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Wednesday, 25 October 2017 15:04

Mountain Heritage Day award winners

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A popular component of Western Carolina University’s annual Mountain Heritage Day are the judged and juried contests, and other competitions. At the 43rd annual event held Saturday, Sept. 30, nearly 300 people entered various events with dozens taking home ribbons or trophies. Results are listed below.

The awards are given to an individual and organization for outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of southern Appalachia or outstanding contributions to research and interpretation of regional issues. Honorees are chosen by a special committee, with Helen Cable Vance and the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County receiving recognition this year.

Pat Kaemmerling, chair of WCU’s Board of Trustees, presented the awards. She told the crowd Vance was born in 1926 in the now-defunct town of Proctor in Swain County and moved at 17 with her family from the area now known as the North Shore, for the building of Fontana dam and lake.

“Early on, Helen realized that the promises of the federal government to allow access to the 26 cemeteries that were located in the area prior to the flooding were not materializing,” Kaemmerling said. “She made it her life’s work to correct the breach of promise and establish ways to honor the previous residents who resided in villages that were flooded with the creation of the Fontana Dam. Helen established the North Shore Cemetery and Historical Association of Swain County and under her leadership and influence has ensured that all the cemeteries were found, locations marked and preserved forever. She has been a driving pioneer in this effort and was never afraid to speak up for her and other families’ heritage in the area.”

Kaemmerling said the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County is dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture, folkways and history of the southern Appalachians, and as with any great community organization, it has partnered with multiple agencies to accomplish its goals. “As one of the founders of the association, Shirley Ridge, said, ‘Heritage is the living part of us, more than just reading or learning, it is a part of who we are,’” Kaemmerling said.

The award is presented to an individual on the festival committee for outstanding contributions and exceptional service. It was given to Mark Haskett, event co-chair and director of photography and video services in the WCU Office of Communications and Public Relations.

Jim Rowell, retired director of public relations at WCU and former chair of the festival committee, said of Haskett: “Besides being a fixture on the festival grounds every year, he is a part of all aspects of Mountain Heritage Day, from planning and promoting to putting it all together. Not only does he apply his considerable talents throughout the day, he is incredibly organized and efficient in the weeks leading up to today, and positive and respectful of everyone involved, which says something, because we have more than 150 volunteers, 140 vendors, 70 faculty and staff, not to mention the thousands of guests, coming together.”

The 2017 festival was dedicated to the memory and musical legacy of Steve Sutton, a longtime event performer and supporter who passed away unexpectedly in May at the age of 61. “Steve gave his best, whether on guitar or banjo, whether standing on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry or sitting on a folding chair at a fundraiser for a volunteer fire department,” said Pam Meister, director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center. She presented a special plaque in noting the dedication to Sutton’s mother, Bonnie. “He was always humble and gracious, always witty and fun. We remember his devotion to his alma mater, Western Carolina University, and to Mountain Heritage Day, an event he loved and supported. We hold those memories dear, and wish we could again hold the man,” Meister said.

Jackson County 4-H, in association with Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, held a series of regional youth talents shows and held the championship at Mountain Heritage Day. First place went to Lillian Chase, 13, of Weaverville, second place to Jacey Begnaud, 11, of Franklin, and third place to Sayumi DeSilva, 12, of Sylva.

The 44th annual Mountain Heritage Day is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. To learn more about WCU’s premier festival, visit or call 828.227.3039.

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