherokee Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe passes on.

Folkmoot lost a cherished friend, mentor, adviser in his death and the Tsalagi people lost a hero, historian, story-teller, grandfather figure to all and one of its national treasures – the first formally named Beloved Man since the 1800s.

Wolfe’s passing was announced last night in a Facebook post by the Cherokee One Feather. UPDATE: His obituary and information on services have been published in the One Feather.

Cherokee leader and Folkmoot friend, Lisa Spring Wilnoty eulogized Wolfe in a Facebook post of her own last night.

Folkmoot was honored, just last summer, to participate in a surprise ceremony for Wolfe during which he was awarded North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Jerry Wolfe honored in the summer of 2017 with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. (Photos by Holly Kays of the Smoky Mountain News).

An extraordinary person by any measure, Wolfe’s decades of self-sacrifice and hard work on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, will place him in the pantheon of greatest Cherokee legends and American heroes. 

Although there are and have been Beloved Women in Tsalagi tradition, Wolfe was the ribe’s first Beloved Man in nearly 200 years.

Raised in Cherokee, Wolfe grew up learning traditional Cherokee customs, attended a Cherokee boarding school and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy during WWII. Six years later, he returned to Cherokee, married, and began learning building trades including stone masonry, which he taught for twenty years with the federal Job Corps Program.

Upon retirement, he traveled with mission teams to third world countries and participated in building projects.  

Wolfe, who was fluent in the Cherokee language, spent much of his time in recent years telling tales at the Cherokee Museum, where both traditional Cherokee stories and personal stories serve as a means by which to preserve and share Cherokee culture.

“We’re honored and thrilled that this experience is part of the 2017 Folkmoot Festival,” said Angie Schwab, Folkmoot’s Executive Director at the summer 2017 ceremony honoring Wolfe. “Our mission as an organization is aligned with that of the Cherokee which is the promotion of community across cultures.”

Since its creation in 1963, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine has been presented by N.C.’s Governor to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina and their communities. Past recipients are Andy Griffith, Billy Graham, Maya Angelou, Earl Scruggs, Kenny Rogers, Oprah Winfrey, Balsam Range banjo maestro Dr. Marc Pruett and, recently, Brenda O’Keefe of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley.

Wolfe was recognized by many organizations and received many honors over the years for his cultural knowledge. In 2003, he received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award and in 2010, he received the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society. He has been a Beloved Man since 2015 – but in reality, probably for much, much longer.