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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2004

Track star leaped racial hurdles too

FREMONT - Henry W. Sewell, a former high school track standout who went on to be an officer in the NAACP, died of a massive heart attack Saturday in Memorial Hospital. He was 83.

Mr. Sewell was a cross-country and track star for Fremont Ross High School in the late 1930s and early 1940s, finishing 19th at the state cross-country meet in 1939 and participating in the state track meet his senior year.

Mr. Sewell might as well have been running the hurdles the rest of his life, his family said.

"He was a great person," said son Henry W. Sewell II. "Everyone knew him and loved him. He definitely overcame all the hurdles he faced in life."

Mr. Sewell was born in Birmingham, Ala. The family moved to Fremont shortly afterward.

Through his life, Mr. Sewell faced Jim Crow-like obstacles in Ohio. At the state track meet, he couldn't stay with his teammates because he was black and had to stay in the African-American area of Columbus.

After high school, he was drafted into the Army, serving in the Philippines, then returned to Fremont, where he worked at the Kelsey Hayes Foundry for 37 years, retiring as a general foreman.

He was a charter member of the local NAACP and was the organization's vice president.

"He was always a leader," his son said. "He just wanted to fight injustice and to make sure everyone had a fair chance."

Mr. Sewell was active in the local Democratic Party's central and executive committees.

After World War II, Mr. Sewell and other African-American veterans formed VFW Post 2851, of which he was a former commander. In 1982, he joined VFW Post 2947 and the other post was dissolved.

"My dad was old-school," Alan Sewell, another son, said. "The things that happened to him back then were touchy subjects. He didn't like them, but he made the best of them, and we're all reaping the benefits of it now."

He is survived by his wife, Catherine; sons, Owen Bridgett, Alan, and Henry W. Sewell II; daughters, Windy Phillips, Lisa Sewell, and Marie Herbst; brother, Ward; sisters, Johnie Mae Price, Mary Davis, and Patsy Price; 10 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 2 p.m. today at the Wonderly-Horvath Funeral Home, Fremont, and after 10 a.m. tomorrow in First Baptist Missionary Church, Fremont, where funeral services will be at 11 a.m. The family suggest tributes to the American Cancer Society.



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