The Heart of Kernersville: Margaret Burks

By NJ Clausen

Hello, Everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your summer. This month I would like to introduce you to an amazing woman who, in December of last year, celebrated her 95th birthday and is still going strong… Margaret Burks.

Margaret was born in 1925 on her 500-acre family farm in the small village of Woodsdale, North Carolina, and was the youngest of four children. One of her favorite childhood memories on this working farm was playing with her 13 cats… and she was adamant that no one squirted her cats when they were milking the cows! It was hard work on the farm, and they all walked two and a half miles each way to school in rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine. Margaret’s mother was a schoolteacher, who drove a horse and buggy to the one room schoolhouse where she taught. Her Daddy, who was the oldest son, had taken over responsibility for his siblings at 11 years of age when their father died young, and had sent them all to college. Education was highly valued in Margaret’s home, and both she and her older sister were Valedictorians of their class. As members of this prominent family, there was an expected standard of behavior to do the best they could, make the best grades possible, and to not tarnish the family name. Margaret continued her education at East Carolina Teachers College, graduating with a degree in Business Education, and where she met her future husband Leo, a veteran of World War II.

Following graduation, Margaret went to work at Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, which is now known as UNCG. A month before Margaret and Leo were to be married, Leo was transferred to a position in Winston-Salem. Due to the housing shortage following the war, after marriage they relocated to an apartment in a private home in Kernersville. Following the birth of their first child, they moved into a house across from the school in Kernersville and have stayed in Kernersville ever since.

In November 1951, the Kernersville Woman’s Club was officially organized, and Margaret joined this group. She remembers with a smile that this group helped distribute the names of streets for the town. Margaret’s position in the group was Chairman of Public Affairs, which coincided with her interest in world, state, and local events. Margaret started attending the Board of Aldermen meetings, and she decided that they needed her on the board… which was the start of her Kernersville political career. The first time Margaret was elected there was a split board (3 votes for her and 2 against) which resulted in a fair amount of bickering for 2 years. Margaret ran for re-election and was elected for a second term but introduced planning and zoning which she believes caused her defeat for a third term. Still an active member of the Woman’s Club, Margaret was also part of a group of men and women that she refers to as ‘Interested People’— people who cared about the town.

Appointed to the Planning Board, which serves as an advisory board to the Board of Aldermen and makes recommendations on planning, zoning, and development, Margaret has been on this board for 50 non-consecutive years. At one time in the early days, all the planning board members except for Margaret resigned following a refusal by the Aldermen to follow a recommendation. Margaret did not resign, as she was concerned that the planning/zoning board would be dissolved. As she said, “They were going to have to fire me to get it done!”

In addition to being a wife for 50 years, mother of two and politically active, Margaret also worked as a manager for 18½ years at a business in downtown Kernersville, retiring at 80. She also found time to make suits for her husband in addition to needlepoint and other creative endeavors. After her beloved Leo passed, Margaret was asked if she wanted to put something at Harmon Park in honor of Leo. At first hesitant, Margaret decided upon a gazebo.

Margaret credits her longevity to inheritance (her Daddy was 93), working, and keeping busy. She considers her greatest accomplishment was raising two nice children, of whom she is immensely proud.

When asked about changes in Kernersville over the years, Margaret responded that it has been a gradual growth, and that Kernersville is a wonderful place to raise children.

To friends, family and neighbors, Margaret had this to say, “Kernersville is made up of friends, and I have tried to make it better. I have loved Kernersville.”

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