At a young age, Ryan Dayvault of Kannapolis came to believe that "there's no place like home." That belief has helped the 20-year-old chart a course for his future that he hopes will take him into public administration and eventually bring him to figure prominently in leading his hometown to better economic times.
Dayvault, a 2004 summa cum laude graduate and senior class president of A.L. Brown High School, didn't travel too far a field to begin pursuing his dream. He chose Catawba College as the place to earn his undergraduate degree and he says he's glad he did.
"The idea of coming to Catawba originated with Mr. (Ralph) Ketner. He and a good family friend brought me up here (to Catawba's campus) one day," Dayvault explains. "His (Mr. Ketner's) personality, the way he welcomed me in, and the good things he said about Catawba and the fact that I would be able to be close to home, brought me in.
"I've felt welcomed in every aspect of the College," he continues. "Everybody knows you by name and not by number. It's basically the same size as A.L. Brown High — about 1,200 students."
Dayvault's majoring in political science with an emphasis on public administration. He says he would like to be city manager or a city administrator, especially of Kannapolis.
"Because I've lived in Kannapolis all of my life, I want the town to be successful and I've seen how it went down in the past five years when the mill finally closed. It needs to be something different and it's going to be, and I want to be part of that 21st century transformation," he says.
The family roots of this young man reach deep into the soil of Kannapolis. Dayvault's great-great-grandfather, Paul M. Dayvault, sold his 72-acre farm to J.W. Cannon in the early 1900s for a mere $1,200. It was from that one-time Dayvault family farm that Cannon Mills Company and the town of Kannapolis sprouted with still others among Dayvault's ancestors helping it come to life.
His great-uncle, Walter Dayvault, drove the first stake which marked the footprint for Cannon Mills Plant 1, which was recently demolished to make way for construction of David Murdock's new vision, the N.C. Research Campus. Dayvault's great-grandfather, Charlie Marks Dayvault, a carpenter, helped build the now long-demolished Mary Ella Hall, once a brick boarding facility for single women living in Kannapolis and working at Cannon Mills. Charlie Marks Dayvault was also alleged to have been the first person to climb all the way to the top of the first smokestack at Cannon Mills.
Dayvault's father, Gregg, worked for Cannon Mills for 25 years in the garage and for about 10 of those as supervisor until "they contracted him out of his job in 1996," young Dayvault says. But what happened to his father, he believes, is just another symptom of his hometown in decline.
"From '93 until '04, the whole town has gone down because of the fear factor associated with the decline of textiles," he notes. "If it hadn't been for what (David) Murdock's doing and the announcement of the N.C. Research Campus, there would be no central ingredient to spark interest in the town.
"There are a lot of people I went to school with who are getting engineering and other degrees and there was nothing for them to come back to, but now…. What Murdock has instigated is a private and public venture. It's not going to be just one type of business or industry, although it will all be centered around biotech. The support jobs that will come with the new research campus, I believe, are beyond anyone's imagination. The venture will create a new town center that is similar to the way the original town was set up – all centrally located."
And even though young Dayvault is ready to be part of Kannapolis' future, he is equally enthusiastic about preserving its past. He is the youngest member of the Kannapolis Centennial Steering Committee which is currently finalizing plans to celebrate the town's first 100 years on Sunday, July 2. His service on that committee, he explains, has been time consuming but rewarding, and actually grew out of his high school service on Kannapolis Mayor Ray Moss' Mayor's Youth Council.
"We're planning an old-fashioned celebration at Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium with tire rolling, a diaper derby contest, potato sack and three-legged races, a Ferris wheel, a blue grass band, and puppet shows," he says. Fireworks will conclude the festivities, with all activities designed to bring families together.
"History needs to be preserved," Dayvault continues, "but property that's not been taken care of, like dilapidated buildings and buildings in decline, at some point it has to be replaced with something to provide more opportunity for people in Kannapolis. It's about how people perceive Kannapolis and that perspective has to change."
Kannapolis' young ambassador is the son of Gregg and Leslie Chapman Dayvault. When he's not hitting the books or engaging in civic responsibilities in his hometown, he can be found buying and refurbishing old tube radios, a craft he learned from another longtime resident of Kannapolis, the late Harold Holbrook. He is set to graduate from Catawba College in 2008.