Two Indian-Americans recognized with top civilian award of North Carolina

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Ganga Dhar Sharma, Ph.D., and Saroj Sharma received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, among the highest civilian awards of North Carolina, from the Governor of the State Roy Cooper Feb. 12, 2019. (Photo: courtesy Bharat Vedak)

An Indian-American couple from North Carolina were recognized Feb. 12, by the Governor of the state for their lifelong service to the community.

Dr. Ganga Dhar and Saroj Sharma were celebrating 70th wedding anniversary with 300 guests including high profile leaders, at the Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC), in Morrisville, when they were surprised by State Senator Jay Chaudhuri handing each of them the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, bestowed by Governor Roy Cooper. It is awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina, according to a press release.

“The Sharmas have dedicated their entire life in North Carolina to community service. It is therefore only fitting and appropriate that Governor Roy Cooper has bestowed upon them one of North Carolina’s highest civilian awards, The Order of the Long Leaf Line. With this award, the Sharmas join the likes of Maya Angelou and Billy Graham.”, Dr. Subhash Gumber, a physician and a former member of the North Carolina Medical Board, is quoted saying in a press release.

State Sen. Chaudhuri told News India Times he had suggested the names of the Sharmas for the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. “Only a limited number of people are honored by the Governor and the reason I felt it was important to honor the Sharmas is because they are really imbued in our community as the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ of the Triangle community,” Chaudhari said. The award recognizes people who have made a significant contribution for the last 30 years to the state.

North Carolina Democratic State Senator Jay Chaudhuri speaking at the Feb. 12 event in Morrisville, where he presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Governor Roy Cooper to Ganga Dhar Sharma, Ph.D., and Saroj Sharma, for their lifelong service to the community. (Photo: courtesy Bharat Vedak)

“Today, largely because of the Sharma’s vision to locate the Hindu Society of North Carolina in Morrisville, the town is home to 25,000 residents, 30 percent of whom are Indian-Americans,” Chaudhuri said in his newsletter, adding, “Today, two Indian-Americans serve on the Morrisville Town Council.  None of this would have ever been achieved without the Sharmas and their vision.”

Apart from Chaudhuri, others present at the 70th wedding anniversary of the Indian-American couple included more than 300 friends, family members and elected officials, including US Congressman David Price, D-NC, North Carolina House Member Gale Adcock, Cary, North Carolina Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, former Morrisville mayor Mark Stohlman and Morrisville Councilman Satish Garimella.

All the high profile attendees had words of praise for the Sharmas, who they said had brought a rich Indian culture to North Carolinians and given of their time selflessly, especially in Cary and Morrisville. They were described as “one of our pioneer couples” who helped transform the area “into an incredibly diverse cultural and religious destination, former Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman is quoted saying.

Several members of the Indian-American community joined in praising the Sharmas, including Dr. Sajjan Agarwal, a successful entrepreneur and the largest benefactor of the Hindu Society of North Carolina, who said, “The Sharmas who are fondly called Uncle and Aunty by the Indian Community have been the pillars, inspiration and source of encouragement for the younger generation to follow the Hindu religion, culture and spirituality.” Others spoke of how the contributions of the Sharmas had benefited thousands of members of the temple,

Morrisville Councilman Satish Garimella echoed these sentiments, noting that, “The City of Morrisville has recognized their historic contributions to the City by painting their mural in the city hall. Even at their age, they both spend several hours a day at the temple providing leadership and guidance to the thousands that visit the temple every week.”

Dr. Ganga Dhar Sharma was born in Shikohabad (near Agra), did his Ph.D. in Entomology at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada, taught college in Ajmer, later joining UNESCO for an assignment in the Sudan. The couple came to North Carolina in 1972, where Dr. Sharma decided to teach science to high school students, retiring in 2009 from Governor Morehead School in Raleigh. Since then, he has devoted his life to public service, providing spiritual and religious services to the Hindu population in the state and around.

Saroj Sharma was born in Kanpur, in a family of vedic and Sanskrit scholars. She married Ganga Dhar Sharma in 1949, raised five children, and moved with her husband to Canada, Africa and the United States. She worked at Woolworth Corporation till 1995.

After their arrival in Raleigh, the couple became involved in various religious activities. and in 1976, along with 20 other colleagues founded the Hindu Society of North Carolina. the organization expanded over time and now meets the needs of the Triangle Indian American community. They also founded the Hindi Vikas Mandal (HVM), fostering study of the Hindi language. And in 2017, worked with the Governor’s office and Senator Chaudhuri to host the first ever Diwali function at the Executive Mansion.

 

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