Marcelle Williams, former county school board chairman, dies at age 92

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2013

When the Fourth of July parade flows through Faith this year, it will do so without one of the people who helped create the town’s over-the-top display of patriotism — Marcelle Williams.
Williams, a member of the Rowan County Board of Education for 20 years and a lifelong advocate for veterans, died Thursday at the Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House in Salisbury after a recent stroke. He was 92.
Deeply involved in many facets of community life, Williams was “a good, old-fashioned, decent, straight-forward man,” as Dr. Dick Brownell put it. Brownell got to know Williams when he served on the board of trustees for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College while Brownell was the college president.
That was just one of many roles Williams filled after coming home from World War II to raise a family and serve his country and community. His vocation was working as a mechanic and service manager at car dealerships in Salisbury and Kannapolis. But he had a career in public service as a charter member of the Faith American Legion Post, a member of Faith Lutheran Church and a supporter of public education.
First elected to the county school board in 1970 as the East representative, Williams served more than a decade as chairman.
Carl Eagle, who served as vice chairman those years, said he saw Williams’ deep commitment.
“You’ll never find anybody that was any more dedicated to the youth of this county than Marcelle,” Eagle said. “He took his Board of Education duties very seriously.”
Williams could be forceful and strong-willed once he made up his mind about something, Eagle said. “I think his biggest emphasis and the place where he certainly made a mark is zero tolerance for drugs on campus. He pushed hard on that.”
Williams’ tenure as chairman included tense negotiations over merging the county system with Salisbury city schools in the late 1980s. Across the table from him was Reid Leonard, chairman of the Salisbury Board of Education, who served on that board for 24 years, including 12 as chairman.
Leonard said he and Williams often butted heads, but he liked the county school chairman.
“Marcelle did the very best he could,” Leonard said. “He had the county at heart and served them well.”
Drawing new school district lines was the toughest issue. And it was Williams who pushed to name the system “Rowan-Salisbury” instead of “Salisbury-Rowan,” Leonard said. Williams said merger would go over better in the county if Rowan’s name was first.
Like many county residents, Williams did not see the need for merger at first, according to Eagle; the city schools’ problems were not his concern. But eventually he came to see how “we’re all in this together,” Eagle said. “I wish people would figure that out now.”
Jeannie Misenheimer, elected to the first Rowan-Salisbury school board, admired Williams. “He was a fine gentleman and a friend to Rowan’s public education for many, many years,” she said.
Among the facilities named in Williams’ honor are the ROTC Rifle Range at East Rowan High School — he was instrumental in getting the program started — and the schools’ bus garage on Old Concord Road, dubbed the C. Marcelle Williams Transportation Complex.
On the RCCC board, Williams was a liaison between the public schools and the community college, according to Brownell.
“He helped us forge partnerships we would not have had,” Brownell said. “He was really dedicated to education at all levels.”
Fellow trustee Ray Paradowski, longtime chairman of the RCCC board, said he liked Williams’ positive attitude. “He certainly was dedicated to everything in the community,” Paradowski said.
A Navy veteran who served in the Pacific, Williams had leadership roles in the American Legion at every level, all the way up to state commander in 1968. He was a strong advocate for establishing the N.C. Veterans’ Home on the Hefner VA Medical Center campus, as well as for expansion of the National Cemetery.
He was named to an All State School Board, inducted into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame, was master of Keller Masonic Lodge. The list goes on.
Brother Bill Williams of Gastonia said Marcelle always went the extra mile in anything he did.
“I often wondered how he had enough time and energy to do what he did,” said Bill. “Yet, he was there the next time someone came by with a need and a hand out.”
Though Marcelle chaired the school board and served on a community college board, he cut his own education short.
“Pop asked him to drop out of school after the 10th grade and get a job in the mill,” his brother said. “The family (11 in all) needed more income. That was his first job. He did it well and it was a good beginning.”
Marcelle addressed the issue in an interview with Post reporter Mark Wineka last summer. “I just got interested in kids’ education because I didn’t have any, I guess,” Marcelle said.
The occasion for the interview was his role as Grand Marshal of the Faith Fourth of July Parade. Marcelle helped organize the first big Faith Fourth celebration in 1947 and worked to make it grow and flourish.
Usually he drove in the parade, with the state American Legion commander in the car waving to the crowd. In 2012, brother Bill drove as Marcelle rode for a change.
It was a fitting honor — and a good ride.

Marcelle Williams’ family will receive friends from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the Faith Lutheran Family Life Center. Funeral services are 4 p.m. Sunday, also at Faith Lutheran Church. Burial will follow in the church cemetery, with military graveside rites by the Rowan County Honor Guard.