Residents in northeast Charlotte’s Derita community often turned to Bernard “Bernie” Samonds when they were worried about crime, property taxes, traffic or a house where the lawn had grown too tall.
Samonds always seemed to know who to call and how to get help.
He served as president of the Derita-Statesville Community Organization for about 14 years and was a member for about 42 years.
When a problem was big enough, he’d get more people involved by writing about it in the Derita Reporter, a publication he started first in print and distributed through email for the past eight or more years.
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He had thousands of names on his mailing list – elected officials, business owners, media and neighbors – yet he lived alone in the Allen Hills neighborhood.
“He was a quiet force for good,” said Ernest “Paul” Eich III, who served before Samonds as the community organization’s president. “He was a friend to anybody who was willing.”
Neighbors, colleagues and associates say Charlotte lost an important advocate for neighborhoods when Samonds died of natural causes on or around May 23.
Police were called to his home, where he was pronounced dead the morning of May 30. He was 65.
A memorial service was scheduled for 6 p.m. June 14 at Cole Memorial United Methodist Church, 2022 W. Sugar Creek Road.
Samonds was an Eagle Scout and North Mecklenburg High School graduate who studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. He served two years in the Navy before returning to his family home in Derita.
He was scoutmaster to Troop 14 for 25 years, at the same church that will host his memorial service. Daniel Moore, a battalion chief for the Charlotte Fire Department, said Samonds’ leadership helped shape his career path.
“I knew I wanted to do something to be of service to people,” Moore said. “The fire department was a natural fit for a lot of activities we did through Scouting. We did things that would test your physical stamina and your mental attitude.”
There were camping trips and travels to the nation’s capital in the 1970s aboard Samonds’ Carolina-blue Econoline van, which was set up with a sofa against an inside wall, said Jonathan Sossamon Jr., now a project manager for the city of Charlotte’s Engineering Services division.
Under Samonds’ leadership, Sossamon was among 15 or so boys to become an Eagle Scout. Samonds was not married and had no children of his own.
“He was not just a Scoutmaster; he was a friend who we could talk with about life,” Sossamon said, adding that several former Scouts from the troop planned to attend the memorial service.
He was known for a similar demeanor even as a community activist. He regularly organized meetings with political candidates or government officials, and anyone was welcome to attend.
“He was a community leader, but he wanted to be out of the spotlight,” Eich said. “He was not confrontational.”
Samonds pushed to get Statesville road widened and bring businesses into Derita. He advocated for the construction of Nevin Community Park and RibbonWalk nature preserve, now assets for the community.
He successfully fought to keep a post office in Derita when the federal government planned closings to cut costs. His enduring cause was to bring a commuter rail line to Derita, a proposal that is still under discussion.
He also supported homeowners when they needed help navigating local government channels.
“Bernie was one of the most dedicated, patriotic people for his community and his area … that I have been associated with,” said Sylvia Cannon, a neighbor in Allen Hills and vice president of the Derita-Statesville Road Community Association. “He believed in standing up and being heard.”