Longtime Clover postmaster knew ‘everyone and their kids’

Special to Enquirer-HeraldJanuary 31, 2013 

— Wilmer Earle, who served the U.S. Post Office for more than 30 years as Clover’s postmaster, shares his memories of the community. This is part of an ongoing series of articles for the 125th anniversary of Clover.

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of articles on Clover-area residents and their connection to the community, to mark the 125th anniversary of the town of Clover.

What makes a small town home? It’s not the buildings or the roads, or even the rail line that runs down main street. It’s not the businesses. It’s people like Wilmer Earle, whose memories make a town a home forever.

Earle, a retired Clover postmaster who served the U.S. Post Office for more than 30 years, has live in Clover all his life, except for four years during the Korean War. He attended Clover ARP since he was 4, and still does.

And if not for an offer he could not refuse, Earle might have left Clover for good.

Earle sits comfortably in his home of 50 years, sharing his memories. He recalled that growing up, he would fish and trap muskrat out past Filbert.

“The best place for setting traps and boxes was out on the creek that crosses Route 21 before Filbert,” he said, adding that at the time, there were few homes out that way. He would skin and dry hides to prepare them for sale. People coming through bought the hides to make coats, he said.

Earle came from a large family — four boys and three girls. His grandfather was a farmer in Bowling Green, while his dad worked at Hawthorne Mills. When his father retired from the mill, he purchased a service station outside town, and also served as an area magistrate.

Earle got an early start on his work ethic. As a teen, he said, he got a job working evenings at Clover’s lone movie theater, selling popcorn and candy and collecting movie tickets.

Before he could decide if he was going to work the mill or attend college, he said, “the phone call” came.

“I was told we would be called up soon and if we did not choose which [service branch] we wanted, we would go into the Army,” he said. The call came at the onset of the conflict in Korea.

Earle and 14 other local young men chose the U.S. Air Force. They made the trip to Texas via train shortly thereafter. “There were so many of us,” he said, “there was no room on the base, so we had to stay on the train.”

He was later shipped overseas, and Earle was stationed for two years in Germany, where he worked in communications. A lot of times, he said, he would go to town and see someone he knew. Only one member of the group actually went to Korea, he said, and “he never was quite the same after that.”

He served his last three months of duty in Washington state, at an underground command center where bombs were stored. He needed three to four passes just to get to work. “That was nerve-wracking, working there,” he said.

Soon after his time in the service, Earle had the chance to play college-level baseball. He sent in an application to Missouri State, but it was Belmont Abbey College that called with a full scholarship, an offer he could not refuse.

Earle chose to stay in Clover and attend Belmont Abbey, where he majored in business administration with a minor in physical education. On the baseball field, he started as a pitcher, but a “truck accident while in Germany” caused his pitch to be too slow, so he became a second baseman.

He continued to play ball after he graduated. He played for Kings Mountain, in a time when mill teams and local teams were popular. “It was good fun,” he said. “We played against Belmont and McAdenville.”

After college, Earle worked at a local Howard Johnson’s Restaurant — not the Howard Johnson chain, he said — on the north end of town, and part time at the U.S. Post Office, sorting mail in the morning. He then moved to package delivery, “before there was UPS,” he said, and gained a full-time position, and the Post Office became his career.

In 1957, he married Betty Hudgins from York. They settled in Clover, and celebrated the birth of three children — Angie, who lives in Clover, Beverly in McConnells and Wilmer Earle Jr. in Charlotte.

Ever industrious, Earle moved up the postal ranks from assistant postmaster to postmaster, or supervisor of operations, as the job was called. “We did not have any clerks then,” Earle said. He and another man, Robert Culp, “did it all” at the office in the alley by Kirsh’s Department Store.

This location was a big meeting place for people, especially on the first and third week of the month, when government checks came in. People would sleep in the lobby a lot, he said, waiting for their checks.

One day, however, he said, someone could not reach his Post Office box because people were sleeping on the floor, so that practice was ended.

He recalled how quickly the national postal system made changes to streamline itself.

“We used to sort by hand into designated bags, then send to Charlotte. That changed into being all done by machine. Sometimes I think, the old ways of doing things were still better,” he said.

In 1987, Earle retired from the Post Office after more than 30 years.

There is a pause in the conversation. Earle said it has been two years since his doctor said he might not live, after a bout with cancer. He said he still sees a few of the guys he served with.

“Run into some at the Food Lion.” He looks toward the front windows. “There was a time” he said, “when I probably knew everyone and their kids.”

Clover folks may leave for awhile, like Earle, who served his country. They may consider a different path, like attending college. But ultimately, many come back to live, get married, raise a family and have a career, just like Wilmer Earle, because Clover is home.

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