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Frank Byrd, community servant, dies at age 77

Frank Byrd, shown in a 2013 file photo when he was inducted into the Education Hall of Fame, died Thursday, June 25. Frank Byrd, shown in a 2013 file photo when he was inducted into the Education Hall of Fame, died Thursday, June 25.

Frank Byrd, who had an immense capacity to help his church and community, especially through programs that served young people, died on Thursday of pancreatic cancer. He was 77.

Friends, colleagues and fellow parishioners called Byrd “the original Young Leader” in summer camps, a pillar of his church, St. James Episcopal, and a living example of what Jesus would do.

Faithful without being pious, Byrd spent his adult life in Henderson County after coming here, in 1961, as a counselor at Camp Mondamin. In addition to serving youngsters at camp, he received the ultimate added benefit. He met his wife, Ethlyn, a fellow camp counselor. They married in 1967.
After growing up in Florida, Byrd graduated from UNC at Chapel Hill and served in the U.S. Army, in intelligence. When he moved to North Carolina, he taught history at Christ School and did a stint as a reporter for the Times-News before joining the staff of Blue Ridge Community College, working his way up from guidance counselor to director of counseling services to dean of students.

Throughout his life his vocation and avocation focused on the same goal: helping others.
“In his years of service at Blue Ridge Community College he was really interested in helping people pull themselves by the bootstraps,” said his friend Keith Dalbec. “He really was looking out for the person that needed an extra nudge.
“And second is his dedication to everything he worked at. Frank never stopped caring, never stopped wanting to do something. He just seemed to be so dedicated. I think it goes back to his camp experience. He just never quit. I think about myself — I just want to throw my feet up sometimes. Frank was never quite willing to do that. The only thing that slowed him down was the virus (that caused a lockdown at Carolina Village) and pancreatic cancer.”
To a person, friends said Byrd’s belief drove his indefatigable dedication to service.
“I think it might have been in his faith, he was very committed to the Christian principles through the Episcopal Church,” Dalbec said. “I think that shaped him a lot.”
The Rev. Joel Hafer, who is retired as priest at St. James, recalled Byrd’s heart for service but also his enthusiasm for sports, especially Carolina football and basketball.
“My wife Anne and I got to know Frank and Ethlyn soon after we moved here,” Hafer said. “We tell our kids they’re the reason we got our first HDTV, so we could watch football games on Saturday afternoons.”
“He was not the kind of person to wear his faith on his sleeve,” he added when asked about Byrd’s lifelong dedication to good causes. “Instead of telling you how faithful he was, he just went out and did it.”
He was also active in the African Medical Mission, the church’s annual Candlemas services, the Gifts of Hope Holiday Fair to raise money for missions, the Carpenters Club, Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in Honduras, and had served on the Vestry and as a senior warden.
“He was a pillar of our church for so many years and involved in many things but I would say his heart was the Outreach Committee for community and international charities,” said Dorothy Fantle, the sister of Ethlyn, who died in 2014.

The Henderson County Young Leaders program, one of Byrd’s favorite charities, became independent of the Kanuga Conference Center, the Episcopal retreat that had been its parent organization, and later changed its name to Camplify, all under Byrd’s leadership.
“My story is that Frank and I met when he had a beer in his hand at Rhythm & Brews” on Main Street, said Kristin Dunn, Camplify’s executive director.
After she had met Byrd to interview for the Camplify job the next morning, Dunn remarked that the dining hall at Carolina Village had made “the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever had in my life.”
“We’ll never meet again at Carolina Village,” Byrd responded, “because we’re going to go out for a beer when we meet.”
“And every single time I have met Frank since 2015, we’ve met at a bar, and so to say that we had a great relationship and he was supposed to live forever, it’s something I will never forget. The last time I saw Frank, we met at the Blue Door Bottle Shop. We shared a snack and we both had our drinks and I said, ‘I’ll see you soon.’”

Dunn had been speaking with Camplify board members Thursday and Friday about the magnitude of Byrd’s contributions.
“Frank Byrd was the original Henderson County Young Leader,” she said. Although he had been a founder and driving spirit of the Henderson County Young Leaders, which gives summer camp scholarships to underprivileged teenagers, since 1994, Byrd aspired to go beyond camp scholarships. 

“In 2007 he catapulted the impact that the agency would have on the community,” she said. “Because of him — and I truly think it was because of him and only because of him — we serve children every month of the year from every school in Henderson County.”

Earlier this year St. James member MaryO Ratcliffe interviewed Byrd as the subject of "The Quiet Ones," a profile in the church newsletter of volunteers who don't seek the limelight for their service. Ratcliffe included tributes from 10 fellow parishioners who praised his faith, his works and his enduring contributions to Hendersonville and beyond.

"Everyone knows Frank never stops when it comes to helping others," said Tim Jones, the operations director at the Hendersonville Rescue Mission and a St. James deacon. "Everyone also knows that he does not want to be celebrated for it. His focus is on the work of helping people. Our community is still reaping the dividends of many things Frank started years ago. I have had the privilege of knowing him for many years and serving with him in various capacities. His heart always longs for justice with the same kind of steady passion that reminds me of Jesus every Sunday when I read the Gospel, but knowing Frank, he will probably be embarrassed that I said this about him!"

Byrd was inducted into the Henderson County Education Hall of Fame, in 2013, as was Ethlyn, three years earlier, and has received both the Richard C. and Vina L. Sauer Award, the most prestigious honor given by the Community Foundation of Henderson County, and the Rob and Ginger Cranford Award, the top honor from the United Way. He also received the Camp Industry Leader of the Year Award, from the Chamber of Commerce; Kiwanis Club’s Lay Leader of the Year Award, the Civitan Citizen of the Year, BRCC’s Community Service Award and the Governor’s Volunteer Award. In addition to Camplify, he served on the boards of Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, African Medical Mission, Alliance for Human Services, the United Way, the Community Cultural Arts Center Committee, Western North Carolina Public Radio and the Parents Assistance League. In his Community Foundation service, as chair of the Scholarship Committee, he developed a standard application used by the foundation and other charities in the community.
Byrd is survived by a sister, Joan Byrd, of Cullowhee; son, John, of Tampa, Fla., and daughter, Elizabeth, of Maine, two grandchildren, and Fantle, his sister-in-law. The family plans a private service and, when public health conditions allow, a wider celebration of his life. The family asks that memorials be made to Camplify (click here) or Our Little Roses, the orphanage in Honduras (contact St. James Episcopal Church).