Margaret Davidson put community first

Margaret Hunsinger Davidson did not waste any time one morning waiting on volunteers to help sort and display items for an upcoming rummage sale.
“I don’t know where my help is,” she said as she took books out of boxes and began lining them on shelves. “I’m just trying to get some books out of here so people can see what we have.”
Davidson was organizing yard sales, auctions and barbecues to pay the remaining money owed for land on which to build a new Edneyville Community Center.
This was not the first major project to benefit others that Davidson has chaired in more than 50 years of serving her community and students in the Henderson County school system.
“Her life is a testimony to more than 50 years of continuous commitment to community service,” said Peggy Laughter, a friend and member of several organizations with Davidson.
“She is the unsung hero of all of the major accomplishments of the Edneyville Grange and any successful endeavor in any organization she serves.”
“Her achievements as a community leader are too numerous to document,” said the late Jeannette Ballew, a former student and teaching colleague of Davidson’s and a friend for more than 50 years. “They have gone unrecognized because she is always working behind the scenes.”
Davidson, a native of Henderson County, had family roots going back several generations, to the Hunsinger, Dalton, Staton and Whitesides families.
“I was born on the lot across the street from where my house is now,” she said. (This was located on U.S. 64 East (Chimney Rock Highway) in Edneyville.near Pace Road).
She grew up in Flat Rock, attending the East Flat Rock School until the fifth grade. Her grandparents, natives of the Chimney Rock and Edneyville communities, owned a store in the community.
Her father left a caretaking job at a Flat Rock estate to manage the store. Within days, the store burned.
“The night the store burned, Daddy had $16 in his pocket,” she said. “There was an old green building that didn’t burn that we lived in. Dad turned the living room into a store and continued to sell gas.”
Davidson is a 1948 graduate of the former Edneyville High School and obtained a degree from Winthrop College.

 Inspiration to students

For 37 years, she taught home economics and other vocational skills to hundreds of young women and, in the later years, young men.
Her first job was at the former Flat Rock High School. She later taught at East Henderson High School.
She retired in 1990, after being named the National Vocational Teacher of the Year in the 1980s.
Many former students remember the home visits she made to her new students before school started each fall. The visits left a lasting impression of a teacher who went beyond the normal teaching duties and who showed an individual and personal interest in each of her students.
“She was always teaching,” said friend, former EHHS student and former teacher Mitzi Brown Hill. “She teaches all the time. I learned a lot just observing her.”
“She never gave up on a student,” Ballew said. “She doesn’t give up on anything.”
Davidson was the sponsor of the Future Homemakers of America at East Henderson High School. One of her most notable memories was her first student to win the top prize in state competition.
“Brenda Fowler won first place in state competition for her sewing project,” Davidson said. “It was a thrilling moment.”
Many club members fondly remember the trips taken to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oteen with refreshments they made.
These high school girls were learning to serve others, and the trips to the VA hospital instilled in many a lasting pride in the nation’s veterans.

 Tireless despite ills

Davidson’s husband, the late “Chugg” Davidson, grew up in the Tuxedo community and was a World War II veteran, so Davidson had joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary soon after her marriage.
“I still go to meetings whenever I can,” she said. “But I don’t get to do as much as I’d like. I’m so involved now out here with the community center.”
Her husband was also a Mason, so she joined the Eastern Star and Order of the Amaranth.
She also belongs to Alpha Delta Kappa, the National Teachers Sorority and the American Business Women’s Association.
“At one time, she was the president or head of three different organizations,” Ballew said. “How she was able to do that, I’ll never know.
“Her tirelessness is sheer willpower that ignores severe physical pain from rheumatoid arthritis and extreme fatigue from an overactive thyroid,” Ballew said. “For six years, she continued her civic responsibilities while being a caretaker for her husband and mother until their deaths in 1999 and 2000.
“Since the unexpected death of her brother recently, she continues to manage Hunsinger’s Cottages, a family business, by working late into the night, cleaning cottages, doing the laundry and overseeing all the other duties related to the full-time business,” Ballew continued.
In the 1950s, as a young teacher and Edneyville Grange member, Davidson organized the Edneyville Community Club and began a fund-raising campaign to purchase property. She and other community members held bake sales every Saturday until they raised money for the land.
But at the same time, the newly formed Edneyville Fire Department needed a home and the club voted to donate the land to the Fire Department.
“My father began a drive to raise money for the Fire Department,” she said. “We sold bricks for $1 a brick until the Fire Department was built.”
Her efforts have inspired other members of the community to work together for a branch library and find a use for the abandoned Edneyville School, Laughter said.
After retiring from the Henderson County School System in 1990, she accepted the position of president of the Edneyville Grange.
“She began an immediate reorganization and launched an ongoing membership campaign,” Laughter said.
The local Grange and several members won numerous state and national Grange awards.
Davidson was elected program director for the N.C. State Grange.
“She has literally traveled from Manteo to Murphy for the past six years, teaching workshops, setting up competitions and attending national Grange conventions,” Laughter said.
Davidson organized two junior Granges: one at Edneyville Elementary and another at Apple Valley Middle School.
“She plans programs and projects for each group, meets with them on alternate weeks, provides refreshments, pays for their merit badges, loads them up in her van, takes them to swimming parties and to summer camp and other activities, all at her own expense,” Laughter said. “Last summer, she paid for several Junior Grangers to attend Grange Camp.”
It’s an investment in the community, Davidson said.
In 1993, when the Edneyville School was closed, Davidson and three other residents appealed to the Board of Education to donate the school facilities for use as a community center.
The request was denied and vandalism continued to damage the building, Laughter said.
Davidson learned that the N.C. Department of Justice was searching for a Justice Academy in Western North Carolina. She wrote a letter to the late N.C. Rep. Larry Justus of Dana requesting the search committee consider the former school. She initiated a letter-writing campaign and urged residents to call Justus and other members of the General Assembly.
Justus succeeded in obtaining support for the state to purchase the former school property for the western campus.
“A careful reading of all the publicity surrounding the rededication recently of the Justice Academy renaming the academy the Larry T. Justus Western Justice Academy will find no mention of Margaret Davidson’s willingness to literally ‘go against city hall’ to save the school,” Ballew said.

 A long-held dream

On this day, it was the future Edneyville Community Center for which she was tirelessly working. It is a dream she held more than 50 years.
“We haven’t had a community center or place to meet except churches since Edneyville School,” Davidson said. “Since the county wouldn’t sell us the school or let us have it, we are buying our own land.”
“We want a place for youths to meet and senior citizens to come,” she said. “We need a place for a senior center, Meals on Wheels, the 4-H and Junior Grange to meet, and the Scouts.”
Planned outside facilities included baseball and soccer fields, in addition to playgrounds and a walking trail.
“Over the course of her lifetime, Margaret has nurtured the entire community one person at a time,” Hill said. “A frank and formidable advocate, she pushes everyone she encounters to do better, to be better, to reach their potential, and accepts no excuses.”

Margaret Hunsinger Davidson died in 2012.