James (better known as Happy) is a graduate of the University of Montevallo, where he was a history major, a member of the purple side, and an ATO. After living and working in Florida post-graduation, he retired and moved back to Montevallo a year ago.
How things have changed
“The campus hasn’t changed a lot. The old dorms are still there, except Fuller. But good riddance, that was a horrible dorm. Napier’s where I lived until I moved off campus. The fraternity system’s changed, people aren’t into fraternities and sororities as much as they used to be as far as I can tell. College Night’s taking over, which is not a bad thing- it’s always been big. I like the older stuff, but there’s some good places [on Main Street]. There’s an art gallery, a tattoo shop… we never had that. There was a pottery place one time. I love Orr Park… there’s a group on Facebook called Orr Park Hoodlums, and we get together almost every year. They’re more Eclipse [the coffee shop] people than Main Street Tavern [the bar] people. The thing I love about Montevallo is that you know everybody and you can fit in with anybody if you want to. There’s always something you’ll have in common with people. This past year we had a memorial service for some people that couldn’t be with us, some of the members had died… that’s a good group, and they come back. As far as downtown, the McDonald’s throws me off and the CVS pharmacy throws me off. But in general it’s still the same- real quiet and peaceful.
The place he misses most
“Where McDonald’s is now, there was a restaurant called Jeroe’s- Jerral and Rose Turner. They’re more parents than employers. We’ve since lost her, and a large part of my heart’s gone. Everybody hung out at Jeroe’s- you know how they have the Tavern and Eclipse now? It used to be just Jeroe’s. They tore it down and built a McDonald’s and I have a hard time even going to McDonald’s. It’s just sad. I spent more time in Jeroe’s than I did anywhere- everybody went there, the purple cabinet meetings were always there, there had all the old purple signs in the building. Jeroe’s was the most accepting place in town. If Rose knew you were hungry, she’d feed you. She took care of people. They had beer and wine- usually just beer- and they had bands there… that sustained them for years. It was a big staple in this town.”
Standout memories about Montevallo
“Mary Francis Tipton was the head librarian for years- she was the SGA president in the mid-40s and a die hard purple. I worked at the library for my student work job, and that’s how I got to know her. During college night, we used to go have mimosas with Mary Francis Tipton at her house- she used to live down the street from the science building on Nabors Street. She got in bad health but I was with her for her last college night here. I remember smoking a cigarette with her outside on the purple side of Palmer and she said, ‘I think this will be my last year’, and she never came back. Now she didn’t pass away immediately, but she never got to come back to College Night.
There also used to be a little meat and vegetable restaurant where the Mexican Restaurant [El Agave] is- the theater was right up the street across from the old Tavern location. They used to show movies there and upstairs would be productions for the Montevallo Main Street Players. They showed Steel Magnolias the year it came out, and the guy that owned the theater, Buddy Love, catered it for all the women in Montevallo- the professors, the main women in Montevallo, the mayor’s wife, city council, those people. I wanted to see the movie, and he told me no, because it’s just for the women and it’s a private thing. I said, 'I won’t have a chance to go to Birmingham and see it, I really wanna see it, I’ll sit in the back row.' He said okay, fine, just come in right after it starts and sit on the back. Of course I got there early, and Mary Francis Tipton and Mary Wilhoite [a theater professor at Montevallo] saw me and said, ‘Happy! You’ve gotta come sit with us!’ So I sat in the third row, and it made Buddy Love so mad.”
On college night
“I was on purple cabinet- I was spirit cabinet the first and only time there’s ever been a cow at the ballgame. I mean, it’s not like the golds can bring a lion. Back then they played flag football- we didn’t play soccer, or frisbee, or flag football, whatever that is. I was the lead in the show that year. I’ve missed one College Night since 1983. When people talk about family… purple side is family. I’m sure there’s bad people on the purple side, but I don’t know any. Never met any. They accept everybody- they don’t always win, but in my mind they do. The shows aren’t always as good as they should be, but this year was phenomenal. I’ve got some old gold friends that I see at College Night, but the people from college that I stay in touch with are the purples. Just like areas, people change too- I’m not the same person I was in the 80s. You come to grips with who you really are, and you can’t go back. But the thing about Montevallo and the purple side that’s wonderful is that even then, they still accept you.”
“I’m very accepting of everybody. I was raised a good person, but I was also brought up in a small Southern town… we weren’t raised to be as accepting as I am. Montevallo brought that out. I’ve always been accepting, but I feel comfortable in Montevallo. Now, all of Montevallo isn’t accepting- this is Shelby County, Alabama. But the university helps that, I think. To me, it’s a perfect little liberal arts school, perfect class sizes where you can actually have one-on-ones with your professor. You’re welcome to churches in town- you’re invited to church here, which is great if that’s your thing. It’s just a small town and you can get anywhere fast from here. It’s just a good place to become yourself. I always knew who I was, but I wasn’t able to be myself and express myself until I was in Montevallo. It’s all because of Montevallo that I am who I am.”