For the past 12 years, Fred Hatley has been a staple in Lincoln County government, serving as the Clerk of Court.
However, his entry into the political sphere was an unusual one, relying on his inquisitive nature and a high school summer school field trip.
A North Carolina native, Hatley grew up in Boone, a college town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. After high school, he stayed in Watauga County, attending Appalachian State University for both his bachelors and masters degrees in Education.
“I originally came to Lincoln County in 1971 for my student teaching requirements,” Hatley said.
Shortly after graduation, Hatley accepted a teaching position with Lincolnton Middle School.
“I love school,” Hatley said. “I love to teach school, and I love to go to school.”
Over his 31 years of teaching, Hatley has taught numerous courses, including Health, Physical Education, Earth Science and Physical Science. In addition to educating students at Lincolnton Middle School, he has also worked as a teacher at Lincolnton High School and East Lincoln Middle School. After the school day ended, he continued his educator role as a sports coach, instructing both middle and high school baseball and football, along with girls’ high school basketball.
During the summer months, Hatley also worked as a summer school instructor, mainly teaching courses in Biology and History. One summer, however, Hatley was assigned to teach a course on job skills.
“I was teaching the kids how to apply for jobs, write resumes, and techniques for job interviews,” he said. “So, we were looking at places all over the county we could visit, so the kids could talked to the bosses about how to get jobs. Then, we got the opportunity to come up here (to the courthouse). So, we’d sit up here and watch court and everything that was going on. It was then that I started to think, ‘You know, I can do that.’”
With a new career goal in mind, Hatley completed his 31st year as an educator and applied for the Clerk of Court position.
“The lady who was the Clerk of Court then decided she didn’t want to run again for the position,” he explained.
Hatley successfully accomplished his political goal, winning the Clerk of Court election in 2002. In addition to his Clerk of Court duties, Hatley is also a member of the Lincoln County Emergency Planning Committee, the Lincoln County Homeland Security Board and the Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as a Deacon for Boger City Baptist Church.
Lincolnton not only offered him a career path in both education and politics, but a future wife as well. Hatley and his wife, Lincoln County native Rhonda Hatley, will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this April.
“The old Chamber of Commerce Building in Lincolnton used to be First Citizens Bank, which is where she worked,” he said. “I came up to make a deposit for the school, and the principal had been telling me about her.”
After their brief introduction at the bank, Hatley soon found himself smitten with the bank teller.
“We had our very first date on Groundhog’s Day, Feb. 2, 1971,” Hatley recalls. “And we were married on April 13 of the same year.”
During their years of marriage, the couple raised one daughter, Shannon Ramsey. Ramsey also lives in Lincoln County, working as a first grade teacher at Pumpkin Elementary School. Her two children, eight-year-old Emma and four-year-old Gabe, play an important role in Hatley’s life.
“I’m very involved with family,” he said. “Whenever I have free time, I love going to Gabe’s tee-ball games and Emma’s dance recitals.”
When not spending time with his family, Hatley can be found exploring new restaurants around the region. While Hatley often ventures out of the county to expand his culinary palette, his favorite Lincoln County restaurants are Fatz Café and Homesteads Grill.
Having resided in the Lincoln County for more than 40 years, Hatley has witnessed tremendous growth and changes in the area.
“The county has been growing so fast,” he said. “I go back to East Lincoln and look around, and there’s housing developments everywhere. When I first came down to Lincoln County in ’71, there was a lot of farms in the western end of the county. You never saw property come up for sale, because people kept it and held onto it—the old heirloom and historical homes. But now, the new generation of kids are growing up and selling the farms when Mom and Dad die.”
“We’re getting a lot of people moving here from other parts of the state and even the country,” Hatley continued. “We’re getting a lot of northern people moving to Denver, and with that comes a more diversified group of people. We’re getting more good places to eat and more activities to do.”
Hatley admits that while there have been benefits to the growing population, he has witnessed some negative side effects.
“We’ve got so much more crime now than we ever had with drugs,” he said. “We just have all this trafficking of drugs coming in from Charlotte, Hickory and Gastonia, and [Lincoln County] is just sort of wedged in the middle with their problems.”
Despite the rise in crime, Hatley believes that law enforcement officials have dealt with the crime influx quite well.
“I really respect and admire the work done by the sheriff department, the police department and the highway patrol officers,” he said. “They do such a great job. We’re really fortunate to have such great officials.”
While retirement is an option if Hatley is not reelected for the Clerk of Court position, he does not plan to leave the work force anytime soon.
“I love working,” he said. “I would go crazy just sitting at home and watching television all day.”