Jerry Wolfe, Cherokee honorary doctorate recipient, dies at 93

Jeremiah “Jerry” Wolfe shows his honorary doctorate to the audience during WCU’s May 2017 commencement ceremonies.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Wolfe, an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Western Carolina University during its May 2017 commencement ceremonies, died Monday, March 12, at the age of 93.

Wolfe, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, was a frequent participant in events at WCU, representing the Eastern Band and often delivering invocations or greetings in his native Cherokee language and English, as he did at the March 2012 installation ceremony for Chancellor David O. Belcher.

In 2013, he was named the first “Beloved Man” of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in more than 200 years.

“Jerry was a dear friend to us here at Western Carolina University,” said Sky N. Sampson, director of WCU’s Cherokee Center. “He had a positive impact on the lives of our students, faculty and staff each time he was on campus. Mr. Wolfe blessed us with his wonderful stories, songs and prayers. His smile alone was enough to make the world go around. He will be missed but never forgotten.”

Wolfe taught young men and women at the Oconaluftee Job Corps in Cherokee for more than 20 years, and since 1997 had worked in outreach and education at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, where he shared his extensive knowledge of tribal history and culture with thousands of visitors. Over the years, he also presented programs on those topics across the state and Southeast and had been interviewed and featured in many publications and video productions.

Wolfe served as an integral and valued asset for WCU, with a decades-long list of activities and involvement ranging from interviews for the award-winning documentary “First Language – The Race to Save Cherokee” to serving as a panelist at a Native American Heritage Expo event on campus and taking part in Mountain Heritage Day.

In presenting the honorary doctorate to Wolfe, Belcher read from the degree citation, calling Wolfe a “cherished living repository” of his tribe’s wisdom and lauding his efforts to enrich the cultural landscape of Western North Carolina, the state and nation.

“Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Wolfe, you have served with exemplary distinction and dedication throughout your life as a member of your community and as a conservator and icon of Cherokee language and culture,” Belcher read. “You have been a tradition-bearer for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, preserving and teaching the Cherokee language, stickball traditions, knowledge of plants and traditional medicine, myths and legends, and oral history.”

After he accepted the honorary degree, Wolfe invited the Ramsey Center audience to join him in singing the hymn “Amazing Grace” as he sang it in the Cherokee language. “Thank you very much for this wonderful recognition,” he said. “I am honored as a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokees to receive it. I am proud to be included with all of the students that are receiving their degrees here today.”

Visitation will be held Friday, March 16, from 5:30 p.m. until midnight at the Cherokee United Methodist Church. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, March 17, at 1 p.m. at the Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center at the Cherokee Central School.

More information is available at the Long House Funeral website: