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James Volk, pediatrician, volunteer and city's 'First Man,' dies at age 72

Dr. James Volk, in a Lightning file photo from January 2018. Dr. James Volk, in a Lightning file photo from January 2018.

Dr. James Volk, a pediatrician who expanded children’s medical care in Hendersonville and treated hundreds of patients during numerous medical missions abroad, volunteered in civic endeavors at home and stood steadfast with Mayor Barbara Volk as Hendersonville’s First Gentleman, died early Saturday of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.


A graduate of Valparaiso University and Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Volk arrived in Hendersonville in 1975, joining Drs. Donald Thomas and Fletcher Raiford at a then-small Hendersonville Pediatrics practice. At the time, most challenging cases and premature babies went to Asheville or Greenville, S.C.
 Pushing to elevate the quality of care for preemies, Volk helped to establish a pediatric care intensive care unit at Pardee Hospital. He served as chief of pediatrics at both Pardee and Park Ridge hospitals and helped expand Hendersonville Pediatrics into the largest children’s practice in Western North Carolina.
His practice members, former patients and friends gathered in August of 2016 to dedicate a wind sculpture in his honor at the medical office and celebrate his contributions to the health of babies and children.
Saying “this feels strange,” Mayor Volk read the proclamation marking “James Volk, MD, Day.”
“He’s done so much,” said Dr. Ora Wells, one of 10 pediatricians at Hendersonville Pediatrics, said that day. “He was always the innovator, he was always pushing the envelope. He started the office in Fletcher. He started the office in Brevard. If it wasn’t for him, we’d still be just an itty-bitty practice.”
Volk spread his passion for pediatric care far beyond his community.
“He did a lot of health care abroad with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Mission, Rotary International, Mercy Medical Mission and Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church and their own missions to Haiti,” said his daughter, Carrie Powers.

He traveled to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on Lutheran medical missions and after his retirement from fulltime work continued regular mission trips to Haiti.

He served at home, too. He was a past president of the Four Seasons Rotary Club and the French Broad River Riverlink organization and served on the boards of the Children and Family Resource Center and the United Way of Henderson County. He held many leadership roles at Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church, including congregation president. He won the Duke Energy Citizens Award, one of the highest honors given at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner, for his contributions to children's health care and nonprofit organizations.

'Listen to my wife'

When his wife was serving on the council or presiding over council members as mayor, Dr. Volk was usually there. If she was attending a campaign forum, cutting a ceremonial ribbon or reading a proclamation, he was often there, too.
“He loved it,” their daughter said. “He always wanted to be involved in the community and was glad that my mom was doing things she believed in. He was very proud of her.”
City Council member Jeff Miller recalled that when he first ran for the City Council, Jim Volk came up to him in full Volk for Mayor regalia to deliver some advice.
“He had on ‘Barbara Volk for Mayor’ everything and he said. ‘If you get elected, and I believe you will, make sure you listen to my wife.’ He was definitely her No. 1 fan and very supportive. He had the time and he had the desire and the energy and while he could he was going to be there for her.”
After his cancer diagnosis, Dr. Volk strongly urged his wife to run for a third term as mayor.
“Absolutely, he supported her,” Mayor pro tem Ron Stephens said. “In fact I have been told when she was debating whether to run for her third term, he was very encouraging for her to run.”

Positive attitude and faith

Diagnosed three years ago with pancreatic cancer, an aggressive form of the deadly disease, Dr. Volk amazed friends and family members by outliving the usual quick time clock with resilience, a sunny outlook and an unselfish attitude.
“He put up one heck of a fight,” Miller said. “That’s usually a diagnosis that takes six months. As a doctor, he knew how serious a diagnosis it was. He didn’t drop his game a notch. He was always at the Y, he was always working out, always had a really good attitude. When I heard about (his death), I was surprised that it caught up with him.”
Dr. Volk was determined to use all the time he had, not for himself but for the generation that would live on.
“They just recently came back from a family trip when they took some grandchildren overseas and Barbara told me he was determined to do that,” Stephens said. “When they made that trip he knew the end was near.”
Powers said her grandchildren benefited from their grandfather’s determination to broaden their horizons even as he knew his time was short.
“I really think it had a lot to do with his positive attitude and his faith,” she said. “That was probably the biggest part. He didn’t do any herbals or anything like that. He said, ‘I’m OK with this. I just want to be around as long as I can.’” From the time of his diagnosis until he died, Jim and Barbara traveled to Puerto Rico, Italy and England, joined the children on cruises. “They went all over,” she said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Volk is survived by his son, Peter, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church Haiti Fund.