Former Whitley County Board of Education chairman and long-time local accountant Delmar Mahan died Friday morning following a long illness.
Mahan served on the board of education for nearly 27 years, including 19 years as chairman, before announcing his surprise resignation at the close of a school board meeting in October 2017 due to health and personal reasons.
“I just want to say that it has been an honor and privilege to have served Whitley County all these years. Like John Wayne says, ‘you know when it is time. You have to ride into the west.’ You have to get on the horse and ride, and it is time for me,’” Mahan told the board when making his announcement.
Tim Crawford, a longtime Whitley County Board of Education attorney and friend of Mahan, said that Mahan passed away peacefully Friday morning surrounded by family and friends.
“He is a guy, who contributed a lot to the education not only of Whitley County kids, but to the education of kids around Kentucky. He was a good fellow and a good friend,” Crawford said.
When Mahan became a member of the Whitley County Board of Education in January 1991, it was two years after the school district was found to be academically deficient and came under state management.
“We were not in the basement. We were in the cellar at the time,” Mahan noted during a special school board meeting held in December 2017 to honor him. “Two school districts were in state control at the time. One of them was Floyd County and the other was Whitley County.”
Fast forward nearly 27 years later, and Whitley County has raised itself to one of the top 10 school districts in the state, he added.
“In the last 26 years and 11 months that I was a board member, it took a lot of people to make this team work,” Mahan said during the December 2017 meeting. “Everything that has been done in this district has always been about the children. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Mahan left the crowd and the board with a few thoughts during the December 2017 meeting.
“Public education is the key to Kentucky. I don’t care about charter schools. I don’t care about anything else. Public education works. Public education is what makes Kentucky,” he said. “Continue the progress this district has made after the last almost 30 years that will make all the difference in the world, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the second district.”
A total of four new schools were built, two were renovated, the Freshman Academy at WCHS was added and up-to-date technology was installed in classrooms throughout the district while Mahan served as board member.
As a first generation college graduate, Mahan understood many of the obstacles that students face. During his time as board chair and board member, he worked tirelessly to insure that Whitley County students had the same opportunities for success that other students in the state had. His dedication to the students and the Whitley County community was always evident in the decisions he made and his pride for the district and vision he had worked to achieve was apparent, the Whitley County school district said in a release.
“Delmar’s first priority was always to do what was best for our students. He wanted our school system to be a place where students were given opportunities to excel. He spent many years of time and effort to make sure that our schools had what they needed to be able to provide the best for our students,” said Superintendent John Siler.
“Much of his vision for our school district has been realized in part due to his leadership and hard work. I think that is a wonderful legacy for him to leave. I know that everyone in the district who had the opportunity to know and work with Delmar will miss him.”
Crawford noted that Mahan’s lasting legacy would be his contributions not only to the education system in Whitley County, but also to the state as a whole for his work on the Kentucky School Board Association’s Board of Directors.
Mahan served nine years on the Kentucky School Board Association Board of Directors, including six years as an officer on the board and as the 41st president of the organization from 2009-2011.
In 2014, Mahan received the Kentucky PTA’s Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member. The Proudfoot Award is presented annually to a Kentucky public school board member who has exhibited distinguished leadership and service to the community during his tenure on the local school board.
“He would want to be remembered as being an unapologetic supporter and defender of public education,” Crawford added.
Mahan’s day job was working as an accountant, which he did for numerous years at the Corbin accounting firm of Marr, Miller and Myers.
Crawford said that many people probably didn’t realize Mahan loved Mexican food, and going places with his friends.
“He loved going on golf trips with J.E. Jones, Vernon Reynolds and I. We used to go once or twice a year to Myrtle Beach for a four-day weekend. He always enjoyed the golf game and the seafood,” Crawford said.
“One thing that most people probably don’t know about him is that he loved raw oysters. On several trips to the beach he always had raw oysters. One time we had skipped lunch and when supper time rolled around he ate five dozen oysters.”
Per Mahan’s request, there will be no funeral service. Instead his family will celebrate his life later this summer when they gather at his childhood home on Golden’s Creek.
In lieu of flowers, Mahan requested before his death that donations be made to a scholarship fund the Whitley County Board of Education established many years ago. The fund gives out 10 scholarships each year to 10 Whitley County High School seniors.
It has been estimated that more than $75,000 has been awarded through this fund. The scholarships are graciously funded from the per diems the Whitley County school board members receive for each school board meeting they attend.
Those funds are deposited into the Jimmy Crawford Education Memorial Fund from which the yearly scholarships are drawn.
Any donations can be made payable to the Jimmy Crawford Education Memorial Fund and mailed to P. O. Box 1206, Corbin, Kentucky 40702. The family will be notified of each and every donation.
For complete obituary information, see page B-5 in this week’s edition of the News Journal.
Condolences may be made to the family on the Ellison Funeral Home’s website at www.ellisonfh.com.