Umstead awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine

Craig Umstead, a 1976 graduate of Hillside High School in Durham received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in August for his almost 40 years of service to the state of North Carolina. (Staff photo by Elise Holsonback)

A hearty belly laugh resounds through the room as Craig Umstead, friend of many and public servant of North Carolina for over 35 years, recounts a vivid story of one of his many volunteering adventures.  The 1976 Hillside High School graduate was presented The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in August for his years of service to the state of North Carolina.

Umstead was nominated and applied for the prestigious award in early 2016.  He is now on the recipient list among prominent names such as Maya Angelou, Tennessee Williams and Oprah Winfrey.

Umstead said in regard to winning the award, “When you go out there, and you see all these people, you know, some of them you’ll recognize from North Carolina history—they’re really sharp folk–and so the fact that someone considered me enough to even fall within that group of various distinguished people—it was an honor just to be nominated.  When I got the information that I’d gotten the award, I said, ‘I really can’t believe it, because compared to some of these other people…it’s big time.’”

According to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society website, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine was created in 1963 and is an award presented on a nomination and application basis to those who have made a significant impact and served in North Carolina for at least 30 years.  Among presentation of the award, recipients are granted “the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary,” and given a certificate that bears this title at an awards ceremony hosted by the North Carolina governor.

Umstead graduated from Hillside High School with a diploma concentrated in business.  In his time at Hillside, he played football, wrestled and ran track and was selected as the 1976 Paul Williams Award winner for Top Durham County Athlete.  He then went on to graduate from Winston-Salem State University in 1980, where he was senior class vice president.  He is actively pursuing a MBA in organizational management from Ashford University with plans to graduate in 2017.

Umstead has served as a volunteer and is an active board member of organizations including March of Dimes, the North Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (the Jaycees), Habitat for Humanity and many others.  He has also volunteer coached for the NCAA and various high school and recreational sports teams throughout the state.  When he is not volunteering, Umstead owns and consults at his own firm, Management Advisory Consulting Services.

When asked why he focuses so much of his energy volunteering with organizations that help youth, Umstead said that he believed, “Young people are the key to our society.” He says he wants to teach youth to positively affect society every day, saying,  “Young people seem to be very receptive to the idea that it’s a daily walk and it’s all about where you’re going to put yourself on a daily basis that’s going to affect your output.  If I don’t do what I can for young people, they have less of a chance of impacting society.”

Umstead also says he feels a connection to his home state of North Carolina through volunteering, saying, “I grew up in this state, but I really appreciate what the state has to offer: the people, the opportunity for a good quality of life.  North Carolina is worth working for and…helping out to make it the best it can be.”  He said his pride in North Carolina pushed him to change negative statistics in the state, such as high rates of infant mortality (he is a member of the March of Dimes board).  Umstead said he wants to promote a sense of wellness for communities to make society “less self-centered,” saying, “We could have a heart of kindness and a heart of gratitude—creating citizens that are able to help mankind.”

Although Umstead has received many awards for his volunteer efforts, he said he does not serve for the recognition, but rather for the purpose, saying “It’s not about the award…it’s a labor of love for me.”

Umstead said that through receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, he wants to show that everyone, not just people of major influence, can make a difference in his or her community.  He says he believes any impact starts local, saying, “If you can impact a single person in a positive manner, you’ve achieved something.”  Umstead also said this award has enabled him to put a spotlight on the need and importance of volunteers—something for which he is grateful.

Umstead said his ultimate goal is to inspire people through his volunteerism—something from which he has gained so much.  “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do with my time than to volunteer…when I see the difference that’s being made, I can say my time has never been wasted.”