The long road to Inspiration Point
(Editor's note: As part of Lake Junaluska's 100th anniversary celebration, The Mountaineer is featuring stories throughout the year about the Assembly and its development.)
Now considered by many to be one of the most beautiful spots around Lake Junaluska, the road to the creation of Inspiration Point was a rocky one. No one knows that better than Hattie Polk, who in addition to donating funds to the project, persevered through many obstacles to help Inspiration Point become what it is today.
The inspiration behind the point
In the beginning when Mission Inn (now Lambuth Inn) was built in 1921, a covered structure was built on the small bluff to the side of the inn overlooking the lake, which was known even then as Inspiration Point. The spot was meant for meditation, spiritual development, study, and of course, inspiration.
Eventually, the structure fell into disrepair and had to be torn down, and the land remained empty for many years until the now late George Whitaker and his wife, Mary, became inspired to turn Inspiration Point into a place of beauty, where people could once again go to pray, meditate and find peace.
When Whitaker first approached Polk about donating to the project in 2000, she was eager to become involved. Polk and her late pastor husband, Charles, had been long-time residents at Lake Junaluska, and Polk saw the Inspiration Point project as a way to honor his memory.
“Immediately I thought, ‘Oh this will be a wonderful memorial to my husband,’” she said.
While people were asked to make pledges for benches, lighting and landscaping, Polk decided to donate $20,000 toward installing a prone cross on the site in memory of Charles.
Another source of funding came from a cookbook The Junaluska Woman’s Club and The Junaluskans published. The two groups decided that the proceeds from the sale of the cookbook should go toward the Inspiration Point project. The cookbook sales raised thousands of dollars, and by 2002, the first phase of construction on Inspiration Point had begun.
The site was graded and stone walls, flower beds and paths put in around the area, but Inspiration Point was far from complete. The project needed more money to purchase landscaping materials, install benches, and construct the prone cross to complete the second phase. And the committee, lead by then-Chairman George Whitaker, set out again to raise more funds to finish the job.
The project stalls
But in 2003, the project would meet several obstacles to its completion.
A change in leadership at Lake Junaluska occurred when David Snipes and Gordon Goodgame left and Jimmy Carr became the new executive director of the Junaluska Division of SEJAC.
“When the new administration came, they didn’t even know of the project,” Polk recalled, adding Inspiration point got lost in the midst of several other big projects going on at the time, including an emergency situation with the build up of silt in the lake.
Dredging the lake became a priority for the new Junaluska Assembly administration, and the Inspiration Point Committee was asked to halt their fundraising efforts while money was found to dredge the lake.
In the meantime, the Inspiration Point leadership sustained a blow when George Whitaker suffered a heart attack and resigned from his position as committee chairman. Polk took over as chairwoman while Whitaker stayed on as a member of the committee along with Ken Lile, Bonnie Barnes, Jimmy Jones and Don Shell.
Then, SEJAC launched a major capital campaign to raise $10 million for a number of other higher priority projects around the lake, and once again, Inspiration Point was shelved.
When fundraising efforts resumed, the committee members had difficulty gaining financial support, and believing Inspiration Point was no longer a priority at Lake Junaluska, the committee disbanded — except for Polk.
“I felt the project had been started, and it needed to be finished,” she said.
The final phase
Determined to try to see the project through to at least a bare minimum of completion, Polk, with continued support from Wright Spears, George Whitaker and Barbie Stanton, set out to raise the $25,000 in funds needed.
Polk said it was a daunting task, especially considering that she was no saleswoman.
“I had never done any fundraising,” she said, joking that she couldn’t sell a quart of strawberries to her neighbors back when she was a child on her family’s farm. “It took a gracious and loving God to guide be through this monumental task.”
Eventually, Polk collected enough money to continue with the project, including a sculpture for the lower garden, funds for which had been pledged to the project early on by Dr. Jim Ware.
Polk was fortunate to find local teacher and sculptor Bill Eleazer, who agreed to take on the project. With inspiration from a trip to Russia, where she visited the Cathedral of the Resurrection in St. Petersburg, Polk came up with the idea of creating a life-sized Christ statue holding the communion elements of bread and wine for the lower garden. Everyone agreed, and Eleazer was commissioned for the work.
However, soon yet another problem reared its head. The budget for the sculpture was $15,000 but the time involved and the cost to bronze it would take more than $21,000. After a call to Ware, Polk was able to get Eleazer to agree to a budget of $20,000 for the sculpture, and the final piece to the Inspiration Point project was under way.
“The work was magnificent,” Polk said of the completed statue, which was installed in the spring of 2006.
But something was missing.
While the gardens, walkways, handicap ramp, cross, lighting and an underground water system were all in place along with the sculpture, Polk felt that the project wouldn’t truly be complete without paving the lower garden.
“I felt we had come so far, I didn’t want to stop until we had completed the essentials of the lower garden,” she said.
The cost estimate was another $10,000, and with the dedication of the garden only a few weeks away, Polk decided she would personally donate the money to complete the project. She donated the initial $5,000 and pledged to pay the rest in the next year minus any donations that came in during that time.
As it happened, a memorial gift of $1,000 was given in memory of Carroll Varner, and the rest of the additional debt was donated by a couple who rented an apartment from Polk. They knew how much the project meant to Polk, and asked how much more she needed. When she told them it was $4,000, the couple wrote her a check for that amount to the shock and gratitude of Polk.
With the help of Jim Hanna and Joetta Rinehart, the paving and other added touches, including a book of remembrances in Lambuth Inn, were completed just in time for the dedication service on July 15, 2006.
“It was one of the greatest days in my life that we had accomplished this project. It was a tremendous spiritual journey for me,” Polk said. “The project ended up uniting the community, and Inspiration Point has become a favorite place for individuals who visit Lake Junaluska.”
Inspiration point is now a serene spot looking out over the upright cross and the lake, and it is exactly what its creators envisioned — a place for spiritual thought, prayer and most of all, peace.