CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Nell Rose Bates taught fourth- and fifth-graders for over 40 years, much of that time at Park Road Elementary School in Charlotte.
And with no biological children, she in effect adopted her students at school, as well as children at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where she sang in the choir for over 50 years, says the Rev. Rush Otey, minister at the church.
After she died May 5, 2008, at age 86, Bates left an estate gift of over $1.65 million through her will to improve the lives of children in the Charlotte community, part of it to the church and over $1 million to a fund at Foundation for the Carolinas to support the creation of affordable housing.
“Giving was a major part of her life, not only in terms of money but also in terms of her talents and abilities,” Otey says. “She was known as a teacher who took an interest in the lives of her children above and beyond the classroom.”
She had a special affinity for underprivileged kids she knew through her teaching, says Bill Farthing, the managing partner at Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein who served as executor of her will.
“She was exposed daily to the challenges that homeless and impoverished children face,” he says.
Bates, who graduated in about 1940 from Furman University, where she was president of her senior class, outlived her first husband, who died in the early 1970s.
For 29 years, Farthing says, she dated but never married his father, Bill Farthing Sr., who died in 2005.
Bates, who was diagnosed in her final years with Alzheimer’s disease, “was just kind to the core to such an extent that she remained kind even when she did not know where she was or who she was talking to,” Farthing says.
Otey says Bates raised money for charities related to children and hunger, donated carillon bells for the church steeple and walked in the annual CROP world hunger walk until she was over 80.
“On those Sundays, she would wear her tennis shoes under her choir robe, ready to go,” he says.
Bates “saved what she could,” Otey says, “invested well and put her teacher’s salary and pension into good investments over the years.”
The $1 million Nell Rose Bates Affordable Housing Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas is dedicated to helping children in poverty by creating affordable housing in stable neighborhoods.
The first housing group to benefit from the fund is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, which will use money from the fund to buy 4.6 acres in the Steele Creek/Lake Wyle business corridor where it plans to build 90 affordable rental units.
That group is intended to be the continuing beneficiary of the fund, with proceeds from the sale of each phase of housing to be used to finance additional housing, Farthing says.
The gift to the church will be used, among other things, to renovate classrooms and meeting space; buy new playground equipment for its child development center; and help support the cost of a Habitat for Humanity home that church members will build this year.
“She lived her life well and fully and joyfully,” Otey says. “She was just the kind of person who would take food to people when they were recovering from surgery, or in any kind of need, and would try to respond in a genuine, quiet and calming kind of way.”