Belhaven women receive Order of Long Leaf Pine

Published 8:49 pm Saturday, May 26, 2012

Five Belhaven women received the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine during the Belhaven General Alumni Association’s annual homecoming and golden anniversary celebration earlier this month.

Bertha Baker, Alma Whitaker, Beatrice Smith, Velma Murray and Cynthia Heath received the honor for their long-time work with the Belhaven Alumni Club and its support of local students and the community.

Bertha Baker displays her Order of the Long Leaf Pine plaque and certificate received during the Belhaven General Alumni Association’s golden anniversary celebration this month. (Submitted Photo)

“The Belhaven Alumni Club members deserve a note of recognition for the service they have made to the community of Belhaven. For 50-plus years, they have presented financially needy graduating seniors with cash awards to help further their education,” said Vernalette Rosa, award nominator, Triangle chapter president for the alumni association and daughter of Smith.

The Belhaven Alumni Club is one arm of the general alumni association.

“Not only have these five women, along with others, continued the long tradition of awarding the scholarships, they also still work very hard in their churches and are very active in the political arena,” Rosa added.

These champions of the Belhaven alumni were equally honored by the recognition.

“It was really shocking to me. I had no idea. I had no dreams of that. It was real nice to receive (the award),” Smith said.

“I was very proud. I appreciate it so much,” said Murray.

“I was very proud to receive it. I knew about the Order several years ago when it was established. I was very happy to get it,” Whitaker echoed.

“I was flabbergasted. It was quite an unexpected honor. The other ladies are well-deserving. They have been part of the (alumni) association from the beginning,” said Heath.

It is these five women, ages 60 to 84, who have kept the alumni association going over the years, even through times of dwindling participation, Rosa said.

“These five ladies continued the tradition. This tradition not only included monetary awards but for many families in Belhaven it was the only time that we were able to visit with family members who live in New York City. On Friday morning it has been a standing tradition for the alumni chapter of New York to charter a bus and come back home to celebrate,” Rosa said.

Along with supporting the students in their community, the association has played a major role in keeping connected the past students of Belhaven High School, John A. Wilkinson High School and Northside High School.

“Over the years it has become a community celebration,” Rosa said.

Created in the 1960s, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is one of the highest honors the governor can bestow on a North Carolina citizen. It is named after the state tree.

The award is given to state residents in recognition of their proven record of extraordinary service to the state through contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers or many years of service to their organizations. It is often presented to long-time state employees upon their retirement.

Along with the honor of getting such an award, recipients receive a certificate acknowledging their service and are given the privilege of proposing the state toast at any time.