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Bill Stanback Greenway stands as ‘wonderfully appropriate’ gesture for remarkable man

By Mark Wineka
mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Why wouldn’t you name a popular section of greenway between Overton Elementary School and Prescott Drive for the late Bill Stanback?

It’s a rhetorical question.

“It feels like this is such a no-brainer,” Jason Walser said Friday morning at the unveiling of a sign and dedication of the Bill Stanback Greenway. “It just seems perfect to me.”

Stanback was a founding member of the Salisbury Greenway Committee, back when the city-built greenway paths were just lines on paper.

The Bill Stanback Birding Trail in the Catawba College Ecological Preserve lies within a few hundred feet of the greenway section now named for Stanback.

And few people loved birds, water, trails and nature in general more than Stanback, a business leader, activist, patron, and former Salisbury mayor and city councilman.

Stanback died Feb. 7 at age 95.

A large crowd of family and friends attended the greenway dedication Friday morning just off Prescott Drive.

Nancy Hart Stanback, his widow, said Bill had always tried to shun recognition, but the Bill Stanback Greenway would have pleased him.

“He loved this place,” Nancy Stanback told those gathered. “… Bill would be thrilled to see all of you, as I am.”

John Wear, director of the Catawba College Center for the Environment, remembered the grass-roots effort that spawned the city’s greenway system and how Stanback was one of the first people he met with and brought onto the committee.

Stanback, in fact, paid for the landscape architect who designed the greenway routes between Eagle Heights and City Memorial Park.

So the line that now includes the Bill Stanback Greenway is “something he was highly engaged with,” Wear said.

With Stanback as a member, that original greenway committee thought it was important to do it right, Wear added.

Walser, former executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina (now Three Rivers Land Trust), said he lived for a dozen years on nearby Windsor Drive and spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours on this section of greenway.

He said Stanback was one of his heroes and mentors and “one of my most favorite people to have known.” When he first came to Salisbury in 1999 and met Stanback, Walser said it was Stanback who wanted to know everything about him and his family.

“Bill was a very human, kind, decent person,” Walser said, also describing him as “a champion for so many people who didn’t have a voice.”

Mark Stanback, one of Bill’s three children with his first wife, Betty Anne, said those three kids each inherited one of their father’s strong traits.

Anne Stanback has been politically active, fighting for causes as her father did.

Mark, an ornithologist and professor at Davidson College, has his father’s deep love of nature, and John Stanback shares what had been his father’s passion for sailing, boats and water.

Mark Stanback remembered piling into a canoe with his father and navigating Grants Creek, which a covered bridge on the greenway now crosses. He called the greenway dedication “wonderfully appropriate.”

City Manager Lane Bailey recounted a day he spent with Bill Stanback as one of his most favorite days in his three-and-a-half years with Salisbury government. He described Stanback as “a remarkable man.”

“I’m so happy we’re honoring him this way,” Bailey added.

Bailey credited City Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield for having the idea to name the greenway for Stanback and said other council members were in strong support.

Stanback served on a Navy destroyer escort in World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s from Harvard Business School.

Stanback and his cousin Fred once owned Stanback Headache Powder Co., which also produced Chap-et lip balm.

In his personal life, Bill Stanback fought for civil rights in the 1960s and later became a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. He and Nancy were strong patrons of cultural and community initiatives, in addition to Bill’s serving in leadership positions with many organizations.

It was Stanback who chaired the committee that oversaw the merger of Rowan County and Salisbury city schools. He was an inductee into the state’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Simple blue-and-white signs for the Bill Stanback Greenway are now posted at both ends of the greenway section.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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