|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - March 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Retired motor city man is enjoying life in the Big Thicket
Polk County Enterprise - March 2009
At the age of 51 and having just completed a retiree assessment for Polk County, it is fast becoming a reality that I will soon be a “senior” myself. I can look forward to discounts at some restaurants in four years — and I can join AARP now. I can even officially wear a “Red Hat.” What I have also come to realize, and not just on a local level, is that our seniors are one of our most valuable resources. Not only have they played a large part in serving our country, building our community infrastructure and leading our communities, they hold the keys to history and traditions that have brought us through good times and bad. Some have shared their stories along the way and others have not. Some have been front and center while others have been the silent backbone supporting an effort. Over the years, I have come to know so many local people who have led fascinating lives, have valuable lessons to teach and those who have contributed to our communities in ways I never realized. It is with that thought in mind that I would like to introduce you to some of our local seniors and give you the opportunity to hear about who they really are. My first introduction is Charles E. Harper, better known to his friends as Chuck. Born in Ozark, Ill., Chuck will celebrate his 83rd birthday in April. In 1928, his parents moved the family to Detroit, Mich. where Chuck lived until he retired in 1988. Times were tough and “there wasn’t any money,” Chuck said about his younger days. For fun, they rode bicycles and listened to radio shows. Chuck won a local decathlon at age 13, and later that year broke his leg riding a bicycle. That accident left one leg shorter than the other, but it doesn’t stop him from dancing with the ladies at the local VFW hall on Saturday nights. At 14, Chuck worked at a gas station for $1 a day. At 16, like so many people during those hard times, Chuck left school when he was offered a job making $23 a week. He said he thought he “was in hog heaven.” He later went to work for Chrysler and by the time he was 17, had saved enough money to buy his first car. The 1937 Ford Club Coupe, including insurance. It cost him a whopping $350.
One year later he found himself in the U.S. Navy where he served as a Coxswain or Boatswain Mate, Third Class. Of course I had to ask what on earth a Boatswain’s Mate is and he explained it was equivalent to a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He had his own boat and crew servicing ships during WWII. He spent most of his time in New Guinea but traveled as far as China. After leaving the Navy, he held several jobs, one of which was in pharmaceuticals. That career path, he said, “was supposed to be a lifetime job.” However, it wasn’t long until automation began to “cut jobs in half.” Chuck, again, went to work for Chrysler. When asked about the union, he said a lot of people were against unionization and dues were high but they provided medical insurance, pension and other benefits for the “working man.” Chuck said he loved his job at Chrysler and retired as a quality control inspector in 1988. Proudly proclaiming to be a Democrat, the first time he voted was for President Harry Truman. I couldn’t help but ask about his feelings on the current economic struggles in the auto industry. He said this kind of thing happened before and they would pull themselves out of it again. He said people don’t realize the impact it would have on everyone if the auto industry were to go under. He remembers taking a pay cut once, which was better than losing the job altogether. He said “people will do that again.” High taxes in Michigan brought Chuck and his wife Hazel to Texas after retirement.
While visiting a relative in Nacogdoches, he saw an ad in the paper for a piece of property. He remembered asking, “where on earth is Polk County.“ His wife fell in love with the property and they made Polk County their home Dec. 23, 1988. They became involved in the community and Chuck said she was always volunteering him for everything. Unfortunately, Chuck lost the love of his life in 2001 in an automobile wreck. Chuck feels his greatest accomplishment is his four children; three sons and a daughter. His best advice to the youth of today is to “stay away from drugs. They are bad stuff.” Chuck would like to see a men’s clothing store and more fine dining restaurants in Polk County. When asked if he could live anywhere in the world, he said “half in Michigan and half here. Of course, the half in Michigan would be when it’s warm,” he added.
Chuck enjoys westerns, especially his all time favorite, “The Outlaw Josie Wales.” You will always find a bowl of food and water on his front porch for neighborhood strays but his favorite pastime has always been cars. He also says being a part of the senior singles group is “the greatest thing” in his life right now. From what I understand, Chuck is quite the favorite with the ladies. My final question was what his thoughts were about where the world is today. He said he doesn’t buy into the “doom and gloom” and believes life’s difficulties will work themselves out. He just lives one day at a time and enjoys tinkering with his cars and spending time with his friends. If you know a senior with a story to tell, let me hear from you. Call me at 936-328-9176 or e-mail email@example.com