In just about every community, there is somebody who is the “go-to” guy or gal. In Chicopee Village for many years that was Joe Holcomb.
Joe died right after Christmas last year.
He was one of the few left who actually were born in Chicopee, lived there all his life except during service in World War II, and worked for Chicopee Manufacturing Co. almost four decades. He and wife Dean lived in the same house — always immaculate inside and out — all their married life and raised three daughters in the village.
He became the unofficial historian as Chicopee’s best known resident. He researched the history of the village and the company, working with Gainesville State College to compile it.
Joe was a good storyteller, too, especially when the story related to Chicopee. For example, he told about the company doctor, Raleigh Garner, making house calls to the village.
Dr. Garner said doctors should have good sense, wear good clothes and drive a Cadillac. He fulfilled all those requirements, Joe said, and when a Cadillac would be parked at a residence, everyone knew somebody was sick.
Dr. Garner also would deliver babies in homes. One day, the doctor’s wife went with him in his Cadillac on his rounds, taking their new baby with her. Children, attracted by the rare sight of a Cadillac in the village, looked in the car, saw Mrs. Garner and her baby and were said to exclaim, “Hey, this man does deliver babies,” right to the front door, they thought.
Neal Anthony, a close friend, recalled his wife Suzanne calling him from home, asking what to do about a bird that had flown into their foyer. “Just call Joe,” Anthony reacted spontaneously. Joe was there within a few minutes, and within a few minutes the bird was gone, and Suzanne had her house back.
The Rev. Carrie Myers, former minister at Chicopee United Methodist, recalled that she once saw Joe walking up the street with a load of PVC pipe on his shoulders. When he came back by, she asked him what he’d been doing. Joe just kind of brushed her off in his characteristically modest manner, not caring for anybody to know he was helping a neighbor fix a leak in his basement. He had found out about the problem, showed up with the pipe and had it resolved shortly.
That was typical, Myers said, helping people however he could, refusing payment and preferring not to say much about it. “He was all over the village with his tool box,” she said. “He fixed toilets, washing machines, things in the parsonage, things in church.”
He lost part of some fingers working on a door to the children’s department in the church, Myers said.
Joe was at Chicopee Methodist whenever the church doors were open. He served as treasurer and on the board of trustees for many years. Reba Ruth worked with him on church finances and said he set up the first accounting system for her on a computer. “He loved working on the computer,” she said, and he would often email her and others bits of humor.
Taking pride in his yard, he kept it up himself as long as he was able. When he offered to pay a villager to do his yard, the man said he couldn’t accept any money because Joe had done so much for him and others. Joe wouldn’t allow the man to do the work without pay, so he had to find somebody who would accept pay.
Describing Joe, Reba Ruth used words such as “honest,” “dependable,” funny,” “great character,” “perfect gentleman.” A good Christian with a big heart, she said.
Joe’s daughter, Dale Stone, used the quote, “All else may pass, but a good name endures,” to characterize her father. “He lived that every day, and he endures,” she said.
Chicopee has changed over the years since the textile company employed hundreds, provided a store, pharmacy, doctor and numerous other amenities. But the constant was Joe Holcomb, as much a fixture in the village as its model brick homes, churches and well-kept grounds.
The Rev. Myers said she got a lot of sermon topics just from watching Joe. Indeed, a life well lived is a sermon in itself.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.