Join RiverLink at the RiverLink Performance and Sculpture Plaza on Saturday, September 8 at 2:00 p.m. to help celebrate Wilma Dykeman’s life, books and legacy. The event is free and open to the public. Speakers include James Stokley, son of Wilma Dykeman Stokley, Sharon Farrah, President of History at Hand and Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink with a guest musical performance by well-loved local musician and singer Laura Boothsinger. Bring a chair and enjoy an afternoon by the river and help us celebrate the installation of three informational permanent panels depicting the life, books and legacy of Wilma Dykeman. Also come learn about a new effort spearheaded by the authors family designed to perpetuate the Wilma’s world view.
Wilma Dykeman was born in Buncombe County and published her seminal book, The French Broad, in 1955. She fought to include a chapter entitled, “Who Killed the French Broad” which informed national interest about pollution in America’s rivers 7 years before Rachel Carson wrote the “Silent Spring” and 17 years before the first federal legislation, The Clean Water Act, was enacted by congress.
Wilma attended Biltmore Junior College (now the University of North Carolina at Asheville), graduating in 1938, and Northwestern University, where she was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa and graduated in 1940 with a major in speech.
In August 1940, shortly after her graduation from Northwestern, she was introduced to her future husband, James R. Stokely, Jr., by Mabel Wolfe, the sister of Asheville writer Thomas Wolfe. Stokely, of Newport, Tennessee, was a son of the president of Stokely Brothers Canning Company (which in 1933 bought Van Camp to become Stokely-Van Camp Inc. The Stokely brand of canned food is now a brand of Seneca Foods and Van Camps a brand of Conagra Inc.) The couple married just two months after they met. They had two sons, Dykeman Stokely and James R. “Rory” Stokely III. The couple maintained homes in Asheville and Newport, and Dykeman continued to divide her time in both homes after Stokely died in 1977. Dykeman and Stokely wrote several books together.
After Dykeman died in 2006, Appalachian writer Jeff Daniel Marion called the couple’s marriage a “partnership in every sense of the word,” describing Dykeman and Stokely as “partners in writing, partners in marriage and partners in having similar points of view.”
In addition to this, in honor of Wilma Dykeman who strongly advocated for linkage between economic development and economic protection along the French Broad River, both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County in Western North Carolina have adopted the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan – a 17-mile greenway & park system that intends to revitalize sustainable economic growth along the French Broad and Swannanoa River.
Dykeman died December 22, 2006 after suffering complications from a fractured hip and subsequent hip replacement surgery. She is buried in the Beaverdam Baptist Church Cemetery in Asheville, near her childhood home