Bob Hester recalls his 102 years

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PARRISH -  Bob Hester of Parrish celebrated his 102nd birthday in early July. Hester has some thoughts on why he’s lived so long.

“I don’t do alcohol, I’ve never done drugs, and I don’t even take a pain pill,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and the Lord has helped me.”

Another factor that has contributed to his longevity is staying out of the doctor’s office, according to Hester.

The centenarian’s mind is sharp. Only recently did he have to lay his cane aside and start using a walker to get around, according to his daughter-in-law Linda, who is married to Hester’s son Rodney. Hester laughs a lot as he tells the stories of his life.

He was born to David and Maggie Hester during the Great Depression in a house that sat on property where the Walker County Jail in Jasper now sits.

“All babies were delivered at home at that time because there were no hospitals in Jasper,” Hester said.

Hester attended school at Sipsey and Parrish, but he graduated from Walker High School in 1936.

After graduation, he landed a job at Jasper’s first fast-food restaurant. It was called Speedy Lunch.

“You could take 15 cents and have a good meal,” he said. “A hamburger was a nickel, a cold drink was a nickel, and a fried pie was another nickel.” That meal was quite filling, according to Hester.

His salary was $2 a day, and he worked seven days a week.

While working at this job, he saw the motorcade of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came to Jasper to attend the 1940 funeral of U.S. House Speaker William Brockman Bankhead. 

“The first time I ever won anything was when Uncle Sam drew my number from a fishbowl in Washington,” he said. “President Roosevelt sent me a form letter (draft notice) congratulating me that I had been chosen to serve.”

The Army sent Hester to Ft. McPherson near Atlanta, Georgia, three days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Hester signed up for three years plus the duration in the U. S. Air Force. “This gave me a raise in pay from $21 to $30 a month,” he said.

They sent him to aircraft mechanic school in Newark, New Jersey. After that training, they sent him to an airbase in Malden, Missouri.  The routine in Missouri was boring, so he decided to sign up for gunnery school in Florida. 

After gunnery training, the Air Force assigned Hester to an aircrew as a flight engineer and gunner. His orders sent him to an airbase in England about 50 miles from London.

On D-Day in 1944, his aircrew was slated to fly a bombing mission to strike German fortifications, but they could not determine the location of the allied troops. Hester’s flight crew sat on the tarmac for hours awaiting the order to fly, but they never came. The mission was scrubbed, according to Hester. 

His crew flew 33 bombing missions over Germany. Since the pilot had flown two training missions, Hester got credit for 35 missions which were the maximum number of missions for a crew.

The Air Force offered Hester a position as an instructor. The only caveat is that he would have to extend his service by two more years. Hester declined the offer because he was ready to come home to Jasper.

Once home, Hester found a job at a restaurant in Jasper. During this time, he met Edith Sanford, who worked as a ticket-taker at the Greyhound Bus Station. The two fell in love and got married, according to Hester. That was in 1946.

After about six months, he told his wife that he needed a better job. He put in an application with Alabama Power at Gorgas Steam Plant and they hired him on the spot. He started out as an ash dumper. He later moved into operations. Progressing up the ladder, he retired in 1980 as a plant operator.

Hester pointed out that he was born in 1917, which is the year the Gorgas Steam plant was put into operation.

Hester and his new wife loved to fish, so they moved to Goodsprings, which was close to his job at Gorgas. They spent many hours on the river. Several of the fish they caught are mounted on a wall in his home that he built in 1969.

Mrs. Hester died in 1998. According to Hester, he started getting propositions from women not long after his wife died.

“It didn’t take long until my phone was ringing,” Hester said.  “One man wanted me to date his mother-in-law, and I couldn’t make up my mind whether he wanted someone to take her out and show her a good time or to get rid of her."

When asked about his long life, he became reflective. “I did my wild things back in my 20s before I got married,” he said. He went on to say that he has always stayed busy.

He still chews tobacco. “I started when I was about 12-years-old,” he said.

Hester and his brother stole a twist of tobacco from their father but got caught. His parents tried to break them from the vice by making them chew tobacco in front of a fireplace. The experience made both boys sick. “It broke my brother, but it didn’t break me,” he said. “They said it will kill you, but I’ve been doing it for 90 years.”

Hester is a coffee lover, too. His daughter-in-law makes him a pot every morning, and he sips coffee most of the day.

A while back, he came down with headaches. He thought he was going to have an aneurism. A few days later, Hester discovered that they were giving him decaf coffee. The withdrawal from caffeine was causing his headaches, according to Hester.

“I got off the decaf and got on regular coffee and the headaches cleared up,” he said. 

When asked how he wants to be remembered, he was reflective for a long time. He wants to be remembered by the things he’s accomplished over the years.

“I was raised up during the Depression, and I’ve never wanted a lot of money, I just wanted to make a good living, he said.

A few Sunday’s ago, Hester was asked to sit for a photograph with 2-month-old Aiden Phillips. Aiden is the son of Alesha and Haven Phillips of Sumiton. The picture documented the oldest and youngest members of Odom Memorial Baptist. Hester smiled when he thought about that photograph.