Head of the class: David “Coach’ Williams marks half a century as a teacher

By Lisa Singleton-Rickman | Living 50 Plus

FLORENCE — When David “Coach” Williams stepped inside his classroom on the first day of school in August at Mars Hill Bible School, he surveyed the scene with a little different perspective from all the years past.

This year marks Williams’s 50th and final year of teaching at the school that he calls his second home.

“A couple of years ago I decided to go ahead and teach to year 50 as that just seemed like a good stopping point. I’ve joked that I just don’t want to get in a rut,” he said.

“I have other plans and things I need to do while I can still do them. Afterall, I am 72 years old though the only time I realize that is when I look in the mirror.”

Williams’s affiliation with the school goes even further back, all the way to 1957 when he was a first grader there. He attended all 12 years of school at Mars Hill.

He admits that he got his teaching degree in college “because i couldn’t think of anything else.”

A master’s degree followed.

A lifelong lover of the outdoors, he initially considered going to Colorado to work as a ranch hand. His options here at home, at the time, were the Reynolds Aluminum plant or Ford.

Because he needed a job, he decided to give teaching a try.

He said he never intended to be a long-term school teacher.

“Life just fell in place for me as I went along,” he said. “Nothing in my life has worked out the way I thought it would, but everything has worked out much better than I ever expected.”

Both his children graduated from Mars Hill and his wife, Linda, is a long-time librarian there.

Williams spent 17 years coaching varsity boys basketball with stints as cross country, and track and field coaching along the way.

Having not coached since 1997, the name “Coach” stuck and he said it’s ironic because his students now weren’t yet born when he last coached.

His sole focus for more than two decades has been in the classroom, teaching his beloved U.S. history to mostly sophomores and juniors.

His goal is to produce happy memories with his students and he’s perfected the art of it through annual projects like his “How to eat an Oreo” and his Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Paper Airplane Flying contest.

Masterful at incorporating history into various hands-on projects, Williams has held Wild West days where students learned about Dutch oven cooking over open fires, target shooting, period weaponry with muzzleloaders and bows and arrows, and life on long cattle drives.

In studying Native American life, his classes have even made canoes.

“The students will dress up on our western day and we learn about skills the people had back then, even do sing-alongs around a campfire,” he said.

He said the telltale signs of his longevity at the school are more apparent now as he’s teaching many children of his former students.

He’s well aware of the record he’s setting, though that was never his intention.

“When you’re in a situation like I’m in, surrounded by bright students and wonderful co-workers, it’s easy to just keep going with the years clicking by,” Williams said. “This is a place where everybody cares for everybody else and it’s been a major blessing in my life.”

The school’s principal of 15 years, Dexter Rutherford, said Williams will forever be spoken of in the same breath as Mars Hill Bible School.

“He’s absolutely legendary and it’s astounding to think of all the lives he’s touched,” Rutherford said. “He’s the classic example of someone never working a day in his life because he so loves what he does.”

Rutherford said while Williams is certainly a Mars Hill icon, he’s also seen all the changes in education.

“When you’ve been teaching 50 years you’d think it would be old hat, but he’s always planning and changing and genuinely enjoying his students,” Rutherford said.

One of the memories with Williams that’s most etched in Rutherford’s mind came about soon after Rutherford arrived at Mars Hill.

“As a school, we were transitioning into greater school safety and I didn’t yet know all the activities Coach Williams did with his students,” he said. “One day, we started hearing loud explosions and ran outside and he was firing off his muskets with his students. The SRO and I about had a heart attack. We’ve laughed about that a lot.”

In his last year, Williams said he’s going to make the most of it, enjoying his students and his work family.

“I may not have started out thinking I was going to be here 50 years, but now that I have, I’m going to continue to count every day on this campus as the gift it is.”