When the planes struck the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Elmo Vance was watching it on a television at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Wilmington.
He was still in the Army reserve. By this time, he had been living in Garner for six years.
“A spirit of service just came over me,” he said. “What can I do to help? I wanted to help because you could tell the helplessness. After that I began to search out avenues in which I could render service to the community in any way I could do it.”
His military days were nearing their end, so he wanted to help out in the Garner community.
Since then he has served on many boards and committees in Garner. He started with the Board of Adjustment, Planning Commission, Garner Revitalization Association, Garner Economic Development Corporation, Garner Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, associate minister of Springfield Baptist Church and as the leader of the Garner Concerned Citizens.
“It’s been a journey,” Vance said.
Vance remembers when longtime Garner resident Helen Phillips encouraged him to lead the committee a few years ago to help advocate to the council for the needs of those who live in the areas of Bainbridge and Rand Road, a predominately black community.
“She was persistent,” Vance said. “Oh she was persistent.
His goals have always been to help Garner move and grow in a positive direction.
Vance first moved to Garner in 1995. He was beginning to transition out of the military. He moved to Garner with his wife and three children because he wanted to live close to family. His parents lived in Chester, S.C., not far from Charlotte.
“It was a reasonable place to move to,” he said. “The housing market was good and to be honest with you the schools and the access to the magnet schools. I heard about the schools in the area, and my kids were able to access some of the programs in the area.”
His children are grown now.
Vance currently works for the N.C. Department of Transportation, but still finds time to help out in the community.
He said his biggest accomplishments were helping to revitalize the Historic Downtown. He and others in the Garner Revitalization Association developed strategies to help bring life back to downtown.
“Because I remember what it was with the boarded up buildings and the negative activities that were going on there,” Vance said, “to what has the potential to come. There are still areas of work that are necessary. But from that we were able to get people who were saying why invest there, to looking at, what can we invest there?”
He said seeing the transition of people’s perception of downtown that has potential will continue to move it into a positive direction. The town plans to construct a recreation center downtown within the next couple of years. It is expected to drive traffic to downtown and draw more businesses, retail and restaurants to the area to reap the benefits. The town is also building more sidewalks and trails to make downtown more walkable.
“I look at that and say there is still hope,” Vance said. “There’s still that opportunity for great things to happen in that part of town.”
Mayor Ronnie Williams said Vance has a unique personality.
“He’s involved in community,” Williams said. “Whatever Elmo gets into he is going to give it 100 percent.”
“Since he came here he’s been good to the Garner community. He’s a role model for every citizen to contribute to the town. He’s a good worker. He’s sincere in what he does. If we had to pay Elmo for every thing he has done for the town, we’d be paying him a lot of money.”