I wanted to write a few words to commemorate the end of an era, and to pay respect to an honorable man, Mr. Marion James, who recently passed away at the age of 96. To the best of our knowledge, Mr. James was the last living member of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 3422 that built the original facilities and infrastructure of Hanging Rock State Park during the Great Depression. When he enlisted in 1939, he was but 17 years old, knowing little of the world beyond his Stokes County home. Jobs were scarce back then, far beyond what most of us living now have ever experienced, and likewise, can ever hope to understand. The best a young CCC recruit could hope for was the promise of three solid meals a day, a few dollars a month of spending money, and the feeling of dignity at being able to call himself employed. The Corps taught Marion how to blast rock, but he already knew how to work. In the few years that followed at the park, he worked hard, made lasting friendships, and provided for his family – about $26 of his $30 a month salary went home to help put food on their table. The remaining four silver dollars he was permitted to keep. He agreed to this going in; it came as no surprise to him.
And so we are left with a legacy. In a day and age when nothing built or produced seems to last, or fades away into planned obsolescence, the CCC structures still stand. The retaining wall they built on the hillside is still holding up Hanging Rock Park Road overlooking Cascade Gorge. Park employees still check in swimmers at the CCC bathhouse, many thousands every summer. And at one of our covered shelters, even the picnic tables – the largest and sturdiest of the entire lot – that the CCC built are still in service, and still all original.
But beyond those things that we can see and touch, there remains something even more important that the Corps left us – and that is a legacy of character. Marion was such a good personification of these virtues, as all who knew him can attest. He served God, his family, his country, and worked hard his entire life. I personally remember a time we asked Marion if he would come and speak to a group of park rangers and educators at Hanging Rock who were taking a class on the CCC. He said he would love to, but he first had to check at work and make sure it was one of his days off. I believe this was when he was but in his early nineties. And just last year, with the humility of a lifelong public servant, he shared his story with park professionals from all over the southeastern United States – at a conference held at Hanging Rock – and received a standing ovation.
We will miss you Marion. It would be easy to say that now you can rest in peace, but I know better. I believe instead that you are still employed, albeit now in the eternal praise of your Lord and Savior. Your work on this earth is finished; we’ll take it from here.
Hanging Rock State Park