1964 was an unforgettable year in Atmore
By Lowell McGill
The year 1964 was memorable in Atmore. As I researched the Advance achieves this week in search of news for another story I am writing, I ran across several stories that remain in my mind even today.
Of course that was the year our Senior Little League competed in the Southeastern Regional Tournament in Silva, North Carolina. If you remember I wrote about that event in an earlier column. That was the time Otis Miller ate so much fried chicken the waitress refused to serve him any more. And, it was the game that his son Thomas hit the home run and the ball landed on a flatcar of a passing freight train. I had the honor of broadcasting that championship game back to our listeners on WATM. The fans in Texas also picked up our feed of the broadcast. The station received some nice response from the Texas fans who listened to the game. They wanted to know more about the guitar player-singer who sat beside me during the broadcast. Of course I wrote earlier that it was Alfred Brown. Some listeners wanted him to come to Texas and sit in with the new Bob Wills Playboys Band. Those of you who knew him will concur with me that he could really sing and play that guitar. I really believe he would be a “natural” with the contemporary western swing band “Asleep at the Wheel” if he were still living. He could warble that “San Antonio Rose” just like Tommy Duncan, the great vocalist for the Bob Wills Band.
I may not have mentioned in that early column the managers. They were Tony Albert and Frank Patrick. We defeated Louisiana in Sheffield, Alabama in the first leg of that series of tournaments. Of course, you remember we lost to Texas in Silva, North Carolina, a beautiful resort town lodged in between two mountains near Cherokee and not too far from Western Carolina University. That was the year our SLL ball park was dedicated. I remember all those who served in that organization in various departments. They were Joe Everette, John Coley, John Garrard, Johnny Woods, Gene Cardwell, Jack Dennis, Claude Steele, John Holland, Tom Dunn, Heron Hall, Frank Patrick, Tony Albert, Wheeler Crook, J R Nicholson, M L Davis, W D Bolton and J C Powell.
Herbert Barnes football stadium was also dedicated that year. Mr. Lawley led a team of workers from State Farm in an effort to keep down the labor cost. On the night of dedication Alabama Governor George Wallace was on hand as were members of the Escambia County Board of Education.
Work was announced on Atmore’s new City Hall and Greenlawn Hospital in 1964.
Atmore hosted “The Southern Coon On A Log” festival at their highway 21 site. Gerald Stanton was the president of the local chapter. Fred Moore and Clay Whitehead were also officials in this group. Gerald owned several dogs that won world championships. He took his dogs to many nationwide events. I really never knew what they did at these events. I only knew it had something to do with dogs and a coon staying on logs. Gerald once said he was awarded a trophy after the winning dog ahead of him was disqualified because it was not “full blooded”.
Lee Roy Wiggins and several other Northwest Florida leaders received approval to begin construction of the Walnut Hill Water System that year. It was also the year the McCullough School burned.
Robert Hodnette, the principal of Escambia County High School, died following 33 years of dedicated service here. It was also the year ECHS had its largest graduating class up until that time. One Hundred Six members made up that class.
Two local young men won first place awards in showing Grand Champion Herefords. James Hall won the award from Escambia High School FFA and Mike Godwin took top honors for Ernest Ward High School.
Former Atmore native Paul Birch was featured in movies and TV series that year. When he lived here, he was known as Paul Smith. One of his hit TV series was “Cannonball.”
The T-33A Jet fighter was permanently installed at the Atmore Airport access entrance. That plane had been flown by canoe native Captain William Crummey.
Atmore drew national attention that year when the train carrying Mrs. “Ladybird” Johnson, the wife of Lyndon Johnson, stopped at the local L&N Depot to pick up a passenger. Mrs. Thomas, the wife of Doctor J B Thomas boarded the train and rode with Mrs. Johnson to Mobile. Mrs. Thomas was a second cousin of Mrs. Johnson.
Kimbrell Cunningham, who was active in Boy Scout work for many years, received the” Silver Beaver “award. He was one of seven in the USA receiving that award for outstanding service to the Boy Scout organization.
But one of the most hilarious awards involved Ben Haley and Doctor St Amant.
These two men went on a fishing trip near Stuart, Florida. While they were out there in the Atlantic Ocean on their boat a huge sailfish was hauled in. Now, Ben jokingly, claimed he snagged the fish. It was so large that some reporters from that area wrote a story about it stating it was a record catch. They said both men hauled it in. Ben would always tell the story at our early morning coffee sessions at a local restaurant which was known for its large gatherings. We never heard the doctor’s side of the story. Each morning Ben would tell us about it and the fish got bigger each time he told. But, we had a lot of fun kidding him about it. And, just to ease our doubts, he brought a photo for us to see. One thing was clear in that photo. Both men were holding up the fish.
By the way I want to thank those who continue to send me emails. Most are former residents living away from Atmore. The internet is a remarkable invention. It is gratifying that we can bring stories of the past to all those living away from here. Several have sent me stories of interest that I plan to rehash and include in future columns. I continue to be amazed and honored at the response the column has generated. It may be due to the fact that our themes reflect “down to earth, ordinary people.” I did have one man call to tell me some of my columns were “corny and inappropriate:” Little did he know that was music to my ears. First that lets me know he reads them and second it lets me know my column themes are identifiable. Thirdly, the man is not from Atmore. He didn’t even know where Bell Fork Road is or where Splinter Hill is located. I also told him that I used many names in all my columns. Multiplying 25 -50 families per name you are reaching a lot pf people. Then multiply all those names by the number of columns written …..Well, it goes on and on. Too bad that man didn’t have the opportunity to know all those wonderful people that I knew and write about dating back to the 1940s.
You don’t want to miss next week’s column. You may learn how dangerous the newspaper business can be to your health in your “middle to old age.”
Yes, 1964 was a memorable year. And, there are plenty more memorable years coming your way.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org