Five new members honored Monday, Nov. 19
By D.N. PENNELL, Jr.
The Alexander County Public Education Foundation held its seventh Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday night, November 19, at the Alexander Central High School Auditorium in Taylorsville.
A crowd of more than 200 family, friends, and sports lovers converged on ACHS to honor five inductees, who will now be considered Hall of Famers for life.
Johnny Bruce, who serves as the Chairman of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, explained the selection process to the crowd and introduced members of the selection committee.
Each Hall of Famer was presented with a medallion and a Hall of Fame plaque. In addition, the Hall of Fame inductees will be honored with a plaque featuring their individual busts. These plaques will be permanently displayed at the entrance to the Alexander Central High School gymnasium.
Master of Ceremonies Richard C. Gilbert of WACB Radio introduced each inductee. Bruce and selection committee member Anna Ferguson conducted the official induction, presenting each person with a Hall of Fame Medal and a plaque.
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The first new Hall of Famer to take a spot in the prestigious group was the late Efird Gwaltney. Two of Gwaltney’s sons, David and Gary, accepted his medallion and plaque on behalf of the family.
Retired Alexander County Clerk of Court Seth Chapman, who grew up as a younger neighbor to Gwaltney, spoke on behalf of the Gwaltney Family at Monday’s event.
“I love Efird Gwaltney. Efird Gwaltney was a man of principal,” Chapman said.
Chapman went on to talk about how Gwaltney was a role model and father figure later in life.
“I lost my dad at 16 years old. I will always remember Efird being one of the first to come by our house at that time of loss.”
A feared hitter, Gwaltney played for the 1951 Hickory Rebels Baseball Club and compiled a 13-6 record. He once blasted three homers while playing a game for the Rebels team. In addition to playing in Hickory, Gwaltney was a member of the Charlotte Hornets professional baseball organization and played for teams in Lincolnton and Statesville.
After baseball, he turned to softball where the burly left handed slugger was known for his towering home runs as he played locally for more than 30 years. While playing softball, Gwaltney also served as a deputy for the Alexander County Sheriff’s Department and operated a chicken house on his property.
In 1985, The Taylorsville Times and Alexander County Recreation Department held a vote to choose living legends in the county to participate in a special softball event. Gwaltney was the leading vote getter in the contest. In addition, he was selected to play in a special legends batting contest at the Hickory Crawdads’ park, LP Frans Stadium, in 1993.
In 2002, Gwaltney was honored when a field at Dusty Ridge Park was named in his memory.
Gwaltney was born September 19, 1926, and passed away December 7, 1993. He and his wife Drusilla lived in the Stony Point Community and were the parents of five children: Eddie, Gary, David, Jimmy, and Cindy. Gwaltney’s softball legacy in the county can still be seen today. His great-granddaughters, Kiana and Chesney Millsaps, were star players for Alexander Central State Championship winning teams in 2013, 2014, and 2018.
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Next to the induction stage was retired golf professional and lifelong Alexander County resident Jeff Isenhour. Isenhour, who starred at Taylorsville High School as a three sport athlete, spoke of the appreciation and humility he felt and talked about his love for people and Alexander County.
“I enjoy people. People like you are why I am here…the fine people of Alexander County. There is no other place I would want to live,” an emotional Isenhour quipped. “I am so honored and humbled to be a part of this Hall of Fame and I thank the Hall of Fame selection committee and the Alexander County Education Foundation for everything.”
A 1969 graduate of THS, Isenhour was a three-sport star for the bears. He played football, basketball, and golf at the school for four years. He was an All-Conference performer in all three sports in 1969. That same year, Isenhour captured the Brushy Mountain Golf Club championship for the first time. He added another club title to his resume two years later in 1971.
After high school, Isenhour starred as a player for the Wilkes Community College and Lenoir-Rhyne College golf programs. In 1971, Isenhour placed third individually as Wilkes CC captured the Community College Conference Championship. He later played for an LR team which captured the District 26 title in 1972.
Isenhour has served as a golf professional at Brushy Mountain, Hampton Heights, and Rock Barn Country Club and Spa. While at Rock Barn, Isenhour was the club professional for 12 Senior PGA events at the Conover course. In addition to running the annual event for a dozen years, Isenhour played in the Greater Hickory Classic in 2003 and 2004. He was voted the 2017 NC Golf Professional of the Year by North Carolina State Magazine.
Jeff and his wife, Debbie, live on Eagle Drive in Taylorsville. They have two daughters, Brigette and Tara, and one son, the late Justin Isenhour.
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Following Isenhour, former Minor League Baseball star and avid golfer Jim St. Clair came to the stage and offered his appreciation to the Hall of Fame Committee, the Education Foundation, and the large crowd on hand Monday evening.
“I would like to thank you all for coming tonight and to say thank you to the Hall of Fame and Foundation for what you do to help this community. If there is ever any way I can help please let me know,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair played high school baseball for Taylorsville from 1948-1951 and compiled a .300 batting average during his prep career. After high school, St. Clair attended a Cincinnati Reds professional baseball tryout which resulted in his signing a professional baseball contract with the organization on May 27, 1951. He was 17 years old when he inked the deal with the Reds. St. Clair played professionally in the Reds Organization from 1951-1954 and 1956-1958. He was drafted into the Army in 1955, and served for two years before returning to play professional ball. While in the military, St. Clair played in an Army baseball league where he pitched and played in the outfield.
After marrying Jean Morrison and the birth of their first daughter, St. Clair had one of his best seasons as a pro in 1958, appearing in 135 games for the Savannah Redlegs. He finished the year with a .265 average with 16 doubles and nine homers.
After that season, St. Clair chose to step away from the game to better provide for his young family. During his professional career, St. Clair had the opportunity to play with Major League Baseball greats which included Johnny VanderMeer and Frank Robinson.
St. Clair chose to fuel his competitive fire away from baseball by playing golf. A member of Brushy Mountain Golf Club in Taylorsville, St. Clair is known for a historic hole-in-one on the 308-yard, par four fourth hole at the local course. It was the first hole-in-one on a par four ever recorded at BMGC and was witnessed by friends Paul Harrington and Wayne Lowman.
St. Clair, now 85, still resides in Taylorsville. He and his wife have two daughters, Pam St. Clair and Penny St. Clair Holmes.
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Mark White, the son of the late Richard White, remembered his dad fondly and told a few harmless joke about the man often referred to as just “Coach.” “This award would be very humbling for Dad,” the young White commented. “He spent his whole life in education and he always did it for the kids.”
White continued, “Our family is very grateful and I know dad would be very appreciative and humbled.”
Coach White graduated from Kings Mountain High School in 1950 where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was selected captain of the football team and served as president of the student body his senior year. He enlisted in the Navy and served on a destroyer as a radioman during the Korean Conflict. He met his wife, Barbara, while stationed in Key West, Florida, and they married in 1954.
After his military service, he earned his degree in Physical Education at Lenoir-Rhyne College and got his first teaching and assistant football coaching job at Taylorsville High School. He later received his Masters Degree in Education from Appalachian State University. He also coached boys and girls basketball at Taylorsville High School.
At the time of the consolidation of the county’s four high schools in 1970, White chose to remain on the junior high level where he spent the next 26 years serving as teacher, coach, athletic director, and assistant principal. He taught at Taylorsville Junior High, Hiddenite Junior High and East Junior High. “Coach” managed Northwood Swim Club in Taylorsville where he taught swimming each summer for 30 years. He was a member of Reformation Lutheran Church where he served as Council President and taught Sunday School for more than 40 years.
In 2014, Coach White received one of the highest honors the governor can bestow on a North Carolina citizen when he was presented The Order of the Long Leaf Pine from then Governor Pat McCroy. He also received the Alexander County’s Prestigious Award of Honor in 2009.
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The final inductee of the evening was Ronnie Williams. For years, Williams has been a dominate Special Olympics athlete and is a productive member of East Taylorsville Baptist Church.
ETBC Pastor Jamie Steele was on stage with Williams and spoke highly of the man he called a dear friend.
“Ronnie Williams is a special man. I want to thank the Sports Hall of Fame for recognizing him this way. Alexander County is a very special place. It’s a place that has a heart for all people,” Steele offered.
A graduate of Taylorsville High School in 1970, he is a life-long member of East Taylorsville Baptist Church. At East Taylorsville, Ronnie has served the church’s AWANA youth program for more than 30 years. He is also a member of the greeter and counting teams at ETBC.
Williams is known across Alexander County as one of the most successful Special Olympians ever. Though the total number is unknown, Williams has garnered numerous medals at the games, which are held each spring.
In addition to his Special Olympics medals, Williams has also been recognized with a pair of special awards from different organizations. In 2017, he was presented with the Brett Workman Award during the Alexander County Special Olympic Games at ACHS. Williams also received the AWANA Award from East Taylorsville Baptist Church.
Williams, age 67, is the ninth of the children born to the late Willie David and Etta Mae Childers Williams.