Mr. Band: Davie man dedicates his life to helping young people

Published 1:01 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Volunteering is a way of life for Edwin Owens.

Along the way, he has helped countless young people cope with the stresses of just growing up. He has helped young people who have suffered severe burns. He has helped young people grow to maturity through Boy Scouting. He has helped keep the Davie High School Band viable and enjoyable. He has helped his community through Rotary, Civitan, Kiwanis and fire department work.

And he still does it all.

Edwin’s volunteer story started in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Davie High School. He started playing the trumpet in the school’s marching band, but quickly switched to the tuba, an instrument he played through high school and while a student at Appalachian State University.

It’s also during this time that he learned how to pack musical instruments into and onto vans, buses or whatever transportation was available to the band students at that time. He also managed the uniform closet, taking care of and distributing the uniforms.

“To me, it was just fun. I enjoy just being part of the band.”

In fact, after graduating high school, he took a quick beach trip and came home and immediately started volunteer work with the band. While in college, he would come back to Davie County on Friday nights to help the band, sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning (A trip to Pizza Hut may have been involved.). He would be back at Appalachian the next morning – sometimes the same morning – to be a part of that band, as well.

Edwin has volunteered on every out-of-state (sometimes country) trip the band has been on since 1979. No one else can claim that distinction.

He has been know to carry a black bag, containing everything from Band-Aids to blankets. After years as a volunteer, Edwin knows what might be needed. A friend once joked he had everything but a kitchen sink in that bag, so Edwin added a toy kitchen sink as a joke.

He came name the eight or so band directors with whom he has worked, including the current director, Matthew Brusseau.

“Edwin is one of the most selfless, giving and passionate volunteers I have ever worked with,” Brusseau said. “There are many times when Edwin will drive buses, chaperone trips, wrap a rolled ankle, fix an instrument and much more.

“Edwin Owens is the embodiment of the Davie County High School bands. Edwin Owens is the embodiment of Davie County. I cannot imagine Davie County and the Davie County High School Bands without Edwin Owens.”

While he enjoys doing tasks for the band (He once fixed an instrument with duck tape that was used for several years after the repair.), some of the more rewarding experiences come from helping students.

Edwin, a quiet an unassuming individual, waits for the students to come to him.

“I’ve watched kids nervously call me ‘Mr. Owens’,” he said. “I tell them I’m Edwin. I don’t earn their respect by having them call me mister. I tell them: ‘I’m not your parent. I’m not your teacher. I’m just like you’.”

Are you a band student who needs a scholarship for college? Edwin started a fund at the Davie Community Foundation just for that cause. Additions to that scholarship are always welcome.

An Eagle Scout, Edwin became a Boy Scout in 1976. His Eagle Scout project was placing new playground equipment at the Cooleemee Recreation Center. A swing he erected still stands there.

He’s a member of the Association of Baptist Scouters, and has chaperoned trips to Philmont Scout Ranch.

Edwin hopes the Scouting program in Davie County starts to grow again, as the benefits to young people are immeasurable.

Edwin became a member of the Boone Fire Department in 1986. One of the projects was collecting aluminum cans to sell, with proceeds going to Camp Celebrate for young burn victims.

“I just knew it was something we did. I didn’t know why,” he said.

He moved to the Statesville Fire Department, and worked with the Burned Children’s Fund. Then he tourned the N.C. Burn Center in Chapel Hill. “If you take a tour of the burn center, you will come out a different person. “

By the next year, 1991, he was a counselor at that camp, helping oversee a room full of 22 boys who were burn victims, ages 5-6. Now, he’s head of safety at the camp.

The stories of the children at the camp “make you want to cry,” Edwin said. Some were burned accidentally, others were the victims of a crime.

He remembers one young man who had left camp and was walking home. They called Edwin to “go and get him.”

“I started making a direct line towards him, but I didn’t stop him,” Edwin said. “I just walked along beside him and said, ‘Where are we going?’ ‘To grandma’s house’,” the boy replied.

The boy told Edwin that his grandmother would cook something for them. Edwin started to reason with the boy, learning that grandma’s house was a hundred miles away and convincing the boy it would take a really long time to get there.

The boy came back to camp. And he had a new best friend.

He remembered another student from camp, a girl who had run away from home. She called Edwin, someone who she had talked to for years at the camp. Usually quiet, the girl had opened up one night at camp. “She told her story one night, and we were all balling our eyes out.” When it was over, he gave her a fist bump and said: “Man, I’m proud of you. She hugged me, really latched on.”

Edwin had no contact with the girl for years,  until she had run away from home, and didn’t know where to turn. She remembered the kind man from camp and called. It took a while, Edwin said, but he reconnectd the girl with her family. That was after making sure she was OK, with a place to live. The girl had been hired to live with a family to help take care of their children.

Edwin has helped girls through pregnancy, and coached others through drug addiction. He does it all without passing judgment. He’s even taught young people how to cook.

“If the students really get to know me, that’s when I can help them. When I was in school, I had 20 dads and 25-30 moms taking care of me every day. I’m paying some of that back.

“It’s all about the kids. When they stop wanting me around, I’ll probably quit.”

Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.