It’s not about the politics

Published 9:56 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

“We were not there to concern ourselves with politics,” O.J. McGriff said. “We were there for the children.”

He practiced that belief during his 32 years of service to the people of Chilton County on the county’s school board. His dedication to the children of Chilton County and the role he played in improving the entire school system make the Verbena resident a hero in the eyes of many.

In 1949, McGriff came to Chilton County as a member of Alabama Power Company’s construction crew that was building the fourth unit at Mitchell Dam. When construction was completed at Mitchell Dam, McGriff worked at power plants in Mobile County and then at the Morris Avenue Steam Plant in Birmingham.

McGriff moved from the construction division to production in 1956 and returned to Chilton County as chief clerk of Mitchell and Lay Dams. “Later they added Jordan and Bouldin dams to my responsibilities,” McGriff said, adding that in those days he and his family lived in an Alabama Power Company house at Mitchell Dam.

“Three days before Christmas in 1958, we moved into the home we built in Verbena,” McGriff said, adding that they continue to reside in that residence.

With four children (Jim, Russell, Holly and Glenn) in the local school system, McGriff was elected to the county school board in 1962. In all, he served 32 years on the school board, and 30 of the years he served as its chairman.

He remembered the first schools built when he joined the school board were the schools for black children in Verbena, New Convert and Jemison. “Those schools were in bad shape, and the new schools were really needed,” McGriff said.

In the years to come, he would serve on the board when new schools were built in Jemison, Clanton, Isabella, Verbena and Thorsby. “The biggest surprise I had while serving on the school board came on the last day I served. That day the school board renamed the Verbena Annex School O.J. McGriff Annex.”

In 1969, the local school board began a pilot program for high school students that became a model for school systems throughout Alabama. Known now as the LeCroy Career Tech Center, the school celebrated its 40th anniversary in January. The center still provides technical training for high school students in many skilled professions. The center allows the students to take regular school classes part of the day and training in the many technical fields the rest of the school day.

“It was one of the best things we did as a board of education,”McGriff said.

Over the years, McGriff has served the Exchange Club, Chilton County’s United Way, Verbena’s PTO and Athletic Clubs, is a member of Shriners International, and is a past master of a Masonic Lodge in Mobile. A World War II veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, McGriff currently serves on the Chilton County United Way Allocations Committee.

He has served on the Executive Council of the United Methodist Church of Verbena as well as Sunday School superintendent and on the church’s building committee.

Today, McGriff and his wife, Martha, enjoy working in their gardens at their home and enjoying their children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Eighty-six years old now, McGriff can look back with pride on the accomplishments of the local school board and remember the many people who served with him.

“You didn’t run for the board of education for the money it paid,” McGriff said, explaining he was paid $7.50 for each board meeting he attended during his first term. “I remember the pay was changed to $25 then $50 per month. Later, the state set the pay at $300 per month statewide,” he said.

He was known for looking people in the eye and telling them the way it was. He didn’t pass the buck or simply say what people wanted to hear just to get past a tough question. For those qualities and many others, McGriff easily serves as an example of how all elected and non-elected board members should serve.