By Mary Pembleton
Summer Woodard ’08, MPA ’10 recently left her hometown of Franklin, where she’s served as town manager since 2014, for bigger pastures across the state in her new role as city manager of Reidsville. Alpaca pastures, to be exact.
“Until the contractor I’ve hired to build my house is finished, I’m renting an Airbnb on a 102-acre farm with over 60 alpacas, seven Great Pyrenees, 20 chickens, honeybees, two rescue dogs, one cat and three birds,” Woodard said.
Bigger, too, in the sense that Reidsville’s population is about 14,000 to Franklin’s 4,200, and operates on a considerably larger budget, which, as city manager, Woodard will be tasked with maintaining. With budget being her favorite aspect of the job, she’s up to the challenge. In her time as town manager of Franklin, Woodard increased the town’s savings from 32 percent to 82 percent of the annual budget.
Warm as she is capable, Woodard also enjoys building relationships with residents she serves. “I like to get out to Main Street, I like to participate in festivals,” Woodard said. “This particular position of city manager allows you to really immerse yourself in the culture of the town.”
Having first assumed the role at the age of 27, Woodard was not only Franklin’s youngest-ever town manager, but also the first female to hold the title, an honor she will also bring to her new position. She credits her successes to the people who raised her. As the daughter of a single mother, her maternal grandparents were instrumental to her upbringing in Franklin, where “the beauty of the mountains is endless, the residents are welcoming and time is considered valuable,” Woodard said. “I couldn’t think of a more perfect childhood.”
Her mother worked multiple jobs, Woodard said, “to make sure she and I had plenty,” and she stayed with her grandparents during her summer breaks. During those months, Woodard often helped tend their garden, learning from them the importance of planning and preparation, and anticipating the seasons. They also imparted a value she holds close: caring for others.
These life lessons, of planning and preparation and volunteering, were reinforced by both her undergraduate and graduate experience at WCU. Woodard said that both strategic and succession planning are strengths she brings to her position. “I always try to look at a decision and say, ‘Sure this is great for today. But how will that decision affect us years down the road?’” she said.
She initially majored in political science, but later added an additional major in history, at the encouragement of her Religion in America professor, Richard Starnes ’92 MA ’94. “We can learn so much from our past to prepare for our future,” Woodard said.
“The qualities that set Summer apart as a history student — intelligence, work ethic and creativity — have served her very well as a local leader. The community she will serve in Reidsville is very lucky to have her,” said Starnes, WCU’s provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.
In 2006, during Woodard’s sophomore year at WCU, she moved home from Cullowhee to care for her mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Woodard was able to balance her devotion to her family with her academics, and went on to receive her master’s degree in public affairs in 2010. Then in 2011, her grandfather died suddenly, followed by the death of her mother in 2012. Woodard cared for her grandmother until her death in 2018. “I was their priority growing up and I wanted them to be my priority in their final years.”
Then, a pandemic hit. “Experiencing that tremendous loss, and then the COVID-19 pandemic, made me realize how precious and short life really is,” said Woodard.
This sentiment is what inspired her move. After the loss of her family, Woodard said Franklin doesn’t feel much like home anymore. And though she’ll miss Franklin, Woodard is hoping that a new start will bring healing. In Reidsville, Woodard said she’s hoping to honor her family by becoming an asset to the city in the many ways that they taught her to be.