August 17, 2023
Lake Junaluska supporters George Fields and husband-and-wife Mike and Anne Warren are the 2023 recipients of the Junaluska Leadership Award, an honor bestowed annually during Associates Celebration Weekend at Lake Junaluska.
Associates Celebration Weekend is a gathering of charitable supporters of Lake Junaluska, and the award recognizes strong leaders who support the mission and ministry of Lake Junaluska Assembly through their labors of love, service and charitable gifts.
George Fields and his wife, Mildred, built a house at Lake Junaluska in 1963 on a Methodist minister’s salary when “every dollar was hard to find,” Fields said, gradually adding on to the structure as money permitted. He eventually moved in full time after his wife died in 2013.
Fields, 92, wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a Methodist minister. In fact, Fields, who grew up on a farm in Lamar, South Carolina, was two years into his degree at Emory University in 1954 when he had what he said “others would describe as a vocational crisis” and decided to hitchhike to Alaska to help find clarity. He was 22 years old and feared he wasn’t “cutout for the institutional” confines of the United Methodist Church.
“I wanted to go somewhere that was still a frontier, and it was the only place I thought I could get to on my limited funds,” he said.
Fields got a job fighting forest fires, flying around the territory in a Grumman Goose, an amphibious plane that could land on water, with other men, many of whom were World War II veterans also trying to find their way.
“I was in theology school. I was questioning all the institutions. I went up there and worked with rootless people … with no institutional connection,” he said. “I decided pretty quickly I didn’t want that kind of life.”
He returned to Emory, graduated, became an ordained minister, and married. He served as an Army chaplain for 35 years, in addition to pastoring Methodist churches.
In 1972 Fields received a ministerial appointment to Spartanburg Methodist College to conduct a capital campaign. The four-year appointment led to another 21 years as the college’s president. He retired in 1996 and eventually moved to the Lake full time.
“As a Methodist pastor, your life is wonderful, but your family has deep roots nowhere,” he said.
Fields, who was a father of four (two are deceased), said he wanted his wife and children to have a place where they could spend a lot of time, make friends and have a home regardless of where they were living. The Lake checked all the boxes.
Fields, a charter member of the Lake Junaluska Associates, was presented his award by Steve Berwager, a 2022 award winner, who praised Fields for his long-time support of the Lake’s ministry events, landscaping and gardens, and capital projects. “With his years in church leadership and as a college president, he has been a sounding board on many projects, possessing a wealth of information and valuable advice,” Berwager said.
Fields also established an endowment in memory of his wife to support the preservation and maintenance of the lake.
Receiving the Junaluska Leadership Award was a surprise and an honor, Fields said.
“I thought I had moved onto geriatric obscurity, where things like this would never happen again,” he said. “Because I love Lake Junaluska, it fills me with great joy. I’m glad to know I’ve been of value.”
When Anne and Mike Warren heard the World Methodist Council building at their beloved Lake Junaluska was going to be sold, they and their daughter Laura Russell moved swiftly to provide gifts of charitable support to ensure it remained a part of the Lake. They also donated money for the building’s renovation and restoration of the Susanna Wesley Garden.
The couple had already planned to leave the Lake $1 million in their will, Anne Warren said. The sale of the building made them rethink the timing of their gift.
“When that knowledge came about we decided to make that contribution now while we were alive and while the need was so great,” she said.
While the Warrens’ public support of Lake Junaluska will be known for years to come with the renaming of the World Methodist Council building to the Warren Center, their connection to and support of the Lake goes way back. Anne’s parents–her dad was a Methodist minister–bought a home at the Lake in 1963. She and Mike bought the house from her parents in 1992. It’s the family retreat for their three grown children and 10 grandchildren, the couple said. “We have spent hours playing card games, sitting on the porch,” Mike Warren said.
Mike has served on the Lake Junaluska Board of Trustees as a member and most recently as its chair. Anne currently serves on the Board on its Advancement Committee. Receiving the Junaluska Leadership Award was special because of who it came from, the couple said.
“This represents acknowledgment on the part of the associates that Anne and I have been helpful to Lake Junaluska in a lot of different ways …,” Mike Warren said. “We appreciate the Lake Junaluska Associates.”
Bernie and Snookie Brown said the Warrens embody philanthropy by generously supporting the mission and ministry of Lake Junaluska.
“They are a couple, a team working both individually and together to use the gifts and talents God has granted them,” Snookie Brown said during the award ceremony.
The couple, who have been married for 55 years, hope their donation inspires others who love the Lake to do the same, no matter how small or large the contribution. “We think it’s important for people who love the Lake to participate–large or small gifts, or through volunteering,” Mike Warren said. “Success for us would include broadening the participation [of others] in some meaningful way in the future of Lake Junaluska.”
And the new Warren Center? Do they have visions of what they would like it to be?
“I hope it’s a place for music and laughter and study and joy and family reunions and maybe a lecture series; certainly weddings,” said Anne Warren. “It’s positioned in the heart of Lake Junaluska. I hope it’s a healthy heart that beats in ways we can’t even imagine now.”