Casting a long shadow: Hattie Polk receives Junaluska Associates top award
At age 87, Hattie Polk thinks some of her best days just might be ahead. As the 2013 recipient of Lake Junaluska’s prestigious Chief Junaluska Award, given annually by the Junaluska Associates, Polk said she marvels at the opportunities she has been given this late in her life to serve God, Lake Junaluska and others. The award, she said, is the icing on the cake.
“I feel honored but unworthy, and very humbled that this community would honor me with this award. It’s just overwhelming,” she said, as she enjoyed the view from Inspiration Point, a meditation site she helped create at Lake Junaluska near the Lambuth Inn. “I do this for the lake and for God and for the people who come, hoping it will mean something for them.”
Polk was nominated by several people and given the award Aug. 3 during the Junaluska Associates annual August meeting. Jack Ewing, president and CEO of Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, described Polk as someone who has “given countless hours of service to this amazing community, always in a spirit of love.”
Polk has also been a generous benefactor to the lake, especially in support of ensuring the completion of Inspiration Point. She and her husband, the late Rev. Charles Polk, moved to Lake Junaluska in 1984, when he retired. Hattie Polk spent the last 10 of their 60 years together caring for her ailing husband. After he died in 2000, Polk was moved to help George and Mary Whitaker realize their dream of seeing Inspiration Point to fruition. But George Whitaker fell ill, and Polk assumed leadership for the project.
Her first step, with the help of her two grown children, was to donate $20,000 for the prone cross at Inspiration Point to honor her late husband.
“I thought that would be a wonderful thing for my children and me to do in his memory,” she said.
The structure is roughly 21 feet long, 15 feet wide and about 4 feet high. The cross itself is copper and its base is stone; it lies in the shade of a magnificent oak tree. The cross is a piece one imagines visitors must touch as they walk around it.
Her next step was to raise funds to finance the completion of Inspiration Point, a beautiful, prayerful spot with stone walls and luscious gardens, just west of Lambuth Inn.
A life-size bronze sculpture of the Christ anchors the courtyard, his outstretched arms offer bread in one hand and a challis in the other. It was designed and built by former Tuscola art teacher William Eleazer. Benches are available for those who want to sit and admire the spectacular view of the lake or to meditate.
It was a challenge, Polk said, to raise money at a time when there was “no money to be raised.” But for nearly three years she saw it through.
“I firmly believed that this was God’s business, and that you don’t go off and leave it uncompleted,” she said.
So, Polk and her family donated thousands of dollars and raised the thousands more that were necessary to complete the site. It was dedicated July 15, 2006.
“It was a glorious day,” she said.
So what’s next for this dynamic octogenarian? For one, she goes every day to Inspiration Point to water the hanging baskets and mingle with those enjoying its beauty. And she serves as chauffeur and social secretary for 100-year old Wright Spears, a past president of Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, and a retired Methodist minister, who lives at Lake Junaluska. He was president of Columbia College when Polk was a student there earning her bachelor’s degree. She also earned her master’s degree in education from Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina.
"There is a mountain saying, 'A tall woman casts a long shadow,'" said one of the people who nominated Polk for the Chief Junaluska Award. "From my perspective, everyone who makes a positive impact on the lives of others casts just a shadow. Even though our 'nominee' is a very petite lady, she casts a very long shadow across Lake Junaluska . . . . The kind of shadow we cast is determined by the kind of light in which we stand, and once we cast that shadow it can never be recalled. For some of us that could be scary, but not so for our 'nominee' . . . . [She] is indeed a woman with a long shadow; and I, for one, am happy to walk in her shadow because it brings light to the people, places and programs of Lake Junaluska."
A requirement of the award is that its recipient be kept secret until it is announced at the Associates Weekend each August, said Bob Bowling, president of the Junaluska Associates. And, that its recipient be someone "who has given unselfishly to Lake Junaluska Assembly through a labor of love, time and gifts and has been an active member of the Junaluska Associates for at least the last five years.”
Receiving the award made Polk cry, she said. Her family slipped into the back of the room and was there to hear Ewing read the nomination letters.
"I was a minister's wife, never on my own to do anything by myself," she said.
But now she believes all those years as a wife and a mother helped prepare her for where she is today.
“It seems God had in store for me the best for last,” she said. “I never sought this. It just seemed to be the thing God wanted me to do at this stage of my life. It’s the crowning glory of my life. I’m beginning to wonder what the Lord wants me to do next. I’ve learned that if I follow his plan, he will take care of the details.”