MECC Celebrates the Life of Sue Ella Boatright-Wells, Dean of Workforce Development

Sue Ella

Big Stone Gap, VA — Mountain Empire Community College is mourning the loss of a longtime employee, Sue Ella Boatright-Wells. Sue Ella served as the college’s Dean of Workforce Development.

Sue Ella left a legacy of 39-years of service with MECC, touching hundreds of thousands of lives in her efforts to keep the culture and traditions of the Southwest Virginia region alive and growing. Not only was she a tireless advocate for workforce programs in Southwest Virginia, she was primary coordinator of the Home Craft Days Festival, was instrumental in the development of MECC’s Mountain Music School, and facilitated the development of the Wise County JAMS afterschool program.

Sue Ella was a dedicated community servant. She was a member and past chair of the Scott County Rotary Club and was a board member for Mountain Empire Older Citizens, Round the Mountain, and Pro Art. She served on the Southwest Virginia Leadership Academy Steering Committee, Crooked Road Traditional Music Education Program, Papa Joe Smiddy Festival Committee, and the Community Advisory Committee for WMMT Radio at Appalshop. In 2015, she was awarded the Virginia Community College System Community Service Award by VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois.

“She loved Mountain Empire Community College and was the driving force behind both Home Craft Days and the Mountain Music School,” said MECC President Dr. Scott Hamilton. “Her leadership and guidance helped these important college events grow and prosper.”

The Home Craft Days Festival, held annually the third weekend in October, has served as an integral part of MECC’s longstanding commitment to promoting and preserving the rich musical and cultural heritage of Southwest Virginia. Established in 1972, the festival features more than 200 musicians and artisans from throughout Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and Eastern Kentucky and draws at least 10,000 visitors to the MECC campus.

Through her interactions with musicians throughout the region, Boatright-Wells established the MECC’s Mountain Music School in 2004. This unique educational program offers opportunities for students age ten and older to experience traditional Appalachian old-time music in a fun, enriching, and supportive environment.

Sue Ella, along with friend Ron Short, developed the school to address a growing concern that traditional mountain music was not being passed down to the youth of Southwest Virginia. Today, the school has grown to include more than 170 students, many of whom travel from throughout the country and even internationally to participate. Sue Ella was able to see the conclusion of her beloved Mountain Music School last Friday and the final concert, dedicated to her, was live-streamed so she could watch from home.

To further expand traditional music education in Southwest Virginia, Boatright-Wells worked with school divisions throughout the region to establish the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. The after-school program has allowed hundreds of students to learn the music, traditions, and heritage of our mountain culture.

“Sue Ella has been a venerable member of the chief workforce officers group for years, offering both history and perspective to us all,” said Virginia Community College System Vice Chancellor for Workforce Development Services Dr. Craig Herndon. “She was admired for her knowledge and for her kindness. She also had a passion for serving her community. This was clear in her zest for workforce development as well in her tireless work to support and promote the richness and beauty of Appalachian culture.”

A scholarship has been established honoring Sue Ella Boatright-Wells’ legacy which will support scholarships for Mountain Music School students. For more information, or to donate, please contact the MECC Foundation at 276.523.2400 ext. 466 or visit