Homer Hirt

Homer Hirt

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Chipola Ford: 95 Years and Counting!

It is not often that any small town business can claim a continuous existence that goes back ninety five years, but Chipola Ford does.  

Since the writer has, very far back, a similar dealership in his background, let me walk you through this one  that began here in Marianna and continues, successfully, onward into the future.

The present dealership building and other facilities are located on Lafayette Street, about a mile from where Mr. J. J. McCaskill first sold Ford automobiles, trucks and tractors.  I, as a young man and later as a dealer, often visited the old site, and even more often came to the present building, particularly during the time that the original J. J. McCaskill’s son Dexter was dealer. Dexter was my friend, even though we were occasionally competitors. After I sold my business I purchased all of my vehicles, except for a couple, from him or his successors. 

Today was a stroll through Memory Lane, interspersed among the newest of the Ford line are Model T automobiles, and a couple of restored Model A vehicles, including a Model A town car that once was in a museum. Outside, gleaming like a jewel is a Thunderbird from “back in the day”.  

I chatted first with Rick Barnes, the sales manager.  Barnes had come into the automobile business early in life, selling cars and trucks, and eventually becoming an important part of the management team of Chipola Ford, a spot the he feels that he was meant to be in. He is proud of the past, and he is confident of the future.

I meandered out into the showroom, and stood for a few minutes admiring the old cars, so beautifully restored.  I could not resist telling stories about them, about the Model T that Henry Ford built in the first mass production line for automobiles.  I quoted him, once when he was asked what the public would have asked for when he began production, he said, “Faster horses.” So much for surveys! The Model T put the common man behind the wheel and forced the United States to build and pave a great network of roads.  

Will Rogers, the present dealer, snared me and we went into his office, where he armed me with historical clippings.  We could not resist talking shop, even though my  “shop” ended in 1971.  We spoke of quality, and he expressed quiet pride in Ford’s standing.  “You know, Homer, folks talk about recalls as something bad.  I look at it as the proof that the manufacturers are looking out for their customers.  We handle them properly, too, as a dealer.” 

I wandered out onto the lot and registered for several things, and got a bag containing a nice pen and a key chain and, of course, a tee shirt, proving that “I’ve been there, and got the T shirt!”  The folks were nice, as they should be and always are at Chipola Ford.  The salesmen greeted me as though I was really going to buy a new car, and the ladies at the tables acted as though they knew me and showed me the respect due my gray hair and wrinkles.  I declined the hamburgers and hot dogs, but I promised to return.

And I will return. 

This coming weekend Will tells me that there will be more of the same, and added to that will be a fleet of Mustangs, Ford’s all-time best car (that’s my opinion). The “Pony Cars”  will come from Tallahassee and from Panama City, and will be polished and spiffed up and completely restored, and I will be there to admire each and every one of them.  

And I will bring with me my memories, thanks to Will and Dexter and all of those in between at Chipola Ford.

Larry Moore speaks to Republican Club

At the regular Republican Club’s meeting Tuesday, guest speaker Larry Moore, recently elected Jackson County school superintendent, spoke of declining student population, changes in graduation rates and his support for the proposed K-8 schools complex to be at the original designated site.

According to Superintendent Moore graduation rates for Jackson County are just under the state figure of 80% (73%) and are forecast to get better.  Moore is pleased with the equitable education funding that is provided by the state.

Moore praised the bus drivers in particular.  “These drivers are responsible for the well-being of 5500 students every day.  They drive a combined total of about 5500 miles each school day, a distance equal to driving across the continent to the State of Washington, and they do it safely,” he continued.

Other figures bore out the declining student population.  “In 1950 the students numbered 10,000.  Today there are 6,400, and, with the drop in total residents, this figure will fall also,” Moore explained.

In answer to a question from the floor, he backs the locating of the new K-8 schools complex in the eastern location, citing costs already incurred and that the project stands high in possible funding in the coming legislative year.

(The Republican Club of Northwest Florida meets each second Tuesday at Jim’s Buffet at noon.  All who are interested in current affairs are welcome, regardless of political affiliation.)

Reaching Across The Sea, Part II

Last week the Jackson County TIMES featured the story of Paul Howell and Heddy Lenting on its Profiles in Courage page.  This is the second part, one that is  not yet finished.

Heddy Lenting is ninety three years old, and she still lives in Holland, but she has not always stayed home. Here is the rest of her story, a story truly deserving of a place in the TIMES Profiles. This part is told by Sherry Howell McQuaig.

“Lifelong relationships are special, but the friendship between Heddy Lenting and the Preston A. Howell family is one in a lifetime.

In 1944, World War II involved Germany’s  control of most of Europe.  One day in Oirsbeek, Netherlands, after weeks of shooting and being restricted to their homes, American tanks stopped in an apple orchard to rest, and it was on this day that Heddy asked some of the men for their addresses. One of those men was Paul Howell of Sneads, Florida. Paul did not survive the Battle of the Bulge and was interred at Margraten Cemetery in Holland.

In March of 1945 Heddy wrote to Paul, and the Preston Howell family received the letter.  Heddy got permission to tend the grave of Paul, riding her bicycle every Sunday fifteen miles to take care of it.  Finally the Howells allowed the government to move Paul’s remains to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Eugenia and Heddy continued corresponding for a couple of years and finally Heddy was invited to come visit.  This was not an easy task; the Howells had to take full responsibility for her well-being. So on December 18, 1947 Heddy boarded a passenger ship, the MV Noordam, and headed to America.  A friend in New York put her on a train to Jacksonville that would connect with Sneads.  When she arrived, there was no one to meet her, but God sent a guardian angel, and Carolyn Lanier, Eugenia’s sister, was in the area and heard the train whistle. Carol walked her to the filling station at the top of the hill where the Howells lived.

The Howells put Heddy to bed because she was very sick with pneumonia and was malnourished and weak.  Doctor O’Hare, the local physician, nursed her back to health, and refused to be paid.  After six week of being bedridden, Heddy was feeling much better and finally able to meet Paul’s family:  his mom and dad, his three brothers and his two sisters.  They enjoyed getting to know one another.  C. J. was the instigator of getting Heddy to speak to churches, civic organizations, and schools regarding the devastation of the war. She visited central Florida and continued speaking.  As a result, tons of food and clothes, as well as money orders, were sent to her home town.

In January of 1949 CJ, Eugenia and Billy Lanier took Heddy to Miami to board a plane to Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, where she taught school and studied for five years,  learning to speak five languages. 

Heddy returned to Sneads many times.  She and the Howell women enjoyed visits to Silver Springs in Ocala, the beaches, and other spots.  And the Howells visited Heddy in Holland. This began with Eugenia and Mattie, and continued through the years.  John and Sherry McQuaig went, and Heddy showed them Paris and other sights.  She was a gracious hostess.

Heddy Lenting’s last visit to Sneads was in 1998. She had a heart attack and the doctor would not allow her to travel.  But this beautiful friendship of seventy plus years still continues.  Heddy is ninety one years old and lives alone, but she will tell you today she loves Sneads and always will, and if she had one wish it would be to visit one more time, because that is where her sweet American family lives.  

This beautiful friendship that reaches across the ocean began because of the death of Paul Howell, an American soldier who gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

Reaching across the sea…from Holland to Jackson County

A few weeks ago the TIMES, in its popular Profiles in Courage, published a well-received story about the many American cemeteries and memorials spread around the globe, sacred places that recognize the sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen... sacrifices that became the ultimate...their deaths in combat.

The greatest number of these are on the continent of Europe, the site of much of the action of two great conflicts: World War I (known at the time as the Great War) and World War II. At or near many battle locations…Normandy, Ardennes, Belleau Wood, Brittany, Chateau-Thierry…they have been tended not only our people but often by volunteers from the local population; men and women who, even to this day revere the sacrifice that we as a nation and our deceased made for their countries.

This is the story of one such person, a then-young girl who took it on herself to care for the grave of a Jackson County soldier and to forge a mighty bond of friendship and caring with his family, here in Florida. Some of the story is in her own words. The second page of Profiles will be taken from the  thoughts and the reminisces of the family members whose lives she has touched, and continues to touch, even at the age of ninety three.


Heddy Lenting’s Story:  The Beginning

(Note:  The Writer has taken the liberty of underlining some pertinent statements by Heddy.  It is hoped that the reader will read these, and take them to heart, and remember them.)

“A day I won’t ever forget, even if I grow to be a hundred!

After years of suffering and starvation the Americans came.

We had been in the basement for hours, not knowing what was going to happen to us, as the Germans and the Americans were shooting at each other.  Yet we felt that this was going to be The Day! After hours we went up to the attic in the hope of seeing something. And there we saw the American tanks rolling down the hill, covered with orange canvas. Our Queen belongs to the House of Orange and we were forbidden to wear orange all through the war. If you haven’t gone through a war you can hardly understand what that sight meant to us. But we had to hurry back to our shelter because the shooting went on.

After a while we heard people in the streets so we left our home, too. The American tanks had stopped under the apple trees in an orchard not too far away from our home. We rushed to shake hands with our liberators and to thank them for saving our lives. I asked some of the men on top of the tanks to give me their names and addresses.  One of them was Paul Howell of Sneads, Florida.  As soon as he had written it down, he said: “You folks had better rush home.  The Germans are after us.” They left the orchard, the shooting had begun again and we ran home; we really ran for our lives.

In March of 1945 I wrote a little note to Paul Howell, asking him how he had come through the war.  He didn’t answer me, but Eugenia Howell, C. J. Howell’s wife, did.  Paul’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Preston Howell had asked her to do so. She wrote that Paul had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and that they (the tank crew) had been buried in Margraten Cemetery in Holland.  We were all very sad about this young man who had given his life for our freedom. I immediately went to see his grave and put flowers on it. I wrote Eugenia Howell, asking the permission of Paul’s parents to adopt his grave. I rode my bike to Margraten Cemetery.  It was about fifteen miles, over very bad roads.

(Writer’s note:  Heddy continued to ride her bike to Margraten until Paul was moved stateside. Her story continues in a future feature.)

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