FAIRVIEW, Ala. – After graduating from Fairview High School in 1952, Charlsie Pike, or “Boots” as she is known to her family and friends, decided to spend that summer with her sister in Kansas City, Missouri. The spunky and beautiful young woman from Alabama would soon land a job in Kansas City at Montgomery Ward. There, she became friends with several other girls. One of those friends had a brother, who they would soon visit on a trip.
Willis Hill, who was born and raised in Iowa, was just 19 years old and studying electronics. His sister came to visit with her new friend. Sparks flew immediately when Willis met Charlsie, and the smitten young couple soon had their first date.
He picked her up in his 41’ Chevrolet and Willis recalled, “I think we went to a movie and drove around some. We drove to this cemetery close to where I was living. We sat on a tombstone and talked.” Charlsie jokes, “Yeah, there wasn’t anyone but dead people.” The date was so successful that he soon moved to Kansas City and found a job.
According to Charlsie, it only took 10 minutes for her to know that he was the one. “It was love at first sight!” she swooned. “That love at first sight ain’t ever stopped.”
Willis said, “I was studying an electronics correspondence course. I wanted to finish that and get me a good job but then she came along and interrupted that, and I dropped that course for about 10 years.”
The couple dated only a couple of months before marrying Sept. 27, 1952. “When you know, you know!” Willis said. Charlsie added, “I was an Alabama girl and he was from Iowa and I brought that boy home!”
Soon the newlyweds would move back to Cullman County because “the draft was hot on my heels,” Willis explained. “The Korean War was going on at that time. I’d had my physical and thought I was gone so we decided to come down here and I would meet her folks and she would stay here while I went to boot camp.”
Once in Cullman, Willis and Charlsie learned they were expecting their first child. The draft board was informed of the news and Willis was soon declassified and would not be leaving for the war. Now, the young man from Iowa was in Fairview getting to know his new in-laws. “They accepted me. I had great in-laws,” he said.
“I think they liked him. I’m really not sure what they said. We fell in love and I brought that boy home,” Charlsie said. “He loved me and I loved him and we didn’t give a dadblame what anybody else thought.”
Willis needed work and the couple also needed a place to live. Charlsie had another sister living in Center Point. She had a small trailer on their property that Willis and Charlsie would stay in for a bit. Their brother-in-law had a job transporting Plymouths from Indiana to the Birmingham dealerships and Willis would soon join him. “I enjoyed it but it was the same ol’ route every day,” said Willis.
The couple would soon return to Cullman where Willis would work at a service station owned by John L. Tucker, where Eastside Baptist is today. They rented a house on the property where the service station was and Willis smiled, “I could go out the backdoor, jump over the fence and be at work.”
By 1957, Willis had finished the course he started in electronics. To complete the course, he would have to stay in Louisville for 30 days, so he rented a place to stay and Charlsie stayed home in Cullman. “I finished that course and then I finally had a choice of several jobs,” Willis said.
He would take a job with Chrysler who had a contract with an agency on Redstone Arsenal. The contract ended and Willis continued to find work in Huntsville and one day, on his drive, something caught his attention.
He explained, “I passed this place where they were building a new building. I thought that it was probably going to be an electronics place. I stopped by one Saturday and there was a car there. I went in and SCI is what they called it. They were making welding modules for a place on the Arsenal. I got a job with them and the guy that was there was the president of the company but the vice president, who was really the brains of the company, Olin King; he didn’t ever seem to like that the other guy hired me.” That small company, SCI, would grow into what is today Sanmina Corporation with facilities around the world.
Willis and Charlsie’s family would grow to four children, one boy and three girls. When Charlsie was in her 40s, she would enroll at Wallace State and become a nurse. She worked nights at Hartselle Hospital and Willis stated proudly, “She was the first hospice nurse in Cullman County.”
Their oldest daughter, Nancy Bryant, joined her parents for our conversation. She said, “Me and momma worked the first day of the ABC Pregnancy Center. We went through all the training and everything. She stayed with it for a lot longer than I did.” Charlsie was a hospice nurse and volunteered with women in crisis in hopes of finding solutions other than abortion.
Charlsie was also an avid runner, having collected many trophies and medals. She enjoyed running in 5k races. Bryant said, “She was always an inspiration for the community because her closest friends would come and walk with her. She would walk 6 miles every day.” She has a workout room in her home and up until last year, she was still doing pushups to stay in shape.
Both in their late 80’s now, Bryant credits her parents’ focus on nutrition and exercise for keeping them going. Willis’s advice on a long and happy marriage is, “You just gotta make up your mind to stay with it. Even if you don’t feel like you love her at the moment, know that it’s there and that feeling will pass.” Charlsie said of her 69 years of marriage to Willis, “We’ve had a GOOD life and we’re going to have more!”
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