One of the longest-running festivals in the state of North Carolina is the state’s official woolly worm festival, the annual Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival, held each third weekend in October in downtown Banner Elk.
Although the 2020 edition of the festival was canceled, a more muted affair was held due to the COVID-19 pandemic that dominated much of the headlines throughout the year, as worms representing the two event sponsoring organizations raced a worm to determine a champion and the weather prediction for the coming winter season.
Among the few socially distanced individuals in attendance at the worm race at Holston Presbytery Camp was Roy Krege. Krege, a co-founder of the festival with the late Jim Morton, has been a cornerstone of the annual Woolly Worm Festival since its inception in 1978. Presiding over the festivities with the moniker of “Mr. Woolly Worm” and adorned with themed hat, shirt, yellow jacket and pink slacks to pair with a woolly autumn beard, Krege for four decades has been the face of the festival, helping to spread the word across the region with public appearances touting the festival’s origins, appeal and philanthropy, whether it be hosting worm races at local elementary schools or appearing on regional television broadcasts to promote the event.
“I first wore the shirt that was made by the festival,” Krege said in a 2016 interview with The Avery Journal-Times. “You try to put yourself in and decide how to be a little bit different and how to add some color. When Don Iverson started making the shirts for the festival, that’s when I was able to get these clothes and begin adding to them each year.”
Krege’s trademark hat, often overlooked among his distinct ensemble, contains pins that are symbolic of great things in Avery County. Pins commemorate the 1994 passing of the Tour DuPont cycling race in the area, the work of Volunteer Avery County, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, and, of course, Krege’s beloved Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk, of which he is the club’s longest-serving member since moving to Banner Elk in 1969.
For the 40th anniversary of the festival in 2017, Krege and Morton were honored for their service to the event and its primary sponsors, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and Banner Elk Kiwanis.
“If you can touch a life, your life is also touched,” Krege noted in an interview in 2016 when he reflected upon his retirement from full-time service as Mr. Woolly Worm. “Some philosophies say the reason people do things like this is for their own good. Yes, it does make a difference in your life if you’re helping others. But at the same time, you’re touching other people.”
Krege has also held a number of positions at Lees-McRae College, and was principal at the Grandfather Academy Charter School in Banner Elk. He has also been previously named Avery County Man of the Year and has been honored as one of the Legends of Avery County.
In 2017, the Woolly Worm Committee presented framed prints of that year’s festival poster which commemorated both Krege’s and Morton’s 40 years of service to the festival.
“It’s been great,” Krege reflected at the time. “I’m thrilled at how successful it’s been, and I’m more thrilled about the lives we’ve touched. Not only with all the people that come to the festival and enjoy it so much, but the money that was then able to be given back to so many needy organizations and especially to touch the lives of children.”
The annual Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival is held each October. For more information, visit www.woollyworm.com.