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Family finally learns origins of mysterious foot locker
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Jerry Castleberry, Gainesville schools’ transportation director, finally knows some history of a military foot locker that has been in his family since he was a youngster.

He and his older brother, Larry, always had wondered about the trunk with the name “Tas H. Cofer, USMC,” stenciled on it. The family kept its own precious keepsakes in it, and it became a treasured piece in their home.

Recently, Jerry posted a query on Facebook about Tas Cofer and got a reply from Kelly Cofer in Nevada. Turned out the foot locker belonged to her late father-in-law, Tacitus (Tas) Harrison Cofer, who lived in Gainesville for several years. His parents were Charles Randolph Cofer and Nancy Margaret Short Cofer. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve Dec. 8, 1942, and was discharged June 24, 1944, as a staff sergeant. He had served at Parris Island, S.C., and Headquarters Procurement Division in Atlanta.

Tas was a native of Rayle, in eastern Georgia between Athens and Washington, but worked as a manager of Cofer Seed Co., 206 W. Washington St., Gainesville, for a time after World War II. He married Sarah Elizabeth “Betty” McLain in 1949 or 1950. They had two children, Margret “Margo” Cofer, who died in 1989, and Tas Harrison Cofer II, born in Gainesville in 1953 and who lives in Nevada with his wife Kelly.

Kelly Cofer answered Jerry’s Internet query about the foot locker, identifying her husband as the son of the Tas Cofer whose name was on it. She said her husband’s father died when Tas Cofer II was about 2 years old.

Jerry Castleberry believes his father bought the foot locker at the Salvage House, which operated on Oak Street in Gainesville for many years.

Cofer Seed Co. originated in Athens in 1925, but it operated a store in Gainesville from the mid-1930s into the 1960s. It first was located at 206 W. Washington St. just off the downtown square in the old Princeton Hotel block. It moved later to a bigger building in the vicinity of the old farmers’ curb market on what was then Church Street. Urban Renewal, however, cleared out the market and took Cofer Seed with it.

Hal Cofer Sr. founded Cofer Seed and opened the store in Gainesville. His son, Hal Jr., who is in his 80s, continues with the store in Athens, although it is now more a home and garden center. Hal Jr.’s uncle was Tas Cofer, who managed the Gainesville store until his death. Tas was Hal Cofer Sr.’s brother. Two other brothers, Richard and Donald, also worked in the business, and Hal Jr. worked for a time at the Gainesville store after he was discharged from the Navy in 1948.

Hal Jr. remembers his father as a poultry pioneer about the time of J.D. Jewell, the Gainesville businessman who often is credited with the broiler boom in North Georgia. Hal Cofer Sr.’s Athens store sold seed wholesale to farmers, then got into the chicken feed business. Cofer’s eventually was in the broiler business big time, but didn’t have the processing plants such as were in Gainesville. However, it did provide baby chicks to farmers in Hall and other counties north of Athens.

When Hal Jr. and one of his brothers were called back to service during the Korean War, Hal Sr. decided to get out of the chicken business. Otherwise, Hal Jr. believes Athens could have become just as important a poultry center as Gainesville.

Hal Jr. recalls seeing what he calls one of the first automatic watering systems for chicken houses. A farmer north of Gainesville, he said, redirected the flow of a creek and piped water right through his chicken house.

More modern farm equipment and methods as well as urbanization led to changes in Cofer Seed Co. The company moved from downtown Athens as it morphed into a home and garden center on Mitchell Bridge Road. But it remains a family operation with Hal Jr.’s son, Stuart Cofer, as manager.

Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1860, Dahlonega, scheduled the annual Longstreet Memorial Service at 1 p.m. Jan. 6 at Gen. James Longstreet’s grave site in Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. Open house at the Piedmont Hotel Museum will follow. Both events are open to the public.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501;.
His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.

 

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