J. Early, former Flint schools superintendent and World War II veteran, dies at
Dr. William J. Early, who led Flint schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was 89.
Richard Ruhala, who served on the Flint school board at the time, said Early led the district when it had nearly 50,000 students and was a model of community education programs.
"We had people from all over the world coming to see our district," said Ruhala, 74. "We were building at least one or more schools every year."
He said Early was known for his ability to maintain stability even in turbulent times.
"He had a steady hand," said Ruhala. "I think we had two or three major teacher strikes. The concept of working with teacher union groups was a new idea and he had to deal with it."
He said Early's dealings with the new unions set the tone for education labor negotiations across the state.
"We were sort of viewed by the various labor organizations as being pace setters for the rest of the state," he said. "It was a focal point for setting wages for a number of years."
Ruhala said Early was also at the helm during the beginning of federally mandated desegregation efforts in the district.
"We had to go into busing and it began to conflict with the concept of community schools, but we had to try to integrate the schools and we had to be concerned with hiring more minority teachers," he said.
Long before becoming an education leader, Early showed a different kind of talent on a national stage. He was a third baseman for the New York Giants.
"One of his dreams when he was younger was to be a baseball star," said Ruhala. "I think he was injured in the service so he wasn't able to continue and he went into education."
Early was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for his service as a Marine in Okinawa.
Another school board member during the 1960s, Leo Seide, said Early's military background fueled his strength as a leader.
"Bill was a take-charge superintendent and that's the kind of guy that the community needed," said Seide, 85. "He was a very important guy in the community and he lead the schools really well. He wrote our first labor contracts. We were proud of him."
A funeral will be held at noon Sunday at St. Ann Catholic Church in Frankfort, Mich., where he lived with his wife Clara. Graveside services will be held in Crystal Lake Township North Cemetery, where military honors will be performed.