Kedrick Earl Durden, 73, of Panama City Beach, Fla., passed away Sunday, April 25, 2010 in his home surrounded by his family. Mr. Durden was born Sept. 29, 1936, in Hartford, Ala. He was the oldest child of the late Kedrick and Martha Strickland Durden. He will be remembered as a loving son, brother, husband and father, loyal friend, successful businessman and a longtime philanthropist in his community, state and nation.
Mr. Durden graduated from Rehobeth High School in Dothan, Ala., in 1954 where he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” and lettered in football. He served in the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1958. While continuing to serve in the United States Air Force Reserve and managing a large furniture store in Topeka, Kan., from 1959 to 1962, Mr. Durden also earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Washburn University.
After graduation from Washburn, Mr. Durden was hired by AT&T where he completed an extensive management training program. He then was hired as the manager of the Accounting Department for the newly built paper mill in Cedar Springs, Ga. He next took an assignment with his company, Great Northern Nekoosa, in Millinocket, Maine. After successfully completing this assignment, Mr. Durden transferred back to Cedar Springs in 1967 where he was promoted to vice president, general manager and director of the paper-mill owned railroad, the Chattahoochee Industrial Railroad. He served in this position until 1975, during which time he also was a member of the paper mill’s Executive Committee and was the project manager for a major mill expansion. During that period, the Chattahoochee Industrial Railroad was recognized as the most efficiently operated railroad in the United States.
During Mr. Durden’s tenure with Great Northern Nekoosa, he was also a member and state coordinator of the Executive Reservist in the Office of Emergency Transportation; president, director and member of the Executive Committee of Tri-Rivers Waterway Development Association; served on the Committee of 100 and the Transportation Committee of the Georgia State Chamber of Commerce; and served as a governor of the Georgia Business and Industry Association, representing railroads in the state.
From 1975 to 1980, Mr. Durden began a very successful transportation consulting practice. His clients included DuPont, Jim Walters Corp., Lundy-Thagard Oil Co. and Green Bay Packaging Corp..
During this same time period, Mr. Durden started up several disparate businesses in and around the Dothan, Ala., area, including a furniture store, a wooden pallet manufacturing plant and sawmill, an electric motor sales, repair and maintenance company, and two restaurants and nightclubs. Mr. Durden also served as president of the Northview High School Quarterback Club.
In 1980, Mr. Durden founded two companies, Rail Management Corp. and Rail Switching Services Inc. Rail Management Corp. owned and operated short line railroad companies all across the United States, eventually acquiring and operating 16 different railroads, including the Bay Line Railroad, which connected Panama City to Dothan. Rail Switching Services Inc., which Mr. Durden co-founded with his longtime friend and mentor, C.F. Fischer III of Dothan, provided in-plant rail services to large volume rail users all across the United States. Rail Switching Services’ first operation was serving the paper mill in Panama City.
Mr. Durden was an icon in the railroad industry with a reputation for operating the most efficient and safely run railroads in the United States. He sold Rail Management Corporation in 2005 and Rail Switching Services in 1995.
Mr. Durden served as chairman of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association for many years. Due to his successful advance of railroad legislation during his tenure, the association began an annual award, the “EARL” Award, which stood for Efforts in Advancing Rail Legislation. This award is given annually to the individual who demonstrates the best efforts in this area.
Mr. Durden moved from Dothan to Panama City in 1988. He founded a local community bank which was eventually acquired by Superior Bank of Birmingham, Ala. Mr. Durden continued to serve on the board for Superior Bank until his death.
He was a past chairman of the Florida Transportation Commission and served as a commission member for eight years. During his tenure, Mr. Durden was largely credited with securing the funding for the new Hathaway Bridge and the four-laning of State 79 and State 77. Last week, the Florida Legislators honored Mr. Durden for his contribution to the economic development of Panama City, Fla., by renaming a four-mile portion of State 79 the “K. Earl Durden Highway.”
During his time in Panama City, Mr. Durden was a member of the Florida Base Relocation Appointment Committee, served on the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, chaired the K-12 grade Sub-Committee of the Florida State University-Panama City Presidential Blue Ribbon Committee, was on the board of the Florida Council of 100, a director of the James Madison Institute, and director and past chairman of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.
Mr. Durden was an active participant and proponent for his community and the states of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. He was named by the Florida Trend Magazine as one of the 100 most influential persons in Florida.
Earl was beloved by his family, friends and associates. He drove to Slocomb, Ala., every Sunday to eat lunch with his beloved parents, brothers and sisters until his parents’ deaths. He has left a huge void and will be sorely missed.
He is survived by his loving wife, Karen Levy Durden of Panama City Beach, Fla.; his son, Michael Durden of Panama City Beach and Miami, Fla.; and his two stepsons, Patrick Green of Panama City Beach, Fla., and James Green of Tampa, Florida. He is also survived by his siblings, Lawrence Durden and his wife, Patsy, of Abbeville, Ala., Wynell Dawsey and her husband, Walter “Chunky,” of Dothan, Ala., Charlotte Price of Miami, Fla., Sandra McAlister and her husband, Jerry “Skeet,” of Slocomb, Ala., Roger Durden and his wife, Barbara, of Dothan, Ala., Judy Duell and her husband, Ron, of Compass Lake, Fla; nieces and nephews, Royce Dawsey, Rodney Dawsey, Rhonda Dawsey Jordan, Robin Dawsey, Bobby Price, Wendy Price Caiboya, David Durden, Donna Durden Walker, Vicki Durden Munn, Sherry Durden Davis, Paige McAllister, Derrick Duell, Troy Duell, and many great-nephews and great-nieces.
He is preceded in death by his parents and a niece, Jerri Lynn Hovey.
Funeral services for Mr. Durden will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at the First Baptist Church of Panama City with the Rev. Clyde Ellison officiating. Private family entombment will follow. Asked to serve as pallbearers are George Roberts, David Spencer, James Finch, Harry Sipple, Scott Helms and Larry Parker. Honorary pallbearers are Charles Hilton, Charles Whitehead, former Speaker, Allan Bense, Lowell “”Jake”" Jacobsen, Leo N. Crowley, James F. Kress, Mack Dove, Burl Lane, Frank Harrell, Bob Sandage, Edwin Clark, Cecil Bowden (deceased), Euell Benton (deceased), C.F. Fisher, III, Sen. Don Gaetz, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, Rep. Marti Coley, Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, Gov. Charlie Crist, Floyd Skinner and Corby Myers.