First of two parts
You may vaguely recognize his name from the gymnasium at the State College of Florida (or MCC, or MJC as Grandpa would say; isn't it funny how you can tell how long someone's lived in this town based solely on which name they use for the community college?). Or you may remember the days when his word alone could secure a loan from the county bank, or you may even have sought his advice at one point as a young athlete in Manatee County.
But to me, Hal Chasey, pillar of the community, is just remembered as "Grandpa."
I can picture him now, an old man tangled in a half-finished castnet, bragging to me and his other great-grandchildren about how he and his brother owned the first and only car to be parked in their high school lot. Not even the principal drove a car to school, so how did a self-described poor farm boy get a car?
In true country style, Hal won a singing contest at the Indiana State Fair. The song that earned him the glory (and the cash) was an old World War I ballad called "Long Boy." The opening lyrics might have been written for Grandpa: "I was just a long, lean country gink ..."
Hal Chasey played half-back on Purdue University's only undefeated football team and also lettered in track. He graduated with a degree in dairy husbandry and his first real job was on a dairy farm. During this time he met my great-grandmother Marjory Rae (a middle name we share), and married her two months later.
Grandma Chasey grew up seriously indulged by wealthy parents and was accustomed to getting what she wanted, when she wanted it, which might explain their hasty courtship. One family story goes that Marjory's father bought her a car when she was 13. Marjory unsurprisingly wrecked her shiny-new vehicle. Her super-generous father bought her a
new one the very next day.
Though Grandma was arguable spoiled, she shared her good fortune by driving football players to away games. It was on the drive home from such a game that Hal proposed to Marjory, and insisted on stopping that night to buy her a ring. In what I can only believe was an attempt to keep his new fiancée in the lavish style to which she was accustomed, Grandpa bought Grandma the most expensive ring in the whole town ... for a grand total of $5!
When they married, Hal was unable to take any time off of his work at the dairy farm to honeymoon. So at 1:30 a.m. on his wedding night, Grandpa had to leave his new wife and warm bed to deliver a calf. When the farm closed, Hal took a job at his father-in-law's movie theater doing janitorial work and taking tickets for $25 a week. Later he worked his way up in the farm department of Montgomery Ward. It was then that Hal Chasey, at 37 years old, volunteered for the Navy.
Years later, he explained to his grandson John (my dad) that he felt ashamed to be an able-bodied man living among only women, children and old men, so he became a naval officer. Probably due to his experience at Montgomery Ward, Grandpa served our country during World War II by handling supplies and accounting for the whole Pacific Theater.
Honestly, when I started researching for this article, I was aware that Grandpa had had a respectable military career, but I had no idea just how much responsibility he carried during the war. Also, I had never really done the math to realize just how late in life he served.
After the war, Hal went back to work for Montgomery Ward. After 18 years with that company, Grandpa realized that there was only one future for him there: to get fired. He had climbed as high as he could go within the corporation.
In 1954, an opportunity presented itself to become a part owner of Slaughter & Taylor Hardware & Feed store. Grandpa and grandma must have been ready for a change; they packed up and moved, fully immersing themselves in the community of Palmetto.
To be continued next week ...
Tori Chasey Edwards, curator of the Palmetto Historical Park, enjoys horrifying schoolchildren by explaining the nature and use of chamber pots. She calls it education.
Each Tuesday, a staff member of the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court's Historical Resources Department or other departments writes here about Manatee County history for our readers.