The library grounds are named after Underwood

The park opposite the main branch of the Gadsden Public Library is now named after Dr Clarence Underwood Jr., who returned to the hometown he left nearly 70 years ago to accept the honor.

However, while the longtime Michigan State University educator and athletic administrator called it “the highlight of his life,” he insisted at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony that he was “taller than Clarence Underwood Jr”.

Underwood told the crowd – which included local political and business leaders – gathered in the park: “It shows the scale of Gadsden and what he stands for. It shows the city’s commitment to diversity, freedom and opportunity.

“Anything that you can accomplish in life, you can accomplish right here in Gadsden,” he said. “It’s a big city.”

According to Craig Scott, director of the Gadsden Public Library and Michigan State Alumnus, the idea of ​​naming Park Underwood originated with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew chapter of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter.

A resolution passed by city council on Tuesday making it official said the decision “recognizes and honors the many accomplishments of this teacher, advisor and administrator who has inspired many others to develop and advance their learning efforts,” development and well-being…. ”

“I never dreamed that this important honor would happen to me,” Underwood told board members via Zoom during Tuesday’s meeting. “I am deeply touched by your generous tribute and your dedication in my honor. ”

He said it reflected Gadsden favorably as “a town on a hill for all to see. It represents Gadsden’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It recognizes that Gadsden is a city that encourages its citizens to grow and learn, and to learn (their) God-given talents and gifts for (their) personal development, as well as to help others in need.

Council member Deverick Williams called it “a monumental event for the town of Gadsden, whenever we can honor one of our own who has done well and comes back to be recognized.”

“And I think that’s very revealing given the period in which (Dr.) Underwood arrived,” he said, referring to the era of segregation, “he succeeded. to avoid these things and to grow tall in spite of them.… ”

Council member Kent Back said his conversations with Underwood related to his selection to the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame – Back is a member of its board of directors – “probably changed me forever. and touched me in a way… that I considered myself one of the lucky ones who knew him. … We had wonderful conversations and his wisdom is simply unmatched, but what struck me most about Dr Underwood was just his grace and humility towards humanity…. ”

Back added, “If there’s one Denzel Washington movie to make, it’s about Dr. Underwood and his life.”

Dr. Clarence Underwood Jr. speaks at a ceremony in which the park in front of the Gadsden Library is named after him on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 in Gadsden, Alabama.

Underwood was a star in three sports at Carver High School, where, according to a 2008 profile on the Michigan state sports website, there was a one-wing fullback and a football captain for three years. He graduated in 1953.

After a stint in the US Army, he decided to enroll at Michigan State University after, according to the 2008 profile, seeing the Spartans integrated football team play on television at the 1954 Rose Bowl.

Underwood was a member of the football team and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education and a doctorate. in higher education in Michigan State,

He held positions in the school system in East Lansing, Michigan, at Northern Michigan University and the University of Wisconsin, and then in the Michigan Department of Education.

Underwood returned to his alma mater in 1969, first as deputy ticketing manager and then as deputy athletic director. He left in 1983 to become associate commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, then returned to the state of Michigan seven years later, first as assistant athletic director for compliance, then as senior assistant athletic director and athletic director. from 1999 to 2002.

The Spartans won the 2000 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and their football team beat Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators 37-34 to win the 2000 Citrus Bowl on New Years Day. (Nick Saban was their coach for 1999 season, but left for LSU in December.)

Underwood was inducted into the Michigan State Hall of Fame in 2017, and although he will soon be 88, he continues to work with the youth of East Lansing.

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