Marshall Weems
Navarro County, Texas


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Marshall Weems, now at age 97, was a charter member of the Corsicana
Emergency Corp. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA

 

8/13/2003 DIVERSITY - OLD SCHOOL: Weems follows many paths during his 97 years of life

By DEANNA PAWLOWSKI/Daily Sun Staff

Marshall Weems' life has followed a diverse path in his 97 years.

Weems is a charter member of the Corsicana Emergency Corps, the Chatfield Volunteer Fire Department, hauled the first two bodies out of the big plane crash in Dawson in May 1968, and missed the huge storm in Frost in the 1930s by one day on his Coca Cola route.

Born Feb. 6, 1907 in Chatfield, Weems and his parents moved to Corsicana in 1910. Marshall started first grade at William B. Travis Elementary, and continued his education in Corsicana until leaving school early to help the family.

"My first job was in 1918, delivering drugs on a bicycle for a drugstore during the big flu epidemic," Weems said. "I was still in school then, and we lost many people."

After high school, Weems went to work for the Coca Cola Bottling Company. He first worked in the bottling company, but later had a route that covered the whole west end of the county.

"I made deliveries in a 1923 GMC truck with a Buick engine," he said. "It held 140 cases of Coca Cola. I remember the big storm in Frost in the 30s, that killed about 20 people. The same time the next day, I would have been there on my route."
Weems met the lovely Anita Miles, whose father owned Miles Furniture Store, in church when she was only 16 years old.

"We made eyes at each other in church," he said. "We went together four years before marrying, because I wouldn't marry her until she graduated from high school.

"She was my one and only."

Weems then worked at Corley Funeral home for four years, where he became friendly with Mr. Griffin, who left to open his own funeral home. A stint at the Bluebonnet Ordinance Plant in MacGregor during World War II followed. The plant manufactured 2,000 pound bombs, and Weems worked security.

During the war, it was difficult to procure new flooring, so Weems had the idea to purchase some floor sanding equipment and start a flooring company. When the sawdust caused him to develop a bronchial condition, he sold the business to some painters, and started a candy company, called Pleas U Candy Company.

"We made peanut patties, peanut brittle, some stick candy, and those watermelon slices," Weems said. "But, the big plants came in about that time, and a small company couldn't compete."

Kiddieland Park was Weems' next project. The mayor at that time owned three acres at the far end of Community Park, which Weems leased for five years. He installed some small rides for children, and operated the park six years.

During this time, Marshall and Anita had a growing family. Three girls were born to the couple during a seven-year span, then added a boy 18 years after the eldest daughter.

Weems worked for his friend Mr. Griffin at Griffin Funeral Home off and on for over 30 years.

"I was his first hired hand when he opened," Weems said. "I practically raised Billy Roughton."

During that time, the funeral homes operated the ambulance service, and young Roughton was with Weems when they brought out the first two bodies from the Dawson crash. The Braniff crash near Dawson was caused when lightening struck the plane, left 85 dead, and there were no survivors.

"The only complete body brought out of there was already in a steel casket," Weems said. "It was rough."

Weems said cities like Corsicana did not have any storm warning systems, and he was one of 12 men in town who had CB radios.

"We had a CB club, and would scatter out in the western part of the county," he said. "We would radio back in to the police department about storms."

Also about that time, lakes were being built, and drownings were plenty. The need for the Corsicana Emergency Corps was discovered in 1961, with Weems serving as chief for 12 years, before dropping out due to ill health.

"I've been James Sykes assistant chief for 23 years, albeit inactive," he said. "Sykes is a great friend, and more like a brother."

Four charter members of the CEC remain -- Weems, Sykes, Rex Bower and Otis Dunagan. Weems has radios in his living room, and keeps tuned to what is going on currently.

Prior to the city manager form of city government, there were four commissioners, who each had departments. Weems served as Police and Fire Commissioner, and under his leadership, the fire station on Beaton and the one on Second Avenue were built, three pumper trucks and three Chevrolet pickups were purchased, and the first 65-foot aerial ladder in Corsicana was obtained.

In 1969, after helping Chatfield residents put out a 500 acre grass fire with wet toe sacks, brooms and shovels, Weems became one of the original committee members of the Chatfield Volunteer Fire Department. Son Chuck also served the Chatfield VFD as chief from 1980 to 1986.

Chuck Weems is a Malakoff resident now, but serves Kerens as a U.S. Postal Service carrier. Daughter Nancy Weems, retired from Bank One after 40 years, lives with her father in Corsicana. Janie Posey resides in Payne Springs, and Marsha Grippe lives in Edmond, Okla. Marshall Weems has seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

He also has what he calls his "Rogues Gallery" of plaques and photos from his years with the city, the CEC, and the Chatfield VFD up and down the hall of his home. His life has been action-packed, with most of it spent in Corsicana. But, he is modest about his contributions to Corsicana and Navarro County.

"I don't like much publicity," he said.


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox