CHERRYVILLE â€”Cherryville has paid tribute to famed football player Charlie â€œChoo Chooâ€ Justice who made the city his home for the last 22 years of his life.
â€œThis was where he lived. This is where he came to work, and this is where he died,â€ said Woody Durham, a sports announcer for the University of North Carolina (UNC).
Durham was the keynote speaker at a memorial ceremony dedicating a piece of highway to the famous football hero.
Justice rose to fame in the 1940s when he played football for UNC. He became a professional football player in 1950 when he signed on with Washington Redskins.
â€œEven today there are some football fans who canâ€™t commit completely to the Carolina Panthers because Charlie Justice made them Redskins fans,â€ said Durham.
Throughout his career Justice received many awards, including being named national player of the year in 1948 and runner up for the Heisman trophy in both 1948 and 1949.
â€œHe is truly counted as one of the great historical figures and icons in the state of North Carolina,â€ said Wade Stroupe, Cherryvilleâ€™s former mayor.
Justice settled in Cherryville in 1981 and opened an insurance business. He lived there until his death in 2003.
Many of his family members still call Cherryville home and were present at the ceremony.
â€œI didnâ€™t know Charlie Justice the football player,â€ said Barbara Crews, Justiceâ€™s daughter. â€œHe was â€˜Daddyâ€™ and he was â€˜Grampyâ€™ to my children.â€
While living in the city, Justice began to suffer from Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
â€œThis community helped me so much to get through those seven years,â€ said Crews.
â€œIn Cherryville, he was just accepted as Charlie, and everyone was so kind as my mother and I tried to take care of him.â€
A matter of months after Justiceâ€™s death, his wife Sarah died as well.
â€œAs we honor and memorialize Charlie Justice today, let us never forget, as they were truly a team, to honor Sarah Justice as well,â€ said Stroupe.
Speakers at the ceremony talked about Justiceâ€™s football career and the amazing speed and force he had that won him the nickname â€œChoo Choo.â€
They also spoke of a kind and giving man who earned the right to be seen as a hero in the eyes of a nation.
â€œHe wore the mantlel of fame better than any other athlete Iâ€™ve known,â€ said Durham.
Now Cherryville has added to Justiceâ€™s accolades with a sign announcing the strip of Highway 150 that runs through the city the â€œCharlie â€˜Choo Chooâ€™ Justice Memorial Highway.â€
â€œFor me this is so special because now this is truly home, and I have a sign to prove it,â€ said Crews.by Sarah Grano