BOONE — A local hero and beloved community member in Boone passed away.

Described by his wife as “bigger than life,” Worth ‘Sonny’ Alfred Sweet, Jr. passed away on June 13 at his “Sweet Escape” home in High Rock Lake after a nine year battle with cancer.

Sonny was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2013. He was given nine months to live. He didn’t just fight it. He ignored it to the extent that he got nine extra years on Earth.

“He had an indomitable, not just will to live, but love of life,” said Bricca Sweet, Sonny’s wife. “We never really dwelled. With the diagnosis, we got our legal affairs straight. We went about living our lives. And somewhere at about the year-and-a-half I said ‘Oh, I think we’re past nine months.’”

Sonny and Bricca met when they were both in the military. Sonny’s decorated military service began in 1961 when he was drafted. He achieved the rank of E-5 before shipping off to Officer Candidate School. By the time he retired in 1992, he was a highly decorated full colonel in the Army’s military intelligence branch. Sonny also served in Vietnam.

Bricca and Sonny met in 1990 and were married a few years later. They were married for 30 years, but she would tell people they were married for “several lifetimes.”

Sonny was not just kind, he was quite funny, according to Bricca.

“I thought he was a little bit arrogant, but extremely funny,” Bricca said when describing her first impression of her husband. “He had a way of making real life stuff seem funny.”

Bricca joked that after their first kiss, she ask Sonny — who was a higher rank — if he still had to call him “sir.” She said he gave her a pass.

Her husband also cared for and loved everyone.

“I think Sonny was bigger than life,” Bricca said. “He made everyone from the person doing the most menial of labor to senior executive feel valuable. That was one of his greatest gifts. He could relate to absolutely everyone. Even when he was so sick, at points in his last eight-and-a-half years, he was trying to joke with medical staff and make them feel comfortable.”

Sonny being “bigger than life” was reflective of his many years in the High Country. When the Sweets moved to Boone, he was the director of the Watauga County’s chapter of the Red Cross. He also contributed in leadership roles in many local events and organizations, including the High Country Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America where he was a founding father.

According High Country MOAA member George Brudzinski, Sonny was totally dedicated to the mission of the organization, just like was was with everything he was involved in.

“He was instrumental in creating our Memorial Day and Veterans Day events at Boone Mall each year which still drawing over 400 of our residents each year,” Brudzinski said. “He was responsible for creating numerous administrative guides and establishing our Chapter By-laws.”

Along with the MOAA chapter, Sonny was also dedicated to helping the Western Youth Network. Before Jennifer Warren, the executive director of WYN, knew Sonny as a “champion for children,” she said in a statement that she knew him as the “tenacious director” of the Red Cross. She then said she was humbled to learn that “Sonny and Bricca wanted to make an impact on young people in our community.”

“They first prioritized children through a grant with the Blood Sweat and Gears (BSG) event, and later Sonny and I met to discuss his vision of establishing an endowment fund so that more children could have access to summer camp and other therapeutic services,” Warren said in a statement. “Sonny, of course, had a bold plan to see this fund reach at least $1 million, and I was onboard with this vision. I knew if anyone could do it, Sonny could.”

In 2015, WYN established the Sonny Sweet Scholarship fund, which — from community events and creativity from Sonny, Bricca and all of their supporters — has grown to more than $140,000. It’s raised that much even with 5% being redirected each year to provide full scholarships for local youth to participate in WYN’s summer camp program. Since establishing the fund, more 30 students have received this competitive scholarship, according to Warren.

“Sonny lives prominently in my memory as a gentle, kind man with lots of spirit; a man I could elbow and crack a joke with during a meeting; a man I could sit quietly beside of in the corner of the room, away from the activity; a man who never needed words to show his love and devotion to his community because you could see it all in the sparkle of his eyes,” Warren said. “He will be profoundly missed, yet I’m so deeply grateful that his legacy will live on through his commitment to strengthening our community by investing in children. It’s an investment that has a generational impact.”

He was also a mentor.

“His mentoring and his leadership extended to everybody he met,” Bricca said. “He had tremendous insight into the human condition. He made people feel more alive. his absolute brilliant zest for life was completely infectious. He just made other people feel like they were — at least for those moments with him — shining and usually that carried over for a while.”

That mentorship and zest for life was passed along to Mountain Times Publications Publisher Gene Fowler.

“I don’t know if Sonny was more of a big brother, a father figure or just a Godsend,” Fowler said. “But one thing is for sure, he was one of the most humble and amazing men I’ve ever known. I loved him and the world is poorer with his passing.”

What many people didn’t know, Bricca said, is that Sonny loved to farm. She said his family would call him “Sonny the Gentleman Farmer.”

“He relished the time that he could spend with our little farm,” Bricca said. “He grew more vegetables than 10 families could eat. He had a real green thumb. He loved getting hot and sweaty and dirty working on his farm.”

Bricca said it’s clear to her that Sonny lives in beyond those of us in the family who loved him.

“I think Sonny’s message to those he loved would be he loves you,” Bricca said. “He believes in you. Do your best and help others. I think that would be his message to those who he barely knew or had never met.”

Sonny is survived by his three sons, Jonathan (Sonia), Nathan, and Brandt Sweet, and his daughter, Brianna Swartz (Joshua), his three granddaughters, Rebecca Sweet, Taylor Swartz, and Alyssa Swartz, his grandson, Steven Sweet, his younger brother Edward Sweet (Eileen), and his wife Bricca, who he loved fiercely.

There will be a celebration of A Hero’s Life on July 14, which would have been Sonny’s 83rd birthday, at Appalachian State’s Grandview Ballroom, 135 Jack Branch Drive, Boone, NC 28608, 10 a.m. to noon.

Rather than flowers, the family would appreciate donations to Western Youth Network’s Sonny Sweet Scholarship Fund (WYN’s SSSF) at 155 WYN Way, Boone, NC 28607 or at donorbox.org/wyn_online_donation.

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