Homer Hirt

Homer Hirt

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Follow Through to Finish the Task

By: Homer Hirt  Amid the praises heaped on Representative Marti Coley and the presentations of awards to deserving citizens at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting and Banquet on February 8, the new Chairman stated, in his own words, "the most important ingredients for growth and success in 2013".

At the end of a year of acknowledged difficulties, changes and often conflict between Chamber officers, members and onlookers, John Alter gave, in a brief three minutes, the marching orders for the next year and, hopefully, orders that will carry on into 2014.

Alter led off with "your Chamber is all about creating and sustaining a positive and profitable business climate. As long as commerce has existed, sellers and citizens have banded together to support trade. The basic role of a Chamber is to create and promote that climate where a business can operate in a profitable manner".

Then the Chairman gave the plans: To deliver member services, to accent business advocacy and to apply political action where needed. Continuing, he stated that the organization wants to focus on improving how the members benefit from their investment of time and money in the Chamber, to actively nourish a local pro-business attitude among members, communities, and government.

Chairman Alter praised the Board of Directors for giving time and talent to the goals, for building a base for moving into the future and for continuing as the "voice of business in Jackson County".

Chipola Historical Trust Hears Judge Roy Roulhac

By: Homer Hirt  The Chipola Historical Trust met on Tuesday at the Ely Criglar House, a perfect setting for the book signing by Judge Roy L. Roulhac, a Jackson County resident and a descendant of slaves, who has become an administrative court judge.

Roulhac's book, Slave Genealogy of the Roulhac Family, is subtitled "French Masters & the Africans They Enslaved", and was in the making for thirty years. The author not only researched his own ancestors throughout their days of servitude, but tied in the French family who owned them and moved them from the Carolinas to Jackson County as the plantation culture of the Old South moved to northern Florida.

When Roy Roulhac spoke to the Trust last year from the same setting, he described a young African American boy, growing up in Marianna but walking past the Ely Criglar house every school day, attending the segregated schools and acquiring an education that took him to Edward Waters College and eventually to the bench in Michigan.

On this occasion he spoke as a retired judge who had decided to find all he could about his slave ancestors. As he pursued this goal, he realized that the masters, from which his ancestors gained their last name when they were freed, were an essential part of the trail that he sought. He told of his searches in newspapers, in archives, in courthouse records, all adding up to the history of a remarkable family that may well be typical of many African American citizens of the United States.

Such a man as Roy Roulhac was fated to have an interesting life, and much of it he relates in his book, such as his opportunity to serve Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when he was a waiter at the National Press Club. He got Dr. King's autograph on the back of his employment agency business card, and he still carries it with him.

During the book signing the Judge had many of his cousins with him, including several that had "raised" some of the white attendees. Also visiting was his 100 year old aunt Mrs. Catherine McElroy of Marianna and his cousin Roger Clay, former Marianna City Commissioner.

The book "Slave Genealogy of the Roulhac Family" is available locally through, with the electronic version soon to be available at Judge Roulhac is also donating a copy to the Jackson County Library.

J. D. Swearingen Dies at Age 86

By Homer Hirt   Jackson County is one of the largest counties in Florida when it comes to agricultural acreage and production, and this week one of its largest agricultural figures passed away.

James Daniel Swearingen died at the age of eighty six on January 26. We all knew him as "J. D.", whether he was selling or servicing our John Deere, our Massey Ferguson or our Ford tractors or a Marianna councilman or a neighbor and friend.

J. D. was president of Swearingen Equipment Company, Inc. and at the door of that business he would meet his customers. He often said that “If you don’t trade with us, it costs us both money”. He bragged about his equipment and its quality, but would be quick to tell you that there was one piece that he did not stand behind, and that was the manure spreader! It takes a while for a city fellow to catch on to that, but we here in Jackson County understood it right away.

The Massey Ferguson Company once recognized him at a meeting as being the “Number One” dealer in North America. I was there at the dinner, and it was packed with businessfolk from far and wide, but there was a sprinkling of others one of his former schoolteachers, a couple of judges, some politicians and many who were just friends.

Fifty four years as a tractor dealer was a long time. When that fifty four years included service to his community and his county, standing back of what he sold, lasting through good times and bad, it was not really long enough.

Note: If you have special "J. D." stories you would like to share, call or E mail us. (See the Swearingen obituary for information on the Celebration Service on Page A10)

Past, Present and Future: Sunland Celebrates!

By Homer Hirt  Retirees, residents, staff and friends gathered to hear from past and present superintendents as they lauded Florida’s Sunland facility in Jackson County. Throughout the program praise was heaped upon the current leader Merlin Roulhac, herself an "up through the ranks" superintendent.

Two former superintendents, Arthur Basford and Britton Dennis, led off by describing the days of the past and the changes that they have seen.
Arthur Basford was superintendent between 1973 and 1980.

He had a background of experience in the field and praised the friendship of employees and residents alike. He said that employment there became a calling for him and often for others. Comparing Sunland with similar facilities in other states, he stated that “it was among the best”. Basford thinks that it should always be called "Sunland" for it is "the brightest ray of sunlight in a sometimes dark world for many".

Britton Dennis served from 1982 until 1987, leaving to become administrator of Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. He remembered Sunland as “family” and recalled the night that a tornado uprooted three hundred trees from the campus, and how in the next few weeks the trees were sawn into boards that were used to construct sidewalks.

State Representative Marti Coley, featured speaker, gave this advice: "When you think you are going to help someone, they help you". She continued: "Our Sunland is a part of us and will always be so". Coley was praised for her support and encouragement.

The celebration was not without entertainment. Jason Watford, guitarist and soloist, gave the audience "What a Wonderful World", complete with a PowerPoint presentation of scenes of Sunland. Flora Davis, former Sunland employee and sister of Superintendent Merlin Roulhac, appropriately sang "Wind Beneath My Wings".

A "Charge for the Future" was given by Ms. Barbara Palmer, Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director. Ms. Palmer has a broad background in business and in service to the State. She and resident Johnnie Mae Williams, a Sunland cheerleader, joined together in a rousing cheer for Sunland. The program was skillfully emceed by Darlene See, Assistant Superintendent.

A reception, held in the Leisure Center, closed out the celebration.

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