BEECH MOUNTAIN — At the July 21 Sunday evening concert event in Beech Mountain, Fred and Marjorie Pfohl were unaware they were about to receive the highest civilian honor in North Carolina.
“It was probably the biggest surprise of my whole life ‘cause I had no idea,” Fred Pfohl said. “I never even considered that I would be anybody that would receive this award and my wife was the same way.”
Marjorie and Fred Pfohl, owners of Fred’s General Mercantile and tireless community volunteers, were presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by N.C. Rep. Ray Russell on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper.
“We have many great people around us, but no one has done more for this community than Fred and Margie,” Russell said during the presentation. “We thank you both for your service, appreciate all of your accomplishments, cannot imagine what this community would be like without you, but most importantly, we love you both dearly.”
“Since 1963, North Carolina’s governors have reserved their highest honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, for persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments,” the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society’s website states.
Pfohl said that even though Russell had showed up, he was unaware anything was amiss until Russell was brought up to speak.
At first, Fred recounted, Russell started speaking about Marjorie and he thought she was getting the award and it wasn’t until Russell started talking about his accomplishments when it dawned on him.
“There was a lot of rain and drizzle,” Pfohl said. “We were all kind of standing into it, but I don’t think I felt a single raindrop.”
“The fact that they did it for both of us meant a lot,” Pfohl said. “Everything I’ve done had my wife in doing it. She’s as much a part of it.”
Being in the company of recipients such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and countless others brings a smile to Pfohl, especially since he can share the honor with his friend Janet Speer, acclaimed founder and artistic director at Lees-McRae College’s Summer Theatre program and retired professor. Speer was presented with the award on July 11 prior to a performance.
“It’s been kind of funny, they have (Speer’s recognition) on (the Lees-McRae College) marquee board and I’ve driven by it many times,” Pfohl said “It felt like she was well overdue for something like this ... Little did I know that two weeks later, we’d be receiving the same honor.”
Pfohl said the honor is not just for him and Margie, but for all those who have been a part of his life.
“When you think about it, I can honestly say that this is not just mine, but belongs to all those folks around me who have been my friends for all the things we’ve been able to accomplish on Beech Mountain,” Pfohl said.
Fred’s General Mercantile has been open every single day since Feb. 9, 1979, which is more than 14,000 consecutive days. The store was the idea of both Fred and Margie, who saw a need for affordable goods on Beech Mountain.
“This store has been the heart and soul of Beech Mountain ever since,” Russell’s statement said of Fred’s.
Speaking on July 21, Russell commended Marjorie for her countless deeds.
“Tending the counter, she became mother to this community,” Russell said. “Extending credit, cosigning notes and mortgages, mentoring young people and so much more.”
“She was a part of virtually every community event here: (the Fourth of July) pig roast, Arbor Day, street dances, kite festivals, Sunday concerts, Cool 4 Run, Winterfest, town birthday, garbage day, spring clean-up, being active in her church, and Property Owners Association summer programs. She was the unofficial fire department lady’s auxiliary, providing food and drinks at fire scenes, and she organized socials.”
Fred was the first elected and longtime mayor of Beech Mountain, spearheading countless town projects, many with his store’s staff, according to Russell’s proclamation.
Some of Pfohl’s work includes being a founding member and past board chair of the Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department fpr many years, being a founding member and past president of the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce and High Country Host and a current member and past vice-chair and chair of the High Country United Way board.
“Fred helped start many town events and volunteers annually: the Annual Roasting of the Hog, Street Dances, Sunday Evening Concerts and Crafts on the Green,” Russell’s statement said. “Fred served as chairman of the Town Tourism Development Authority, served on the fundraising committee that raised money to build Cannon Hospital and YMCA in Linville. Fred was a longtime board member of the Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust and put 43 acres of land into a permanent recreation easement. He ushers and greets members at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Linville. Fred has been an official U.S. Weather Observer for over 30 years.”
“Fred served in Vietnam and was assigned working in a Vietnamese village helping improve living conditions for the community through improved agriculture and health care. It was more like a Peace Corps mission than a combat assignment. He recently revisited Vietnam and has helped other veterans do the same. Fred is an avid lover of trains. He volunteers at the Jonesboro, Tenn., railroad museum and raised money for the museum.”