HAZARD — Burnice Steele spent a lifetime serving his community and his country; a lifetime that spanned nearly a century. Steele was born in Lothair on April 30, 1923, and he passed away Saturday at 93 years of age.
Only six days earlier, a crowd gathered at Smithsboro Baptist Church in Sassafras to honor Steele’s life and military service with a ceremony that led up to a special bridge dedication. Family and friends shared songs and stories in celebration. Pictures of Mr. Steele from his days in the military were on display. Young JROTC cadets even joined the ceremony to demonstrate their respect. A sign, which is now standing at the entrance to the Hwy. 15 bridge crossing over Vicco, declares that passageway in honor of Corporal Burnice Webb Steele. Mr. Steele and his wife, Mary, were there to see it all.
Saturday, when family announced that Mr. Steele had passed away, the community was shocked and saddened. Yet, he left the community with a century’s worth of warmth and honor that will never be forgotten. In fact, it shall be recalled on every drive down Hwy. 15.
When Steele was merely a child, the whole world suddenly became gripped by the Great Depression. No sooner than the Depression ended, the world found itself once again thrust into war. The U.S. Army beckoned 19 year old Burnice Steele to service in March of 1943. Proudly, he answered his country’s call.
During his time in the military, Steele served in Africa, as well as the Middle East, with the bulk of his service spent in India, where he helped with efforts to establish troop advancement through development of the China-Burma Road. Corporal Steele received the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and World War II Victory Medal for his service to the United States.
After the Army, Steele started his professional career the same as many young men have in Perry County. He worked as an underground coal miner. Steele’s extensive stretch as a business owner began when he opened a service station in Vicco that was shortly followed by the opening of Steele’s Auto Sales in Hazard, which remained in business from 1956 through 2008.
During all that time, Burnice Steele remained dedicated to his community. For almost a quarter of a century, he taught Sunday School at Smithsboro Baptist. Steele further supported youth in the area by sponsoring Perry County Little League. When he was not busy helping others, Steele might be found piloting his airplane, or bowling, or fishing, or watching one of the race cars he sponsored competing at a local track.
On Feb. 7, the community said goodbye to Burnice Steele. However, his memory will never pass away. The lives he touched and the legacy he leaves are immeasurable. We will know it, not only with every passing over the bridge in Vicco, but we will also recognize his legacy with the million other reminders we pass along the way.
Mr. Burnice Webb Steele leaves the following relatives to cherish his memory: Wife, Mary Lawrence Steele of Vicco; Daughter, Anita June Steele Johnson of Vicco; Son, Rick Steele and Linda of Jeff; Six Grandchildren, Stacey Johnson Jacobs and Jeff, Russell Ray Johnson and Chrissy, Jackie Todd Johnson and Kirby, Brady Webb Johnson and Jenny, Ricky Steele and Susie and Jaime Steele Coffey and Chris; Great-Grandchildren, Haley, Luke, Adam, Lucy, Jake, Jessica, Cameron, Kyle, Max, Hope, Alyssa, Garret, Brooklyn, Micah, Lyla and Davis; Also a host of other relatives and friends survive.
Funeral services for Mr. Burnice Webb Steele were conducted on Feb. 7 at 1:00 p.m. at the Smithsboro Baptist Church in Sassafras. The Hazard-Perry County D.A.V. Chapter #64 performed Military Rites.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.