Community leader, genealogical group win awards

Rob Tiger (center) is congratulated by Susan Belcher, wife of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, and Scott Philyaw, director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.

Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Awards for 2012 were presented Saturday (Sept. 29) to Rob Tiger, a Hayesville community leader who has led numerous efforts to preserve that town’s historic and cultural heritage, and the Jackson County Genealogical Society, whose members have been working for more than two decades to advance genealogical research in Jackson County and across the region.

The awards were presented by Susan Belcher, wife of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, as part of activities at the university’s 38th annual Mountain Heritage Day festival.

The university bestows Mountain Heritage Awards each year on one individual and one organization in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia, or for outstanding contributions to research on, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues. Award recipients are chosen by a special university committee following guidelines set when the award was established in 1976.

Rob Tiger (Individual Recipient)

Tiger is a founder and organizer of the Clay County Communities Revitalization Association, which includes about 150 citizens who have worked for more than a decade to enhance the quality of life in Clay County while boosting the area’s economy through a series of projects, many of them related to the preservation of traditional Appalachian culture.

A Clay County native and fourth-generation owner of Tiger’s Department Store on Hayesville’s town square, Tiger earned a social sciences degree with a concentration in anthropology at WCU in 1973. He credits his time at WCU with fostering his love of service. Tiger has taken to heart his grandfather often-repeated statement: “You owe a fair amount back to your community.”

In the mid-1990s, Tiger and other Clay County residents gathered to consider ways to offset the county’s economic decline and attract business. The CCCRA quickly developed and achieved nonprofit status by 2000. Since then, the organization has received $500,000 in funding and has tackled a lineup of ambitious projects, including the exterior restoration of the historic Clay County Courthouse. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another project being undertaken by the CCCRA, in partnership with the Clay County Historical and Arts Council Museum, is the Cherokee Homestead Exhibit, under construction since 2007. Being developed just a couple of blocks from the center of Hayesville, the exhibit portrays a Cherokee village from 1650 through 1750 and features to-scale replicas of a Cherokee summer house, winter house and corncrib. Those features are set against a backdrop of a large-scale mural with details of elements of Cherokee life and contemporary metal sculptures referencing the seven Cherokee clans and other symbols of the tribe.

WCU anthropology students, led by anthropology professor Jane Eastman, have been involved in helping build the exhibit since the summer of 2009. CCCRA members envision the outdoor exhibit as an enhancement for local quality of life and as a regional destination for visitors. It already serves as an outdoor classroom for regional schoolchildren and as the setting for a Cherokee heritage festival.

A project that the CCCRA would like to tackle in the future is the restoration of the courthouse’s interior. Plans call for gallery, performance and community space in the historic structure.

Tiger’s leadership of the CCCRA has been recognized by both WCU and Handmade in America. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2009, and earlier this year Tiger was recipient of Handmade’s Small Towns award.

Jackson County Genealogical Society (Organization)

The members of the Jackson County Genealogical Society have worked since the organization’s founding in 1991 to bring together individuals interested in genealogy; to discover, research and exchange materials related to Jackson County genealogy; to provide for the preservation of those materials; and to publish it on a regular basis.

The organization began with 15 charter members, but it now includes about 245 individuals hailing from almost every North Carolina county, 22 other states and one foreign country.

Members of the JCGS meet monthly, with attendance ranging from 20 to more than 100 people. In addition the focusing on genealogical topics, the gatherings have included programs on mountain music, old Cherokee trails, and other topics related to traditional mountain culture.

The JCGS maintains a research library of more than 1,800 volumes, the largest library of its kind west of Asheville. Since the organization’s founding, its journal “Journeys Through Jackson” has been published on a regular schedule. It contains submissions of official records, family research, old photographs and other items of interest, providing a vehicle for members to publish and preserve genealogical and historical information.

The JCGS has published numerous volumes over the past two decades, including volumes 1 and 2 of “Jackson County Heritage.” The society website was begun in 1998 and makes available documents such as Civil War information, old photographs and articles of general interest.

Because of its dedication to the preservation of family history and the families of Jackson County, the JCGS was chosen to be a partner in the Jackson County Public Library Complex in downtown Sylva. The organization moved into its permanent quarters in the historic Jackson County Courthouse in June 2011, with offices open 45 hours each week with a volunteer staff that is available to provide genealogical assistance.

The JCGS has been honored by the North Carolina Genealogical Society with two awards – the Awards for Excellence in Publishing and the Award for Excellence in Periodical Publishing.

For more information about WCU’s Mountain Heritage Awards, and how to nominate an individual or organization for the award, contact Scott Philyaw, director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, at 828-227-7129 or

Officers from the Jackson County Genealogical Society accept a 2012 Mountain Heritage Award from Scott Philyaw (far left), director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, and Susan Belcher (far right), wife of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher. Representing the society are (from left) Kenny Nicholson, president; Ruth Shuler, office manager; and Bud Cantrell and Bill Crawford, vice presidents.