From farm, to war, to climbing poles

Longtime Robertsdale resident recalls history during birthday celebration at Senior Center

By John Underwood / john@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 3/8/17

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — It was a packed house on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to celebrate the 96th birthday of longtime Robertsdale resident and George P. Thames Senior Center fixture Rex Aldridge.

“I …

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From farm, to war, to climbing poles

Longtime Robertsdale resident recalls history during birthday celebration at Senior Center

Posted

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — It was a packed house on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to celebrate the 96th birthday of longtime Robertsdale resident and George P. Thames Senior Center fixture Rex Aldridge.

“I was born on this day in 1921,” Aldridge said, “or so they say. I don’t remember it.”

Aldridge did recall growing up in Chilton County, working for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, being drafted and serving in World War II and spending post-war time in Evergreen before moving to Robertsdale in 1954, where he worked for REA (now Baldwin EMC) before spending more than 30 years as a lineman with the city of Robertsdale’s Utilities Department.

Aldridge’s talk was part of the Senior Center’s History Day, which was also attended by third grade students from St. Patrick’s School in Robertsdale.

He began talking about growing up on a farm in Chilton County.

“My grandfather bought 4,000 acres of land. He kept 1,000, which he divided between three sons and one daughter,” Aldridge said. “I worked on the farm until I was 17 years old.”

In 1938, he would take a job with the CCC Camps, getting his first job as a utility lineman in 1940, earning $8 a week.

“That was good money back then,” he said. “All I’ve ever done was climb poles. It was a good job and I’m proud of the work I’ve done.”

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in November, 1941, Aldridge said, he received a penny postcard in the mail.

“It said, ‘Congratulations, you have been selected by your friends and neighbors to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America,’” he recalled. “I’m not sure who these ‘friends and neighbors’ were who selected me, but at any rate, I was drafted into the Army.”

After basic training, Aldridge went to England, serving under General George S. Patton, participating in the invasion of France, storming the beach at Normandy and earning five Bronze Stars along the way.

“I followed Patton all the way to Berlin,” Aldridge said. “We split France right in two, cutting off the German supply lines.”

He was among the troops that landed on Omaha Beach, effectively ending the war.

“We waded through water up to our shoulders,” he said. “If we had fell in a hole or something, we would never have gotten out with all the gear we were carrying.”

Aldridge returned to Alabama in 1945, taking a job in Evergreen, married a girl from Fairhope, and followed his brother to Baldwin County, taking a job with REA, now known as Baldwin EMC.

“We had one truck that we used to drive around checking meters,” he said. “Part of my job was to go to Gulf Shores once a month to check the meters down there. There was nothing more than a dirt trail to Fort Morgan back then, with all of about 15 houses. I would go down in the morning, play around, get all the houses checked and be back in Robertsdale by 4 o’clock that afternoon.”

After that, Aldridge went to work for the city of Robertsdale, where he would serve as a lineman for 32 years. He and his wife Edna raised two children, who still live close-by, he said.

He also recalled his lifelong passion of beekeeping, forming the Baldwin County Beekeepers Association, still participating in monthly meetings at the PZK Hall, and was instrumental in starting the Honeybee Festival in Robertsdale.

“When I was 8 years old, my father traded for a beehive and got me started as a beekeeper,” he said. “Nearly 90 years later I am still keeping bees. At one time I had 22 hives. I still maintain two hives today here in Robertsdale.”

After concluding his talk, Aldridge was serenaded by St. Patrick’s students, who sang happy birthday to him. He was also presented with a silver dollar and a key to the city by Senior Center Director Sarah Duncan on behalf of Mayor Charles Murphy.

Those in attendance were served lunch, with a bee-themed birthday cake and vanilla frozen yogurt.