Jerry Wolfe, Cherokee Beloved Man dies

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Cherokee Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe died Monday at age 93.

A native of Sherrill Cove in Cherokee’s Big Cove community, Wolfe was a well-known, well-traveled advocate for Cherokee culture, history and language.

Present at many historic events, Wolfe also made his share of history over the course of his life.

Wolfe was schooled at the federally-run Cherokee Boarding School. The school was known for strict discipline, which included punishments meted out to students who spoke the Cherokee language. In spite of that, Wolfe remained a fluent Cherokee speaker throughout his life and was a key figure in the movement to resurrect its teaching in later years.

Wolfe joined the U.S. Navy in World War II and was witness to both the Normandy landings and surrender of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri. During his service, he was promoted to petty officer second class.

Upon his return to Cherokee, Wolfe became a stonemason and worked at the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, where he retired after 20 years.

Wolfe didn’t kick up his feet in retirement, but continuously advocated for the Cherokee and served as an ambassador for his community.

He was an omnipresent figure in Cherokee and delivered blessings at events ranging from North Carolina state legislative sessions to the 75th Anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2009.

Due to his advocacy efforts, Wolfe was bestowed an array of honors, including an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Western Carolina University, the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award from the N.C. Folklore Society and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, presented to individuals with a record of extraordinary service to North Carolina.

His most notable honor came in 2013, when he was named a Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. By tradition, the title has been reserved for warriors too advanced in age for battle but valued for their service, character and integrity. 

“It is with profound sadness that our tribe acknowledges the passing of Mr. Jerry Wolfe,” said Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed. “Mr. Wolfe was named a Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after living a long life of service. Mr. Wolfe and his family gave their home so the United States could construct the Blue Ridge Parkway, he served in the United States Navy during World War II, he worked in our community as a stone mason, he served as the Master of Ceremonies for our annual stickball games during the Cherokee Indian Fair where he told stories of our cultural traditions while providing commentary on the action, he was a storyteller and later into his 80s he volunteered to rebuild homes in Haiti. Beyond all his public service he and his late wife, Juanita, raised a family and built a home and served faithfully in the church.

“For me, he was a friend and fellow veteran who was always quick with a smile and laugh, generous with his knowledge of our people and encouraging to me. Our people have lost a connection to our traditions and the country has lost another of the greatest generation, but I have lost a friend.”


• A memorial service for EBCI Beloved Man Jerry Wolfe will be held Saturday, March 17 at 1 p.m. at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center. 

• The Museum of the Cherokee Indian will host a storytelling event on Tuesday, March 20 at 5 p.m. on World Storytelling Day dedicated to Wolfe

• EBCI offices are closed Friday, March 16 in honor of Wolfe.

Smoky Mountain Times

Mailing Address:
PO Box 730
1 River Street
Bryson City, NC 28713 
Phone: 828-488-2189
Fax: 828-488-0315