In 1997 a member of the Economic Development Committee of Black Mountain
approached Mary Leonard White, also a member of this committee, and requested
her help in “sprucing up” the town. Gathering together Yolanda Smith, president of
the Black Mountain Women’s Club, Maggie Horton and Harriett Styles, of the
Black Mountain Garden Club, the Black Mountain Beautification Committee
had its inception.
Initiating a project as successful as this venture took many meetings with many
organizations. The list of Black Mountain groups involved in the genesis of this
committee included the Town of Black Mountain, the Chamber of Commerce, Black Mountain Women’s Club, and Garden Club.
Inspired by the mission of “honoring the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains all the while seeking to reflect the beauty on our streets and in our lives” many local residents joined the Beautification Committee. Improving the aesthetics of our community was the committee’s primary mission and new members were intrigued with the committee’s earthy motto: “If you like to dig, weed, pick-up trash and sweat, then you are our kind of folks and will be welcome to join this committee.”
One person who liked to dig up weeds and who could even make
ordinary weeds look beautiful was Willie Headley. One of the first
members and the first co-chair of the Committee with Ginger York,
Willie had grown up in this community. The Kerlee’s, her family,
were early pioneers in the valley. Willie, a psychiatric nurse, and Bob,
a cardiologist, worked and raised their family in Winston-Salem, but
they always knew that Black Mountain was home.
When the Committee received a grant from the Black Mountain
Community Foundation to hire a landscape architect to develop a
master plan for the city, Willie got her inspiration for what was some
of her greatest work.
A public meeting was held in the early 2000’s with citizens discussing
their vision for a more scenic mountain community. Debbie Hughes,
Superintendent of the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women, attended this meeting and offered the Committee the use of the facility’s
greenhouse. With the help of Robert Goodson, a retired high school horticulture teacher, Willie rehabbed the greenhouse and began a program for the women at the Correctional Center that continues today.
Whether the women of the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women were growing, planting or helping the members of the Committee tend the gardens in town, Willie always sought first and foremost the well-being of the women. Growing the plants was important, but Willie cared more about how the women were doing, how their families were handling their mother, sister, daughter being away. Mary Leonard White explained just one way Willie showed her care, “The women were not allowed to go into the stores, so when the women were working in town, Willie would take the time to encourage each store owner to come outside and personally thank the women.”
Like the branches of the mighty oak, the work of the Beautification Committee has spread throughout this town. From the Welcome Signs that greet visitors to Black Mountain, to the 25 public garden spots, to the hayracks that grace the storefronts of the business district, the Committee works with town groups to realize this shared vision of Black Mountain as a hospitable, welcoming community.
No one exemplifies this attitude more than Willie Headley and no one could say no to Willie! Yolanda Smith reflected on the power of Willie, “Anytime we needed to get things done, Willie would be the one to go. No one could refuse Willie.” Working with the Black Mountain Public Works Department, the women of the prison, and the members of the Beautification Committee, Willie ensured that Black Mountain offered beauty and hospitality to all its visitors.
Willie, along with the Beautification Committee, has had much to say about the formation of the new Town Square Park at the intersection of State Street and Montreat Road. This park is a culmination of a vision Willie has for the greater good of our town.
Gandhi said, “Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”
May all of us who love Black Mountain emulate Willie’s joyful service and like Willie, continue our work to make Black Mountain the community she has always loved. Thank you Willie.