Longest serving school board member dies

Mar. 11, 2014 @ 05:56 PM

School Board member John Crowder died Sunday from a stroke. He was 77. 

Crowder served on the board continuously for 31 years. He served on the Monroe City Schools board for 10 years and then the merged Union County Public Schools board for 21 years. He was the longest-serving school board member. 

According to his obituary, he was the first African-American to serve on the Monroe City Schools board. He represented District 1, which includes Monroe. 

On the board of education website he wrote that he serves on the board because, “I just want to make sure every child has the opportunity to get a good education.” 

“I am running for this office in order to make sure that every child in Union County will have the opportunity to obtain a quality education,” Crowder wrote on his candidate questionnaire for his 2012 re-election. “It is important to me that every child receives the tools necessary to compete in our society. I have a special love for children and feel that my service on the school board is one avenue that I can use to ensure that their needs are met in the educational arena.”

Crowder was a retired manager at the Belk Department Store and a retired safety and security monitor at Presbyterian Hospital (now Novant) in Matthews. 

According to Carolyn Lowder, a former school board member who served with Crowder for many years, he was instrumental in merging the two school systems to create Union County Public Schools. 

She said that along with the other people elected to the merged board, they set up preparations before the merger took place. She said UCPS had to go through the process of actually becoming culturally one. They had been two different systems, with teachers who were paid different amounts, different administrations and different cultural practices. Lowder said he contributed greatly to the process of merging all those different personalities. 

See crowder/page A7

“(He) was always a steadying influence and supported the efforts to improve the school system to become a better school system,” Lowder said. “I think he had a tremendous influence in that. He was always steady, calm, the strong patriarch of his community and seen also, I think, as a strong leader on the board.” 

Lowder said the equality was important to Crowder, that all the children had equal opportunities wherever they went to school. She said it did not necessarily mean equal amounts of money or identical buildings, but equality of opportunity, quality teaching and the resources needed to move forward. 

Crowder was part of the interview process when Lowder was appointed to the board. She said he and another board member interviewed her and she was appointed. 

“I always remember that as a compliment from him,” she said. “Through the years we’ve become good friends and I have great regard for him...we didn’t always agree on our votes, but we always respected each other and discussed those votes and argued with each other in a respectful way.” 

She said they could always count on Crowder to vote his conscience and do what he felt was best for the children. 

Lowder remembers when she first came onto the board and they heard a presentation on the “achievement gap” between white students and minority students. She said that at the time it was one of the largest gaps in the state and today it is smaller, though they are still working to close it. 

“It was the encouragement of that quality and building a culture that values and is willing to stretch itself to improve its quality,” she said. 

“I will certainly miss him,” Lowder said. “He’ll be greatly missed by me personally and by the community.” 

She said she did not think they would find someone who could fill his shoes, but could hopefully find someone who can grow into them.

For John Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional programs, Crowder was instrumental in his educational career and in bringing him to Union County. 

Jones said he was working part-time at a Belk store in South Carolina when Crowder came in as the manager on duty. He said he had the chance to meet him and during that short time, he invited Jones to come to Union County to consider working in the Monroe Belk and go to Wingate. 

That was in 1982. Jones came to Union County in 1983 and started as a business major at Wingate. Later, he changed his major to education and Crowder told him about the school system. 

“He was one of the reasons I applied to the (Union County) schools at the time,” Jones said. 

Jones said Crowder has always been a supervisor of his in one capacity or another for 32 years. 

“During that time his selfless leadership has inspired me and other to do our best,” Jones said. “His wisdom and his knowledge made a significant impact in my life, not only in my career, but how to be a service leader...to know Mr. Crowder, you knew Monroe, you knew Belk stores and you knew Union County Public Schools.” 

Jones said Crowder made an impact on more people than just himself.

“I think his impact on our schools and the character and integrity within his leadership will have a positive effect upon this city and our school system for years to come,” Jones said. “I think his legacy is to do what’s best for our children and everyone associated not only with the school system, but here in our community.” 

“He taught me in my life that it’s not about what you receive in your work, but it’s what you give to others that truly makes the difference,” Jones said. “That’s how I will always remember him.” 

For Board Chairman Richard Yercheck, Crowder was a mentor. 

“John for me as a new board member, and I know he made himself available to all the other board members, was the quiet, inspirational guy,” Yercheck said. “John was always easy to talk to, (a) great listener and would give you very insightful and thoughtful advice.”

Yercheck said that Crowder would sit and listen to presentations and absorb information “like a sponge” and once everyone was done, he would say what he thought and remind everyone why they were there.

“Remember that everything we do is for children and that what we do has to benefit all the children,” Yercheck said Crowder would say. 

“I can still hear his voice in my mind telling me...that we do this because we represent those children,” Yercheck said. 

Yercheck said that with 31 years on the board, he was a wealth of knowledge and history and could often provide context. Yercheck said he will be truly missed in his life and in speaking with a handful of Crowder’s friends, they will deeply miss him as well. 

“I don’t know that people will understand the impact of his loss on the board for some time,” Yercheck said. “That man positively impacted multiple generations of kids and he’s part of the reason that Union County Public Schools are as good as they are and recognized as (being) as good as they are.”  

Crowder was also a member of A Few Good Men of Union County, Masonic Lodge #270, and the Langford Chapel CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal) Church in Monroe. He leaves behind his wife, Minnie M. Crowder and an adult child, Faye Crowder-Phillips. 

Regular attendees of school board meetings will remember Crowder for giving the invocation at the beginning of each meeting. Though, most recently, he came under fire for making a motion to pass the controversial redistricting plan. 

Robert Heath, president of A Few Good Men and a member of Crowder’s church, said he has known Crowder since he moved to Union County from Anson County in the 60s. 

“He shows patient, (he is) committed and even if you had a disagreement...(he) never let a disagreement get in the way of friendship,” Heath said. 

“He’s a committed person, (who) loved everyone and respected everyone,” he said. 

Heath served on committees with Crowder and said he was very quiet and preferred to work behind-the0scenes. He said he would get things done without a lot of fanfare. Heath said he was consistent. He would do his homework and when he supported something, he stood behind it. 

Crowder helped with scholarships at A Few Good Men. Heath said they will announce Saturday at their banquet that he they will be naming one of their scholarships after Crowder. 

Heath said Crowder pushed for scholarships and wanted to make sure people had enough money for education, because he knew how important education is. 

He believed in children, Heath said. He added that Crowder believed in making things equal for every child in school and making sure each kid had the best chance to be successful. 

Heath will remember him as a “quiet and simple person, but also (he knew) how to get a job done no matter how big it is.” 

Crowder’s funeral will be held on Friday, March 15 at Central United Methodist Church, 801 S. Hayne Street in Monroe. Visitation will be from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m., with a service following at 2 p.m.

Sandra Gripper, pastor of Langford Chapel CME Church, will be the eulogist. Interment, with full military honors, will follow at Lakeland Memorial Park in Monroe.