|Birth: ||Oct. 1, 1884|
|Death: ||Jul. 30, 1984|
Bill Clements: A real "Old Timer" at the age of 96
Madison County Carrier, April 16, 1981
By: June Toomey
His parents named him William Grover Clements. His middle name was for
Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic President elected after the Civil
War. Bill was born on October 1, 1884, the same year Cleveland was elected.
The place was Berrien County, Georgia, about twenty miles north of Valdosta.
In those days, Bill said there were only two brick buildings, a bank and a
warehouse for the railroad, in the now bustling city of Valdosta. People
went to town in buggies drawn by horses and the streets were sand--no paved
roads then. Bill had two older brothers and two older sisters. Twin boys
were to be born to his parents later. When he was old enough, he attended
Green Bay School five months out of the year and, little as he was, helped
the family on the farm during the rest of the year.
After graduation, he attended Georgia Normal College and Business Institute
in Abbeyville. He stayed at the dormitory which was run by the President of
the Commerce Department. The charge for living at the school, including
meals, was $9.80 a month which his parents paid for in syrup and bacon from
the farm. It was a co-educational school.
Bill said, "The ladies lived downstairs and the gents up. I had a Yankee
sweetheart. She was the sister of the Principal's wife. There wasn't much
time for social activities then but I did play on the baseball team. I
played first base and sometimes I was the catcher." He modestly didn't want
to admit it, but was one of the star hitters on the team.
Thirty five or forty Floridians attended the school but the total enrollment
was about 200 students at that time. Bill was graduated with honors, the
leader of his class, and he was offered a job on the faculty. He turned it
down though, preferring to go back to the farm and help his parents send the
twins through school. Later, he taught at Gopher Ridge, Pleasant Grove and
Ray City High Schools, all located in Georgia. He taught for five months at
a time and worked in the bank at Nashville, Ga. the rest of the year. He met
a girl there, Sancil Connell. That was in 1906, when he was 22 years old.
"She wanted to get married,' ' he said, "but I told her we'd better wait
'till we were a little older. She finally got tired of waiting and married a
Circuit Court Judge." That didn't seem to bother Bill much and in 1909 he
came to Florida and worked at the Citizens Bank in Madison. That bank was
located where Eagles is now.
He was the bookkeeper and said he was surprised to learn that the prior
bookkeeper kept books like a storekeeper. "Every account had a page where
he would enter the deposits and withdrawals. I found an account that he had
lost and the President of the bank said, 'Good for Clements'."
It was a farm bank as Madison was, and still is, a farm community. The
largest account was a Mule Dealer. The average farmer's account amounted to
about $400. When Bill worked there, Claude Morrow was a cashier.
The bank had about $400,000 on deposit. It was the time that Cotton was
King and Madison County Farmers raised Sea Island cotton. The Florida
Manufacturing Company was in full sway and Madison was rich, but comparing
those times with the present, Bill said, "It took a good cow to bring $10.00
One of Bill's brothers had a half interest in a turpentine business with W.
L. Fender of Valdosta. In 1910, Bill bought out his brother's interest and
went to work in Sirmans to run the Naval Store owned by the turpentine
company and to oversee several thousand acres of pine trees in Madison and
The Naval Store was like a commisary for the company and the 35 or 40
families employed there used tokens ailed "babbits", made of a heap grade of
aluminum, for trade. Payday was once a month and then, the babbits were
redeemed for cash.
The company had a turpentine manufacturing plant in Sirmans and Bill was
also in charge of that. There, the raw gum was distilled into spirits of
turpentine. The barrels for the rosin were made from oak right there at the
plant. Bill said that saved the company a great deal of money.
He remembers the straw boss, Press Blue, who would take children offered to
him and raise them. They would work for the turpentine company when they
were old enough. 'That black man raised a lot of other people's children,"
said Bill. "He was a good man, distinguished and respectable.''
Another man he remembers is Tom Puckett of Perry who was also in the
turpentine business. "He tried to hire me. That was the year we shipped
more than any other division on the books. We had 167 accounts,'' said
Bill. Fender and Clements shipped $21,000 worth of products a year and
their expenses were about $10,000. That was a lot of money in those days.
Back then, Florida had open range. Cattle were allowed to roam free on the
roads and they were attracted to the smell from the turpentine still. Cows
often slept near the still as the scent repelled flies and mosquitoes.
One night when Bill left the Naval Store, he tripped over a cow in the dark
and lost the day's receipts. He said he found them the next day. They had
no electric lights in the rural communities at that time.
Every spring, before it was time to plant, Bill would round up a few of the
cows and pen them in his garden patch. 'I got free fertilizer that way,"
smiled the thrifty Bill.
He remembers that A. W. Edwards was Justice of the Peace then but he said
they didn't have much law. Madison County and the City of Madison had many
saloons and bar rooms and slot machines were in all of them. The towns were
wide open. Moonshining was the way of life in the country in both Madison
and Taylor Counties. Bill boarded with John D. Sirman's then. He founded the
community of Sirmans when the Railroad came through in 1903. Bill said they
had the prettiest and biggest house in the county. They apparently had the
prettiest daughter too because Bill began courting her.
"Booze Browning was a teacher at Garbett's Crossing then," said Bill, "and
I'd go get him and we'd go to dances together." In 1921, when Bill was 37
years old, he married Lola Elaine "Shug" Sirmans. She was nine years younger
than he was. The couple had one child, a son, Levi Austin Clements. They
named him Levi for his grandfather and Austin for Austin Chamberlain who was
a big man in England at that time. Levi lives in Cross City now.
In 1935, Bill ran for a seat on the Madison County Commission and was
successful. He kept that seat until 1947 when he lost to Kenneth Beaty by
30 votes. His pay for being a County Commissioner was $33-1/3 a month. They
were paid $100 every three months.
For ten years, during that period, Bill was County Campaign Manager for
Senator Claude Pepper. He was the first to sign up with the Tri-County
Electric Cooperative and was elected to the board of Trustees in 1950. He is
still on the board and attends meetings often. "Nobody ever ran against
me," said Bill.
He has made two trips to Las Vegas for conventions with Tri-County. The
first time he said they went on the train but the last time was on a plane.
"There were 182 people on that plane," said Bill, "It was a big 'un."
Bill's "Shug" died in 1974 after being an invalid for a number of years.
She taught him to cook and he always prepared the meals for the family while
she was ill. "She was a good cook," Bill reflected, "and she used to trade
recipes with Bernice F. Wilder who was the Home Demonstration Agent when we
courted. She was a good dancer then, too, and taught music on the piano and
Bill is alone now but is keeping busy. He is an Elder Deacon at the Sirman
Baptist Church, a Woodman of the World, a Mason, and a Shriner. He also is a
distributor for Shaklee Products and said he would be glad to tell anyone
about the natural vitamins. He said he went to his doctor, told him he was
taking the vitamins, and his doctor told him to continue as his blood
pressure is down now.
He has the voice of a man much younger than his 96 years and is a natty
dresser. He attributes his long life to--"I let the other fella do the
worrying." He said he didn't think smoking or drinking had anything to do
with it although he never smoked cigarettes--only good cigars, and he
"They tell me when you drink; you live right on, but don't know nothing. I
lived right on and I know something," he commented. He bragged that he has
never been arrested. After the interview, he invited your CARRIER reporter
to lunch. Bill Clements has lived a long time but, no, he has not grown old.
Lola Elaine Clements (1893 - 1974)
Maintained by: Dorothy Parke
Originally Created by: Donna McPherson
Record added: Jul 19, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 39623110