Endowment established for Mountain Heritage Day

A former Western Carolina University administrator who served as chairman of Mountain Heritage Day for 18 years and his wife have established a $10,000 endowed fund that will help the annual event continue to thrive as one of the premier folk festivals in the Southeast.

Investment earnings from the fund created by W. Douglas and Angela Davis of Cullowhee will be used to support a wide range of activities at the festival, WCU’s annual celebration of traditional mountain culture.

“Doug” Davis was a member of WCU’s professional development staff from 1966 until his retirement in 1992 as assistant vice chancellor for student development. Angela Davis taught at WCU for eight years before entering a career in real estate.

In 1974, Doug Davis served on the committee that planned the inauguration of H.F. Robinson as chancellor at WCU. The committee planned the inauguration as, in part, a “Founder’s Day” celebration. That event evolved into Mountain Heritage Day, and in 1976 Davis was chosen to lead the new Mountain Heritage Day committee.

Davis affixed Mountain Heritage Day to the last Saturday in September and led the festival to its position as a major folk festival that now draws 25,000 to 30,000 visitors to WCU’s campus each year.

After his 1992 retirement from the university staff, Davis continued to head Mountain Heritage Day for two more years. At the 1994 festival, Davis’ contributions to Mountain Heritage Day were recognized as he received WCU’s Mountain Heritage Award, an honor given annually to individuals or organizations in recognition of outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia.

Mountain Heritage Day is supported by the state of North Carolina through the work of WCU’s faculty and staff, but the only regular funding received by the festival comes through vendor booth rental fees and from a percentage of receipts from vendors’ sales at the festival’s arts, crafts and food midway. There are no parking fees at Mountain Heritage Day, and admission to the festival is free.

Vendor sales at Mountain Heritage Day are heavily dependent upon festival attendance, and attendance is dependent on the weather, so it follows that festival revenues can fluctuate each year according to the weather in Cullowhee on the last Saturday in September.

“Throughout its history, Mountain Heritage Day has been blessed with great weather in most years, but being at the mercy of Mother Nature puts the festival in a tenuous position,” said Scott Philyaw, current festival chairman and director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.

“That’s why this gift from Doug and Angela Davis is one of the most pivotal developments in the festival’s history,” Philyaw said. “This fund will provide a more reliable source of revenue that we can depend on from now on. Through this donation, the Davises are helping to ensure that Mountain Heritage Day will continue to thrive for many years to come as a tribute to and celebration of the traditional culture of the Southern Appalachians.

“Doug Davis was an excellent steward throughout the early years of Mountain Heritage Day,” Philyaw said. “This gift continues that stewardship.”

Local residents who have enjoyed Mountain Heritage Day over the years and would like to support the festival are invited to add a gift to the fund established by the Davises, or to establish their own fund to benefit the festival. Interested individuals can obtain more information by contacting Jim Manring, WCU’s senior director of development, at (828) 227-3049 or manring@email.wcu.edu.