SHELBY - Lester D. "Les" Roark, 89, former Shelby Mayor and City Council member, passed away Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Born Oct. 31, 1924, youngest son of the late J. Alex and Margaret Earle Roark, he grew up on the family farm near Grover.
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Following his father's death in 1933 and farm foreclosure in 1936, he and his mother and two brothers moved to Grover where he graduated from high school in 1942. Les entered military service in February 1943 and served overseas with the 390th B-17 Bomb Group in England. Three brothers served overseas in WWII, one killed in combat.
In 1946, he moved to Shelby and worked as a reporter-editor for the Cleveland Times. Gaining interest in public issues and the political process, he was elected to the Shelby Board of Aldermen in 1957 and re-elected four additional terms, with plans to retire in 1977. Mr. Roark became Mayor in January 1976, upon the death of the incumbent Mayor, and was later elected to serve until retirement in December 1979.
In the late 1950s, he initiated a bi-racial Human Relations Commission to promote racial equality and an orderly process for integrating the City's public work force. In 1996, the City and the Commission established a "Lester D. Roark Annual Award" for "advancing racial equality and goodwill" and named him its first recipient. In 1998, he and Rev. Sam Raper, who served 25 years on the Shelby City Council, co-founded the Raper-Roark Trust Fund to provide financial assistance for beautification projects in Uptown Shelby. In 2004, Rev. Raper and Mr. Roark were presented North Carolina's highest civilian award, "The Order of the Long Leaf Pine" at a Racial Unity Rally at Gardner-Webb University. In 2012, he received NAACP's Trailblazer Award. For his leadership role in appearance and beautification work, City Council dedicated a landscaped area adjacent to City Hall as "Roark Plaza," later designated the Raper-Roark Plaza. In 2011, he received the Fred Blackley "Keep Shelby Beautiful" service award.
In state and national work, Les served as N.C. Staff Director for U.S. Senators Robert Morgan and Terry Sanford, and as Administrative Deputy Attorney General for N.C. Attorney General Lacy Thornburg. Les was active in church and civic affairs, including Shelby Presbyterian Church, Civitan, Shelby Little Theater, Chamber, Jaycees, United Way, and other civic groups.
Les played baseball and basketball at Grover High School and was a lifelong sports enthusiast. He co-founded Cleveland Sports which owned and operated a professional minor league baseball franchise in Shelby in the early 1960s, and he helped develop the River Bend Golf Course. He also organized and led the fundraising efforts to build Veterans Field at Shelby High School in the mid 1970's, now home to Keeter Stadium and host of the American Legion World Series. He was an ardent Atlanta Braves baseball fan, and he and his son, Jeff, attended several Braves games annually from 1966 until just a few years ago.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by seven brothers, Glenn, Wayne, Reece, Coley, Broadus, Hubert and Sidney.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Dorothy Mulder Roark, of the home; daughter, Pamela Roark Washer and husband Douglas of Blowing Rock; son, Jeffrey Scott Roark of Shelby; and many nephews, nieces and friends.
Visitation: The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Clay-Barnette Funeral Home, and other times at his home.
Funeral service: 2 p.m. Friday at Shelby Presbyterian Church
Officiated by: The Rev. Dr. Luke Harkey
Burial: Sunset Cemetery with military honors
Funeral home: Clay-Barnette Funeral Home of Shelby is assisting the family.
Memorials: Raper-Roark Trust Fund, PO Box 207, Shelby, NC 28151 or Shelby Presbyterian Church, PO Box 1444, Shelby, NC 28151
Online condolences: www.claybarnette.com
Clay-Barnette Funeral Home
1401 West Dixon Boulevard Shelby, NC 28152
Published in Shelby Star on Feb. 26, 2014