Curious? Had you ever heard of this prestigious award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine? Me neither!
Since 1963, North Carolina’s governors have reserved their highest honor and recognition for persons who have made significant contributions to their communities through their exemplary service and accomplishments. Last month, Rita Burch, at her retirement party as CEO of Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, received the Long Leaf Pine Award from Governor Roy Cooper. Rita was recognized for her almost 34-year career as CEO of Hospice of the Carolina Foothills. From its inception, Rita took a small organization with few paid staff and a volunteer coordinator and developed it into a respected healthcare entity serving the needs of hospice and palliative patients for Rutherford County and surrounding area. As the organization grew and elderly care needs increased, Rita was instrumental in conducting three capital campaigns to construct the facilities utilized today. She is recognized for her leadership in hospice circles and has provided guidance to many organizations developing similar healthcare programs and facilities from across the country.
To put into perspective the significance of the Long Leaf Pine Award, the recipients of this coveted award include Maya Angelou, Dale Earnhardt, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, John Glenn, Gary Player, Dean Smith, Randy Travis, and Ted Williams, to name a few.
But this is not the end of the story. Hospice of the Carolina Foothills was sold to Agape Care Group in May, and from this sale, the Carolina Foothills Foundation was formed. Rita will serve as CEO of this new organization. The primary focus of the Foundation will be on eldercare with some grants to be directed to general wellness and youth development. An eldercare agency has already been created and will be led by Rita’s long term associate Heidi Owens. In addition, the Carolina Event and Conference Center and Resale Shop on Oak Street will continue to operate under the Foundation.
Congratulation to Rita Burch and to all those who helped make Hospice so successful in Rutherford County over the years. And best wishes for success to Rita and Heidi with the newly formed organization, Carolina Foothills Foundation.