Wilma is born and raised in Lynn Cove at the head of the Beaverdam Valley just north of Asheville, North Carolina. Attends Grave Elementary School, Grace High School, and Biltmore Junior College. Her father, Willard Jerome Dykeman, is a retired dairy farmer from upstate New York. Her mother, Bonnie Cole Dykeman, is a homemaker and daughter of a timberman.
Wilma trains at Northwestern University to be an actress. Acting coach Alvina Krause compares Wilma favorably with her former student Jennifer Jones. Wilma lines up a post-graduation job in Manhattan as the initial faculty member of The Finch School's new broadcasting department, but she marries Tennesseean James Stokely and finds herself a thousand miles from Broadway.
Wilma writes short stories, radio programs, book reviews, and a memoir while her husband grows apples. She gives birth to two sons. In The French Broad (a Rivers of America book), she publishes her argument that environmental sensitivity can encourage broad-based economic development. She reports on civil rights for national magazines, and publishes the award-winning Neither Black Nor White.
The Role Model
The height of her career. She publishes three novels, including the Southern mountain classic The Tall Woman. She leads workshops on Appalachian history and literature throughout the region. She writes a popular and influential weekly column for The Knoxville News-Sentinel. She averages thirty talks a year as a sought-after speaker and role model.
Husband James Stokely dies in 1977 from a heart attack. Wilma teaches Appalachian literature and creative writing at the University of Tennessee for two decades. She secures funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation for one of the nation's first summer institutes for high school teachers. She helps name the Tennessee Titans football team.
A Powerful Legacy
Wilma begins to experience memory issues, and keeps a diary as a coping mechanism. In 2003, she moves to an assisted living facility in Asheville. She breaks her hip three years later and dies from complications following surgery. Wilma's essence - a life devoted to her core values - lives on through our actions.