CANTON - Bill Powell, a Minerva High School graduate who was the first African American to build, own and operate a golf course, died on Thursday. He was 93.
The PGA of America said the creator of Clearview Golf Club in East Canton died at Aultman Hospital in Canton following complications from a stroke.
''Bill Powell will forever be one of golf's most unforgettable American heroes,'' PGA of America president Jim Remy said. ''Bill made us appreciate the game and each other that much more by his gentle, yet firm example.
''He was born with a fire within his heart to build on his dream. In the process, he made golf a beacon for people of all color. The PGA of America is better today because of individuals like Bill Powell. We will miss him dearly. We extend our thoughts and prayers to his family as we remember a wonderful man.''
In August, Powell received the PGA Distinguished Service Award, the association's highest annual honor. In November, he was inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame and honored as the Person of the Year by the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association.
The Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce also recently presented the Powell family with its Community Salute Award.
''My father made a mark,'' said daughter Renee Powell, the second black player to compete on the LPGA Tour. ''And, I believe that God wanted people to know the mark that he made on this nation.''
Born Nov. 22, 1916, in Butler County, Greenville, Ala., Powell was the third child of six children of Berry and Massaleaner Powell. As the post-World War I economy shifted, the Powell family moved in 1919 to Minerva where Berry Powell ended his business of owning a general store and found steady work in a pottery factory.
Bill Powell discovered a love for golf at age 9 by playing and caddying at Edgewater Golf Course. As his own game developed, Powell became a multi-sport athlete at Minerva High School.
Powell was one of the star football players at his high school and was a freshman member of the 1932 Minerva team that finished the season unbeaten and unscored upon in its run to the first Tri-County League football championship. He capped his football career as a senior fullback who also saw time on defense.
While also at Minerva High School, Powell and his friends formed a golf team and he was asked by the athletic director to serve as captain and coach. That meant Powell would schedule matches against all local schools.
A grandson of slaves, Powell became a fine amateur player and was the first black to compete in a junior event at Orchard Hills Country Club (now The Fairways Golf Club) in North Canton. For two days, the 16-year-old Powell hitchhiked 42 miles round trip to the course and after having led the tournament until the final few holes, he finished third.
He later attended Wilberforce University in Xenia where in 1937 the school's men's golf team traveled to play Ohio Northern University at Lost Creek Country Club in Lima in the first inter-racial collegiate golf match in American history. Wilberforce returned home triumphant and also captured the rematch.
Powell met Marcella Oliver and they were married Nov. 22, 1940, Powell's birthday. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps through the end of World War II where he earned the rank of Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Eighth Air Force Truck Battalion. During his service he was able to golf throughout Great Britain.
After the war, he returned to Canton where he continued working at Timken as a roller bearing and steel manufacturer. He would be employed there for 23 years.
Powell worked 18-hour days to support his family and build Clearview Golf Club. Denied a GI Loan, he found funding from two African American physicians, and his brother took out a second mortgage on his home.
Powell went on to carve Clearview out of former dairy farmland in 1946, clearing the land himself. In the process, Powell broke down racial barriers without fanfare by developing female and youth golf leagues.
Clearview opened its initial nine holes in 1948. Powell eventually repaid his benefactors to gain full ownership, and nine more holes were completed in 1978. Clearview is on the National Register of Historic Places, and nicknamed ''America's Course.''
''I didn't build this course for any of the recognition,'' Powell said in his 2000 autobiography, Clearview: America's Course. ''It was a labor of love. Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included. I want you to be included, too. I've always felt that each individual should leave something behind of meaning. It feels good to know that I have done that with Clearview, at long last.''
Powell was also the teacher-coach of his daughter, Renee, who competed from 1967 to 1980 on the LPGA Tour and later served as a head professional at a golf club in England. Renee, who earned PGA of America membership in 1996, followed in her father's footsteps as a promoter of the game and was the 2003 PGA First Lady of Golf.
In 1992, the Powells were honored by the National Golf Foundation as the Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year. That year, Powell was awarded the ''Cornerstone of Freedom Award'' from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
Powell was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 1996, and became a PGA Life Member in 1999. Powell also received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from his alma mater, Wilberforce University, and from Baldwin-Wallace College.
Powell also played a role in The First Tee, which has distributed more than 1,100 William J. Powell Scholarships that allow youngsters to attend The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academies conducted on college campuses.
Powell was preceded in death by wife Marcella and son William. In addition to daughter Renee, he's survived by son Larry, who has served for more than 30 years as superintendent at Clearview Golf Club, and twin sisters Mary Alice Walker and Rose Marie Mathews.
Calling hours are set for 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Minerva United Methodist Church. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the same location. Arrangements are through Bartley Funeral Home in Minerva.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Clearview Legacy Foundation, P.O. Box 30196, East Canton, OH 44730.