Board of Directors

We can build something that has positive and long-range impact for the region.

— Juanita Wilson

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*Honorary Eternal Director: Barbara McRae

Barbara Sears McRae graduated from St. Louis University with a B.S. in Biology in 1964. She attended graduate school at the University of Missouri for two years before taking a job as a systems engineer with IBM in Atlanta. After her 1972 marriage to artist Jim McRae, she moved with him to Macon County. Barbara become a reporter and columnist for The Franklin Press and continued her columns on local history and nature after starting a new career in public relations at Nantahala Power and Light Company (later Duke Energy). While at Duke, she was assigned to the Little Tennessee River Greenway project, with responsibilities in grant-writing, planning and public presentations. She retired from Duke and returned to The Press as editor, holding that position for ten years. Jim passed away in 2010. Since 2013, McRae has served on the Franklin Town Council, currently as vice mayor. She freelances as a writer and photographer. Her community involvement includes a leadership role in the Women's History Trail, a project of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County. This is the first such trail in North Carolina. 

* Deceased

Juanita Wilson

Co-Chair

Juanita Wilson is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the appointed leader of the EBCI Talent & Development Program. Wilson graduated from Western Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and completed her Master of Science in Leadership and Management at Montreat College. Wilson's professional journey has included a directorship with the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, executive leadership with the EBCI, and directorship with Western Carolina University. Along with serving on numerous boards and committees, she has participated in national and state-wide leadership development programs. She currently serves on the Z. Smith Reynolds Community Leadership Council and serves the EBCI through her work in 1) creating a new 14-program division in the Cherokee communities of Snowbird and Cherokee County and 2) developing talent and development strategies and training the EBCI workforce. 

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Bob McCollum

Co-Chair

Franklin native Bob McCollum retired from Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory after a 28-year career with the USDA Southern Research Station. In addition to his service on the Nikwasi Initiative, Bob is currently serving as Chairman of the board of Directors for Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center and is a former chairman of the North Carolina Public Lands Council. An avid musician, he can be found restoring vintage instruments or performing classic rock 'n' roll with The Remnants around the region. In 2018, the Western Carolina University graduate received the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce/Duke Energy Citizenship and Public Service Award. 

Fred Alexander

Fred Alexander became communications manager for Nantahala Power & Light in 1980 and retired as district manager of Duke Energy-Nantahala Area in 2013. For both companies, he was the liaison to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  He also chaired regional medical, mental health, economic development, tourism, and community development organizations.  Now he volunteers for the US Forest Service, his church, and as a photographer for several non-profits.  After graduating from UGA, he served as a Marine for four years and 18 more in the reserves.

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Watson Harlan

Watson Harlan is a Cherokee citizen residing in Painttown community on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He is a historian and cultural consultant with three years of experience in public history production and review and has been featured in multiple local and state historical societies. He has a B.A. in History with a minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies from UNC at Asheville.

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Hope Huskey

Hope Huskey, a Sylva resident, is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from UNC Asheville and earned her Master of Project Management from Western Carolina University. She is the Associate Director of the Sequoyah Fund, a Native Community Development Financial Institution, where she oversees the Fund's programs and helps new and existing business owners access capital and provides business counseling. Hope is a member of Mainspring's Board of Directors.

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Ben Laseter

Ben Laseter is the Deputy Director of Mainspring Conservation Trust, a regional land trust based in Franklin. Ben joined Mainspring in 2012 after working as a Senior Biologist at a North Carolina-based environmental consulting firm. Ben has earned degrees at both the University of Georgia (B.S., Ph.D.) and the University of Memphis (M.S.). 

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Justin Setser

Justin Setser is a native of Macon County and is the Town Planner for the Town of Franklin. Justin was appointed to the board by the Town of Franklin of the Nikwasi Initiative after the transfer of the Nikwasi Mound deed to the Initiative. Upon graduation from Franklin High School Justin attended Haywood Community College, receiving an Associate’s Degree in GIS/GPS Technology in 2006. He was the former GIS Analyst for Macon County. Justin is a North Carolina Certified Zoning Official (CZO) and is a graduate of the 2018 NC Rural Centers Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI). Justin is also Franklin Fire Department Captain and proud to be an Eagle Scout.

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Nancy Taylor

Franklin transplant, Nancy Taylor, MSW, LCSW, is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Nancy graduated from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  She completed her master of Social Work while attending the University of Arkansas. As an Indian Health Service scholar, she completed her service obligation on the Navajo Nation.

Nancy continues to work within the Indian Health Service, serving Native American people. She is currently a Substance Abuse Specialist at a youth residential treatment center in Cherokee, NC, where she provides clinical mental health and substance use treatment to enrolled children and families throughout the Nashville area.