South Charlotte

Crowder to be honored as Citizen of the Year

A teacher still can have a powerful impact on students – after retirement.

Minnie Massey Crowder may be a good example of that. The 87-year-old Monroe native retired from her 40-year teaching career in 1989, but still gets calls and visits from former students.

Her accomplishments in Union County as a teacher and as an involved citizen have earned her the Citizen of the Year Award for 2014 from the community-based nonprofit A Few Good Men Inc. She will receive the award at the organization’s annual banquet on March 28 at the LaVerne Banquet Hall at Wingate University.

Robert Heath, a member of A Few Good Men, described Crowder as “one of the greatest teachers at Winchester Avenue School,” and an iconic figure at Langford Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and in the community.

She is the widow of John Crowder, a member of the Union County Board of Education who died March 9, 2014. They were married for 52 years.

“She has been through hard times,” Heath said, “but still has such a beautiful spirit.”

He said many people who are now in their 60s and 70s “still look up to her, and she still calls us her young people.”

Crowder said she always wanted to be a teacher and remembers, as a young girl, pretending flowers were her students.

She graduated from Winchester Avenue School in 1944 and earned a liberal arts degree from Johnson C. Smith University. She began teaching at Winchester in 1949 before becoming the first African-American first-grade teacher at Walter Bickett Elementary School. She later taught at Benton Heights Elementary School, where she received the Teacher of the Year Award in 1981.

She’s won many awards from her church and other organizations, and has served as a board member for several area nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross, Piedmont Mental Health and the National Association of University Women.

She considers teaching children to read one of her most important accomplishments.

It is especially satisfying to see people she taught to read as children “read God’s word in the pulpit,” she said.

Church has always been important to her, she said, and God is “the center of my life.”

In her lifetime, she’s seen and experienced a lot of social change.

For example, one of her classmates at Winchester Avenue School was Robert F. Williams, a civil-rights leader and author. She also knew Williams’ wife, Mabel.

Her connection to the Williamses led Heath to introduce her to a Dutch journalist who was visiting the area recently to research a story on the civil-rights leader, he said.

One of Crowder’s students at Winchester was James Hanover Thompson, or “Hanover,” as she called him. He was one of two boys arrested in the infamous “Kissing Case,” which attracted attention around the world.

Thompson and his friend David “Fuzzy” Simpson were playing with some friends when a little white girl kissed Simpson on the cheek, sparking the boys’ arrest and a racial uproar.

Crowder said segregation created a trying time growing up.

“But I never did let it take possession of me,” she said. “I knew in time God would fix it. And he did.”

Crowder describes herself as “just an ordinary person that loves God and doing the best that I can.”

Asked what advice she has for younger generations, she said, “Learn to read. Reading is so important. If you can’t read, you’re in trouble.”