Photo was taken by Holly Kays of the Smoky Mountain News.
Cherokee native, Jerry Wolfe’s decades of self-sacrifice and hard work on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has earned him the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Held in conjunction with a Folkmoot performance at Cherokee Central High School on July 25, the ceremony honoring Wolfe made note of his status as a Beloved Man – a title traditionally given to warriors who were too old to go to war but were still valued for their service to the tribe.
Although there are and have been Beloved Women, Wolfe is the Tribe’s first Beloved Man since the 1800s. 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 is fluent in the Cherokee language, currently spends his time 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. “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, and, recently, Brenda O’Keefe of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley.
Wolfe has been 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.