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In memory: 2012 claimed notable ‘grains of sand’

SALISBURY — During the first week of April, illnesses claimed the lives of two of Salisbury’s most compassionate men — Jim Hurley and Paul Bernhardt.

Hurley, onetime reporter, editor and publisher of the Salisbury Post, said once that when you study history, you realize we’re only here for so long.

“We’re a grain of sand,” he said. “Our lives are inconsequential in the scope of the universe. (But) Daddy taught us to be good stewards.”

Both Hurley and Bernhardt showed a love for their neighbors through their businesses, community leadership roles and quiet deeds.

“He never saw a stray cat, a stray dog or a person down on his luck that he was not kind to or that he would not take in,” friend Al Hoffman said of Bernhardt, a former mayor of Salisbury and longtime owner of Bernhardt Hardware Co. on North Main Street.

As with every year, 2012 was no different in claiming lives of treasured leaders, artists, athletes, businessmen, law enforcement officers, children, adventure-lovers and friends.

The Post pauses to look back at some of notable deaths of 2012. This short list does not include traffic fatalities or homicides in Rowan County, and, of course, is not meant to be all-inclusive of folks lost during the year.

Jim Hurley — His 22 years as Post publisher covered the newspaper’s most profitable era. Beyond the newspaper, he worked to improve the community through leadership roles on some of its most important capital campaigns.

Hurley and his family contributed millions to projects helping to build parks, YMCAs, shelters, college buildings, scholarships, senior centers, libraries, swimming pools, school athletic facilities and more.

Hurley, 80, died April 2.
Paul Bernhardt — Over his seven decades at the hardware store, Bernhardt was the ultimate promoter and salesman. Back in the day when he regularly entered national contests for various promotions, he won four new cars and numerous trips to exotic destinations.

Bernhardt served as Salisbury mayor from 1967-71 and 12 years on Salisbury City Council overall. He worked inside and outside of government for the elderly, developmentally disabled and for increasing diversity and improved race relations,

Also a historian, craftsman and artist, Bernhardt was an authority on the old Sparks Circus, which wintered in Salisbury. He died April 5 at the age of 87.

Virginia Wallace — She was matriarch of one of Rowan County’s most influential families of commerce. Wallace notably put her eternal optimism behind early Salisbury efforts in the arts and historic preservation, while her personal life was devoted to family, church, roses and the friendships she formed through book, garden and bridge clubs.

She lived much of her life in Salisbury’s grandest residence, the Hambley-Wallace mansion on South Fulton Street. Wallace, 95, died Jan. 17.

R.J. Woodbury — This was the year R.J. Woodbury was supposed to come home to Rowan County. Since 2005, Woodbury had lived in assisted-living facilities in Ohio — first in Andover, then in Columbus — where he tried through operations, diet and exercise to lose weight. And he had been successful.

At one point, Woodbury weighed a high of 1,189 pounds, and Discovery Health Channel chronicled his story as part of its “Super Obese” series. Over the years in Ohio, he had lost more than 700 pounds, but the extra weight eventually took its toll on the graduate of North Rowan High School. He died April 17 in Columbus at age 30.

Jonah King — King, 16, died during the early morning of June 12 in a longboard (a type of skateboard) accident in the Summerfield subdivision off N.C. 150. A rising senior at West Rowan High School, he planned to join the Marines once he graduated.

King’s death shook the West Rowan community and led to a huge memorial gathering for the teenager at the high school football field.

Joe Taylor — Taylor led Salisbury’s Belk-Harry store when it was one of the kingpin retailers downtown. A Statesville native and World War II veteran of the Navy, Taylor came to Salisbury in 1964 as an assistant manager at Belk-Harry.

Later as manager, Taylor oversaw a Belk-Harry that became one of the Belk chain’s most productive stores per square foot.

Taylor also helped to establish the Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, and he bought the old Wiley School, which were transformed into apartments for seniors. He died Oct. 13 at age 94.

Harry Sifford — As a Rowan County commissioner, Sifford worked tirelessly to establish emergency medical service in Rowan.

“If there’s a father of EMS in the county,” Wayne Ashworth said at his death Aug. 29, “it would be Harry.”

Sifford, 88, served on the Board of Commissioners from 1982-86. He also was a former mayor and alderman in Granite Quarry.

John Seaford — A unsuccessful candidate for sheriff twice in the 1980s, Seaford was mayor of Granite Quarry from 1975-89. He died Dec. 9 at the age of 73.

Nine dogs at Rowan Animal Clinic — An early-morning fire Feb. 19 that started in the attic at Rowan Animal Clinic on U.S. 70 ended up destroying the building.

Nine dogs being boarded at the clinic or staying there as part of their recoveries died of smoke inhalation. Dr. R.B. Lowe, his family and staff set up a temporary clinic near the Salisbury Mall, while plans were announced to create a memorial dog park.

The dog park will be on the grounds of the original clinic, where construction has started on a new facility.

Steve Bown, Karyn Martin — A four-seat Cessna Columbia 350 took off from the Davidson County airport about 1:15 p.m. March 2, heading for Florida.

The plane was in the air only minutes before crashing into High Rock Lake, killing Bown, 51, and Martin, his girlfriend.

Bown was president of Performance Springs Inc. of New Hudson, Mich. The company produces valve springs for engines and has strong ties to the racing industry, including NASCAR.

Terry Brewer — Brewer, a skilled woodcarver, was killed March 6 while cutting down a tree for firewood. Despite having Parkinson’s disease, the 65-year-old Brewer operated out of a home wood shop, creating intricate, carved scenes such as fish jumping over driftwood or birds on branches.

He sold many pieces and often won SilverArts competitions and those held through the VA Medical Center.

Cleveland Elam — After five seasons in the National Football League, Elam decided to live, work and raise his family in Salisbury. He died here in July at age 60.

In the NFL, Elam filled a key spot on the San Francisco 49ers’ celebrated “Gold Rush” defensive line, leading the team with 17.5 sacks in 1976. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl twice.

Elam also played for the Detroit Lions.

In Salisbury, Elam worked for Rack Room Shoes and headed his own business, Zola Cleaning Service, named for his late mother.

Eddie Monroe — Many people came to know Eddie Monroe through his 19-year-old son Justin, who died in the Salisbury Millwork fire in 2008. For one long week in March 2008, Monroe was the stoic husband and father for a family and community grieving over the loss of two firefighters.

Monroe, 67, was well-known in the community otherwise, through various restaurant endeavors in the past and his love for the outdoors. He died Aug. 27 in a freakish accident along U.S. 29 near the Yadkin River when his truck rolled over him while he was outside the vehicle.

Wiley Lamm — A law enforcement officer for 23 years — 19 with Salisbury Police — Lamm dedicated his life to helping others.

He died Sept. 10 after a long, public fight with cancer. He was 49.

After 16 years as a patrol officer, Lamm became the Salisbury department’s victim’s advocacy officer. He also coordinated the department’s annual bike giveaway to needy children at Christmas.

“Officer Lamm was a genuine and loving man, who sincerely cared for those victims of crime that he encountered,” Police Chief Rory Collins said, “and he had a desire to help them as best he could.”

Alicia Bean — A former Spencer mayor and alderman, Bean had a sometimes public struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. She died at her mother’s home in Salisbury Feb. 27.

On the town board, Bean advocated for responsible growth, with the development of parks, shops and the library to complement the N.C. Transportation Museum.

Sonya Graham — Graham, co-owner with her twin sister of S&S Graham Archery in China Grove, died in an explosion at the business June 29. She was 46.

Chemical vapors ignited by a water heater’s pilot light caused the explosion and fire. Her sister, Sionna Graham and three others escaped the building safely.

Cecil Dwayne Brown — Brown had landed his amphibious aircraft on High Rock Lake near Tamarac Marina Sept. 30, but later that afternoon, something went wrong with the lightweight, experimental plane and it went down in a field near Shaw’s Mobile Home Park in Granite Quarry.

Brown, 49, of Faith, was killed in the accident. He often went by the nickname of “Zig.” “He never met a stranger,” a longtime friend said. “That’s just the type of fella he was.”

Dieter Floeth — Floeth, who lived at Gold Hill Airpark, died in an early-morning crash soon after taking off from his home landing strip June 25 near Old Beatty Ford Road.

The plane caught fire on impact. The Federal Aviation Administration said Floeth never made contact with air traffic control and the plane crashed under “unknown circumstances.”

Parker Munn — Munn was only 13 months old when he fell into a decorative cement fountain in a neighboring yard and drowned Sept. 11. He was son of Jessica Kepley and Nicholas Munn.

Harriet Pinkston — Terminally ill, Harriet Pinkston had one last wish — to watch her son, Jesse, graduate from North Rowan High School.

So friends and family cooperated with Rowan Regional Medical Center and the high school to arrange — a couple of months early — a special graduation ceremony for her son in the hospital’s chapel.

The graduation took place March 26. Harriet Pinkston died April 3.

Robert Paul Felton — The 4-year-old boy drowned in a Salisbury neighbor’s pool June 9.

Chris Jones — Co-owner of The Blue Vine with his wife, Rose, the 55-year-old Jones died Oct. 19. He suffered heart failure and had been at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for a month.

The couple opened their business at 209 S. Main St. in 2006, and it has since been a venue for live music featuring local musicians.

Neighboring restaurants and friends volunteered their time at the shop during the month Jones was hospitalized so Rose could be with him.

Musicians also organized a fundraiser to help the family with medical expenses.

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