At namesake school, Erskine known for his commitment to education

As he waited to pick up his granddaughters from their classes at Erskine Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon, Brian Fleeman recalled the school’s namesake visiting his home when he was a child.

“He knew my father, and he was telling us how he pitched to Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and so many others,” Fleeman said. “My brother and I were just totally enthralled listening to him.”

Fleeman said listening to Carl Erskine’s memories of life as a Major League Baseball player kindled a passion for baseball that still endures. But, he added, it was Erskine’s advocacy for Special Olympics and other causes in his hometown that will continue to inspire him.

“The impact he had on helping children with disabilities, that was excellent,” he said. “Things like that kind of encourage you to be a little better person and think of others a little bit more and not be so stuck in your own little world.”

Erskine, who died early Tuesday at age 97, leaves a far-reaching legacy of support for improving the lives of children, especially those with special needs, through education. Those ideals are especially evident at the school named for him.

In the early 2000s, the Erskine family sold 30 acres of land where the school was built to Anderson Community Schools at a discounted price. Carl Erskine and his wife, Betty, continued to live in a home on the land for several years after the school opened and would pay numerous visits to the building.

“Even back then, Carl was a big part of the school,” said Chris Chelli, who taught at Erskine Elementary for several years before being named the building’s principal in 2022. “Everybody here has a special place in their heart for Carl and his family.”

Chelli said Erskine’s friendship with another Anderson icon, Johnny Wilson, during a time of considerable racial tension in the country, and his support as a teammate of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, is a rich source of educational material that his teachers use regularly.

In 2022, the school hosted a special showing of "The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story," a documentary film celebrating Erskine’s life.

“There’s literature and books we can use in the classroom,” he said. “I had multiple teachers who embraced those books, used them in multiple grade levels, had bulletin boards in the hallway … anything to do with Carl, they’ve always embraced.”

Chelli said several staff members with personal connections to Erskine expressed sadness at the news of his passing. He added, though, that their sadness is being tempered with memories of his character and commitment to helping others.

“There was that kindness in his heart and his passion for everything, especially with the special needs students and things of that nature over the years,” Chelli said. “To me, it’s just an amazing life — to watch the documentary and everything he accomplished in his life, it was just amazing to see everything he could do. It's what we should all strive to do.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.