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John Henry Isenhour dies at 97

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
John Henry Isenhour Sr. ó former mayor of Salisbury, industrial leader and philanthropist ó died Saturday at his Confederate Avenue home, just 13 days before his 98th birthday.
Isenhour’s career and his active service in his hometown spanned more than six decades.
Under his leadership, the company his family founded in 1896, Isenhour Brick and Tile, was known as one of the state’s leading manufacturers of building materials at a time when North Carolina’s brick industry was booming.
In 1934, at age 23, Isenhour became president of the company. He held that position for 38 years.
After he stepped down as president in 1972, he remained chairman of the board until 1995.
Among other innovations during his career, Isenhour Brick developed the first tunnel kiln for brick manufacturing in the southeastern United States.
He was a 1933 graduate of North Carolina State College, now N.C. State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering.
As an undergraduate at N.C. State, he was a member of the Keramos fraternal honor society of professional ceramic engineers.
At the age of 28, Isenhour was awarded a patent for a new type of ceramic tile he developed. The “speed tile” he invented allowed for quick installation by hand with less fatigue, according to a January 11, 1940, Salisbury Post story.
N.C. State presented him the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 1967.
The Web site of N.C. State’s College of Engineering praises him as “an active leader in endeavors to bring the brick and tile industry in the Southeast to a position of national prominence…”
Isenhour went on to serve as a member and vice president of the N.C. Engineering Foundation, which supported engineering education and research programs at N.C. State.
His leadership ability would soon be recognized beyond his field of study.
In 1944, Isenhour was named to the board of directors of the Morris Plan Co., which would later become Security Bank. He retired from that board in 1985.
In November 1950, Isenhour’s company joined the Structural Clay Products Research Foundation, which was headquartered in Chicago.
In January 1951, he was named president of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce.
He was elected to the Salisbury City Council in November 1951, winning the largest number of votes of any single candidate up to that time.
He was named mayor pro tem for his two-year term on the council.
Then, in 1953, he was elected mayor, succeeding Ernest L. Hardin.
Prior to that election, in October of ’53, Isenhour was elected to the board of trustees of Rowan Memorial Hospital.
After his two-year term as mayor ended, he served 15 years on the board of directors of the Country Club of Salisbury.
He was named to the board of directors of Piedmont Natural Gas Co. in 1956, a post he held until 1984 during a time of rapid growth in that industry.
Isenhour was a longtime member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury.
In 1975, he was elected to the executive board of the North Carolina Lutheran Home; he served on that board throughout the next two decades.
In recent years, Isenhour and his wife, Nell, turned their attention to benefitting education locally.
They created a charitable trust to benefit Catawba College in 1995.
In 2005, they established the John and Nell Isenhour Sr. First Family Scholarship at Catawba College, a competitive award given to students with exceptional academic achievements and strong character.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. John’s Lutheran Church, with a private burial to follow.
Details of the arrangements may be found in the Obituaries listing in today’s Salisbury Post.

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