RADFORD – Radford Mayor David Horton is continuing his daily spotlights honoring Radford Black History Month on his personal Facebook page, highlighting a different notable citizen each day of February.
For Friday, Feb. 5, the Mayor posted the following:
“Today to recognize #radfordblackhistory we are going to go back to the turn of the 20th Century when the Norfolk and Western railroad was dominant in Radford and young Wesley Snell, an employee of the railroad, and his wife Flora Etta Snell, decided to make this city their home.
“At the time, I don’t think that anyone knew that the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond would be dominated by their family on the court and on the ball field,” the mayor wrote.
“The Snells raised 11 kids in their house on Russell Avenue and began a journey that produced dominant athletes in the NRV, the commonwealth and the nation. India and Sonya Adams. Donald Wayne Snell. Sidney Snell. Later their cousin, Doug Day, was a dominant force on the Radford University basketball court, and still later Sonya’s son, Steph Curry, was an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors.
“Many other families in and around Radford are connected to this couple.
“But those are all stories for later this month as we continue to celebrate,” the Radford mayor posted. “Today, I would like to focus on Wesley and Flora Etta.
“They were part of the very early foundation of Radford in this historic black neighborhood, teaching their eleven kids to work hard, play hard and praise hard,” Mayor Horton posted. “They were among the three charter members of the Radford Church of God in Christ, also on Russell Avenue. They helped to build this neighborhood into a vibrant area in the early- to middle-20th century.
“Their legacy runs deep in Radford and across our region, not just in athletics but in every facet of the community.
“As I said,” the mayor wrote, “I don’t think anyone would have thought that their legacy would be burning bright in the 21st century, more than 65 years since Wesley passed and a half century since Flora Etta died, but it lives in so many members of the family and also in those of us who were fortunate to bear witness to their accomplishments.
“Travis Williams wrote a great piece on the extended Snell family for the Roanoke times back in 2015 and helped to share their story,” said the mayor.
“Documenting the outstanding history here in Radford is so important. If you have a story for #radfordblackhistory, please share it for all of us to learn more.
“By the way, both of the Snells are buried in Mountain View Cemetery off Rock Road. This is an important final resting place for so many significant Radford family members,” Mayor Horton posted, “and I recognize that we have had challenges with access and keeping it in good shape. I want to continue to work on this as a community, and I would like to thank Joe Snell for his diligent work there along with so many others.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, Mayor Horton posted the following:
“Today in #radfordblackhistory, we are proud to feature a man who influenced thousands of Bobcats from the 60s through the 2000s: Coach Carroll Purcell.
“Coach Purcell taught at Radford High School after beginning his education career at Christiansburg Institute. In addition to coaching basketball, cross-country track and football, he was a health, physical education, and driving teacher.
“He is remembered by his students as someone with a big sense of humor and a larger than life and sometimes fiery personality,” Mayor Horton posted. “He could be a big challenge to us and was not afraid of a confrontation, but he also cared deeply about us and worked diligently to help us be our best.
“Move your car”: Coach taught an awful lot of us how to drive,” wrote the mayor. “In the winter of 1984, it snowed about every other day, and what should have been a week of drivers ed turned into a month for me and some of my classmates since driving on the back roads of the NRV is tough at times without snow and ice. Students who learned to drive from Coach to this day can hear his voice in our heads while we are on the road.
“In the classroom and on the court, he pushed for each of us to be better and he also made us laugh,” the mayor wrote. “How many people remember him cutting a hole in his newspaper to “keep an eye” on students during a test? I think humor was a connection for him to his students, some of whom had little to no interest in being in class. For some, he became a teacher who kept them in school.
“He stayed connected to the community and his former students until he passed in 2015,” posted Mayor Horton. “The last time I saw him was not too long before that time, and he had a newspaper and a cup of coffee, of course, and we chatted about what he had been up to. A true believer in physical fitness, he was in really good shape and you would have thought he was about 50 instead of in his 70s. Many Bobcats spent many days in the old weight room with him and have a routine they developed then that they still follow today.
“As I was reading some of the tributes that people paid to Coach on his legacy obituary pages, time and again I saw how much of a difference he made in the lives of so many,” the mayor said. “One last tribute to his lasting memory: As people have messaged me about folks who should be remembered and highlighted in this series, his name came up again and again and again.
Please continue to share your stories about #radfordblackhistory.
For Sunday, Feb. 7, Radford’s mayor posted the following:
“On a snowy, cold winter morning, we celebrate #radfordblackhistory by remembering two truly outstanding and loving leaders: Dr. Douglas Covington and his partner in life, Beatrice “Bea” Covington.
“It was a Sunday very much like this in the winter of 1995 when Dr. Covington was introduced as Radford University’s fifth president in Preston Hall on campus. This was groundbreaking for Radford but also for Virginia and the South as he was the first African American to lead a predominantly white institution of higher education in Virginia. Immediately we all knew that he was full of grace and had a calm, reassuring leadership style that would help steer Radford University into the 21st Century,” Mayor Horton posted.
“His decade of service at RU capped a long and distinguished academic leadership career around the nation and helped Radford grow to a record number of students, expand and improve the campus significantly including development of the 380 acre Selu Conservancy, enhance academic offerings to meet modern needs and establish the most extensive wireless Internet on any campus to provide the best access possible at that time.
“The phrase he often used was that Radford was “large enough to serve students well, but small enough to really know them well.” This philosophy described his gregarious and welcoming personality with the entire community,” Mayor Horton posted.
“This quality was doubled by First Lady Bea Covington who was an incredible leader in her own right. Not only was she one of the best hosts that the region has ever enjoyed, she was a partner to the President in every way and made life better on campus every day,” wrote Mayor Horton.
“She engaged the Radford community and was active across the NRV with many programs and events. She was an active participant with the Radford Chamber of Commerce, and she helped lead the effort to expand and support the arts at Radford and around the valley.
“To know her was to love her and she worked diligently to help scores of students fulfill their Radford dream,” posted the mayor.
“I felt that a Sunday was a good day to feature this couple as their faith was central to their lives, and they made a commitment to spend time at every church in Radford once they arrived in 1995,” Mayor Horton wrote. “They wanted to know this community and the citizens living here. This outreach, coupled with their continued hospitality, endeared them to all who met them.
“The Covington legacy lives on in many ways to this day. For example to name just a few: a scholarship in the arts at Radford, the Bea Covington spirit award for an employee who helps improve the quality of life on campus by exemplifying her character and spirit, the Douglas and Beatrice Covington Center for the Performing Arts where hundreds of Highlanders find the path to their dreams every day, and in the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of Radford alumni and families who experienced their leadership and friendship.
“The positions of responsibility may have been the reason they were well known, but their personalities and connections with people are the reason they are so loved,” declared the mayor in his post.