Nicest Place in America
Finalist for : Hayesville, North Carolina
Hayesville is a top-10 finalist in our Nicest Place in America contest. Vote for your favorite Nicest Place—the winner will be on the cover of the November issue of Reader’s Digest magazine.
The tiny town of Hayesville, North Carolina is a place where people make miracles happen. No, nobody is parting the red sea or making wine from water. But, for a town of under 400 people, Hayesville has seen a lot.
Meeting ‘The Angel’
Hattie Sheehy has lived in the charming small town of Hayesville for nine years. She has seen kind acts, “too many to count,” like the time a stranger chased her down to let her know a hubcap fell off her car or the way the community comes together at Sunday night potlucks. But nothing got to her, or the town, the way “the angel” did after her husband’s death.
Jim Haines left his home on his motor scooter in January 2012, never to return. It was an accident on the nearby highway—nobody knows exactly what went wrong.
“The night of the accident, while Jim fought for his life at a trauma center, flown by helicopter to Memphis, there was a knock at the door,” Sheehy remembers. “In came Father John, our then beloved priest, who put his arms around me and said, simply, ‘Hattie, I love you.’”
At Jim’s funeral, the church filled with townspeople as “Be Still My Soul” was played on the organ. Then it went quiet. Down the center aisle, seeming to float, came a lovely young woman with long blonde hair. She climbed the two steps up toward the altar and turned to face the assembled.
She spoke: “I had to be here today; I cannot stay, my newborn is waiting at home. But all of you had to hear that Jim did not lay on that road alone. He was surrounded by caring strangers and it happened as if it had been ordained. Our car was not far back from the first car when everything came to a standstill. We saw a woman crying hard, standing at her car, the motor scooter had run right into it. No one knew why, maybe brakes. Jim lay there, very still. Cell phones came out. Then, quietly, about 20 people moved close and, taking the crying woman into us, we all formed a circle around him and clasped hands. We bowed our heads and someone began a prayer. Then another. We enclosed that poor man with love and prayer, not moving until the ambulance and sheriff’s car arrived. I feel like I was sent here today to let all you folks who knew and loved him know, that he was not there alone.”
“I was sent here today to let all you folks who knew and loved him know, that he was not there alone.”
And then she was gone.
After the funeral, desperate to know who the angel was, Hattie put a letter in the local paper, asked everyone she knew—and some she didn’t—who was that angel. Months later, at another funeral service, Hattie’s best friend sat in a pew, reaching for the hymnal at the same moment the woman next to her did. She looked, then gasped, “YOU’RE the Angel!” The woman’s name is Renee Bebe. “But for me,” says Hattie, “she will always be what she was and is: The Angel.”
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Making a Brave Firefighter Cry Tears of Joy
Courtesy Kayla StephensTo a very special group of heroes, Hayesville is a town full of angels—as was shown in a story that garnered national headlines.
It was the start of Hayesville’s slow season and the Clay County Fire and Rescue staff was readying to take a break when the wildfires broke out. The local fire department did their best to battle the fires, but 10 acres quickly turned into 100 and it overwhelmed the tiny town.
So the government sent in the “Hotshots,” federal firefighters who deal with such catastrophes.
Hayesville welcomed their new visitors with open arms and ensured that the Hotshots had everything needed to successfully fight the flames, thanks to the town’s 200-plus volunteers who worked around the clock.
“Every day multiple vans and cars would pull up to the home base to donate water, Powerade, non-perishables, offer a listening ear or just to pray over the men and women helping keep our forest lands from burning and our homes safe,” says Kayla Stephens, a Hayesville resident.
The local youth even wanted to chip in and do their part to help, so thousands of thank-you cards were written.
“We posted them on the walls, packed them in lunches, and put them on placements for mealtime,” says Gottlieb.
So much help was offered, that donations had to be turned down. Volunteers had to be told to go home.
The town worked tirelessly for 32 days straight and the fires were extinguished. The Hotshots were so overwhelmed by the support they received from the people of Hayesville that they created a video thanking the town.
“You guys do not know how much you mean, all the support you guys give us,” says Ron, a firefighter from Oregon, in the video, which you can see below. “Out of four years that I’ve been fighting fire, this is about the most hospitable state and county that I’ve ever been in.”
“I had never in my 29 years seen a community be so selfless and kind,” says Stephens. “I cried multiple times that summer and fall over the generosity and bigheartedness of the community.”
Generations of Care
Courtesy Jacqueline Gottlieb
In Hayesville, the town leaders invest in its youth and younger children see spending time with their elders as a privilege.
“Adults invest time in the young people,” says Jacqueline Gottlieb, who moved to Hayesville six years ago, and whose son and daughter attend the local school.
“My daughter signed up for track and field and a fellow from church came over to teach her how to throw shot and disc,” she says. “Then my son signed up for football for the first time, and the same man asked to help him as well.”
Gottlieb’s son also takes part in a weekly boy’s breakfast and junior firefighter program, where firefighters train the boys to use tools and equipment.
“It’s about spending time and relationships,” she says. “People make time for others here.”
Courtesy Kessie LedfordHattie Sheehy, whose husband the angel prayed for, spends her Fridays reading to second, third, and fourth graders at the local elementary school, where she’s formed friendships with the children. They like her so much so that they regularly write her thank-you cards and send her socks. (She’s known for wearing crazy socks on Fridays.)
“I’ve lived in many states, towns large and small, but I consider Hayesville the finest example of the Golden Rule,” says Sheehy. “These attributes could save the world, if only we’d let them.”
“I’ve lived in many states, towns large and small, but I consider Hayesville the finest example of the Golden Rule,”
Hayesville is a top-10 finalist in our Nicest Place in America contest! Vote for your favorite Nicest Place—the winner will be on the cover of the November issue of Reader’s Digest magazine!