For the first time in more than 200 years the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has bestowed the distinction “Beloved Man” on an elder of the tribe.
Jerry Wolfe, 88, was named a Beloved Man by unanimous vote April 11 by Tribal Council. This last occurred in 1801.
Council Member Bo Taylor introduced the resolution honoring Wolfe.
“Jerry embodies everything a beloved man should embody,” he said of his decision to seek the distinction for Wolfe. “He’s a veteran, a warrior. Being a veteran carries a lot of weight in our culture. He’s a man who gets out and does – and he does for others. He’s selfless.”
Wolfe was recently honored at the United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week in Washington, D.C. There, Wolfe was recognized for his service during World War II, and for his work as an award-winning cultural preservationist and storyteller.
Taylor said that there have been others – Walker Calhoun, Robert Bushyhead – who were deserving of being designated Beloved Men.
“It was a shame they didn’t get to carry this honor,” Taylor said.
Wolfe, the council member said, serves as a role model for younger Cherokee men.
“He’s always worked,” Taylor said. “From boarding school until his last day he’ll probably be working.”
Wolfe currently works at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Reached there by telephone, Wolfe expressed humbleness about being designated a Beloved Man. He said that his understanding had been that Taylor wanted to do something for some of the tribe’s senior elders.
But work? Wolfe readily would talk about that.
“Daddy was a worker and mother was a worker,” he said. “So we were taught to work.”
By age 14 Wolfe was helping his father cut timber. At 18 he joined the U.S. Navy, which he served in for six years. Wolfe was part of the invasion of Omaha Beach, France, on D-Day. Wolfe also witnessed the declaration of peace signing on the USS Missouri.
“I just happened to be in these places,” he said.
Wolfe went to trade school and learned to build, including skills such as brick and rock laying.
“I did a lot of building in Cherokee,” he said. “Fireplaces, chimneys, rock walls.”
Wolfe also volunteered to build houses for the needy in Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados and South Africa.