ALBANY, Ga. -- Darrel Ealum proudly talks about the educational accomplishments of his family and children.
Ealum, 61, experienced the difference a college education could make for a family when his mother graduated from Troy University at age 43 and taught school for 28 years.
The degree transported the family from living in a farmhouse without an indoor bathroom or plumbing to a small house with two bathrooms.
Inspired by his mother's efforts, Ealum graduated from Troy in just three years in 1970 before earning a master's degree in human resources management from Pepperdine University in 1981. He later taught naval science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an associate professor for three years from 1983 to '86.
"I bring a lot of excitement," said Ealum, who's running for the Dougherty County Board of Education's District 6 seat. "I bring a deep, sincere belief that education is the real equalizer in life. I am going to do my very best to find a way to improve the educational levels for us here in Dougherty County."
Ealum is running against 35-year educator Dean Phinazee in the July 20 Democratic Primary for the District 6 position held by retiring board member Michael Windom, who has served on the DCSS school board since 1995.
"Michael is a very good friend of mine," said Ealum, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 1996 and state House District 137 in 2002. "If Michael was still running, I would not have run for the office. Michael's tried very hard to keep a balance and do what's best for Dougherty County."
Ealum, who has been visiting District 6 residents door-to-door to get his campaign message out, says he has four goals for his candidacy: "Get our parents involved with our children in the classroom. Focus our tax dollars in the classroom with our children. Increase our emphasis on our children with special needs. Search for incentives to excite our children about learning."
"As a new member to the Board without a personal agenda, I feel I could go in with an open mind and diligently seek consensus decisions," Ealum said. "We need someone who can take steps back."
Although he's hesitant to judge too harshly the School Board's controversial selection process in naming Superintendent-elect Joshua Murfree, Ealum said he believes if the process had not been halted a lot of the community criticism wouldn't have surfaced.
"I feel to judge what happened without being an integral part of the decision-making is not wise," said Ealum, who has successfully run a family business from his home with his wife, Linda, for 20 years. "But having said that, I strongly feel that when you have a decision-making process established and then you fail to follow that process, then you leave yourself open to heavy criticism. And that's what happened."
Since announcing his candidacy, Ealum has fielded questions about his residency. He said he bought his east Dougherty County home in October 1993 and has operated his family business out of his Honeysuckle Drive home since that time. After living in Lee County in the early 2000s, Ealum said he moved back to Dougherty County and has lived officially at his Honeysuckle Drive residence since October 2008.
"It's absolutely not an issue," said Ealum, who has five children. "I reviewed all the records before I ran. I met every qualification for residency."
Ealum said he has two years worth of residence documentation, including his driver's license, phone, electric and other bills, vehicle tags and homestead exemption status.
All of Ealum's children graduated from Deerfield-Windsor School and are either college graduates or currently in college. He served 20 years in the Marines with two tours in Albany before retiring officially in 1990.
His daughters, Jo and Susie, are Marine lieutenants, and son Adam will be commissioned a Marine lieutenant after he graduates from Albany State University in July. Youngest son James will graduate from Darton College this year, and oldest daughter Lydia will graduate from Georgia Southwestern State University next summer.
"I back Darrel's candidacy 100 percent," Linda Ealum said. "It's not about being black or white. Education is everything, and you've got to get parents involved."