Luther C. Chalker was born March 17, 1888, near where Kennesaw State University is today. His parents were Jacob and Mary Chalker, who worked as farmers. Jacob died in 1906, when Luther was only 18.
Education was important to the Chalkers, and Luther’s brother James donated land to Cobb County for a schoolhouse around 1910. The school opened in 1914, and Luther was involved with it during its early years. It was named the Chalker School in honor of James, but some recognize that the name also acknowledges Luther. It was moved in the 1990s by Wildwood Baptist Church and is used now as a wedding venue.
Later accounts of Luther Chalker’s life mention he attended the Seventh District A&M School, which asked students not to bring “idleness, selfishness, laziness, profanity and bad habits” inside its walls. It is unclear if he graduated, as he is not mentioned on a list of graduates. The school is now McEachern High School.
Around 1915, Chalker returned to Kennesaw to work at the Chalker School. In the 1920s, he served as the school’s principal and, according to the Cobb County Times, was “very successful.” Also around 1915, he became the Sunday school superintendent at Shiloh Methodist Church. He was a lifelong member of the church and helped with its school and cemetery for decades. But Chalker’s life was not all work. For instance, there was a mention in the May 21, 1915, Marietta Journal that he had gone “motoring and kodaking” with a group of friends.
During World War I, Chalker registered for the draft, but his number never was called. He still did his part for the war effort by participating in the local Liberty Loan drive, contributing $100.
On Christmas Day 1918, Chalker married Bertha Gilham. The Marietta Journal noted “the bride is one of our attractive and popular young girls.” They had two children, Edward, who died in infancy, and Fred.
Chalker believed in helping other members of the community, so he entered politics. He was elected to a one-year term as mayor of Kennesaw in 1931 and was reelected annually until 1945. Chalker’s time in office was filled with accomplishments. In the midst of the Great Depression, the city, under his leadership, was able to use New Deal programs to improve the town. In 1935, funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were used to build sidewalks on Main Street, and, later that year, federal funds were secured to help pay for a new City Hall building. The facility opened in 1936, and, according to the minutes, it was the “first time in the history of the town of Kennesaw that a council meeting was held in a city-owned building.”
Sometime in the 1930s, Chalker became the cashier for Kennesaw State Bank, a downtown cornerstone of the community, and worked there until it closed in 1952.
After a local school consolidation in 1932, the students at the Chalker School began attending the Kennesaw Consolidated School downtown. Chalker was a member of the school’s board of trustees and served as treasurer. The 11-room school burned to the ground in March 1938, an estimated $40,000 loss. The fire was caused by a faulty stove. According to the March 2, 1938, Marietta Journal, the fire was noticed first by Fred Chalker, Luther’s son, but the description given (“Kennesaw banker and school treasurer”) better matches Luther. As both a trustee and mayor, Chalker arranged to help construct a new building, with assistance from the Public Works Administration, a New Deal program. The school opened in 1939.
In 1934 and 1948, Chalker purchased land next to the Kennesaw City Cemetery that was used for burials. These plots later were deeded to the city and became known as the Chalker section.
Chalker also built a trailer park on Cherokee Street that featured the Fountain of Youth Recreation Center, which opened in 1959. When the center was given to the city in 1988, it was renamed Chalker Park. It closed in 2021, but there are plans for a new park in the vicinity.
Luther Chalker died Dec. 30, 1975, but his name didn’t. Because of his focus on education, Chalker Elementary School was named in his memory when it opened in 1997. His legacy still can be felt across our community.
– Andrew Bramlett is vice president of the Kennesaw Historical Society and an honorary member of the Kennesaw Cemetery Preservation Commission.
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