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Cherokee man receives N.C.’s highest honor

A life of service to country, culture and global community has earned Jerry Wolfe the state of North Carolina’s highest award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Wolfe received the award in a surprise ceremony accompanying the July 25 Folkmoot USA performance at Cherokee Central High School.

Wolfe’s community in Cherokee has already recognized him for the life he’s lived and the work he’s done to keep Cherokee culture alive, in 2013 naming him Beloved Man — the first time anyone had worn the title since the 1800s. But Wolfe sees the title as a responsibility more than an accolade to put up on a shelf.

“A Beloved Man is a man who looks after the community — wherever he’s needed, he should be there,” Wolfe said in a 2015 interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

Throughout his life, Wolfe has been a man who is committed to being where he’s needed. The U.S. entered World War II in 1941, and when Wolfe turned 18 two years later he lost no time in joining the Navy, where he served for six years — including aboard one of the ships that sailed for Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, in the now-famous D-Day Normandy invasion.

Wolfe returned to Cherokee in 1949, where he married his wife Juanita and started a family that would eventually include seven children. He learned stone-masonry to support them and taught the trade with the federal Job Corps Program for 20 years.

Now retired and in his 90s, Wolfe makes it his mission to pass along the Cherokee language and culture that formed his early years. A fluent Cherokee speaker, his is a storyteller at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and present at many of the tribe’s cultural events. He’s also a Christian and has traveled the world to participate in building projects with missions teams to developing countries.

Wolfe has received multiple honors and recognitions over the years for his cultural contributions, winning the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 2003 and the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award from the N.C. Folklore Society in 2010.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine was created in 1963 to honor people with a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina and their communities. Past recipients include Andy Griffith, Billy Graham, Maya Angelou, Earl Scruggs, Kenny Rogers, Oprah Winfrey and many more. The award is given by the governor of North Carolina.

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