By Dedra Cordle
Activists, developers, educators and volunteers were honored during the village of Urbancrest’s 11th annual Black History Month celebration on Feb. 22. The eight individuals who were recognized, said Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr., have played a vital role in shaping the community into what it is today.
“They have shared with us their wisdom, their time and their experience,” he said.
Receiving the Distinguished Service Award were Margaret McDaniel, a past village clerk/treasurer, Charles Coleman Sr., the longest tenured bus driver, and Allena L. Warr, the village’s first kindergarten teacher.
Councilwoman Shawn Moore recalled fond childhood memories of McDaniel, a beloved librarian at Urbancrest Elementary School and then later at other buildings in the South-Western City Schools District.
“At that time, I only wanted to read Nancy Drew novels,” said Moore. “And sometimes I couldn’t find the ones I hadn’t read yet. Mrs. McDaniel would tell me that I had to start reading other books but would go out of her way to find the Nancy Drew books that I hadn’t got my hands on.”
Moore said she loved McDaniel for encouraging her passion for literature.
“She would always stress the importance of reading,” she stated.
In addition to holding the position of librarian, McDaniel was also recognized for her passion for volunteerism and her tenure serving as clerk/treasurer in the 1990s.
“Mrs. McDaniel had a lot, and still does have a lot, of wisdom to offer those who are willing to listen,” said Barnes.
Coleman Sr. was a “gentle giant of a man” who made it his life’s mission to get children “on that bus and to school to learn,” said Barnes.
“He worked as a bus driver for South-Western for more than 17 years,” he said.
He noted that those who knew him personally always mentioned how he had the village’s “best interest in mind.”
Grandson Charles Alan Coleman, who accepted the award on his late grandfather’s behalf, said his tenure as a bus driver gave him a greater appreciation for those who also serve in that role.
“I learned the hard way,” he said after recalling an event where his grandfather was informed of his grandson’s language and behavior to a fellow bus driver. “He was a great man but after that I showed no more disrespect to school bus drivers.”
Warr began her teaching career, said Barnes, at a time when education was “scarce” for African-American children.
“She did her best to get our kids an education,” he said.
After jobs in Kentucky and Alabama, Warr came to Urbancrest where she became the first kindergarten teacher in the village, educating her students in the basement of the Union Baptist Church.
“They didn’t just learn their ABC’s and 1-2-3’s,” said Barnes. “She taught them about religion and set the foundation.”
Her son, councilman S. Henry Warr, accepted the award of his late mother’s behalf and spoke of her desire to see children achieve their dreams.
“You can’t really do that without an education,” he said. “Or someone to help push you along the way like she did.”
Receiving the Distinguished Service and Community Award was Carolyn Willis, a former council member and current member on the board of public affair. Willis was recognized not only for her public service, which amounts to nearly 20 years, but for dedicating her time for community causes.
“You don’t even need to ask her to volunteer,” said Elberta Barnes. “She just calls and asks what she can do, or she just shows up and asks what she can do.”
Receiving the Elected Official Service Award was Barnes, who began his career in politics in the 1980s after the village council “put up some roadblocks” when he and Darryl Gibson wanted to build an outfield for children.
“I wanted to understand more and figure out what I could do to help the village out,” he said.
After serving on council and various boards for two decades, Barnes was elected mayor in 2008 and has held the position since.
Receiving the Mayor Ellen Walker-Craig Jones Community Service Award was Vickie Sheets, a traveling clerk and volunteer, Curtiss Williams, the president and CEO of the Central Ohio Improvement Corporation, and G. Bradford Johnson, the owner of Centerpoint Development, LLC.
Sheets, said Barnes, played an important role in introducing the village to the UAN system, which keeps accurate electronic records, and continues to help out in the office when needed.
“Vickie has helped us a lot and made sure that we weren’t left behind,” he said.
As for Williams and Johnson, Barnes said they are “incredible” business partners who have the village’s best interest at heart.
“They are our seat at the table when we cannot be there,” he said.
Barnes credited Williams with helping to clear out blight in the village, and Johnson with expanding their tax base through the Industrial Park North development project.
“We have much to be thankful for here in the village, and a lot of it can be traced back to the efforts of all of these people who were honored here tonight,” he said.