wnc honors awards
The WNC Honors Program is perhaps the longest-running program of WNC Communities. The beginnings of the WNC Honors Awards Program can be traced to 1949, when George Cecil and Lloyd Langond set off for a trip to Tupelo, Mississippi, under the direction of the Asheville Agricultural Development Council (AADC). The purpose of this trip was to learn from community development initiatives that were implemented in a place not unlike Western North Carolina. The two regions shared some fundamental similarities; there were many small family farms and off-grid communities who were hurting after the economic depression.
Upon returning from Tupelo, the pair gave a positive report of their findings to the AADC, and the council invited Morris “Mac” McGough to serve as consultant for implementing a program here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. McGough had previously been with Doane Agricultural Services, the firm which had helped the Tupelo area with their community development. McGough accepted and became AADC’s first executive vice president. He served in this role for many years.
The development of community centers and clubs began in 1949, in an area which then included 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary. As communities joined the movement, each began keeping track of their accomplishments throughout the year. Doing so helped them to qualify for an award at the end of year. This became the WNC Honors Awards, and there has been an annual Awards celebration every year since then. Since its beginning in 1949, more than 400 organized communities have participated at some point in the history of Honors.
Community volunteers beautifying their neighborhood
Excerpt from In Pursuit of a Greater Good, by Jay Fields and Janet Moore:
These communities, also known as “clubs”, were formed of actual places–could be a few houses in a cove or a township hewn to a river–places with a history. And they had a name. Upper Hickory Nut Gorge or Hanging Dog or Pumpkintown or Martin’s Creek. Could be Sandy Mush or Tow String or Greater Ivy. The only qualifier was the desire to make things better for the greater good of everyone in the community. (15)
Within just the first couple years of the awards program, the communities were already having an impact. Records from 1952 community achievements include hundreds of families gaining running water, building bathrooms, painting farmhouses, the start-up of new Grade A dairies, and acquisition of new tractors, among other projects. (Fields and Moore, 17).
In 1954, McGough wrote a summary report of the program with rural sociology professor Selz Mayo of NC State. In their report, they concluded that,
“Perhaps the best advice for the leaders of any community is to (1) study the needs of your own community, (2) establish your own goals in the light of your resources, and (3) look over this list to determine if any of these projects, or some variations of them, wil help you as you try to build a better and more prosperous community.” (Fields and Moore, 19)
That philosophy of grassroots efforts has continued to be a major part of the WNC Honors Awards and program to this day.
North Hominy Community Center
Cherokee County Indian Community Center (Now Cherokee County Community Indian Club)
North Hominy Community Center welcoming group from Tupelo, Mississippi
Spring Mountain Community Center
community Center group photo
WNC Honors Awards Ceremony
Shiloh Community Free Market Day
As our communities evolve and change, community centers continue to serve their neighbors. These days, community centers often serve as locations for free wi-fi, after-school art classes, food pantries, community gardens, and much more. The WNC Honors Awards and program now covers twenty counties and the Qualla Boundary, and the Awards ceremony is still held at the end of each year. During 2020 and 2021, this ceremony was done virtually, but returned to in-person in 2022. To learn more about the amazing work being done by the community centers today, visit our Impact page.
Big Cove Community Club at the 2022 WNC Honors Awards
Leicester Community Center farmer's market
For a more comprehensive read on the history of community development in Western North Carolina, please refer to the book written by Jay Fields and Janet Moore, In Pursuit of Greater Good. A copy may be available at your local community center, and or borrowed from the WNC Communities office.