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Gov. Cooper honors the late Rick Merrill with highest volunteer award

Rick Merrill Rick Merrill

The late Rick Merrill of Flat Rock was honored with the Governor's Medallion Award for Volunteer Service, the state’s highest volunteer recognition, and seven others received the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award last week.

Created in 2006 to recognize the top 20-25 volunteers in the state, the Governor's Medallion Award for Volunteer Service honors no more than one person per county. Local nominations, which were coordinated here by Community Foundation of Henderson County Program Officer Brandon Baird, are elevated to a statewide panel that reviews and evaluates all nominations to determine the award recipients. 

Merrill was nominated by Interfaith Assistance Ministry executive’s director, Elizabeth Willson Moss.

“Rick’s servant leadership mentality began at a young age when he volunteered for VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America (now AmeriCorps), while in college,” she wrote. “That service led him to Henderson County, where Rick and his wife JoAnne, put down roots. Rick built a career in the real estate field and used his talents and knowledge to promote land conservation and lend a hand with many community organizations over his decades in Henderson County.”

Merrill served as the first volunteer chairman of the Village of Flat Rock’s Planning Board, served on the Apple Country Greenway Commission and Historic Flat Rock Inc., which he led as president for three years; and was a crusader for land conservation, serving on the board of Conserving Carolina for 13 years and as president in 2009-2010.

At IAM he filled in a variety of volunteer roles from 2016 until his death in February of this year, including board president and project manager overseeing construction of IAM’s thrift shop.

“Rick’s work on the IAM Thrift Store has provided the crisis services nonprofit with its first steady revenue stream since it was founded in 1984,” Moss noted. “Rick made his most recent contributions in 2022 while battling for his life with a brain cancer diagnosis. He has richly blessed his community and IAM.”

The Governor's Volunteer Service Award recipients are people who have shown concern and compassion for neighbors by making a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service. Henderson County recipients of the award for 2023 were:

  • Chip Gould, nominated by Blue Ridge Community College and UNC Health Pardee
  • Skip Grasser, nominated by nominated by the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County
  • Terry Ketcham, nominated by UNC Health Pardee
  • Eleanor Sloane, nominated by Safelight
  • Jim Steinbaugh, nominated by YMCA of Western North Carolina
  • The late Janice Witte, nominated by Children & Family Resource Center and United Way of Henderson County
  • Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara, nominated by Carl Sandburg National Historical Site

ChipGouldPardee President Jay Kirby and BRCC President Laura Leatherwood presented the Volunteer Service Award to Chip Gould.BRCC President Laura Leatherwood and Pardee President Jay Kirby presented the award on behalf of the office of the governor.

“We cannot think of a more deserving person to receive this recognition,” Leatherwood said.

Kirby added: “Chip has given countless hours of his time and talents to the organizations that he serves, and we are all the better for it. This recognition is well deserved.” 

Gould has served with Blue Ridge’s Board of Trustees since 2007, and he has held numerous community leadership positions. In addition to leading Blue Ridge’s Board of Trustees, Gould currently serves as chair UNC Health Pardee Board of Trustees and on the boards of the Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation, Pardee Hospital Foundation, Economic Investment Fund of Henderson County and First Bank Corp.