Remember when: Locals paid tribute to Scherf
Published 9:29 am Saturday, July 21, 2018
A previous column was written about Mr. John G. Scherf, Sr., textile giant, who founded and established an industry which branch factories spanned South Alabama and northwest Florida – the Alabama Textile Products Corporation, a business operation that was unequaled in the South. Workers from Andalusia and all around the area were employed with jobs that enabled them to provide for their families with food, clothing, homes, and security in general. As the Andalusia Star–News headlines read back then, “Alatex Was Epoch in the City’s Industrial Growth.”
In March 1949, Alatex celebrated its 20th anniversary. Accolades were poured out to the founder, administration, employees, and the operation. In June 1949 the sudden and unexpected passing of Mr. Scherf at age 64 years shocked and saddened Andalusia along with the entire local and national textile world. Very soon thereafter, the Alatex family, Scherf family friends, and citizens of the Andalusia business community sought to honor Scherf with a lasting tribute.
By February 1950 local headlines read, “DRAWING SHAPED FOR SCHERF MEMORIAL COMMUNITY BUILDING – A permanent organization of the J. G. Scherf Memorial Community Building was completed this week as plans were drawn to conduct an extensive drive for funds that will accelerate construction of the building in the immediate future.”
“Oscar Hipp was chosen president of the non-profit, tax-free corporation that has been established to direct the construction and administration of the building affairs. J. A. Thompson was elected vice-president and E. E. Anthony, Sr., secretary-treasurer. Trustees include Count Darling, E. R. Merrill, George Barnes, G. W. Proctor, M. J. Newberry, C. C. Wallace, R. Smith Payne, W. H. Albritton, J. H. Williams, Leo Ingram, John Brewer, and W. H. ‘Pat’ Brown.”
“The Scherf family has donated the lot across the street from City Hall (on Opp Avenue) for the building site. Alatex and Andala have contributed $25,000 for the building provided citizens of Andalusia give a minimum of $25,000. All gifts are deductible from income taxes according to the U. S. Department of Internal Revenue. It is expected that the building with furnishings will cost more than $75,000. The City of Andalusia has pledged janitorial services.”
“A luncheon room and kitchen for civic clubs will be placed on the second floor of the building. Space on the first floor will provide ample waiting and rest rooms with check-room facilities. Office space will be made available for a clinic for crippled children and handicapped persons.”
“Some donations have already been received but an extensive campaign will get under way this week and next to raise monies needed. Construction is expected to get underway at an early date according to Hipp who said progress of the drive for funds will be announced.”
March 30, 1950 – “Scherf Memorial Bids Are Invited – “Directors of the J. G. Scherf Memorial Foundation have approved architectural plans for the new building that the non-profit organization will erect on a lot across from City Hall. The building committee has been instructed by the directors to invite bids for the new structure. Bids will be accepted only from local qualified contractors, President Hipp announced. Actual construction will not be undertaken until an additional $10,000. in public subscriptions are received. Bids will be opened at 3 p. m. on Friday, April 14, in the Council Room at City Hall. “
The Ed Dannelly editorial of March 30, 1950, reads, “The public campaign to secure funds for the J. G. Scherf Memorial Foundation Building is only $10,000 short of the goal that will make possible the launching of construction work…This building is going to stand as a permanent monument to an individual who contributed so much to the development of this city and area.”
May 11, 1950 – “First Dirt Spaded in Construction of J. G. Scherf Memorial Building – In moving ceremonies that stressed the community service motives for which the building is being erected, ground was broken Wednesday morning for the new $85,000 structure that will rise across the street from Andalusia’s City Hall.”
“First spade of dirt at the building site was turned by the widow of the man being memorialized. The Scherf sons, Paul and John, Jr., attended the exercises which were directed by Oscar Hipp, president of the foundation. Directors of the corporation and friends were also in attendance. Assisting Mrs. Scherf in spading the first earth was Bill Waller of Waller-Barnes Construction Company with whom a contract has been signed for the building erection.
“’This is a memorable occasion for Andalusia and surrounding territory,’ Mayor Tracy Wilder declared in a short talk he delivered. ‘It marks the beginning of a project that is a memorial to a man of outstanding ability and courage. Uses of the building will be dedicated to the common good.’
“Mrs. Scherf explained the building would be used to promote the art of living together to be used exclusively as a community house or center for the general enjoyment of the people of Andalusia and its trade area. Remarks were followed by a prayer by Dr. S. M. Baker, Methodist Church pastor, whose words were a tribute to Mr. Scherf.”
“Funds were raised through public subscriptions with the Scherf estate and business enterprises that Scherf headed making contributions towards the project that will serve a broad cross-section of the public.”
March 29, 1951 – “Hospitality with a capital ‘H’ will be spelled out by Andalusia on Saturday, April 7th when the city opens its doors wide to welcome its friends from throughout the Covington trade territory on the occasion of the formal opening of the J. G. Scherf Memorial Building.”
“This model 2-story brick structure being erected as a memorial to one of the South’s top industrialists will be dedicated in an after lunch program at which Governor Gordon Persons has been invited to deliver the key address.”
“Promotion of friendship between the rural population and citizens of Andalusia is the purpose of the new building which will provide rest rooms, check rooms, and other comfort facilities for out-of-towners trading in Andalusia.”
“The new building situated across from City Hall is nearing completion. Waller-Barnes Construction Company is the contractor. Carl B. Cooper is the architect. In addition to the Governor on the dedicatory program, a choral group of the Covington County Training School will participate. Other music will be by a Hillbilly Band, ‘Happy Wilson and his Golden Valley Boys.’”
“Merchants of Andalusia anticipating a mammoth crowd are planning special sales as an attraction to bring friends and patrons for the ‘big day.’ Foundation President Hipp is working closely with the Merchants Committee of the Chamber of Commerce in drawing plans for the day. Merchants Committee members directing plans are Monroe Newberry, ‘Polly’ Perrett, and Bonner Patrick.”
April 5, 1951 – “Scherf Memorial Building Formal Opening to Attract Mammoth Crowd to Andalusia on Saturday, April 7th – Mrs. J. G. Scherf, Sr., widow of Andalusia’s former mayor, will unveil the cornerstone plaque at the dedication. Civic clubs will begin using the dining all next week. Mrs. Pat Brown of Falco has been engaged to act as hostess at the building that will be open to the public each day in the week. Lounge furniture, chairs and tables featuring heavy weight upholstery with chrome legs have been placed throughout the building.”
April 12, 1951 – “2nd Grand Opening of Memorial Building Slated for Saturday, April 14 – The crowd for the initial grand opening of the Scherf Memorial Building was reduced by rainfall on last Saturday but a 2nd ‘grand welcome’ is being planned for this Saturday. Several hundred gathered for the program last Saturday afternoon but outdoor activities had to be shifted inside the building when the dew became excessive. Topping the program was the unveiling of the cornerstone plaque. A concert by the AHS band under the direction of Maestro Dan Hanna has been scheduled for 10:30 to 11:30 a. m.”
April 19, 1951 – “First Saturday operations of the Scherf Memorial Building under favorable weather condition brought more than 200 visitors to the hall that has been dedicated to developing friendly rural-urban relations. The Kiwanis Club this week voted $25. for magazine subscriptions for the building. Mrs. Pat Brown, building hostess, said it had been found there were more needs that are yet to be met including baby beds, play pens, and a large rug on which small children would play as well as new, recent, and vintage magazines for visitors there. The building is fast developing as a meeting place for workers in the Andalusia industries who use cars and buses to ride them to rural homes after work.”
Over the next few years, the Crippled Children’s Clinic met on the first floor. I remember the Coterie Club’s providing assistance to those clinics in the 1960s and 1970s. Also memorable to me is the Andalusia High School Glee Club presenting choral programs to various civic clubs. Miss Merilyn Jones, director, would bus the students around the noon hour downtown for the performances. The early Pilot Club’s Pancake Breakfasts may have originated in the Scherf Memorial Building. Most of the town’s civic clubs met on the second floor in the dining hall. Abe Joseph, master chef and restauranteur, was in charge of those luncheon meetings until he retired. Does anyone remember that a compote of peach slices and a sugar wafer or two were always the dessert served?
My maternal grandfather, Charlie Brunson of Brunson’s Bakery, always baked homemade fruitcakes, the delicious kind with gingerbread surrounding candied fruits, for the Rotary Club drawings each Christmas. He did this even after he retired from a 45-year baking career. Unfortunately, exiting a Rotary Club meeting on the week after Christmas, walking down the stairs, “Dad” Brunson dropped dead. His Rotary friends quickly surrounded him and tried to assist him to no avail.
Mr. Scherf never lived to see the extraordinary success that the Alatex achieved in the next 50 years before most of the jobs went to Mexico. In his lifetime, he nurtured a young industry from infancy to a monumental business operation that helped to grow Andalusia from a town to a city. The Scherf Memorial Building was a fitting memorial to this man. Many of you readers recall early events and activities surrounding the building even in more detail than I do, because in 1951, I was just a toddler. I do see pictures of my late father, C. C. Bass, a city councilman at the time, at the ground breaking.
By about the late 1980s or early 1990s, the Scherf Foundation, chaired at the time by John Tisdale, conducted a study with an architect to consider drawing up a plan for performing needed work to update and restore the building. The board finally voted to donate the building to the City of Andalusia provided that they restore it. So the building was deeded to the City. Approximately $42,000 was left in the foundation account. One half of that amount went to the Downtown Court Square project and one half went to the Kiwanis Club’s South By-pass Building project. At that time, the foundation was dissolved.
If any of you Remember When and can provide additional information regarding the history of the building – the planning of it, the purpose intended for it, the operation of it, the passing of title from the foundation – your input as well as additions and corrections will be appreciated.
Many grown children of Alatex workers have commented on Facebook about their memories of their parents working there. June Fuller Pinder, daughter of Vannie (Mrs. Truman) Fuller, writes, “Alatex paid my mother’s wages for all her hard work there in the Laundry Department during my school years and beyond. I wish I could hear that whistle blow again for workers running to their jobs so they were not late! Those were good days even though they were hard as well!” Even though we cannot live in or return to the past, we can remember our proud heritage and be inspired and encouraged to go forward to a promising future! Oh, I think I hear that five o’clock whistle blowing!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.