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Athelyne Banks and John Caddell shared the dance floor during the Minority Awards Banquet in September 2005, where both received Community Involvement Awards. Both longtime Decatur leaders died Tuesday.
DAILY File Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Athelyne Banks and John Caddell shared the dance floor during the Minority Awards Banquet in September 2005, where both received Community Involvement Awards. Both longtime Decatur leaders died Tuesday.

Pair of Decatur pillars fall
Educator Athelyne Banks dies at 98

By Deangelo McDaniel
and Martin Burkey

DAILY Staff Writers 353-4612

Athelyne Banks loved talking about Decatur's history. She knew so much about it because she lived a lot of it.

The woman who said in 2002 that she always tried to "look like a lady" when she was in public, died Tuesday at Decatur General Hospital. She was 98.

Miss Banks devoted 42 years of her life to education, serving 29 of them with Decatur City Schools after integration. She was principal at Carver Elementary School, and when it closed in 1967, she became supervisor for reading and math. She was the first woman principal at Carver (now Horizon High School).

Funeral services will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at King's Memorial United Methodist Church. Visitation will be 5-6 p.m. Friday at Reynolds Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, she requested contributions go to the King's Memorial Building Fund, Decatur General Foundation, Athelyne C. Banks After School Academy and the American Cancer Society.

Miss Banks, who retired from education in 1974, said she enjoyed school administration but missed the daily contact with students.

"I liked to know all their names and something about their families and visit them in their homes," she said in November 2000.

Entire life in 1 home

Miss Banks lived all her life in the house she was born in on Sycamore Street Northwest. She never married and had no living relatives, a fact her minister gently disputes.

"Her church is her living relatives," said the Rev. Wylheme H. Ragland on Tuesday, recalling her devotion to the church she belonged to her entire life.

She always spoke with pride about her grandfather, Matthew H. Banks, a Decatur city councilman from 1884-86.

"He was a good looking man," she said as she held his portrait in 2000. "He was a former slave and a proud Republican. I know my grandfather was an important man."

Confederate colonel

But there were so many things Miss Banks didn't know about her grandfather. She knew that he was the son of Laurence Slaughter Banks, a Confederate colonel and the head of one of Decatur's pioneer families.

"My grandfather's past was the big family secret," she said in 2000. "I'm sure they didn't talk about him because he was the son of a prominent white citizen."

Miss Banks was always proud to point out that her grandfather helped form the education system for blacks that she benefited from.

Her father sent her to Pearl High School in Nashville for the last three years of high school. She graduated from Alabama A&M University.

"Education, education and education," she said in 2004. "It's the most important thing for young people."

Active in educating

Superintendent Sam Houston said Banks was one of the deans of education in the Decatur community. Even after her retirement, he said, she remained active in educating children.

"Miss Banks was definitely one of the true role models in education for all of us," Houston said. "I'll always remember her for her energy. Everything she was involved in was for the betterment of her community."

Houston said Banks was a founding member and still active on the Decatur City Schools Foundation. The foundation named its teacher mini-grant after Banks. He said Banks studied every grant proposal and was always well prepared for the selection process.

Service to church

Equally important to Miss Banks was her church. She served as treasurer of her church for more than 50 years. She also sang in the choir, as she had since she was 7. Her father, Hewlett Banks, was choir director.

She was on the Church Council and was a member of United Methodist Women. She was the first woman to serve as a trustee at the church's district level.

Although she retired in 1974, Miss Banks never stopped teaching. She volunteered at the Sterrs Boys & Girls Club.

In August 2000, the National Conference for Community and Justice honored her for her community contributions. The Chamber of Commerce named her Humanitarian of the Year in 1994.

Tom Salter recalls she was on the board of the Mental Health Center when he became executive director in 1978, and she was on it when he retired in 1999.

"She was not just on things," Salter said. "She was in the middle of things she was a part of. She was just full of bounce and pep and joy. I don't know if I'll ever meet a person quite like her again. She is probably the single most remarkable person I have ever known."

She remained very much a teacher, Salter recalled, and when she aimed a finger at him, he knew he needed to pay attention.

"Everything she does is surely out of love," he said. "She was able to pick up pretty complex programmatic and contractual issues when she was on the board."

In 2001, she was presented with the Decatur General Foundation's John A. Caddell Award, recognizing her for her community service and contributions to Decatur General.

Park named in her honor

During the Third Annual Minority Awards Banquet in 2005, a Northwest Decatur park was named in her honor.

Her neighbor and longtime friend, Vivian Horton, recalled that charities that mailed her a nickel or a dime for postage got a donation plus their change. Banks remained that way, even after her death. In the coming days, Horton said she will be going over a stack of requests from charities.

"She wrote on the envelope what she was going to give them," Horton said. "She said, 'make sure this is paid.' I'm going to have to go through and find all those things and make sure I make that donation. She denied herself things to help other people. I think it came from when she was a child. It was in her upbringing with her mother and her father. Her father was the same way."

Ragland agreed that Banks' sense of purpose came from her upbringing.

"To whom God has given much, much is expected," Ragland said. "They handed down a sense of leadership, service and compassion. She had a quiet inner strength. She was definitely her father's daughter. She was very deliberate about anything she was involved in. She was never without her presence of mind, remarkable wit and intellect. She was vital to the end. One cannot discuss the history of Decatur and Morgan County without speaking of Miss Banks or her family."

Miss Banks never really enjoyed talking about herself, though. She preferred to talk about the people she said made it easier for her.

She lived through the Great Depression, the Scottsboro Boys trial, the civil rights era, school desegregation and the Tommy Lee Hines trial.

Faith in America

She never lost faith in America and its promise that this country was one nation under God.

"God will get you through it," she said in 2000. "I've turned to him a lot in my life. Don't ever be afraid of asking him for answers."

Miss Banks paused in 2002 when asked how she wanted to be remembered.

"Just tell them old Athelyne cared," she said. "Yes, tell them Miss Banks cared."

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