I wrote this article for the Summer 2015 edition of East Alabama Living. Mr. Young passed away today, August 31, 2016. I am so thankful to have had him as a teacher. My class was the last class to have him. He was tough as nails but always very fair.
A Tough but Fair Man
Bill Young was born to Shaffer and Johnnie Young in 1928 at his grandmother’s home just north of Shady Grove Church near the dam on Lake Wedowee. His father, a veteran of World War I, taught school in Clay County and maintained the family farm. His mother handled everything at home, which included raising two sons.
Young graduated from Lineville High School in 1947. Shortly thereafter, the family sold the farm and moved to Opelika.
He attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn, but had no money. On a whim, he decided to join the National Guard at Ft. Dallas B. Smith Armory in Opelika. Between the National Guard, active duty, and the Army Reserves, he would go on to wear the uniform for nearly four decades.
Due to his focus on education, he was oftentimes unable to attend summer camp resulting in loss of rank. “I was promoted to private first class three different times,” he chuckled. Eventually he was called to active duty and was promoted to sergeant. “I skipped corporal, altogether. They made me a buck sergeant,” he recalls with pride.
Although the Korean War was taking place during his tenure on active duty, he didn’t have to go overseas. He was stationed in South Carolina, Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana. Staff Sergeant Young left active duty in late summer of 1952. Later, he received a direct commission and was promoted to second lieutenant.
In 1953, he graduated from Auburn with a degree in Agriculture Education.
His first teaching position was in Thomaston, Georgia. The superintendent, who was from Waverly, hired him fairly quickly. “He saw my Auburn ring and found out I was from Opelika. That was all it took,” he says. “I taught math, science, and shop. I picked up the loose ends, so to speak.”
After two years in Georgia, he returned to East Alabama. He taught agriculture for two years in Seale at the old courthouse, which was in close proximity to the school. He also started graduate school at Auburn.
Following another stint on active duty, he began his career with Opelika City Schools. For the first few years, he taught physical science. Many of his former students remember his class fondly but remember him as a disciplinarian, too.
“I will always love this man. He was a great science teacher. He was the best of the best. I also have many memories of his paddle,” recalls one former student.
“He could swing that paddle when he needed to. He got my attention quickly,” recalls another.
“I enjoyed teaching science. It was a good class. I enjoyed that,” he says. “I taught it until Dr. Clyde Zeanah became superintendent. He wanted Industrial Arts. I had experience in shop, so he asked me to do it. I bought all the tools and learned how to work them all.”
In 1985, after 34 years of teaching, he retired. It was also around this same time that he retired from the Army Reserves. Major Young served a total of 39 years.
He’s kept extremely busy since retirement. He owned Young’s Grocery in Opelika. Joyce, his lovely bride, ran the store since its opening in 1970. Upon retirement, he was able to spend more time at the store and did so until it burned down in 1999. He’s spent a great deal of time at his farm near Lineville, too.
“It makes me feel better to do something. I keep a list of things to do. I just can’t sit around and do nothing. I know too many people who did nothing when they retired, and they didn’t last very long,” he passionately states.
“Mr. Young was a great teaching mentor for a beginning teacher like me,” says former colleague Richard Barnes. “He had a lot of wisdom and experience which he freely shared. He raised some hard working, smart children and their families have contributed a lot to this community. He is still taking care of OHS grads in ways he will never brag about. God bless him.”
Whether it was his role as an educator or a service member, Bill Young was known as a tough man but a fair man. He was a disciplinarian who served as that father figure that so many lacked at home. “I don’t care what you think about me now. I care what you think about me in 20 years,” he often said. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have Mr. Young as teacher hold him in the highest regards, and it didn’t take 20 years to do so.
Rest in peace, sir.
Jody Fuller is from Opelika. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.