Photo by Michael Buckelew
COVINGTON -- Billy Carl "B.C." Crowell, one of the most beloved and admired citizens to ever tread on Newton County ground, died Friday morning at the age of 86 following a long illness.
So devoted was Crowell to his hometown that he was affectionately called "Mr. Newton County" by many who knew him. His appearances at community gatherings in his latter years usually had him surrounded by admirers within minutes of arrival. He served the community in just about every way a person can and was recognized with just about every award available.
Crowell was born in Porterdale in 1923 in a mill house adjacent to a baseball field, where he spent his formative years honing his natural athletic abilities. Crowell earned a baseball scholarship to Oglethorpe University, but before he went away to college, several local civic leaders took him to Cohen's Men Shop and outfitted him with a wardrobe. Crowell never forgot their generosity, and his daughter Sherrill Jones believes that act of kindness planted a seed in her father that grew into a lifetime of service.
"I think he felt it was the community that helped him. It was truly the village that raised the child," Jones said. "I really think that's part of his reason for wanting to give back. He was given a boost and he felt like he owed the community."
At Oglethorpe, Crowell lettered in baseball and football and was named to the Blue Key Honor Society; he was later inducted into the university's hall of fame. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he played baseball for a New York Yankees farm team, worked as a VA recreational therapist and spent a year farming in Arkansas.
He returned to Porterdale in 1948 and served as athletic director there until 1970. Crowell coached students at Porterdale High and Junior High schools in baseball, softball, football, basketball and track; coordinated the adult baseball and softball leagues; managed the city swimming pool and golf course; and served as scout master for Boy Scout Troop 207.
He was a founding member of the Newton County Recreation Commission and helped organize the athletic program for the county's junior high schools. He coached and mentored more than 50,000 students over the years, and assisted many with getting college scholarships.
Former Newton High School football coach Wilbur Fisher was one of the young men Crowell taught.
"He was my inspiration," Fisher said. "We were teenagers looking for some kind of direction. He started the Boy Scout troop and he gave us recreation during the summer months."
Years later when Fisher became coach of the Newton Rams, Crowell assisted and advised him.
"I really loved him, and I really appreciate what he did for me throughout my life. He was someone you could always depend on to give you advice and direct you in the right direction," Fisher said. "We just need more people like him today and maybe we wouldn't have some of the same things happening."
Larry Laster, another student of Crowell's, calls him "the best thing that ever happened to Porterdale."
"He helped young boys develop a lot. They never would have had the opportunity if he wasn't there," Laster said. "He was somebody to look up to; he excelled in sports, he stimulated us, me and my brothers and many others, to do our best at whatever we did."
Crowell's community service wasn't limited to coaching. He served on the Porterdale City Council from 1950 to 1960 and was mayor of Porterdale from 1960 to 1965.
Current Recreation Commission Director and Porterdale native Tommy Hailey first met Crowell when he coached him in baseball and PE. He calls him a mentor, coach, friend and father figure.
"Everybody looked up to B.C. He seemed like a god to us. We didn't go lacking for anything as long as B.C. was head of the athletic program. He was just one of those people, when he spoke, you kept your mouth shut and listened in awe of what he had to say. He had the gift to be able to talk and whatever the subject was or the occasion was, he always had the proper words to say," Hailey said.
Many years after Hailey first played under Crowell's instruction, he came back to Newton County to lead the Recreation Commission, on which Crowell served as chairman. During his tenure, Crowell and the late Buddy Barker established the Little League program. Both had fields named in their honor. For Crowell, it was the field in Porterdale where he had coached so many children and spent so many hours playing his beloved baseball. Even after his retirement from the Recreation Commission, and as his health began to fail, Crowell could be found at Turner Lake Complex many days, talking with staff and the public.
A battle with diabetes that confined him to a wheelchair didn't stop him from being active.
"He could have given up a long time ago, but he didn't," Fisher said.
Lee Aldridge, who served with Crowell on the board of directors for Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful, said he never waned in his efforts on behalf of the organization.
"He was always willing to go to merchants and talk to them (about KCNB); he was always willing to do anything, even though he needed help to do it," she said.
Crowell's love for Newton County was evident to his three daughters -- Sherrill Jones, Susan Crowell and Nancy Matthews -- who recalled his ritual Sunday afternoon drives around the county to view new development.
They remember him much the same way the rest of the community does.
"He was bigger than life," said Susan Crowell. "I was in awe of him."
They recall his requirement they have supper together as a family. They'd talk about their day and Crowell would usually come up with a whopper of a tale to trick their mother.
"He'd say, 'The governor came to Porterdale today,' and she'd say, 'Really?' We'd be doubled over laughing and she was believing every word of it," Jones said.
If he had a major flaw, it was that he rarely could muster the strength to spank his children, even when they deserved it, they said. They recalled him taking their brother Matt into a back room one day and being horrified when the banging and yelling began.
"We thought he was killing him. But he was hitting the bed and he told Matt to yell every time, so we'd think he was getting a spanking," Susan Crowell said.
Crowell worked for Covington Molding and retired in 1985. Aldridge said he always made sure to employ local students in the summer, including her two children.
"There was never a child he didn't love and never a child he didn't try to help. He was unbelievable," she said.
After retirement, Crowell continued his volunteer work and civic involvement.
He served as chairman of Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful and started the Adopt-A-Highway program in Georgia; he was a member of the local American Legion and VFW posts; was a lifetime member of Covington Elks Lodge No. 1806 and lifetime member and past president of the Covington Kiwanis Club.
He was the recipient of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce's R.O. Arnold Award and the Kiwanis' Hickson Award; was named a "Georgia Hometown Hero" by Gov. Zell Miller; Volunteer of the Year by the Georgia State Parks and Recreation Association; and Man of the Year by the Keep Georgia Beautiful Commission.
He was a volunteer with Special Olympics and served on the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale Mental Health Community Board. Crowell Road was named in his honor, as was the conference room at Turner Lake Complex.
Crowell was preceded in death by his wife of 59 years, Jane Hedges Crowell, and his brother, Homer Guy Crowell Jr. He is survived by his sister Pauline Crowell Sullivan and brother in law Bill of Covington; son, Matt Crowell of Lawrenceburg, Tenn.; and daughters and sons-in-law Sherrill and Alan Jones of Milledgeville; Susan Crowell and Michael Duttweiler of Covington; and Nancy and John Matthews of Conyers; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.
The family will receive visitors at Caldwell and Cowan Funeral Home on 1215 Access Road from 5-7 p.m. today. Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church in Covington with Rev. William B. Wade officiating. Interment will be in the Covington City Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Friends of Porterdale, PO Box 874, Porterdale, GA 30070, to rebuild Porter Memorial Gymnasium.