Dr. Harley E. Jolley, who taught history at Mars Hill University for over 40 years and was a widely-recognized authority on the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), died at home in Mars Hill on Nov. 23. He was 100.
He was born in Caldwell County and raised near the Wilkes County line in Caldwell’s Kings Creek community. Jolley was valedictorian when he graduated from Kings Creek High School in 1937. He had numerous relatives in Wilkes.
Jolley was a member of the CCC in North Carolina in the late-1930s, a federal New Deal program that provided jobs building the Blue Ridge Parkway, schools, dams and other public works projects nationwide during the Great Depression. In 2007, he researched and wrote a book titled, “That Magnificent Army of Youth and Peace: The Civilian Conservation Corps in North Carolina, 1933-1942.”
In addition to his teaching career, Jolley spent 25 years as a seasonal ranger and historian with the interpretive division of the U.S. Park Service, on the Parkway. He was often interviewed on the history and creation of the Parkway. He authored 10 books and publications chronicling the Parkway’s history, including the often-referenced pictorial history, “The Blue Ridge Parkway: The First 50 Years.”
Jolley was also a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran and among the last survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He returned to Pearl Harbor with his family for the 75th anniversary commemoration of the attack in 2016. It was his first time back.
As a professor of history at MHU from 1949 to 1991, Jolley was well known for bringing history alive in his classroom with vivid descriptions and sound effects. In announcing his death, Mars Hill University said Jolley and his wife, the late Betty Cornette Jolley, formed the backbone of MHU’s history department for about four decades.
Jolley was a member and Sunday School teacher at Mars Hill Baptist Church for many years. He received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2008.
In July, Jolley’s 100th birthday was celebrated with a parade in Mars Hill. Numerous former students and colleagues drove down College Street to call out birthday greetings and wave posters.
According to the MHU announcement, the Jolley family plans a small family funeral for now. A celebration of life will be planned at a later date. Burial will be at Mars Hill Baptist Church Cemetery.