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Community remembers Cecil Batchelor

Cecil Batchelor, age 96, beloved Russellville icon, passed away Aug. 17. His passing has led many to reflect on his legacy and the impact he had on the community.

Probate Judge Barry Moore said Batchelor was “a very successful businessman” who had a “positive impact on a great many people in Franklin County.”

“He would always speak when he saw you,” said Moore. “Cecil was very involved in community events. I was fortunate enough to have him both as a friend and neighbor. He will be greatly missed throughout the community.”

Born June 3, 1925, Batchelor was the youngest of seven children born to L.M. and Mary Batchelor on a farm outside Haleyville. He graduated from Phillips High School.

Three months later, he joined the United States Navy and served during World War II. After the war was over, he returned home to marry the love of his life, Olivia Robinson. They moved to Russellville and raised their two children, Rebecca and Greg.

“He loved Russellville and was dedicated to supporting its growth in all of its phases,” said Susie Malone, president of the Franklin County Arts and Humanities Council. “He wanted downtown to be a welcoming site for citizens and visitors. He supported all of the efforts of the Cultura Garden Club in beautifying downtown, and he was very supportive of the restoration of the Historic Roxy Theatre.”

As co-owner of Dependable Motor Company and owner of Dependable Service Center – later known as Dependable True Value Hardware – Batchelor went on to make a name for himself in the banking business, becoming chairman of Citizens Bank, now known as CB&S Bank, and serving in that capacity for more than 50 years before stepping down in May 2016.

He continued to serve as a director and chairman emeritus and served as chairman of CB&S Banc-Corp, the official holding company for CB&S Bank, until his passing.

“We were friends for more than 36 years,” said Dennis Upchurch, former president of CB&S bank, who served in that capacity while Batchelor was chairman of the Board. “We worked together closely. As a leader, he was a man of vision, and his ability to make business decisions was just phenomenal. He was already a very good businessman before he got into banking.”

Upchurch said Warhurst was “the same every time you saw him,” noting he was “a good listener” and that he’s “very thankful for the time I got to spend with him and for the friendship we had over the years.”

“Mr. Batchelor’s dedication to his community was steadfast,” said CB&S Bank in an official statement. “His accomplishments were numerous, and his service throughout the Southeast was unparalleled.”

Batchelor served as president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Grand Lodge of Alabama for 74 years. He was named Russellville’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Citizen of the Year for Franklin County and Citizen of the Year for Russellville, and he was inducted into the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame.

“There are too many good things to name from the 56 years I knew him,” said Betty Vincent, CB&S bank customer and former employee of the mayor’s office.

According to the bank’s statement, Bachelor is thought to be the longest-serving Civitan in Alabama with more than 72 years of service. He also organized and was the first president of the Russellville Industrial Board, the Russellville Jaycees and the Russellville Merchant Association.

Fellow Civitan members Jimmy Montgomery and William Stone described him as a “fine man, good club member and great person all-around.”

In 2020 Batchelor was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame. Kelly Seal Singleton wrote his biography for the award.

“I’ve known Mr. Batchelor and his family most of my life, as we attended the same church throughout my childhood and teenage years,” said Singleton, “but I was fortunate to get to know him better as an adult.”

Singleton also wrote an article for “Franklin Living” magazine titled “From enemies to comrades” in which she detailed the enduring friendship Batchelor developed with George Giersberg, a German POW soldier he met while serving in the Navy during World War II.

“It’s one of my favorite stories from when I was a journalist,” said Singleton. “The lessons I learned from my time spent talking with Mr. Batchelor and George’s daughter, Bridget Giersberg Hovater, are lessons I still carry with me — lessons about unconditional kindness, friendship, not judging a book by its cover, second chances, forgiveness and the enduring hope of the American Dream and how precious it is, especially to those who don’t have the same freedoms and opportunities we do.

“Mr. Batchelor lived out the principles, morals and values he believed in, and this community is a better place because he was a part of it.”

“Cecil and Olivia Batchelor have meant so much to our family,” said Bridget Giersberg Hovater. “He and my father became friends while my dad was a German prisoner of war in Virginia, and Cecil was in charge of the prisoners. This was in the late 1940s. His friendship with my dad was so strong that he decided to help make my father’s dream to live in America happen.

“He helped us move to Russellville from England in 1963. We are forever thankful and blessed to have known this precious man and his family.”

Batchelor was instrumental in the advancement of education locally during his 20-year tenure serving on the Russellville City School Board – many of those years serving as chairman of the board and making decisions that would positively affect students and teachers in Russellville for years to come.

In a statement released by Russellville City Schools, Batchelor is described as having been “a staple in the community for many years thanks to his business success as well as his many civic involvements.” The statement went on to say he will forever be remembered for the positive impact he had on the community in general as well as on the individual lives of those who knew him.

He also served on a special committee for the University of Alabama College of Commerce at the request of Dean Barry Mason, and he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., where he was also a member of the Finance and Building committees.

“Cecil Batchelor was instrumental in building up our community,” said former West Elementary principal Deanna Hollimon. “He was a humble man who never failed to say hello and ask about my family whenever I saw him. He had a drive and passion for life.”

Bachelor spent many years in service to his church, First United Methodist Church of Russellville, where he and his wife served as youth directors in the 1940s. He served as a Sunday School teacher and chairman of the Building Committee, the Stewardship Committee and the Board of Trustees. He was also a district lay leader and a member of the Wesley Foundation.

In the medical community, Batchelor represented Franklin County on the Alabama Tuberculosis Association Board; served for many years as the Franklin County representative on the Board of Trustees of State District 1 Tuberculosis Hospital in Decatur in the 1960s and early 1970s; was an organizing member of the Diabetes Trust Fund based in Birmingham; and served on the Diabetes Trust Fund Board that raised $8 million to build a six-story hospital building for research, teaching and patient care related to diabetes.

“My relationship with Mr. Batchelor started at age 9 when I was first diagnosed with diabetes,” said Russellville Mayor David Grissom. “He helped me gain access to the best healthcare through his relationship with Dr. Boshell at the Diabetes Hospital at UAB.

“His dedication and service involvement throughout the City of Russellville was unparalleled,” Grissom added. “He served our community in so many ways, and his business success can be attributed to his continued desire to make things better for others.”

Retired Franklin County superintendent Dr. Wayne Ray called Batchelor a legend. “He was very civic-minded. He was faithful to the bank and his customers and committed to being an active member of the community and working to improve it across many areas,” Ray said. “He was an outstanding man.”

Batchelor is survived by his loving wife of 75 years, Olivia Robinson Batchelor; his daughter, Rebecca Reeves, and her husband, Brad; his son, Greg Batchelor, and his wife, Donna; his grandson, John Bradley Reeves, and his wife, Alana; his grandson, John Gregory Batchelor; and his great-grandson, Rhett Reeves.

The family held a private memorial service honoring the life and legacy of their beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

The family has directed anyone wishing to make a memorial in Cecil’s memory to do so with the following organizations: First United Methodist Church of Russellville; the Russellville City Schools Education Foundation; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The family expressed sincere gratitude for the outpouring of love and support they have received, seeing it as a testament to the life Cecil and Olivia built and to the legacy he leaves behind.

“He was a pillar of the community.” said Katernia Cole-Coffey, Franklin County Extension director. “As Coretta Scott King said, ‘The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.’ He will be dearly missed.”

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