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Tribute to Stanback: ‘Bird Man of Salisbury’ honored

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Family members and close friends know Bill Stanback as “The Bird Man of Salisbury.”
When his kids were little, he would pay them a dime for every bird they could identify.
His youngest son, Stanback likes to say today, earned his Ph.D. in woodpeckers and as a professor at Davidson College spends his summer days checking on about 400 bluebird houses.
John Wear Jr., head of the Catawba College Center for the Environment, says Bill Stanback can sit in the woods, close his eyes and identify all the birds by sound.
As Stanback was toasted (and roasted a little bit) Friday night, he kept reminding the audience that every story about him was being embellished.
For one, he doesn’t know all the bird calls.
For another, Stanback confessed with a laugh, he’s so deaf at age 85 that he couldn’t hear Kent Bernhardt sometimes as the emcee introduced video interviews and snapshots of Stanback’s life.
But that’s the humble, self-effacing, even-tempered Stanback, who the Community Care Clinic honored Friday as its Humanitarian of the Year.
The evening raised $41,000 for the nonprofit agency and gave family and friends of Stanback a chance to honor the former Salisbury mayor, businessman and philanthropist for a life richly lived.
Paul Fisher, chairman and chief executive officer of F&M Bank, said Stanback had two jobs in his life.
His “A” job, Fisher said, revolved around the Stanback Co. and its famous headache powder. Tim Norris, a former Stanback Co. employee, recalled the tears running down Stanback’s face the day he told employees the company was being sold.
Stanback’s “B” job was his drive to make God’s world a better place, Fisher said.
“I can tell you he was tremendously good at his ‘B’ job,” Fisher said.
Many speakers during the evening spoke of Stanback’s environmental stewardship. Wear said the Stanback stamp was on things taken for granted today, such as Salisbury’s greenways, the college’s Ecological Preserve, nature trails and Dunn’s Mountain.
Jason Walser, executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, remembered being sheepish one day in asking Stanback about possibly supporting a certain land conservation project in Davie County.
Stanback told him not to feel that way. He might or might not contribute, Stanback said, but Walser should realize that the conservation the land trust was doing was an opportunity to make a permanent difference.
“What you do, Jason, is forever,” Stanback said.
Stanback said Friday night he continues to fear the loss of open space, forest and wildlife.
When Salisbury first started talking about the establishment of greenways, Stanback “brought a lot to the table,” Wear recalled. He was committed to preservation, genuinely excited about nature and always caring about how people fit into the equation, Wear added.
The evening’s tribute to Bill Stanback carried a sailing theme, reflecting Stanback’s lifelong passion. As a youngster he was not only an Eagle Scout but a Sea Scout on High Rock Lake. During World War II, he served on a U.S. Navy destroyer escort in the North Atlantic.
As an adult, he tried boat building as a side business from his home.
“All I know is, my boat building ó it sank,” Stanback said.
Stanback was a business major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended Harvard Business School before returning to Salisbury to become a partner in the family business. He has been a longtime Kiwanian and Salisbury Community Foundation member. He served as mayor from 1973-75.
Norris said he learned three things from Bill Stanback: to have a humble spirit, deep love for your community and a servant’s heart.
“So many people know him, love him and know what he’s done for the community,” Bernhardt said.
Son John Stanback told a war story Friday night, suggesting that on his father’s ship’s first Naval battle, Bill Stanback spent most of the time in the shower.
“We didn’t know until tonight,” Bernhardt told him later, “that you were in the shower the whole war.”
“That’s news to me,” Stanback said, suggesting that again he was a victim of embellishment.
John Hart, Stanback’s stepson and a best-selling author, said he learned the kind of person Bill Stanback was only a few days after he first came to know him when Hart was 13. They were driving in Salisbury when Stanback’s instincts told him they should circle back and talk to an elderly man they had passed.
Stanback rolled down his car window and asked the man, “Can I help you?”
It turned out the man had wandered away from the veterans hospital and was lost and confused.
Hart saw for the first time that Stanback had a good heart and good instincts.
Part of his “B” job, no doubt.

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