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93-year-old believes in church, education and organization

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HICKORY — Education has been a centerpiece of the Rev. Ted Powell’s life.

As a child, Powell, 93, says that there were two influential institutions in his childhood: the school and the church.

Those institutions would come to define Powell’s life as he spent decades as both a pastor and a teacher.

Powell spent much of his professional life in Cleveland County and the surrounding area, but has often returned to Hickory because of his family connection to the community.

Now retired from both teaching and the ministry, Powell moved back to the city recently to write a book about his life.

Back in the city, Powell said that he became concerned about the futures of young people and the community and wanted to do something to improve the situation.

Powell said he has been talking with various community and educational leaders about starting a math and science academy during the summer to help prepare children for the professional world.

Powell began his educational career teaching children with disabilities at the orthopaedic hospital in Gastonia.

When the hospital closed in the 1970s, Powell started teaching in Bessemer City.

Powell speaks with pride about the futures of the children he taught or mentored through the church who went on to successful careers, including one who became a lawyer and another who is a doctor in New York.

“It’s my glory, those kids,” Powell said.

One of the kids Powell taught in Bessemer City was David Williams, now the Ward 4 council member in Hickory.

Williams said Powell was a “no-nonsense guy” who was also “very laid back.”

 “He was the guy that, if he needed to be stern he would be but he would also be your best friend,” Williams said.

Williams recalled one occasion in Powell’s class when another student, a linebacker on the football team, was being disruptive.

Powell asked the student to step outside.

“And for some reason, something told me to look out the door, I saw Mr. Powell making this kid get down and give him 20 pushups,” Williams said.

Powell’s desire to improve opportunities for people also bled over into his ministry.

Along with two other pastors, Powell said he led a civil rights demonstration in Shelby.

The demonstration did prompt some backlash, with one of the pastor’s parsonages being bombed, Powell said.

However, the effort was successful in bringing African-Americans into jobs they had never held before, like as cashiers in stores and people working in manufacturing, Powell said.

The work also included organizing caravans that would transport the field workers to and from Hickory, where they worked in better jobs than they had in Shelby.

For those currently working with Powell on the math and science academy concept, Powell is seen as a driving force whose knowledge and experience are needed to move the project forward.

Robert Russell has been friends with Powell for years and is working with Powell on creating the math and science academy.

Russell said in a phone interview that he believes Powell’s desire to help others comes from his own humble background, which included working as shoeshine boy and waiter, and his desire to have structure.

“He loves to see things done according to some structure and some type of organizational format,” Russell said.

Reflecting on his life and his current work, Powell says the most important point he wants to convey is that people’s background should not be an obstacle to success in the future.

 “It’s not how you got here,” Powell said. “It’s what you do with the life that is given to you.”

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