"Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." -- Isaiah 40:10

The community has lost a hero. His name was Joel Butler. It's likely most of you never heard of him. That's understandable, since he wasn't a celebrity and there was no public announcement about his passing.

Besides, Joel wasn't the kind of person who went around boasting about his accomplishments.

Exactly who is a hero? One dictionary defines hero as a person who is prominent in his field as a result of his achievements and contributions. That was Joel.

Joel was a black man who grew up in the South in the '20s and '30s when racial discrimination was rampant. One of 10 children, he was born in Denison, Texas, which he boasted was also the birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th U.S. President.

Joel's father worked for MKT, a railway system, and it was through him that Joel learned about diesel engines and generators.

Joel attended an impoverished all-black school while having to walk past an all-white school everyday. Things like that didn't faze him. He loved his hometown despite all its shortcomings. Joel completed his high school education in 1942.

Joel recalls his father once telling him, "All of the family had their responsibilities and they were given a good religious base." A devout Christian, Joel's favorite Bible passage was Isaiah 40:10, which explains how he lived his life.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Joel tried to enlist in the Marines before blacks were accepted in that branch of military service. To appease him and 19,000 other young black men, a segregated training center was set up for them in a swampy area outside Camp Lejeune, N.C.

After completing basic training, Joel was assigned to an all-black defense battalion and served in the South Pacific until 1945 when he was honorably discharged with the rank of corporal.

Joel's reception upon his return to Denison wasn't exactly an all-out hometown welcoming, but Joel accepted that. He was happy just to be back.

Although his father may have wished otherwise, he advised Joel that he and his siblings would be better off moving to another state because of the open hatred toward blacks that still existed at home.

Joel's wife, Ingrid, describes what happened next: "California was not much better. He (Joel) settled in Richmond with his wife and child. There he quickly got involved in Neighborhood Council programs ..."

Recognized by civic leaders as an outspoken advocate for civil rights from early on, Joel was appointed to the Human Relations Commission and the West Contra Costa County BART committee whose mission was to offer equal employment and training opportunities to minorities. He was also asked to serve as a member of the Rumford Fair Housing Law committee.

Besides his civic responsibilities, Joel participated in Boy Scouts and school activities, and supported the Richmond symphony while maintaining a household and working full time.

True to his faith, Joel kept up his regular church attendance and as a church elder, he " ... was often seen picking up garbage as he greeted churchgoers with a smile on Sunday mornings" according to his wife.

In 1964, Joel and his family sought to relocate to central Contra Costa County but were met with opposition until they found one subdivision in Concord willing to sell to anyone without regard to color.

Once settled in his new community, Joel resumed his active commitment to bettering race relations. He was appointed to the personnel board and was one of the founders of the Black Families Association that has provided hundreds of scholarships to deserving black students throughout the county. He was also involved with Widowed Persons Service and served for many years on the bocce board.

Joel never forgot his roots and committed his life to improving the relationship between people of every color. Although he shied from publicity, the Human Relations Commission chose to honor him as "Man of the Year." And shortly before his passing, he was awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal for his service to his country during WWII.

I don't know whether Joel ever played a down of football, but if he had, this is what Vince Lombardi -- the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers -- likely would have told him: "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."

Joel Butler died on Sept. 8, at the age of 88.

Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.