Willie Headley Service Award

Willie Headley had a vision for her  hometown before she passed away in 2011 - she thought a town square  would be a great addition to Black Mountain. Today, a garden dedicated  in her memory can be found on the west side of the square, along  Montreat Road.

Headley also  envisioned a town with an organization dedicated to enhancing the  natural mountain aesthetic. And now there is one - the Black Mountain  Beautification Committee, which boasts about 60 volunteers and honors  one of them annually with the Willie Headley Award.


The committee's highest honor is given to members who  share Headley’s energy and vision. This year's recipient is Libba  Fairleigh. The Black Mountain resident was presented with the award at  the committee’s annual party and potluck dinner June 18.

Unlike  Headley, Fairleigh wasn’t born in Black Mountain. But she felt at home  as soon as she bought a home here in 2006 with her partner Suzanne  Money. They were living in it full-time just three years later.

Money,  who has a graduates degree in horticulture, threw herself into working  with the local beautification committee. “Suzanne immediately got  involved with the beautification committee,” Fairleigh said. “She was  working with Willie Headley.”

Money helped Headley  with a program in which the women incarcerated at the Swannanoa  Correctional Center for Women grew flowers used to decorate the town.  The program was an example of how Headley cared about the people in the  community and how their lives could be enriched by beauty, according to  her friend Mary Leonard White.

“Beauty touches your  soul,” said White, who founded the beautification committee with  Headley and others. “And that’s what Willie cared about.”

White, who herself won the award in 2013, first met Headley when they were swimming at the old Warren Wilson College pool.  “She  loved to swim,” White said. “I wasn’t much of a swimmer, and we were  swimming next to each other and I kept bumping her. She didn’t get mad,  she just kept smiling and saying, ‘it’s OK.” That’s how Willie was.”

In  addition to the fact that “everyone loved Willie,” according to White,  she was tireless in her efforts to improve the town. “She cared so much  about the people in the town,” White said. “To her, beautifying the town  was about enriching the lives of everyone else.”

Fairleigh  feels much the same way. Anyone who has driven through town around  Halloween or Christmas is familiar with her work, which adds to the  spirit of those seasons with decorative touches.

Fairleigh's  annual Deck the Trees event at the Monte Vista Hotel raises money for  the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry’s fuel fund, which assists  locals in need with heating costs during the winter.

“Libba’s a doer,” said Joyce Ackerman, who serves on the committee’s board. “She rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.”

Fairleigh  first got involved with the committee in 2011, when she helped organize  the annual garden show, which she now chairs. The event, along with the  “clothesline sale” that she implemented several years ago, takes place  the third Saturday in May on the grounds of the Monte Vista. It’s the  biggest fundraiser for the organization every year.

“The  clothesline sale is where members of the committee volunteer their time  and talents and people at the garden show pay for those services,”  Fairleigh said. “I’m going to someone’s house with another member, and  we’re going to weed their garden for a total of four hours. It’s a lot  of fun.”

Headley’s vision for the town can be  witnessed in the town square that her husband Bob was instrumental in  making a reality. Fairleigh helps care for a garden in the square, but  her contributions to beautifying the town can be seen in the 42 plant  containers that the committee finished installing around Black Mountain  earlier this month.

Prior to the installation of  the planters - built by William Tolley with iron designs created by  local artists Julia Burr and Tekla and Dan Howachyn - decorative flowers  and plants were kept in a hodgepodge of baskets and pots.  "We needed a consistent look," Fairleigh said. "I brought it up years ago, and the committee adopted the idea."  Fairleigh believes the containers, which all look similar but slightly different, are symbolic of the town's diversity. 

"I've  always wanted to let the unique character of Black Mountain shine  through," she said. "Each container is different and the plantings in  them are as well. You can walk to each one of them and see that they're  all different, and that's kind of the beauty of what Black Mountain is."

The addition of the planters is just one of many ways that Fairleigh has impacted the town and committee, Ackerman said.  "She's  also like an ambassador for the committee," Ackerman said. "She walks  up and down the street downtown and knows all the shop owners. And she  does everything with a smile.

Fairleigh was  certainly all smiles when beautification committee members held up  pictures of her face to announce the winner of this year's Willie  Headley Award. The moment was a special one. 

"I was surprised how moved I was when they made the announcement," Fairleigh said. "It still makes me cry."

There  are "a lot of people" who the committee could've given the award to,  Fairleigh said. But Bob Headley thinks they picked the right person. 

"Libba  is such a hard worker," he said. "She does a lot for the community and  the committee. She and her partner Suzanne are great, and wonderful  people."

The plaque, which Fairleigh proudly  proclaims has already found a spot on the wall in her home, features the  trowel Willie used when she was active in enhancing the beauty of the  town. 

"Willie would be tickled to death to see how  the town square turned out and all of the work that the beautification  committee is doing," her husband said. "She would be so delighted  because she loved this place."

Suzanne has several wonderful attributes but one that is on top of the list is her  infectious energy level and commitment to this committee.  Suzanne's  accomplishments are extensive from being  past co-chair,chairing the  Town Square Maintenance project, overseeing the greenhouse at Swannanoa  Correctional Center for Women and much more.

Suzanne works  tirelessly behind the scenes making sure Town Square gardens are  watered, weeded and looking beautiful.  At the correctional center, she  has taught classes and given them a new skill set.  She organizes spring  and fall plantings in town and make sure the women from the center were  included in the plantings in town.  She makes every project fun as  leading up to the Garden Show, she and Renee did skits to get people  interested in donating items for the Clothes Line Sale.

It gave  the committee great joy to award Suzanne this plaque that is in honor of  her hero, Willie Headley.  As Suzanne exemplifies her commitment to the  well-being and beauty of Black Mountain.

Previous Winners

Previous winners of this award were Joyce Black-Woerz, Susan Chabot, Maggie Krogh, Suzanne Money, Mary Werner and  Mary Leonard White