Cecil F. Gilkerson, 92, of Harrisonburg, passed away Jan. 8, 2020, at Bridgewater Retirement Community. Mr. Gilkerson was born April 16, 1927, in Harrisonburg, the son of the late Ward H. and Virginia Burgess Gilkerson. He grew up in Mount Crawford and graduated from Bridgewater High School in 1944, and graduated from Catawba College in 1949.
On Aug. 11, 1950, Mr. Gilkerson married Gay West Gilkerson, who preceded him in death on Nov. 13, 2011. Survivors include their four daughters and their families; Pam Setzer and husband, Bob Setzer, of Salisbury, N.C., granddaughters, Katie Libscomb and husband, Eric Lipscomb and great-granddaughters, Eliza and Sallie Lipscomb; Addie Laurie Reamer and husband, Richard Reamer, great-granddaughters, Eleanor and Mamie Reamer and great-grandson, Trey Reamer; daughter, Lynn Hoy, and husband, Tom Hoy, grandson, Scott Turner, and wife, Marilyn Turner and great-grandsons, Cecil and Theodore Turner of Harrisonburg; daughter, Julie King and husband, Joe King, of Waynesboro, Va., and granddaughter, Kelsey King and grandson, Stuart King; daughter, Sharon Johnson and husband, Shawn Johnson of Winchester, Mass., granddaughters, Natalie and Hope Johnson and grandson, Quinn Johnson.
After graduating from Bridgewater High School in 1944, where he was an outstanding athlete, Mr. Gilkerson attended Bridgewater College for one year playing basketball and baseball. As part of the Greatest Generation, he entered the U.S. Navy and was a proud World War II veteran. In 1947 he entered Catawba College and after graduation in 1949 he was appointed coach of athletics at Rockwell High School in Rockwell, N.C., 1949-1952 where he coached football, boys and girls basketball and baseball and also coached at Charles L. Coon High School in Wilson, N.C., 1952-1954, before coming to Harrisonburg as the first full-time Director of Parks and Recreation on June 1, 1954, and retiring Jan. 1, 1990. He saw his department grow from year to year. Harrisonburg was considered a role model in Parks and Recreation for cities under 50,000 in population. He not only served as Director of Parks and Recreation; he was a baseball player playing for Linville at the beginning of the Valley League and then playing for the Harrisonburg Turks for a number of years.
Mr. Gilkerson served as President of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society 1962-1964, later serving on the first Recreation Study Commission, which was the forerunner of our present State Recreation and Parks Conservation Commission. He established the groundwork for the Upper Valley Regional Park Authority and served on the advisory board for a number of years. In 1968, Mr. Gilkerson received the “Fellows Award,” the highest award given by the Virginia Recreation and Park Society as the outstanding professional in his field. In 1978, the State Department of Recreation and Conservation gave the first and only “Special Commendation to Mr. Gilkerson for his many accomplishments” in his profession of Parks and Recreation. In 1960, Mr. Gilkerson opened Valley Sports Center located on East Water Street and was co-owner until 1990. He was also co-owner of the Valley Tennis Court Surfacing Company for 30 years.
Mr. Gilkerson took his politics very seriously, always voting and supporting the Republican Party.
Cecil was an avid golfer and he worked very hard in helping to bring a municipal golf course to the City of Harrisonburg. His dream was fulfilled and Heritage Oaks continues to provide a healthy quality of life for the community. He was also one of the first to bring tennis to Harrisonburg. Mr. Gilkerson enjoyed developing park land and recreation facilities for everyone. He enjoyed being around people of all ages.
In 1990, the City of Harrisonburg named the Community Activities Center the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center in his honor. He was a member of the Harrisonburg Lions Club, served as president in 1971, and was awarded the Melvin Jones Award. He was also a member of the Harrisonburg Elks Lodge No. 450 for 65 years, joining in 1954.
In 2013, he was inducted onto the Shenandoah Valley Athletic Club’s Hall of Honor and in 2015, he was inducted into the Harrisonburg High School Hall of Fame as a Supporter.
Mr. Gilkerson published a book on his hometown of Mount Crawford, Va., entitled "Mount Crawford, As I Remember It." In this photo essay, he recalled life growing up in a small town during the early part of the 20th century.
He was a member of the Harrisonburg Baptist Church. Cecil’s true love was for his wife, Gay, and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His other love was for his City of Harrisonburg. Cecil recounted the history of his family, his life with Gay and their daughters in the book "Footsteps in the Past," completed in 2016 and given to members of his family for Christmas that year.
The family will receive friends at the Lindsey Funeral Home in Harrisonburg on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friends may also call at his late residence.
Pastor Jim Logan will conduct the funeral service at the Harrisonburg Baptist Church on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, at 10 a.m.
Burial with military honors and Elks rites will follow at Woodbine Cemetery in Harrisonburg.
After the graveside service, friends are invited to the Harrisonburg Elks Lodge No. 450 for a time of fellowship and sharing memories.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Virginia Recreation & Park Society, 6372 Midlothian Turnpike, Suite 109, Midlothian, VA 23111 to establish the Cecil F. Gilkerson Scholarship for young recreation professionals or to the Harrisonburg First Tee Program, 690 Garbers Church Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22801.
Online condolences may be made to the family at www.lindseyharrisonburg.com.