Belk, Wheeler to receive Warren Wilson’s first honorary degrees

Two distinguished North Carolinians will be awarded honorary degrees May 12 at the 2012 Warren Wilson College Commencement.

Irwin Belk of Charlotte and Billy Edd Wheeler of Swannanoa each will receive the Doctor of Humane Letters from the college during the commencement ceremony. They are the first two recipients of honorary degrees from Warren Wilson.

A successful businessman and decorated World War II veteran, Irwin Belk is a member of the family that established the Belk department store chain and is the retired president of the Belk Group of Stores. He has served in both the N.C. House of Representatives and N.C. Senate, and in 1999 was appointed by President Clinton as the U.S. public delegate to the 54th U.N. General Assembly. He has been a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee for more than 40 years and received the committee’s highest volunteer award, the Olympic Order. He also is a longtime higher education philanthropist who endowed the Carol Grotnes Belk Outdoor Leadership Chair at Warren Wilson in 1996, in honor of his wife.

Billy Edd Wheeler is a 1953 graduate of Warren Wilson Junior College and has remained a staunch supporter of the college through the years. He came to North Carolina from West Virginia’s coal country as a 16-year-old in 1948, initially to attend Warren Wilson’s high school division. A resident of Swannanoa for nearly half a century, he has been a prolific songwriter and singer, playwright and poet, and painter and sculptor. Many of the songs he wrote are literally known all over the world, including such hits as “Jackson,” “Coward of the County” and “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back.” He has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. More information on Wheeler can be found at

Appropriately, Wheeler’s friend and Grammy Award winner Janis Ian will deliver the main address at Warren Wilson’s 2012 Commencement. The May 12 ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the lawn of Sunderland Residence Hall, near the North Entrance to campus.


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