David Lewis Elder, of Hickory, passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on Monday, June 12, after a long, heroic battle against cancer.
David was the best father and “Poppy” ever, a devoted husband, and for 35 years, a legendary educator and coach at five different NC high schools, including Hickory High School from 1979-2003. He loved to work in his vegetable garden, tend his yard, shoot for par, spend time with family, and watch his grandchildren play sports. He also served his community as a board member of the Hickory Public Schools, as Ward 4 Alderman for the town of Long View, and in various positions at Bethany Lutheran Church.
David was born on September 13, 1945, in Iredell County, as the 12th of 13 siblings to William Curtis and Blanche Burgess Elder of Alexander County. Following his graduation from Taylorsville High School’s class of 1963, David attended Lenoir-Rhyne College, where he started for four years in football, starring on both offense and defense for Coach Hanley Painter. By the end of his senior year, he set a school record for most pass receptions in a career.
After graduating from Lenoir-Rhyne, David began a storied teaching and coaching career. Based on his teams’ athletic achievements, including 418 wins in basketball and 147 victories in football, he was inducted into four Sports Halls of Fame: Alexander County, Lenoir Rhyne University, Catawba County, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
He cared for each of the student-athletes that played under him and loved all the teams that he coached, of which among those are 3 state title squads at Hickory High School in girls’ basketball (1995, 1998, and 1999) and 1 state championship team at Hickory High School in football (1996), considered by many sportswriters to be one of the most dominating teams in North Carolina high school history. David was named North Carolina Coach of the Year by the Associated Press for football in 1996 and girls’ basketball in 1997. In addition to football and girls’ basketball, David also coached conference-champion wrestling, track and field, and golf teams during his career.
However, David taught his players far more than how to attain competitive success; he was renowned as a mentor in the game of life as well. For so many, the lessons learned under Coach Elder extended well beyond the practice field or gym floor.
11 of his siblings preceded David in death: Buford Elder, Mary Stewart, Rachel Simmons, J.C. Elder, Lena Ellis, Jack Elder, Thomas Elder, Alice Buck, Ann Swaim, Jayne Goble, and Connie Bryant.
2017 NCHSAA Hall of Fame Induction Video