Clarence Still Jr., 83, of Lawnside, a community historian who was a member of one of South Jersey's best-known African American families, died Friday, May 4, after a long illness.
Still, a founder of the Lawnside Historical Society, lived on an expansive property on Oak Avenue where he hosted the Still Family Reunion, an annual event that draws family members from all over the United States.
The Still family tree includes abolitionists, preachers, doctors, scientists, professors, composers, Tuskegee Airmen, and professional athletes. Clarence Still helped document their history and Lawnside's.
He "single-handedly stopped developers" from destroying the Peter Mott farmhouse, a station on the Underground Railroad and now a borough museum, said Linda Shockley, president of the borough's historical society.
The house is the oldest known in Lawnside and was built around 1845 by Mott, an African American preacher and agent of the Underground Railroad.
"Many times, I thought we weren't going to be able to save it. So many doors were banged in our face," Still told The Inquirer in 2001 when the house was dedicated as a museum.
Still was descended from William Still, another noted Underground Railroad agent. He loved to teach the Stills' story, Shockley said, and give tours of the Mott house and Lawnside.
"He just loved history," Shockley said. "He was the borough historian in the 1990s."
Mr. Still graduated from Haddon Heights High School in 1948 and enlisted in the Air Force, where he was trained as an aircraft specialist. After he was discharged in 1952, he went to work for the Budd Co. in Philadelphia and became a plant supervisor. He worked there 33 years until his retirement in 1985.
The picnics Mr. Still hosted became legendary. There, family members from as far away as Arizona would gather at tables upon tables filled with sauce-soaked racks of barbecue ribs and fluffy mounds of potato salad.
"We're proud of it. Very much so," Still said in 2010 at the 141st reunion. "When you think about American democracy, we played a big part in it."
He is survived by his wife, Verline; sons Clarence IV and Reginald; and three brothers.