CROSSNORE — Rachel Deal, one of the most well-known and well-loved volunteers in Avery County, passed away on Tuesday, June 14.
Deal, 92, spent most of her life in Avery County. She was extremely familiar with the county’s history, and by several accounts, she was the “go-to” source for any questions about the area.
“Any question you had about Avery County or Crossnore in general, you went to Miss Rachel to ask, and you just knew you were gonna sit back and listen to her tell about important things,” said Jennifer Maulding, who met Deal through the Crossnore Daughters of the American Revolution chapter and volunteered with her at the Avery County Senior Center.
Deal had been a member of the Crossnore DAR for 70 years, and at the time of her death she was an officer and the chapter’s chaplain, Maulding said.
Since 1997, Deal spent her Fridays at the Avery County Senior Center helping out with Caregiver Haven, a program that allows family members and caregivers to have a few hours to shop, go out or rest. She would sing hymns like “In the Garden” to the senior citizens. Deal was regarded as the oldest employee in Avery County and she helped shape the way senior services are provided in the county, said Philip Adams, director of senior services in Avery County.
Deal had many issues that were close to her heart, but her passion for senior services was exemplified through her work for senior citizens in Avery County. She was one of the longest serving members of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, a state board that advocates for senior citizens and assists in creating and funding programs for seniors, and she was a member of the Avery County Council on Aging, Adams said. Deal was scheduled to attend a conference with the Senior Tar Heel Legislature the week she passed away.
Deal also worked with Jean Ray, Jayne McNeil and Linda Hanna to start “Gifts from the Heart,” a program similar to the Angel Tree but benefiting senior citizens in need. For the last 31 years, the program centered during the month of February has served to cheer up seniors with gifts such as blankets and slippers because the winter can be so hard on that sector of the community, said Buffy Clark of the Avery County Senior Center. The group plans to continue the program, according to Clark.
Along with her work for the senior citizens of Avery County, Deal also advocated for the animals in the county. She helped start the Avery County Humane Society in 1978 and had been a board member ever since, said Jean Smith of the Avery Humane Society. At the time of her death, she was still advocating for the establishment of animal control services in Avery County, and Smith said that not seeing that happen in her lifetime may be Deal’s biggest regret.
Maggie Lauterer, Deal’s niece, said that Deal and her husband used to pick up stray dogs and cats and try to find them homes. They had fenced-in areas and kennel-like boxes in their backyard and on their back porch for the stray dogs and cats they picked up, which made them almost like the unofficial first humane society of Avery County, Lauterer said.
“Rachel was a hard worker and a fighter, and she just passionately loved the people and the animals of Avery County,” said Jesse Pope, executive director and president of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
Despite her age, Deal never lost her singing voice. In fact, she sang in the choir at her church as recently as the Sunday prior to her passing, Lauterer said. She valued family above anything else and she missed her family members that passed before her, Smith and Lauterer said.
Deal was heavily involved in her church at Crossnore Presbyterian Church. There, she served in a role as elder and sang in the choir for 40 years, Lauterer said.
Since her passing, Deal has been called a hero, an Avery County legend, an “advocate for Avery County,” a “force of nature” and more. In her lifetime, Deal served on many boards and committees and received many awards. She showed her passion for Avery County in many ways, some of which included serving on the Crossnore Enhancement Committee, the Western North Carolina Transportation Board, the Avery County Planning Board, the Geriatric Council at Sloop Memorial Hospital and the High Country Council of Governments, along with her commitments to the humane society and senior center. Deal was also a charter member of the Avery County Historical Society.
In 2012, Deal received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which is the highest civilian award for state service in North Carolina and is granted by the governor. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Humane Society in 2018, the Avery County Centennial’s Citizen of the Century award in 2011 and Avery County Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year in 2008. The Avery County Heritage Festival on June 25 is being dedicated to Deal’s legacy and memory, Lauterer said.
In lieu of flowers, Deal’s family has asked people to donate to the Avery County Humane Society or Crossnore Presbyterian Church. Her memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. on July 17 at Crossnore Presbyterian Church.