Senior Spotlight: Meet the Dodsons

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Vinemont Mayor Radginal Dodson and his wife, Judy, pose for a photo recently. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

Vinemont Mayor Radginal Dodson was a senior at West Point when he met junior Judy Caudle in Geometry class.

“He tormented me, but he had a girlfriend,” Judy said.

The summer of 1963, things had changed and Radginal asked Judy on a date. As soon as Judy graduated the following year, the two were married.

Radginal recalled, “Dad told me, all my children have finished high school and I’d like for her to finish high school.”

Radginal and Judy Dodson will celebrate 55 years of marriage May 29.

They remembered their first date. They went to the bowling alley that was once located by Sportsman Lake Park and visited the Mug ‘N Cone located across the street.

 “It had a pretty good cheeseburger back then,” remembered Judy.

Back then, the fun thing to do was cruise up and down the street between the Mug ‘N Cone and The Globe, Radginal explained, “What you did was you parked your vehicle, sat on the trunk and hollered at the girls going by. The Globe, you went to eat. The Mug ‘N Cone, you went to check out the women.”

Judy added, “You could get a frosty root beer that was really good.”

When the Dodsons got married, Radginal had a ‘55 Pontiac.

“I remember it because it was gray and white and they wrote ‘Just Married’ in black letters down the side of it with black shoe polish. Years later I traded the car off and you could still read ‘Just Married’ down the side of it. I had scrubbed it with everything imaginable to try to get it off, but it wasn’t coming off.”

In November 1966, Radginal went into the Navy. He spent three years and one day on an aircraft carrier. While in the Navy, he went to school in Memphis to learn about refrigeration and air conditioning with liquid oxygen used on the aircraft carriers. While he was away, Judy stayed home and worked. She did get to stay with him for a few months while he was in school in Memphis.

“We lived in a chicken coop. It was a real tiny house,” he said.

Judy added, “It was little! It was a tiny house. You’d go into this little room that I guess was supposed to be a living room. The house was maybe 12 of 15 ft. square at most.”

They paid $40 a month to stay in the tiny house.

The rest of the time, Judy stayed home in Cullman County. One time, when Radginal had been overseas for nine-and-a-half months, he came home from Naples, Italy to surprise her.

Radginal tells the story: “I wrote letters and had them mailed so she wouldn’t get suspicious because it took a three-day trip back from Naples. I landed in New York, in La Guardia, and had to go to the other airport, Kennedy. I had to ride a bus to the other airport, then a bus from Birmingham to Cullman. Then, a cab to my house. The reason that’s important was I had been on an aircraft carrier, a train, another airplane, a bus, another airplane, another bus, and a cab just to get home. I showed up and she and a good friend of ours, we were due to go in the military together, but I chickened out and joined the Navy and he joined the Army. Well, the two wives lived together in my house while we were gone. They were getting ready to go to church on Sunday evening, that’s when I got there on Sunday afternoon. I went to the door and knocked on the door. Donna came to the door and she squealed at Judy. Judy was up to her eyeballs with her toothbrush.”

They went to church that evening and he stayed home for a couple of weeks.

“I didn’t really enjoy my military service because I was homesick all the time I was gone. My memories of the military were being homesick,” he said.

Several months ago, after Christmas, as the Dodsons were in their attic, they came across a box of letters he had sent to Judy while he was in the service. One was even written on toilet paper when he had run out of writing paper.

“Even reading my letters, as long ago as that’s been, you can tell I was bad homesick. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to Alabama. I had been married for two years-plus before I went in the service. I went in in 1966 so I was 21 years old when I went in. I was 18 when I got married, so I had a 2-2 ½ year gap in there where I just got used to this married life and I decided I liked it!”

In 1970 the Dodsons welcomed a baby boy named Barry. Radginal came home a month later.

“I had a son I had never seen. I was GOING to Alabama,” he said. “At that point in my life, I was going home to Alabama. I was going home to see my wife and my kid.”

He worked at Sears and they had held his position while he was in the service. He worked there until 1973. During this time, he and Judy had welcomed a second son, Tracy.

Judy didn’t work as much after the kids were born. He went to work for GE and Judy went to work once the boys were in school. Judy took a job with Cullman City Schools in the Cullman High School lunchroom where she worked for several years. Through the years, Judy worked several jobs to keep busy while the boys were in school.

“I had a lot of part-time jobs,” she said. “Nothing to retire on, but I was fortunate. I didn’t really have to I guess. I was blessed.”

Radginal worked in Irondale for GE until 1979 when the company asked if he would like to work closer to home by working out of Decatur servicing the north Alabama area. He worked in the area until 1998.

He said, “In 1998, they called me in and said, ‘You’ve been here 25 years and five days,’ then they fired me. I never did get an exact reason. I drove 1.2 million miles in 25 years in nine different vehicles with two accidents.”

He continued, “It took me three or four weeks after GE run me off, I decided I can still fix washing machines; I can fix something for a living. So, I went to work with Handy TV in Cullman for six years. I went to work in Warrior at a company, HSI. They manufacture water handling equipment for municipalities. When I turned 62, I came to the house.”

During this time Judy spent 16 years on the Vinemont Town Council.

When asked why she wasn’t the mayor, Judy laughed, “I thought about it back then. It was the last part of the 80s, maybe ‘86 or so, until 2004 or 2000. I’m not sure.”

She joked about running for mayor against her husband, “If they give me a raise, I might! Woo, we could really drag up the dirt.”

In the second part of the Dodsons’ story, they will talk about family life and discuss the tragic loss of their son, Tracy. They will also talk about life after retirement and the celebration of 55 years of marriage.

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Radginal Dodson holds a letter he wrote to his wife Judy, on toilet paper, while he was in the U.S. Navy. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com