Kannapolis mayor receives Order of the Long Leaf Pine
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — When he was honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor, Mayor Bob Misenheimer said he was more than just surprised.
Retelling the story Saturday at a charity breakfast at the Cannon Memorial Lodge in Kannapolis, he seemed lost for words.
“I tell you, it was a wonderful surprise,” he said.
He’d been told by John Cox, head of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce, to expect to receive that group’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
But when Gov. Beverly Perdue made the presentation in a prerecorded message sent from Raleigh, she was honoring not only Misenheimer’s work as mayor, but his years of giving back to the community as an educator and volunteer.
Most people’s idea of a modern-day mayor is a person in a sharp suit who stays at arm’s length from the public much of the time.
But time and again during the interview, passers-by walked up to shake hands and chat with their mayor.
Most of them were former students from Misenheimer’s decades in the local schools.
When Misenheimer was discharged from the U.S. Air Force after serving in the Korean War, he went to Catawba College.
When he graduated in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Misenheimer said, teaching wasn’t the first career to cross his mind. He thought of a career as a businessman.
Instead, that fall he started teaching history at Cannon Jr. High School.
Before long, he was taking on more responsibilities.
During his 36 years in education, he served as principal of Shady Brook Elementary and Jackson Park Elementary in Kannapolis.
He then went on to Central Cabarrus High School and Northwest Middle School, where he remained until retiring in 1993.
That was a very different time in education, Misenheimer said.
At one point, while he was principal at Shady Brook, he filled in as a classroom teacher, teaching a room full of seventh-graders.
“I could do that because I had a secretary for four hours a day,” Misenheimer said.
And when a ninth-grade math class needed a teacher, he said, his history degree was no barrier.
“Whatever subjects needed to be taught, we just taught them,” Misenheimer said. “You couldn’t do that now, but I tell you, that was good experience.”
Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in administration from Appalachian State in 1962.
And he built long-lasting ties to the city where he spent much of his teaching career.
One of those who stopped to speak to Misenheimer was one of those former math students, Jerry Cline.
“He’s one of the few people who helped me through life,” Cline said.
When Kannapolis City Councilman Sam Stroup passed away in March 1989, Misenheimer said, his wife, Bernie, encouraged him to put his name in as a replacement.
“She said, ‘You’ve always had a desire to do something in government, in civics,’ and so I did,” Misenheimer said.
Those early years of city government weren’t always easy. For decades, Kannapolis had been an unincorporated “company town” owned by Cannon Mills.
“This was a growing experience for all of us,” Misenheimer said of his early years on the board.
“Kannapolis had never had any city government. People on the council had to learn about their responsibilities.”
He recalled the challenges of running the city as the mill, now Pillowtex, finally closed its doors.
Today, though more economic and growth challenges remain, Misenheimer said he believes the city’s leadership is strong and committed to working together to find solutions to problems.
As he enters the second half of his current term, Misenheimer, now 80, said he’s put aside some of the responsibilities he’s held outside of city government.
After retiring from education in 1993, Misenheimer began volunteering at what is now Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast.
As a receptionist in the Medical Arts Building on the hospital campus, he said, he was able to see more of the public.
“I really did enjoy that, because I got to see a lot of people come through there that I knew,” he said.
But it was bittersweet. He said he saw both peers and former students who passed away.
Within the past year or so, Misenheimer said, he’s stopped volunteering there, and handed on the duties of treasurer at his church.
“You get too busy,” Misenheimer said.
But, he added, “I don’t think I’ve slowed down.”
As to whether he’ll seek re-election in November 2013: “I haven’t made a decision. I’ve got almost another two years.”
The years he’s served Kannapolis as educator and leader, he said, have been very good ones.
Before finishing the interview, Misenheimer stopped at Veterans Park downtown, a place he calls “hallowed ground.”
He recalled the memorial to World War II veterans which stood there decades ago.
Misenheimer, honored by the governor and his peers for his service, said little about his own accomplishments.
Instead, as has been the case for years, he said he’s focused on the future.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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