PROFILE: 'Family and Farm'
Defeat turned out to be a blessing.
David J. Cummings looks back on his eight years on the Moore County Board of Commissioners not with regret but with new insight into his community. Now he's ready to spend time on what are dearest to his heart: his family and his farm, his church and the rescue squad.
"I never realized how much time I was spending away from my home and the farm," Cummings says. "I've enjoyed every minute of it."
Cummings, the former chairman of the Board of Commissioners, is talking about the weeks since he left office in December.
"It's been a relief to get back on the farm doing things that have to be done and haven't been getting done," he says. "Now I have more time with my wife and family."
In those eight years, the Vass poultry farmer saw his political fortunes rise, then plummet. Caught in a political whirlwind last year, Cummings lost his bid for a third term in the Republican primary election last May.
"The people have spoken," he said shortly after the election returns were reported.
At the time, it had the sound of relief, and now he admits that it was relief.
However, he doesn't rule out a return at some point in the future, but for the time being Cummings is enjoying a respite from the turmoil of Moore County politics.
"I'll never say never, but right now I have no plans but for family and farm," he adds.
It didn't take long for the community to take advantage of his newly-found freedom. New Home Baptist Church, the congregation in which he grew up, quickly latched onto Cummings and elected him to the Board of Deacons.
Cummings never dropped out of church work during his two terms as a commissioner, but he did not have as much time to devote to church activities.
He laughs as he recalls the tasks he has performed for New Home Church through the years. In addition to previous service on the Board of Deacons, he has chaired the men's group, taught in the Sunday School, and served as assistant Sunday School superintendent.
"I've been janitor, carpenter, plumber, whatever was needed, like everybody else," he says.
'A We Accomplishment'
When Cummings first ran for the county board, he already had years of leadership experience under his belt -- as captain of the award-winning Vass Rescue Squad.
Asked about his accomplishments as a county commissioner, he dismisses the question.
"I didn't accomplish a thing," he says. "It's a 'we' accomplishment."
Pressed for details, Cummings says he is most proud of getting the East Moore Water District off the ground. Although the East Moore system has not moved as fast as he would have liked, he cites it first among the goals set when he was first elected. He is also pleased that the county finally has initiated a countywide water system.
Although the Land Use Plan was begun before his election, its official adoption in 1999 came while he was serving on the board. In fact, it was interest in preserving the county's rural atmosphere that appealed to Cummings when he decided to run for office and to support the Land Use Plan.
Cummings is also pleased that the Vass community has developed a library branch as part of the county library system. He continues to serve on the Vass Area Library Board of Directors and remains a member of the Board of Social Services.
Erection of the Moore County Veterans Memorial in Carthage is another cause for elation. This grassroots effort was so successful that more than 1,000 people attended the dedication on Veterans Day.
'Neat to Help People'
Service to community comes naturally to Cummings, who saw these characteristics in his parents, Warren and Rosa Hamlin Cummings, who still live in the Lobelia community.
His father was a farmer and a member of the Vass Rescue Squad. Cummings naturally joined the squad as a volunteer trainee at age 16.
Once he graduated from trainee into a certified volunteer, Cummings was hooked for life. He later served more than 20 years as squad captain. During that period the squad picked up a series of state rescue awards, including best in the state.
But he points out that the squad achieved its highest honor during the captaincy of Max Edwards, who guided the squad to the World's Heavy Rescue Championship in 1971. With this impetus, the squad went on to pick up state and national honors on a regular basis.
Cummings says these competitions were not entered for the purpose of winning adulation but represented instead a successful method of training.
"We saw competition as a training opportunity," he says. "It was our way of honing our skills and learning new skills."
Those were the days before such strict training was required for rescue volunteers. With the introduction of professional Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) programs and Emergency Rescue Technician training, participation in such regional and state competitions is not as keen.
Cummings notes, however, that rescue squads are just as busy today as they were in the days before the county operated a paramedic/ambulance system. Volunteer squads answer the same calls dispatched for EMT units. When they arrive before the ambulance arrives, volunteers are now trained to provide pre-paramedic service. That's in addition to such regular services as extracting people from wrecked vehicles and searching for missing people as well as such mundane things as cleaning up an accident scene.
Why did he join the Vass squad?
"I thought it was real neat to be able to help people, whether it was an accident or illness," he says. "It was something my mom and dad had instilled into us. They were always active in the church and helping out in the community, meeting the needs there, even today."
Asked if he has saved many lives, Cummings refuses to be pinned down.
"I hesitate to say I ever saved a life," he says. "Only God gives life and saves life, but I like to think that I have helped. I'm not big on saying I saved somebody's life. I will say this, I'm a much better person after being a member of the Vass Rescue Squad than the squad is because of me."
He again refers to the concept of team work.
"No one person can make an organization work," he says. "It takes teamwork."
Cummings was so busy during his two terms on the Board of Commissioners that he allowed his certification to lapse, but he remains on the roster. He helps out on some daytime calls and is available to assist with fundraisers.
Although he found it necessary to turn off his pager during board meetings, Cummings remained faithful to the rescue cause throughout his service as a commissioner. When issues arose pertaining to the EMT service, rescue squads or fire departments, he was often the first to speak up on their behalf.
'Farming Good to Me'
Farming was also in his blood from birth.
Cummings grew up on the family farm near Vass, where his father raised tobacco and poultry.
When he wasn't working on the farm as a teenager, Cummings found other jobs in the community. He worked for awhile at a filling station in Vass. He took jobs in other areas, including Parker Meat and Mansion Homes, but always there was a call to the farm.
In that sense he is different from most young people growing up on farms. They usually can't wait to get off the farm, with its hard work schedule. But Cummings says he couldn't wait to get back on the farm.
This turned out to be a tricky situation too, because he had his heart set on a certain young lady in the community -- Wanda Blake, who had experience working on her uncle's farm. Wanda was heard to say she would never marry a farmer.
Cummings says he worked off the farm long enough to persuade her to marry him, and once he had landed the girl, he went back to the farm.
That's a joke, but he does claim almost a lifetime on the farm. He and his brother, Gary, started out by renting farm land in the Lobelia Road area and raising tobacco and other crops for a number of years. They did not work their father's land, but they did work cooperatively, swapping equipment and helping each other. Tobacco was the primary crop, although he never owned any land with an allotment.
That made it easy to switch from tobacco to poultry. At first, he went into poultry as a means of supplementing his tobacco income, and eventually it turned around and tobacco was just supplementing the poultry income.
"It evolved because of economics," he says. "It wasn't something I planned."
Today, he owns four state-of-the-art poultry houses, with a total capacity of 80,000 chicks. No row crops are raised on his farm today.
"Farming's been good to me," he says. "I cannot understand why people say they can't make a living on the farm. Life's been good to me."
Cummings says he has missed only one farm season in his 54 years.
Born at St. Joseph of the Pines Hospital in 1952, Cummings graduated from Union Pines High School and studied auto mechanics at Central Carolina Community College for a year.
"I was already a shade tree mechanic," he says.
But that was not his calling. Agriculture was his future.
In addition to his parents, Cummings has a brother, Gary, and a sister, Vickie Hicks, who still live in the area. Cummings was the middle child, Vickie the baby.
"No one was ever blessed with parents as good as mine," he says.
'Wanted to Be Accessible'
Cummings gave little thought to politics for many years, but in the 1990s "a very dear friend encouraged me to run for county commissioner." It was the seat held by Carthage businessman Archie Kelly, who had announced he would not seek re-election.
It was a tough primary election that year with at least three opponents on the GOP ticket. It took a runoff election for Cummings to win that first year.
The situation changed four years later, when he sailed through a re-election bid without any opposition from either political party. At the midway point in his second term, Cummings was elected chairman of the board.
By 2006, the political winds had changed, and he lost the primary.
If he has no regrets about that loss, he voices no regrets about his eight years on the board. Cummings says he always wanted to serve the people and to be available to discuss their needs.
"I always wanted to be accessible to people," he says. "I was always open to callers, and I tried to return every call I got."
On reflection, he remembers only one call that he did not return and that was a call from a hostile person, with whom he knew it would be impossible to carry on a civil conversation.
Cummings says that most of the people who called him were pleasant and understanding. He remembers one man who used profanity in just about every sentence uttered. Finally, he stopped the caller and advised him that his parents did not allow that kind of language in their home, and he didn't appreciate it either. The caller immediately cleaned up his language.
His highest praise goes to his wife, who fielded hundreds of calls to their home and always did it with grace and patience.
"Not one time did Wanda say one negative word," he says. "She supported me 100 percent and was always cordial to people. She was probably as much a public servant as I was."
Wanda Cummings is a nurse, a certified medical assistant with Moore Family Care in Carthage. They are parents of two daughters: Asheley Allred, who is married to Richard Allred, and lives in Vass; and Tara Thompson, who is married to Scott Thompson and lives in Concord. Asheley is the mother of their first grandchild, Samantha, who will be four in June. Tara and Scott are expecting twins in early summer.
That's the beauty of his forced retirement from the Board of Commissioners.
"I'm enjoying more time with my grandchild," he says, adding that by summertime, the twins will triple that joy.
Cummings plays a little golf, but when it comes to hobbies, he puts it simply: "Family."
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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