By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
A sign was unveiled on the warm summer afternoon of Tuesday, July 27 designating a stretch of US 441 from Exit 74 to the intersection of N.C. 19 as the Beloved Man Dr. Jerry Wolfe Highway. The N.C. Board of Transportation approved the designation in December 2020 in a resolution that states, “Dr. Wolfe served as a true testament of a Cherokee leader and should be recognized”. The signage designating the highway is written in both Cherokee and English languages.
“When I think about where we are today as a people, it is imperative that we get back to the example that Jerry set for us,” Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said during Tuesday’s event.
He noted that Dr. Wolfe was the true embodiment of the seven Cherokee core values. “Every story that was shared here today about Jerry embodies every one of those characteristics. He lived it. He shared it. He shared it in his stories. He spoke it. He was an example to all of us.”
Chief Sneed added, “Everyone who travels this road will see his name, and they’ll know that he was a man of honor. He was a man of integrity. He was a man of character, and he was loved by all. He truly was a beloved man.”
Dr. Wolfe passed away March 12, 2018 at the age of 93. In 2013, Dr. Wolfe received the designation of Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Prior to him, the last recorded instance of a Beloved Man was Little Turkey who died in 1801.
Brandon Stephens, grandson of Dr. Jerry Wolfe, told the crowd, “There’s so much that somebody could say about the accomplishments and the love that’s in Jerry Wolfe. But, once again, that would take a long, long time.”
He spoke of Dr. Wolfe’s many skills including as a stone mason, Indian Ballstick maker, storyteller, and having a knowledge of Cherokee natural medicine. “Jerry Wolfe loved and admired everyone in the community who promoted the heritage. He said, ‘I just love to hear anyone speaking the language any way they can. Never put anyone down for speaking Cherokee. They’ll eventually learn it.’”
Tribal Council Vice Chairman David Wolfe has known Dr. Wolfe since childhood and noted on Tuesday, “He left us a great example of what leadership should be – sharing and caring.”
During the Tribal Council session on April 11, 2013 when Dr. Wolfe was named a Beloved Man, Myrtle Driver, EBCI Beloved Woman and fluent speaker, spoke of his importance to the language and culture of the Tribe. “Oftentimes, we may come across a word that we don’t remember or we need to know something about our history or our culture, and we can always go to Jerry, and he is always more than willing to help us. And, I really do appreciate all that Jerry Wolfe has given us.”
Over the years, Dr. Wolfe received many prestigious awards and served on many boards including receiving the Patriot Award from the Civilian Marksmanship Program in 2013 and being inducted into The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, one of the highest awards given in the State of North Carolina, in 2017. He received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 2003 for his work in preserving stickball. Dr. Wolfe served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was part of the famous Normandy Invasion on Dec. 6, 1944.
Western Carolina University honored him in May 2017 with an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree.
Dr. Wolfe was called on many times to open meetings with a prayer or give words of encouragement at events. At the historic Tri-Council meeting in August 2015 at Red Clay State Park in Red Clay, Tenn., he gave an impassioned talk about the importance of the Cherokee language. “Our true identity is our language. We must save our language and teach the youth coming along. When a child is learning to speak, never make fun of them.”