Saturday, November 8, 2014

Patch the Pony Born in Florence in 1963

It was 1963 when Margaret Liles of Florence heard FBI Agent Glenn Hearn address a PTA meeting. Hearn commented on the frequency of child abductions, and the idea was further brought home to Liles three days later when an attempted child abduction was reported at Gilbert Elementary School in North Florence. Liles wanted to make a difference, but how?

The mother of four soon came up with the character of Patch, a pony designed to convey safety messages to primary school children. As Patch said, “Nay, Nay, from strangers stay away.” Mrs. Liles then began a campaign to introduce Patch and his safety slogan into local and then state schools. Governor George Wallace was so impressed with Liles’ character of Patch that in 1966 he flew her to Washington to speak to the President’s Commission on Crime. 

Embarking from Florence in a designer ensemble donated by Abroms Department Store, Margaret Liles hoped to make her Patch character as well-known as Smokey the Bear; however, while support was there, the money never materialized. Despite the lack of government funding, Patch became well known in school systems in all 50 states where teachers presented his story in film strips and in books given to each student. 

After much thought, Liles decided to sell the rights to her creation to someone more financially able to produce the materials used in Patch’s program. Then with the advent of better technology, Patch gradually began to fade from school systems, and many relegated Patch to a bygone era. Some years ago the rights to Patch were purchased by Russ Fender, a man who had grown up hearing the story of the pony who wore an eye patch.

Fender stated he wanted to bring Patch up to date and make him known to a new generation of children, but found the cost of his project made it necessary to proceed in increments. A glance at the website for Patch shows that it’s reverted to GoDaddy.
What of Patch now? Until Fender gets the resurrection of Patch the Pony fully underway, those who fondly remember Patch and his creator Margaret Liles who passed away in 1990 may wish to to join the pony’s fans on Facebook: Patch the Pony.

Bette F. Terry holds a BA in history from UAH

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Florence's Dutch Treat Turns Into Trick?

The Doughnut: Historical or Just Dangerous?

If you say “Dusty Joe’s” to a person of a certain age, you’re sure to hear tales of barbecue and teenage hijinks long before the now defunct strip was even thought of. Many will still say the demise of Florence’s premiere fast food establishment was a sad turning point in their lives.

Yet in 1971, Dusty Joe’s closed its doors for the last time, and the Huddle Restaurant arrived. Its stay in Florence was short-lived, and in 1973, the Dutch Treat opened at the busy corner of Tennessee and Poplar Streets. It was to remain until 1980 when it also closed, leaving the building vacant for a year until it became home to the Trailways Bus Station. While no treats are now served at the building that is currently home to Knight & Humphries Real Estate (Kevin J. Knight and Steve N. Humphries), it seems there’s still a trick remaining.

The Dutch Treat was opened by William and Jane Woldenberg and Linda Mae Bryan, and while the menu may be lost forever in local memory, it’s certain the most popular items were doughnuts. After 41 years, the store’s neon adorned sculpture of a doughnut still stands on the southeast corner of Tennessee and Poplar, yet unclaimed by any and all and a menace to the public.

Since the building that housed Dutch Treat had stood on the busy downtown Florence corner for years, it’s safe to assume the neon doughnut had its own electric meter added when the desert shop installed the sign--a meter that was pulled when the new owners took possession of the building.

It’s also safe to assume that when Trailways remodeled the building to house more public restrooms and locker storage, the switch to the doughnut sign was covered in dry wall and forgotten. To make the problem of the now leaning doughnut sign even more perplexing, the pole on which the sign is mounted appears to be secured, either firmly or tenuously, on the state right-of-way. Florence didn’t pass a sign law until the late 1970s.

A few years ago, a local blogger proclaimed the sign one of the Shoals area’s eyesores. At that time, the city said Knight & Humphries (which also operates under the name “Real Property Management”) owned the rusty doughnut, while the real estate firm adamantly averred the city was responsible for the relic and any damage it might in future cause.

Is it dangerous? Is it a local landmark that should be preserved instead of relegated to a scrap yard or stored ala the famous neon Coca-Cola signs? In case any think it should be declared a landmark, much of the neon that outlined the pastry is now missing, the doughnut itself is rusty, and two iron rods (presumably to hold additional advertising) are secured underneath giving the sign the look of a primitive weather vane.

Due to the extensive loss of life two counties to the south of Lauderdale, perhaps many didn’t regard the true extent of damage to Florence trees and signage after the April 2011 tornadoes, but nevertheless many seemingly firmly planted objects were uprooted and swept yards from their original location.

If the City of Florence does own the sign by default after all these years, perhaps it could offer it to any collector with proper credentials and insurance who would remove the eyesore and sell the pole for scrap. Or perhaps one day the Shoals area will awake to read the headline: Unlucky Driver Beheaded by Flying Doughnut.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Gary Williamson, the sign officer for the Florence Building Department, is aware of the problem of the delinquent doughnut and should make a decision soon on its ultimate fate.

Bette Favor Terry holds a BA in history from UAH