Remember when: 1949 marked 20th anniversary of Alatex, loss of founder

Published 9:52 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

Some very significant happenings took place in Andalusia in 1949 so I will share these with you readers. Remember, this time in history was right after World War II when the citizens of Andalusia and Covington County were recovering from the effects of the horrors of war. Just about every family was affected in some way or another. Young men and women were returning in droves with hopes of completing their high school and college educations as well as getting back their old jobs or finding new jobs. The generation that was too old to have participated in the war held the way of life together in the homes, in the businesses, in the schools, and in the churches. Enthusiasm was high after the war. Victory had finally come in the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres of operation. Ticker-tape parades were in the major cities across America. In Andalusia, yes, they even rode in cars backwards around the Court Square!

March 24, 1949 (The Andalusia Star-News)– “ALATEX CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY – The moving spirit that made possible the organization of the Alabama Textile Products Corporation and the individual who nurtured this young industry from infancy to a business operation that is unequaled in the South was J. G. Scherf. A veritable human dynamo, Mr. Scherf devoted long hours to office and administrative duties but is always available when his advice and counsel is sought. Around him in the Alatex operations, he has chosen a staff of executives with imagination and good judgement. Many of those men were selected from the ranks of his regular employees who started with the company in some minor capacity.”

This tribute to the Alatex and its founder resulted in a 68-page issue of The Andalusia Star-News in March 1949. It featured advertisements and accolades from most Andalusia businesses of the day, page after page with well wishes and congratulatory messages. An example of this was a headline that read, “OPENNG OF ALATEX PLANT IN ANDALUSIA WAS EPOCH IN CITY’S INDUSTRIAL GROWTH.”

    “Quality production was the Scherf motto. From this policy, Andala developed a nationwide reputation that led to invitations to manufacture high quality broadcloth shirts. To produce these shirts, Alatex was organized. Through years of depression and more prosperous times, the Alabama Textile Products Corporation has written history on the established business principle that the world will beat a path to your door if you manufacture a product that has no superior.”

An article that was taken from the November 21, 1929 edition of The Covington News when W. H. Jones was editor and Joe Jones was the associate editor. It calls special attention to the progressiveness of Scherf and that he was a booster, a promotor, a builder, and always alert to every opportunity to enlarge his business and at the same time giving Andalusia the benefit. “The enlargement of the plant is a substantial beginning of greater things for Andalusia in the future.”

A caption under a picture of one of the new Alatex plant buildings which appeared in the newspaper in later years reads: “Alatex, often referred to as the ‘backbone of Andalusia’ has offered job opportunities to thousands of Covington Countians, both men and women. When employees retire, the first thing they say is “All I have I owe to Alatex. My association with Alatex has helped me educate my children, buy food and clothing for the family, and buy a home.”

“The Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce likes to boast that one of every 10 men walking down the streets in any major city in the United States is likely to be wearing a shirt made right here in Andalusia.”

Mr. Scherf was graduated from Harrisburg, Pa. High School and holds degrees from Columbia University; the University of Virginia; Lowell Textile School in Mass.; and the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich, Switzerland. These include degrees in both law and engineering. His experience in textile manufacturing includes past connections with Monogham Mills, Greenville, S. C.; Cannon Manufacturing Co., Concord, N. C.; and Griffin Manufacturing Co., Griffin, Ga.”

“Highlights of Mr. Scherf’s civic service are the 16 years devoted to the City of Andalusia as mayor from 1932-1948 when he retired without seeking re-election.”

“The Andalusia Rotaty Club, of which Mr. Scherf was a charter member and a past president, has extended to him an honorary membership. He is a member of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Stewards of the Andalusia Methodist Church. The Andalusia Lions Club in 1936 designated Mr. Scherf as the Citizen of the Year.”

June 16, 1949 – “INDUSTRIALIST SUCCUMBS TO HEART ATTACK J. G. Scherf, creator of one of the South’s leading industrial empires and four-time mayor of the City of Andalusia will be paid final tribute by his fellow townsmen and friends at funeral services at the First Methodist Church at 3:00 p. m. Sunday. Mr. Scherf, president and founder of the Alabama Textile Products Corporation and an organizer of the Andala Co. died Sunday night in Los Angeles, California where he had flown for a vacation visit with his daughter, Mrs. Aurelia Scherf Wilder and her husband, Wilbur.”

Death came following a heart attack at a social gathering with friends. The body is being returned to Andalusia by train with the Wilders accompanying the remains. Paul Scherf, eldest son, who guided the development of a textile company that has erected shirt, underwear, and work clothes production centers in four Alabama and two Florida cities, will meet the train in New Orleans on Thursday. John G. Scherf, Jr., the youngest son who directs Alatex operations in Panama City, Florida is at home with his mother who motored to Andalusia Monday from Concord, North Carolina where she was visiting while Mr. Scherf was in California.”

“The body will lie in state at his home (‘Springdale’) on East Three Notch Street Friday after 1:00 p. m. and all day Saturday at the residence. The casket will be moved to the First Methodist Church at 1:00 p.m. Sunday and will be viewed by the public there for two hours prior to the funeral.”

“The funeral rites will be from the church Mr. and Mrs. Scherf gave the carillons that are the finest of any church in the South. The Methodist pastor, Dr. S. M. Baker, will be assisted by Dr. Jesse Cook, Baptist minister, and Rev. John Crowell, Presbyterian clergyman, in the services.”

At the funeral, Dr. Baker said, “The men of this town, full grown men, unashamedly wept when talking of Mr. Scherf’s death. They could not hold back the tears, and they would not even if they could have.”

“Those friends knew and admired the man for the stands he took, for the courage of his convictions, and for the big heart he devoted to the welfare of the community.”

“A grass-covered knoll of Memorial Park Cemetery claimed the life of J. G. Scherf, Sr., industrialist, former mayor, and philanthropist. Several hundred persons among them was the Governor of Florida. Pews of the First Methodist Church were taxed to capacity. Hundreds, many of whom were Scherf employees sat in cars that stood on each side of the highway leading to the cemetery. Cars in the funeral procession reached from the cemetery back to the church. Hundreds remained at the cemetery until dusk and one estimate put the crowd at the gravesite at more than 1,000. The casket was opened at the gravesite for many who could not get into the church.”

June 23, 1949 – “Messages of sorrow and condolence to members of the late J. G. Scherf family and his business associates here have come from every section of the United States. Passing of the Andalusia industrialist has reached into textile circles, charitable and church fields, and the realm of government.”

The weekly Editor Ed Dannelly editorial appeared on the front page. “BY WHAT MEASURE? By what measure does our citizenry calculate the worth of a man to this community?…As dusk envelopes our city each evening, the air is filled with unexcelled carillon music from the Methodist Church tower. That music is in the hearing range of all Andalusia, because we have had a man with a big heart residing here. The memory of J. G. Scherf in this city will ring like those bells, clear and beautiful through the years!

Some of you still alive may REMEMBER WHEN the 20th anniversary of the Alatex and the Andala was celebrated as well as the surprising death of Mr. Scherf, all in 1949. Others may be children and grandchildren of those whose lifelong careers were spent at the textile plants, ones who recall the stories and adventures of their parents’ and relatives’ experiences there.

At the Three Notch Museum, a large wall is covered with those framed panoramic pictures of the Alatex workers in different years. That display continues to be of great interest to visitors. The largest photo may just be of all the women who were working at Alatex during the World War II years. A large portrait donated by Paul Scherf of Mr. J. G. Scherf is the focal point of the exhibit.

I have just barely touched in this column on a long list of Mr. Scherf’s many contributions and accomplishments. We cannot turn back the clock, but we can learn from the past and draw inspiration from leaders of the past such as the visionary, Mr. Scherf, who I am sure would have tears of pride well up in his eyes if he could ride through our main streets and neighborhoods of today and talk with the people in business and industry to see how far Andalusia has come.

More to come next week on the public campaign that followed to memorialize Mr. J. G. Scherf, Sr. in 1950.

     Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at