January 21, 2009 Edition

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Tolson continues to make
a difference in Lawrence Co.

Tommie and Bill Tolson of Walnut Ridge are charter members of the Lawrence County Resource Council.
Frank M. Witowski Jr.
Staff Writer

Some people are natural born leaders, and Bill Tolson is one of those individuals. He served his country during World War II, and at the age of 83 continues to serve his community as president of the Lawrence County Resource Council.

Bill said he is motivated to volunteer because: "We need to continue giving something back to the community."

Tolson has fond memories of his childhood growing up in Walnut Ridge and learned about the work ethic at an early age. As a young boy, he delivered grocery sales ads via a little red wagon. Later on, he continued giving out the sales ads and delivered groceries by bicycle and worked for his mother and grandfather at the Red and White Food Store on Main Street.

Eventually, he grew tired of the grocery business and started working with his dad at his automobile repair shop and GMC dealership that remained open until Bill retired in 1984.

Bill and his beloved wife, Tommie Stubblefield, who grew up near Pocahontas, first met on a blind date. Tommie's drum majorette girlfriend and her boyfriend wanted to double date. As Tommie puts it, "We met on a blind date and kept on going."

Bill and Tommie remember going on 50-cent dates on the weekend that included movie passes and two cokes for the two of them. Their courtship was interrupted by a draft notice calling Bill to serve his country during World War II.

"Every day he wrote me," Tommie says. Today, there are three large boxes stored at the Tolson home filled with letters she received from Bill while he was away at war.

Bill was in the 3rd Battalion, 22nd regiment, 6th Marine Division and more than 60 years later can rattle off his Marine serial number. "It was the most dismal afternoon when that train rolled into Parris Island (boot camp in South Dakota)," Bill said. He said much of his company was depleted in the battle at Sugar Loaf Hill, near Okinawa, Japan, and it was difficult seeing his comrades killed in the line of duty.

After Bill received his honorable discharge in August 1946, wedding plans were underway. The couple married on his 23rd birthday, Oct. 5, 1946 in Mt. Pulaski, Ill., where Tommie and her mother were living at the time. The happy couple came back to Walnut Ridge after their wedding, and they have been here since.

They have four sons, Ronald, Brent, Barry and Phillip and are grandparents to Andrew, Matthew, Stephanie, Jennifer and Kimberly. Bill and Tommie also have two great-grandchildren, Aubrey Adams and Cameron Schmidt.

After the war, Bill and his brother, the late Bud Tolson, continued working at his dad's GMC dealership. Bill retired from there in 1984.

About that time, he became active in the Gideons organization that distributes Bibles in 187,000 countries across the globe. He has also been and continues to be very active in church work at First Baptist Church. He has served in many leadership capacities at his church, among them as trustee and deacon. He also volunteers as church custodian.

Bill's youngest son, Phillip, said both his parents are great role models to follow. "He taught us about work ethics through his actions," Phillip said. "He supported us and was always there for us. He exemplifies that through his life. If he taught it to us, he showed it to us through his life and never varied."

Phillip added that he emphasized church and God as the highest goal that can be obtained in life and that he and his three brothers today are actively involved in church work. He has fond memories of fishing, hunting and camping with his dad and three brothers.

Charter members of Resource Council

In 1987, Bill and Tommie became charter members of the Lawrence County Resource Council. Bill has served as president of the organization for many years. The Resource Council provides food on an emergency basis to residents, heads the meals on wheels program and Senior Pak program, as well as other community endeavors, such as the Single Parent Scholarship program.

"People in Lawrence County don't realize just how much Bill Tolson does to benefit this community and the needy citizens who seek help," said Judy Videll, Lawrence County Resource Council treasurer.

"No matter what he does, he always puts others before himself. Always willing to serve, God is the driving force behind all Tolson's endeavors. He is a true leader who gives generously of himself every day," Videll added.

Minturn resident Wilma Jones couldn't agree more. "He's just a right-hand man," Jones said. "On top of that, he does work at church and is always available. When we have a need, he's there and always responds. He's a good person and is always ready to help somebody."

Like the energizer bunny, Bill Tolson keeps going and going. Although he suffered a minor stroke in November, he has recovered remarkably (the family attributes this to divine intervention) and is as busy as ever helping others. Currently, Bill is doing work to a building at 213 Southwest Second Street, which will house the new site for the Lawrence County Food Bank.

Bill and Tommie have had the opportunity to travel to every state in the U.S. and to visit Germany, Sweden and a Canadian province. They spent their 60th wedding anniversary in Alaska with their son, Brent.

They have enjoyed hosting students from Williams Baptist College and sharing their lives with their sons and "adopted daughters" and their families.

"The Lord has blessed us in many ways," Bill said. "I've accomplished what I have by God's grace."

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