Ever Heard of George Masa?



Have you ever heard of George Masa? Neither had I until one night I was at home and the friends I live with were flipping through TV channels. They stopped long enough on the National Geographic channel (Nat Geo!) that all of us said in unison, “Hey, hold up there.” National Geographic was showing a special series on our National Parks, and the old dated pictures of the park were breathtaking.

Watching the special, we learned that many of the photographs were the work of George Masa. George arrived in the United States in 1901 at the young age of twenty. In 1915 he settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where he would spend the final 18 years of his life. After initially working as a bellhop and valet at the Grove Park Inn, George left the inn to take a position as a photographer in February 1919. George found himself invited to photograph events and scenery with some of the most influential leading families of the time, such as the Vanderbilts, Groves and Seelys.

george-masa-smoky-mountainsGeorge Masa came to love the mountains of western North Carolina and he worked tirelessly for their preservation – at his own expense. Using his photographic equipment and an odometer he crafted from an old bicycle, he meticulously catalogued a significant number of peaks, the distances between them, and the names given to them by the local settlers and the Cherokee. Masa worked alongside friend Horace Kephart.  It was their heart’s desire that their work would result in the Smoky’s being preserved as a national park, so that the beauty of the spectacular mountain ranges could be treasured and appreciated by all, for all time.

In 1933 Masa died from influenza. One year after his death the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially established.

George Masa didn’t live to see his dream come true. But his work was not in vain.

I’ve hiked those mountains and the memory of doing so is forever etched on my mind. I owe George Masa a huge debt.

As a priest, as a rector, George’s life touches me deeply. He reminds me of all of the church volunteers I have seen through the years who labor and toil year after year, most of them never getting to see or witness the fruits of their labor. Christian educators, social justice advocates, ministers of word and sacrament, visitors of the sick and dying, proclaimers of the scriptures, ushers, choir members, picnic chefs and Christmas tree sales individuals. The list goes on and on. People large and small, young and old, give countless hours of their precious time to building the Kingdom of God. I am honestly in awe of them, one and all. I hope all church volunteers, particularly those at Emmanuel Episcopal Church where I serve as their rector, know and understand what their contributions mean. Their gift has helped further the work of Christ’s hands and heart. Their work has not been in vain. Their work is a blessing.  The fruit which comes from this toil will be a harvest the likes of which we could never imagine. Count on it.

Thank you all – one and all.

Peace friends,


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  • Barbara C. says:

    Thank you Chuck for those lovely words, I think we learn to give our time as youngsters and then it is in the blood. My grandmother who was a convert and lived to be 100 in the town 5 miles from where she was born always talked when I was growing up and spent time with her in the summers about the LCBA. Only as an adult and involved in CCD did I find out it stood for the Ladies Catholic Benevolent Association of Sacred Heart Church in Pennsylvania but I knew her friends were part of this group and they remained friends her entire life.

  • kathy McCleary says:

    Chuck, what a lovely, truly lovely tribute to those with whom you have known through the years of ministry. You have bestowed loving grace upon all!

    Recently a friend said to me that people, especially in ministry, are seed planters but we can get lost waiting for focusing on the harvest…and in ministry the harvest is rarely ever in our lifetime. So this friend said: “Continue to plant seeds…”

    Your tribute gives seed planters a spring in their steps! Bless you!

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