By Kimon Brown
This afternoon I had the pleasure of spending some time with Joel Huffman while he shared stories of his life and a little of Grand Bay’s history.
Joel was born in 1937, the youngest of 5 children. He had 3 brothers and an older sister. She was born 12 years before Joel so by the time he came along the Huffmans were seasoned parents. Joel is a 3rd generation resident of Grand Bay.
Have you ever wondered about some of the older homes in Grand Bay, you know the ones with real character? Big porches and lots of oversized windows? Usually, they have very high peaked roofs and old growth trees in the yards. An example of this is the Huffman Family home. As you drive the stretch of the road just north of Greer’s Market and CVS, just past the Medical Clinic you will see a pretty woman of a house decorated in Olive shades of green. This is the home of Joel and Vickie Huffman. The house was built in about 1910-1911 by his grandfather, Jessy Huffman.
Joel tells the story remembering vats behind the barn where they cooked down the sugar cane making molasses. Joel’s daddy, Bob Huffman, was quite the innovator using horses to drive two-wheeled wagons from the field to the barn loaded with sugar cane. He always used horses and never mules because he said “mules are too stubborn to work”. He trained the .horses to walk the path between the field and the barn by themselves without the need for a driver. This allowed everyone to continue working while the horses moved loads from field to barn. When they got to the barn, they would tip the load to unload it and turn the horse around and it would return to the field for another load. This was early farm automation at its finest. Joel’s dad worked at and later owned the Standard Oil station on Highway 90 just west where the ALFA Insurance office is now. Joel remembers a time in Grand Bay when there was only one paved road and that was Highway 90. Albert Freelend was his uncle and on Saturdays his mother would take him, and his sister and brothers shopping at the store and they would get a nickel spending money to buy anything they wanted.
After high school, Joel worked around the family farm before he was drafted in 1961. He entered the US Army, Signal Corp and was all set to go to Germany, then at the last minute his orders were changed and he ended up in White Sands, New Mexico. He enjoyed his service in the Army and learned quite a bit while he served, both in skill and life experience. Joel says it was a life-changing experience to work with diverse groups of people from other backgrounds and races and that his time in the service changed his outlook on segregation forever. His point of view may have been radical at the time but working with people of different backgrounds led him to understanding and friendships across the racial divide. Those attitudes of compassion and kindness continue today.
After the Army Joel returned to Grand Bay and worked for his uncle for a short amount of time until he got a job with Union Carbide in Mobile. He worked for them for the next 20 years until he retired. Joel has been a longtime member of the First United Methodist Church and met Vickie his wife there. In 1986, Joel and Vickie were married and Joel added Vickie and her son, Steven to the Huffman family. He says that was greatest thing that ever happened to him.
During our talk, Joel shared a little church history, telling the story of how the original Methodist Church was located in the area across from Greer’s near Jackie and Annette Sims current home. His grandfather donated that land to the church which was later destroyed in 1916 during a hurricane. The existing old white church on Potter Tract Road was completed in 1924. This became the fellowship hall when the new church building was constructed in the 90’s.
I asked what Joel’s hobbies were and he said what he finds most important is helping others. This is evidenced by the care he offers others on a daily basis. Rarely in life do I have the opportunity to meet people who are really just gentle and kind. This to me is a perfect description of Joel and Vickie Huffman. I am pleased to know them and all of us in Grand Bay are lucky they are here.