by Bruce Boyer
John Wolfe’s passion for Kernersville is interwoven with his rich family history in the community.
John Wolfe’s roots in Kernersville run deeper than anyone else in the community. At the young age of 16, his Great, Great, Great Grandfather, Joseph Kerner, left Furtwangen in the Black Forest of Germany and ultimately arrived in the Piedmont. In 1817, Joseph Kerner purchased 1,000 acres of land in the area previously known as Dobson’s Crossing. Joseph’s lineage included two sons, John Frederick and Phillip, and a daughter, Salome. Joseph’s grandson, Jule Körner is well known for designing Kernersville’s most famous landmark, Körner’s Folly.
Although John Wolfe was baptized at Kernersville Moravian Church, his family moved frequently around the country due to his dad’s employment. John’s love for Kernersville remained with him, no matter where he lived. At age of 12, John boarded an airplane to spend the summer in Oak Ridge and his beloved Kernersville. Each year, John would return to Kernersville in the summer.
Influenced by his Uncle Gilmer, son of Jule Körner, John’s high school dream was to open a law practice at the “four corners of downtown Kernersville.” Three years after graduating from Wake Forest Law School in 1970, his dream came true and he has practiced there since.
A major theme in John’s passion for Kernersville is its history. Körner’s Folly remained in the family until a group of investors purchased the historic landmark from his Grandmother Doré and Great Uncle Gilmer in 1970. The investors enabled Körner’s Folly to remain a museum for Kernersville. Thanks to John’s and others’ leadership, the shareholders later contributed their shares to Preservation North Carolina and obtained the non-profit tax status that would qualify it for receiving charitable funds for preservation and operation. In recent years, fund raising efforts have intensified, as well as support from the Town of Kernersville, to enable the restoration of the roof, porch, brickwork, and outbuildings. Interior restoration is the next step. Prudent use of Occupancy tax funds has significantly increased tourism at the Folly.
John Wolfe’s motivation is for Kernersville to become a historic tourism destination, unifying the 1873 railroad depot, one-room schoolhouse, Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, and the newly incorporated Kernersville Museum, located in the Bellamy House, donated by John and Bobbie Wolfe. The Museum symbolizes John’s desire to provide interactive educational opportunities for children to learn about the history of their community. John’s fondest childhood memory is of time spent with his Grandmother Doré, as she read letters and introduced him to the history of the community. Now others will have the same opportunity.
John Wolfe has a unique position of both living the history and looking into the future of Kernersville. As the town’s attorney since 1976, he has worked side-by-side with elected officials and town employees to position Kernersville for a successful future. John observes the Triad’s larger cities expanding toward Kernersville. It is his hope that Kernersville will retain its unique identity and shine as a separate community, rather than be absorbed as a suburb of a larger city. John views Kernersville as its own complete community with a full-service town government, supporting civic organizations and churches, retail shopping, restaurants, and health care assets. Examples of an enhanced quality of life include the Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex, Kernersville Community Pool at the YMCA, and the many festivals held each year. Kernersville residents rarely need to go to the larger cities for the services they desire.
It is certainly working. The Novant Kernersville Medical Center, VA Clinic, FedEx Ground distribution center, and Deere-Hitachi expansion are all within the town limits because the business world sees what we have here.
When I asked John why he is proud to call Kernersville “MyVille” he highlighted five attributes: (1) Kernersville people are good, God-fearing, moral, giving people; (2) Kernersville’s character as a small Southern town; (3) our heritage of hard-working, strong individuals; (4) Kernersville is a real town with outstanding services; and (5) Kernersville is a community that serves youth through schools, churches, and civic activity.
Just like John enjoyed Kernersville as a young boy, it is his goal we will continue to help children experience the warm, friendly community he experienced in his youth.