By Sherrie Norris
As news began to spread throughout Avery County on Sunday evening, June 12, of an auto accident in which one woman was injured, quickly extricated and airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center, few people realized just what an impact it would ultimately have on the entire High Country area.
Rachel Deal of Crossnore was driving in the Hughes community when she apparently suffered a stroke which caused the accident. She suffered various injuries, paralysis from the stroke and the need for comfort measures, as little else could be done medically.
Deal passed away two days later, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of Avery County.
“The lightning and thunder started at the hour that Rachel passed away and continued through the night,” said Charlene Wiseman, Shelter Manager of the Avery County Humane Society. “That must have been heaven welcoming Rachel with a fireworks show!”
Few people, if any, have had a greater love for Avery County than did Rachel Deal, and fewer still have accomplished as much for their hometown as this woman did.
A Life of Serving Others
Known as a volunteer extraordinaire, Rachel spent the majority of her adult life giving of her time, talent and voice on behalf of others — advocating for animals, women, children, her fellow senior citizens and any other cause near and dear to her heart.
For four decades, she visited local hospitals and nursing care facilities, usually on Sundays, blessing the lives of patients and residents with her singing — and with trays of cookies prepared by her sister and others to assist in her ministry.
For over 40 years, also, Rachel promoted and supported the local humane society, helping establish the original location and the newer facility that opened in 2012. A luncheon/fundraiser was held in her honor in 2019 to raise money for the animals she so dearly loved.
Rachel was a charter member of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, an organization promoting aging issues before the North Carolina General Assembly, for which she served nearly 30 years. That role required her to travel regionally, including numerous trips to Raleigh, most of which she made alone.
Along with friends Jean Ray, Linda Hanna, and (the late) Jayne McNeil, Rachel helped establish the annual “Gifts From The Heart” program, a Valentine’s Day outreach to local seniors and home-bound residents. She served for around 30 years with Jean Ray on Fridays at the Senior Center’s Caregiver’s Haven, a respite service for families of Alzheimer’s patients. She also loved delivering Meals on Wheels in Avery County for a number of years.
Rachel has served as a member, as well as on the board of directors, for numerous other organizations in the area, including: the Avery County Long Term Care Community Advisory Council, Avery County Economic Development, Avery County Planning, WAMY Community Action, Council on Aging and Geriatric Council, Avery County Rural Transportation Advisory Committee, Blue Ridge Heritage Foundation,
The Avery County Museum, Crossnore Community Enhancement Committee, Ethics Committee of Cannon Memorial Hospital and the Crossnore Chapter of DAR. She was also a participant in the Duke Senior Leadership Program and others.
Rachel gave much attention and many hours through the years to Crossnore School, Inc. and was a cast member in the school’s “Miracle on the Mountain” summer production. For half a century, she was an elder at Crossnore Presbyterian Church and volunteered as representative on various committees within the Western NC Presbytery.
She will also long be remembered for her efforts to save the overhead bridge above Hwy. 221 near her beloved Crossnore Presbyterian Church, a historic landmark deemed unsafe and removed by the NC Department of Transportation in 1995. She threatened to chain herself to it if it wasn’t preserved. And it was — and now rests across the nearby creek behind First Baptist Church in Crossnore.
Rachel also helped to plan and construct the Dellinger Memorial Park in town that honors the memory of her parents.
Awards and Honors
The year 2012 was a big one for Rachel, as many of her contributions were officially recognized and honored. Within a short time, she received the coveted Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award from the office of North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue. The following week, she received the America’s Small Towns Award for her diligent and dedicated volunteer service to the Town of Crossnore. At that time, Judi Jetsen with Hand Made in America said, “Rachel is known for her sense of humor, persistence and ability to make visitors fall in love with her town. She is also a fierce advocate for the small town way of life, and a tireless advocate in Raleigh. These qualities make her highly valued, not only in her own town, but throughout all of Western North Carolina.”
Soon afterward, she was named a High Country Woman of the Year at the All about Women Expo in Boone and a day later, she was inducted into the Martha Guy Hall of Legends of Avery County.
Other awards through the years have included the Governor’s Award for Volunteer Excellence, Ernest B. Messer Award, Region D Senior Citizen of the Year, Avery County Woman of the Year, Duke Leadership Award for WNC, NC Association of Senior Citizens (Western District) Senior of the Year, Margaret B. Hardy Award for Advocacy for the State of North Carolina, Farm Bureau Association’s Woman of the Year, and others.
Even with failing eyesight and health concerns through the years, Rachel rarely slowed down — always determined to make life better for those around her.
From the Heart of Rachel Deal
In earlier interviews with Rachel, more intimate details of her life story were revealed. She was the youngest of five children born into the Theron and Lena Sloop Dellinger family, a family that was behind much of the success of Crossnore in those early days.
Her parents served as postmaster/mistress at the Crossnore Post Office for many years, and operated theatres in Crossnore and Elk Park. Rachel recalled much of her childhood spent between the two community centers of activity, learning many of life’s valuable lessons along the way.
She was married early in life, in 1947, to a traveling salesman, but that marriage ended in divorce a few short years later. She had had moved with him to Charlotte before completing high school, but returned to Crossnore where she graduated with the Crossnore High School Class of 1953.
During those years, she shared, she experienced a number of personal tragedies and setbacks, but she eventually overcame most of those heartbreaking situations.
Rachel returned to Charlotte after completing high school, where she modeled for various department stores and worked as a receptionist for Herman Blumenthal at Radiator Specialty Company. Her boss encouraged her involvement in the opera, and for the next 15 years she sang in the chorus, earning bit parts in various productions.
After a short time back in Crossnore during 1958 to help care for her dying father, Rachel returned to Charlotte and went to work for Whitten Machinery.
In 1968, she met Ken Deal, Buick Motor’s Southeast Sales Manager. After the couple married, Rachel and Ken moved to Crossnore, and together they began a lengthy tenure working for Carolina Caribbean on Beech Mountain.
In 1982, her aunt, Sally Wiseman, entered the nursing home in Banner Elk, and so began her daily visits, which resulted in her 40-year ministry to staff and residents.
Rachel was widowed in 1999, but jumped into community service “head first” to keep her mind occupied, she said.
Through the years, she had her fingertip on the pulse of “almost everything that has been going on in Avery County,” she described.
Up until her accident, Rachel still attended most church and community functions, including the Avery County Commissioners meetings.
She was never afraid to speak up, “If I need to – and they hear what I have to say,” she shared emphatically.
She always had a special love for her hometown, and espeically, for her church.
Just two years ago, she told High Country Press that she had become a member at Crossnore Presybterian at the age of 7, on the heels of her two older sisters who “helped turn the dirt” when ground was broken for its construction.
“This has always been my home church, even though I was gone for over 15 years,” Deal said.
An active member and elder, Rachel played an integral role in the church, and especially in the women’s ministry and choir.
Her love for her church and community goes “way back,” Rachel said, recalling events of her childhood and how her “Aunt Mary,” (Sloop) made a huge impression upon her.
As the proud niece of the Drs. E. H. and Mary Martin Sloop, who brought modern medicine to the mountains in the early 1900s and founded Crossnore School, Inc., Deal inherited a deep compassion for children, and has since been a strong advocate for women and children in Avery County.
“I remember Aunt Mary would get up in front of the church with all those kids from the school and have them quote scripture.”
Rachel’s parents were a big part of the church, from its humble beginning, she said — becoming the 18th and 19th members when it first started.
“My mother, Lena, had come from the piedmont to the mountains to help with Uncle Doctor’s children — Dr. Sloop was her brother,” she explained. “Mama had been married to a Presbyterian minister who died with pneumonia, leaving her with their little girl, my sister, Annie Laura, who was 7 when they moved up here. Mama met my daddy, Theron Dellinger, one summer, and married him the next.”
The memories are vivid, Deal recalled. “I remember hearing all the stories and I still love them to this day. My daddy was Sunday school superintendent for about 25 years at the church and led all the music.”
She spoke of her admiration for her current pastor, Kathy Campbell, her fellow elders and for her niece, Margaret (Maggie) Palmer Lauterer, for the book she wrote to commemorate the church’s 100th anniversary. “She did a real good job on that book.”
And folks, as most of us know, Rachel Deal did a real good job on life, in general. She set the bar high for us all, and we could learn much from her about caring, sharing, going and doing. In one of our interviews, she told me, when talking about her awards, “It means so much to me to be getting my roses while I’m still alive.”
Thank you, Rachel Deal, for making our world, as we know it, a better place in which to live. There are more roses on the way.
The Community Remembers Rachel Deal
Julie Wiggins, Executive Director of High Country Council of Governments, had this to say: “Rachel has been such a tremendous advocate for so many — including us at the COG. We are grateful for her selfless service to our region and all the contributions she has made through the years. She will definitely be missed.”
Catherine Morton, with whom Rachel worked closely through the years, especially within the Humane Society, shared: “When Rachel asked you do something, be it bake cookies for the church, take in a homeless kitten or serve on a commission down in Raleigh, no one ever said no. No matter how badly you wanted to tell her you were too busy, you looked into her face and thought about what a busy lady Rachel was, and then you just did what she asked!”
Morton had much information to share regarding Rachel and her advocacy for the animal shelter.
“When a group of ‘summer people’ wanted to help raise money for a new shelter, they came to Rachel Deal to help them get things done in the local community,” Morton said. “While the ‘Friends of the Shelter’ were raising funds, Rachel was networking with everyone she knew to locate property for a new facility.”
Her campaign proved successful with the eventual property purchase and construction — which wouldn’t have happened without her tireless efforts.
“After 18 months, during which Rachel did some of her most impressive campaigning to ensure the Commissioners helped the Humane Society secure a bridge loan to pay the contractor while pledges trickled in from donors, the Humane Society received a certificate of occupancy in February 2012. Then, on St. Patrick’s Day, animals were loaded up and moved from Stamey Branch to the location in Newland,” Morton shared.
“Serving with the Humane Society has meant the world to me,” Rachel told Morton. “I never had any children, but I can put my strength into the love I have for the animals, the love I have for all God’s creatures. I have made many good friends through the shelter. I treasure those friendships. . . And as long as I have any breath in me at all, I am going to be a volunteer for the shelter. I don’t have much money, but I have time. And it has been time well spent.”
On behalf of Avery County, as a whole, County Manager Phillip Barrier, had this to say: “All of Avery County is saddened by the news of the passing of Ms. Rachel Deal. Ms. Rachel was the definition of a true public servant. She cared deeply for every person, young and old, and every animal in Avery County. It was a pleasure to call her my friend and colleague as I inspire to make her proud of this place she called home for 92 wonderful years. I am a better person because of the legacy and example she was.”
Banner Elk Mayor, Brenda Lyerly, and former Chairperson of High Country Council of Governments, shared: “There will never be another Rachel Deal. She had a true servant’s heart. When there was severe weather this past winter, I inquired about Rachel. I was concerned. I was told that Rachel was not worried about herself. She was very worried about the seniors who needed meals and how to get those meals delivered. She was all about taking care of the seniors and animals. She went to Raleigh each year to lobby the legislature for more support for the aging in our area. The Humane Society enjoyed Rachel’s support and fundraising for many years too. Every Sunday afternoon, she went to the Life Care Center and sang to the patients there. I am blessed and proud to have known Rachel Deal. Her legacy will live long and large. She made our world a better place.”
From the Avery Humane Society: “Everyone at the Avery Humane Society is mourning the loss of beloved board member, Rachel Deal. Rachel was a pioneer for the animals of Avery County. She was a founding member of the shelter and remained actively involved for over 40 years. She was instrumental in bringing the current building to fruition and has rarely missed a board meeting during her years as a board member. Rachel was a huge animal lover and visited the shelter regularly. Just a few weeks ago, she made a special trip to the shelter to deliver a donation. She was a life-force and truly one of a kind. She will be dearly missed by all who knew her. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Avery Humane Society or Crossnore Presbyterian Church.”
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, who grew up in Rachel’s hometown, shared with High Country Press: “Rachel was our next door neighbor in Crossnore, so I literally grew up beside her. I knew all of her family, who were very prominent in Crossnore. She worked very hard at whatever issue she took on, like naming part of 221 for Dr. Mary Martin Sloop and for the Tar Heel Legislature. She survived most of her generation and her passing is a major loss to the community.”
Jesse Pope, President and Executive Director at Grandfather Mountain: Rachel Deal was one of my greatest heroes! She never stopped trying to make our community better! She loved the people and animals of Avery County. I could never say no to Rachel, especially when it came to helping out the Humane Society. I’m grateful to her for inviting me into the shelter family and teaching me the important role it plays in helping find permanent homes for animals desperate to find their forever homes.
We also shared a love for Grandfather Mountain! I would frequently pass her driving up 221 toward the mountain on her regular route to take in the view from the parkway.
She was in route to her favorite place to view Grandfather Mountain, a special place off the beaten path, when God finally revealed his plan for Rachel to the world.
I’m going to miss her sweet hugs, infectious smile and never-ending passion for the animals and people of our community.
Love you Rachel! Rest well.
Funeral Arrangements Pending
The care of Rachel Deal has been left to Rein-Sturdivant Funeral Home in Newland with service arrangements to be announced.
Note: Our thanks to those who assisted with this memorial tribute. Catherine Morton provided photos and pieces of information for this article, taken from those she had written and compiled for the memory book made for the Humane Society’s celebration of Rachel in August of 2019.