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Five Honored With EDK Humanitarian Award

Five Honored With EDK Humanitarian Award

Five Salisburians were honored last month at the annual Elizabeth Duncan Koontz (EDK) Humanitarian Awards held at the Salisbury Civic Center. Honorees Edward and Susan Norvell, Emily Jean Perry, Jason Walser and David Whisenant were among the 10 residents and organizations nominated this year for their dedication to the community.

About Dr. Elizabeth Duncan Koontz

Dr. Elizabeth Duncan Koontz continually shattered gender and racial barriers while working as a tireless advocate for dignity in the workplace, livable wages and benefits, and child and dependent care.

Dr. Koontz was appointed by President Richard Nixon to serve as the first African-American director of the United States Department of Labor Women's Bureau. She also served as a United States Delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and an advisor to the Secretary of Labor on women's programs.

She was the first African-American president of the National Education Association (NEA) and during her term established the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Division.

Born Elizabeth Duncan in Salisbury, North Carolina, she was the youngest of seven children in a family of educators. Her father was a high school principal, her mother an elementary school teacher and her brother Samuel served as president of Livingstone College

She graduated as salutatorian from Price High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Elementary Education from Livingstone College and a master's degree from Atlanta University. She was the recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Northeastern University, Bryant University and Indiana University and in 1977 was awarded the North Carolina Award for Public Service. In 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper honored Dr. Koontz as one of a select group of pioneering Black educators who have made groundbreaking contributions to the state.

In 1985 she was one of the organizers who re-established the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council.

The Human Relations Commission is proud to recognize members of the Salisbury-Rowan community who exemplify the ideals of Dr. Elizabeth “Libby” Duncan Koontz.

It is a fitting tribute to her trailblazing accomplishments and humanitarian interests to recognize and celebrate three special members of our community who demonstrate those ideals.

EDK Recipients: Mr. Edward and Mrs. Susan Norvell

Susan Linn Norvell grew up in Landis, North Carolina and graduated from Catawba College. She has served on the Salisbury Historic Preservation Commission, the Historic Salisbury Foundation board, the Shelter Guardians board and the Proctor Foundation. She currently serves on the D.C. and Frances Linn Park board in Landis.

Edward Novell is a retired attorney and a lifelong resident of Salisbury. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in English from the City University of New York, and a juris doctor degree from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Edward practiced law in Salisbury and served as the Rowan County Clerk of Superior Court from 1988-1994. He has served on many boards in Rowan County including the Rowan Museum, Bell Tower Green, Rowan Arts Council, Rowan Community College and St Luke’s Foundation. He currently serves on the North Carolina Arts Council, the Salisbury Public Art Commission, the Racial Equity Rowan Committee, and is president of the Historic Salisbury Foundation and Piedmont Players Theater.

Edward and Susan Norvell are members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and have dedicated their lives in service to their family and community. They have two children and two granddaughters.

EDK Recipients: Ms. Emily Jean Perry

Emily Jean Perry is a Salisbury native and a graduate of Boyden High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Shaw University and a master’s of social work degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

After working in Washington, DC, for eighteen years, Emily moved back to Salisbury in 2000 and immersed herself into the community. While employed as a health educator in Rowan County, Emily helped establish the Healthy Carolinas program. From 2001-2017, Emily was an adjunct professor of social work at Rowan Cabarrus Community College and Shaw University. She has also served as a health education consultant for the State of North Carolina.

Emily is a passionate community organizer and activist. She was the chair of the City of Salisbury Dixonville Cemetery Task Force, a founding member of Rowan Concerned Citizens and a member of the West End Purpose Transformation Community Project. In addition, she has received grants from Black Voters Matter and works with Mission House of Salisbury to lead grassroots efforts to educate citizens about the election process. Emily has received numerous awards including the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP Presidential Medal of Honor, the Ida B. Wells Barnett Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dare to Dream Award.

EDK Recipients: Mr. Jason Walser

Jason Walser grew up in Statesville, N.C. He received his undergraduate degree in business from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a degree from the UNC School of Law. He practiced law in Hendersonville, N.C., before joining The Land Trust for Central NC (now Three Rivers Land Conservancy) in Salisbury in 1999. He worked for The Land Trust for nearly sixteen years and helped establish several new public nature preserves and parks.

In 2017, Jason became the Executive Director of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation. In this role he has overseen investments in community nonprofits. He has also helped oversee community improvements in the Historic West End and the creation of Bell Tower Green Park.

Jason has served on multiple nonprofit boards of directors and currently is an appointed member of the NC Land and Water Fund. He has attended the Center for Whole Communities in Vermont and has participated in Racial Equity Rowan workshops. He is active in community initiatives and is a strong believer in public policy engagement as well as public education.

Jason and his wife Tracy have two children Autumn and Ian.

EDK Recipients: Mr. David Whisenant

David Whisenant is a Salisbury native who began his broadcasting career a WSTP/WRDX Radio in 1977 while he was a student at Salisbury High School. He graduated from Appalachian State University in 1983 and began working as a stringer for WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, in 1991. He became a fulltime reporter for WBTV in 1994 and covered Rowan, Cabarrus and Iredell counties.

In his thirty-two years at WBTV, David covered major local and national stories including the shutdown of Pillowtex in Kannapolis, the disappearance of Erica Parsons, several presidential elections, NASCAR and Formula One and thousands of local stories. He also covered the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II for WBTV. David won an Emmy Award in 2022 and retired from WBTV in December of 2023. Following his retirement, David was awarded the Order of Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

David is a deacon and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church in Salisbury. He and his wife, Jtan, have a son Kyle, a daughter-in-law Anna, and two granddaughters, Ava and Maisie.

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