Faith and education formed the foundation of Imogene Yongue’s long life, say those who knew her.
Family and friends — still stunned over the 88-year-old woman’s death on Dec. 22 and her son’s arrest on a murder charge — came out to remember the educator Saturday during a funeral service at Johnson C. Smith University, where she once taught.
Yongue was found dead at her Charlotte home and authorities charged her son, Blacksburg, Va., attorney William Henry Yongue, with first-degree murder.
Police have released few details, including the cause of death. The case is still under investigation.
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Prior to the funeral, friends and family of Imogene Yongue, also known as Jean, reflected on her many contributions as a teacher and faithful member of Charlotte’s historic First United Presbyterian Church.
“Education was her lifeblood,” said the Rev. Gregory Busby, former pastor at First United Presbyterian. “She really believed in making sure young people received a quality education.”
Busby, who gave the eulogy at Yongue’s funeral, recalled that she reached out beyond the classroom and mentored students in high school and college.
At First United Presbyterian, Imogene Yongue and her late husband, William Yongue Jr., who also was a teacher, headed the local Mariners, a Presbyterian adult service and fellowship organization. Busby, who is now pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, said the couple went on to become leaders of the national Mariners organization.
Mildred Mosley of Charlotte arranged the program for the funeral of her sister-in-law.
It included two of Imogene Yongue’s favorite hymns – “Blessed Assurance,” and “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” and a solo version of “In the Garden.” The minister was the Rev. Reginald Tuggle, presiding moderator of First United Presbyterian.
Yongue had been a member of the church since she came to Charlotte with her husband in the 1950s.
Mosley said the couple met on a bus when they were young teachers headed to jobs at the same school in Lincolnton.
Yongue grew up in Winston-Salem. Mosley said that after high school Yongue studied cosmetology and ran a beauty shop for a year before entering Spelman College in Atlanta, majoring in English and social studies.
After the couple married in 1954, they moved to Graham and then Charlotte.
The Yongues lived in Blacksburg when William Yongue Jr. got a job at Virginia Tech. It was during this period in the late 1950s that their only child was born, Mosley said.
“They were so long without a child,” Mosley said. “They made sure he had everything he wanted or needed.”
In Charlotte, Mosley said Yongue taught at West Charlotte High. In December 1987, she became an assistant professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University and retired there on June 30, 1995.
According to a university spokesperson, Yongue established the Bill and Jean Yongue Endowed Scholarship in 2007. She was a member of the 1867 Giving Society for top level donors.
Meeting in jail
When William Henry Yongue graduated from Wake Forest Law School, his mother “was so proud of him,” said Mosley, 81, a retired language education teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Livingstone and Barber Scotia colleges.
Recently, she visited William Henry Yongue in Mecklenburg County jail but said they didn’t discuss the circumstances of his mother’s death.
“That’s between him and his God,” Mosley said. “All I can do is assist him. That’s as much as I can do. He told me to make sure his mother had a service and to stress that she was loved.”
Mosley doesn’t think William Henry Yongue killed his mother.
“He loved his mother,” she said. “Too many things are not clear. It’s still being investigated.”
Pieces of puzzle
Natalie Kennedy Beard, 65, clerk of session at First United Presbyterian, grew up in the church and knew Imogene Yongue as a child. Beard spent 40 years in St. Louis and when she moved back to Charlotte five years ago she renewed her friendship with Yongue.
A retired professor of education at Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis, Beard said the tragedy of Yongue’s death shouldn’t define her or her legacy.
“As a teacher, she strengthened the citizenry of Charlotte, ensuring it would be an informed citizenry,” said Beard. “She encouraged students to do their best — their informed best.”
A cousin, Juanita Yongue Eison of Charlotte, described Imogene Yongue as “a loving, kind, gentle person.”
“We were very, very close,” Eison said.
They were together at Myrtle Beach in October, along with Yongue’s son and his friend.
Eison saw nothing that might have foreshadowed what happened on Dec. 22.
“We had a wonderful time,” she said.
Memories of the beach trip linger as Eison continues to deal with her cousin’s death.
“She didn’t deserve to leave this world the way it happened,” Eison said. “This is the very first time anything like this has happened in our family. There are still pieces of the puzzle missing.”