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Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards given to 2 local citizens


The 13th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards recently honored two Washington County residents.

Ruth Verhegge and Harlee Petretta were honored at the 2020 Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards in a virtual ceremony on February 7th for their outstanding community involvement and service. 

Ruth Verhegge is a dedicated community problem solver. Her volunteer initiatives include raising funds to support the Jonesborough Flag Project which offers for adoption, replacement, and maintenance of the 100 flags that line Main Street of Jonesborough.  She also leads an annual flag retirement ceremony. 

In 2017, she started a fundraising project to purchase K-9 dogs for the Jonesborough Police Department after an officer shot an armed man on 11-E. Previously, the town had a single K-9 that wasn’t trained in apprehension. 

“If a K-9 had been available,” Verhegge said, “the young man might not have been shot, the officer would not bear the weight of having killed someone and the incident would most likely have been a quiet apprehension.” 

By the end of the second year, fundraising doubled and a 501(c)3 was established. In its first year, she created the Jonesborough “Paws in Blue” program and raised enough to purchase and train two dogs, provide training for the handlers, and fund complete maintenance. 

The initial purchase and training for a single dog requires between $15,000 and $18,000. Annual maintenance (food, medical care, etc.) is about $3,000 per dog. In the second year, 2019, two additional dogs were added.  Since its inception, “Paws in Blue” has raised over $75,000. This also includes a donation by Homeland Security.  

Harlee Petretta

Harlee Petretta, a 2020 graduate of David Crockett High School, is now attending the University of Tennessee.  During her high school years, she was heavily involved with community activities as president and National Beta Club member. Petretta volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank and the John Reed Assisted Living Facility. 

Petretta has also spent many hours volunteering for activities in Jonesborough. Each year she volunteered to help with the annual Jonesborough Area Merchants and Services Association activities such as Chocolate Fest and Scoop Fest. 

She is also recognized for her leadership in recruiting and organizing other teen volunteers to help the downtown merchants for events throughout the years. 

While COVID-19 restrictions have severely limited her volunteer opportunities, she still finds a way to give by being a regular blood donor.

A video of the virtual awards ceremony can be seen at