With Holmes Tool and Engineering busily producing machine parts for a worldwide clientele, some of us have forgotten the big concrete building that once occupied a portion of the space where they are located that was torn down to make room for the Holmes County business. In a previous article, I made some errors and Paul Mathis, formerly of Vernon, Florida and 1951 graduate of Holmes County High, made some corrections and wrote some memories of his own.
Paul remembered when the big concrete block building called the Butler building was built by Myrtle and James Butler. They had a small grocery store on that corner and they erected the new building right over their little building, continuing to operate their business in the midst of the building. When the structure was completed, they then proceeded to remove the old wooden structure from within the new block building, stocking the shelves in the new store as they went.
Paul continued to work in the new store during his Jr. and Sr. years at HCHS. In summers he’d work seven days a week and in the school year, he’d work from six to 8 a.m. during school days and all day Saturday and Sunday. At first Mr. Butler cut the meat, but after teaching Paul the skill, they alternated the meat cutting job.
The Butlers owned a 1947 GMC truck which Paul used to deliver groceries. He said that the Butlers allowed him to take the truck home overnight so that he could drive his mother to his high school graduation with the class of 1951. That was a once in a lifetime privilege. My husband’s brother, Harry Tison was a classmate of Paul Mathis and he recalled that they worked across the street from each other, Harry for John Manuel Grocery and Paul for the Butler Grocery. They both had Cushman motor scooters; Harry’s was red and Paul’s was green. They spent their off-time cruising the streets of Bonifay.
I joined the Tison Family in December 1949 and the red motor scooter was Harry’s mode of transportation for delivering a daily newspaper and the Grit paper, a weekly publication, I think. Trips to the creek, the movies, or a family errand were made on that scooter. His late sister Nell told about asking him to give her and her friend Annie Ruth Levis Pouncy Steverson a ride. He took off in such a hurry, he left the two girls in the dust sitting in the road.
When asked about memories Paul had of Bonifay, he mentioned some of his accomplishments in school, serving on the Student Council as its President, Playing in the National FFA Band, and in 1947 playing in the Florida State Band.
After graduation in 1951, he attended Auburn University with the idea of majoring in Agricultural Education. However, financial realities caused him to leave Auburn and join the U.S. Air Force at the age of 17. (He had been allowed to start school at age 5.)
After rising through the ranks rapidly in the Air Force, he applied for and received approval for Officer Candidate School, retiring with a Rank of Major. During his Air Force Career, he attended over thirty professional and technical schools. Two of the greatest significance were the Seventh Army N.C. O. Academy and the air Force Command and Staff College.
While Paul was stationed in Wels Austria and Harry Tison was stationed in Augsburg, Germany, the two of them rendezvoused in Wels for a few days where Paul was able to introduce Harry to his future wife, an Austrian lady who has remained at his side for over 60 years.
Paul retired in 1971 and located in Scottsdale, Arizona where his wife opened a gallery and disposed of the paintings she had collected during their travels in Europe.
Paul was born in Vernon, Florida just east of the old Court House where his closest neighbors were the Bruner family who lived on the south bank of Holmes Creek. He remembered traveling from Bonifay to Vernon to visit, crossing the one lane bridge. There were two pull-outs in case you met traffic on the bridge. He remembered even as a small child breathing a sigh of relief when the bridge crossing was accomplished.
When his family moved to Bonifay, they bought some land and built
A small house where the late Bruce Williams home is located. Paul’s most vivid memories of school revolve around the band which he joined in the 4th grade. In high school there were the Friday night football games. He’d walk home via Waukesha St. to Butler’s Store. Pause between that and Ed Durant’s store and survey the boggy swampy road that is now Highway 179-A wondering how many snakes he’d encounter on his way home. Then, he’d plunge ahead calling out to the top of his voice, “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Repeating these words loudly, he’d high step all the way home.
Another vivid memory was also about 4th grade. His mother would allow him to ride his pony to school occasionally. He would unsaddle it, and leave it tied to an oak tree on the west side of the school across from the McKinnon dairy where the old middle school gym now stands. He could always see the pony from his classroom window. He would ride it home for lunch where he left it to pasture and water while he walked back for the afternoon session. Schoolmates were always excited to see the pony at school.
It’s been several years since I had the conversation with Paul Mathis for this article. I trust he is still in good health and enjoying his travels. It is always enjoyable to take a stroll down memory lane.