If it’s true that our lives are shaped by the people we encounter, then there are a lot of people in eastern Cabarrus County walking around with a Leon Ensley-shaped imprint.
Ensley, who died last month at the age of 81, was well known to the Mount Pleasant High School community as a coach, teacher, and driver’s education instructor. His friend and co-worker Larry Honeycutt says it would be hard to find anybody in Mount Pleasant who didn’t know – and think highly of – Leon Ensley.
“It was just his nature to be upbeat,” Honeycutt said of his friend. “He’d always pick you up, and he never knew a stranger.”
Ensley always had a joke or something to make you laugh first thing, Honeycutt said.
The Rev. Mark Ericson, Ensley’s pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, called him, “a big bear-hug guy,” someone people could go to when they needed a person to talk to. Leon was faithful, funny and loving, Ericson said, and we’re going to miss him.
“He was awesome,” said Carolyn Williams Fink, who had driver’s education with Ensley at Mount Pleasant High School in the 1960s.
Ensley never forgot a student, she said.
Anytime she’d run into him, Fink said, he’d stop to talk and ask after her family, including her brother, Marvin, who played football for Ensley; her husband, Ernie, who was on the baseball team; and her two daughters, who also had him for driver’s ed.
When Fink’s mother died in 1969, she remembers, Ensley brought the entire football team and cheerleading squad to the family’s home to pay their respects. That’s just the kind of person he was, she said. He was a man everybody respected.
Donnie Jewell, who graduated from Mount Pleasant in 1990, played baseball and football for coach Ensley, whom he called “an extra father figure.” Ensley always made the relationships with his athletes more important than their athletic ability, Jewell said. He tried to make you a better person.
Jewell says Ensley was an “encourager,” who wanted kids to have every opportunity to succeed. He told stories of Ensley using his own money to buy letter jackets for students who couldn’t afford them. He always tried to make people happy, he said.
Now Jewell is leading a campaign to honor Ensley’s memory at Mount Pleasant High School with a memorial bench to be placed near the baseball field.
As his health failed, Ensley, who played professional baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, would sit on a hill outside the stadium, looking toward home plate to watch games; so that’s the spot designated for his memorial.
Funny, kind, and encouraging to everyone, Larry Honeycutt summed up Leon Ensley this way: “He was one heckuva guy.”
Donations to the Leon Ensley Memorial Fund may be sent to the attention of Brandy Crisco, treasurer at Mount Pleasant High School, 700 Walker Road, Mount Pleasant, NC 28124.