Earl Pace is a man of many hats.
They line the paneled walls of his den. They hang from nails and dangle from pegs on hat racks.
There are so many hats that his wife, June, has had to stuff some in closets and banish several to the shed.
The caps represent nearly every color of the rainbow. They are made of cotton and polyester, some with stout bills and mesh crowns. They promote insurance firms, are billboards for trucking companies and advertisements for brands of coffee. They pledge allegiances to football teams and salute race car legends. One hat hails from New Zealand. Another arrived from a fire department in Iraq.
June said folks have been giving her husband these hats for years, even though he now has one for practically every day of the year. He has acquired enough headgear to cover the cowlicks of a small army. He could provide enough shade to keep the sun off the faces of every farmer from Echeconnee to Elko.
“Out of all these hats, we’ve only bought two,’’ June said. “I got him a Mickey Mouse hat at Disney World. And our daughter gave him one that says ‘Will Fish for Food.’’’
Even if Earl didn’t have such an impressive collection, you could still make the case that he is a man of many hats.
For the past 58 years, he been an institution at the Porter-Ellis Community Center on Houston Road.
He has tightened nuts, replaced bolts, wired, patched and cemented walls and ceilings. He has swept the floors, cleaned the grease traps, changed the locks, cut the grass and fried his famous chicken on the stove back in the kitchen.
Earl has also kept the books and paid the bills for the past 40 years. He officially “retired” from his longtime job as treasurer on Dec. 31, and will be honored next week for his loyal service by the Porter-Ellis board of directors.
It’s not exactly “early” retirement. He’ll be 90 years old -- a nonagenarian -- 10 months from today.
Board member Kathy Bowden praised Earl for his “commitment and good stewardship” of the community center, which opened in 1949.
“Over the past 50 years, Earl Pace has contributed his time and talents to preserving one of our community’s assets,’’ she said.
Earl has also been a longtime member of Liberty United Methodist Church, where June once bounced a young Nancy Grace on her knee in the church nursery. He later became a charter member of the Rutland Lions Club, which meets twice a month at the community center, and was recognized last year for his 50-year perfect attendance record.
“He has always been involved in community service because he is capable of doing anything,’’ said June.
Earl grew up one of 11 children in Jackson County, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and began working in civil service at Robins Air Force Base in 1949. It was there he met June Cape, who was also working in electronics, and they were married in April 1952. “I took my maiden name, Cape, and rearranged the letters to spell ‘Pace,’’’ she said, laughing.
They moved to south Bibb County, first living in a house on Meadows Drive, where they could look out their window and see the Porter-Ellis Community Center. It had been built by Macon businessman James H. Porter, an executive with the Bibb Manufacturing Co., on a tract of land donated by John C. Ellis.
In 1952, the original building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. It was rebuilt through local fundraising, re-opened two years later and became a regular gathering place for civic and social organizations.
After Earl and June attended the grand opening and dedication of the new building, Earl rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a volunteer. A few months later, he must have left a meeting to get a drink of water because, when he came back into the room, the board of directors had elected him president.
Earl built a house on Allen Road, just a half-mile from the center, so he could walk if he needed. They were practically “out in the country” back in those days. In fact, when their daughter, Lynne, was doing a report for her driver’s education class, there was such little traffic on Houston Road that June had to drive her to Ga. 247 so she would be able to see a few cars for her traffic count.
Over the years, the community center has been used for everything from garden clubs to Boy Scouts meetings, AARP events, sock hops, political forums, birthday parties, wedding receptions and high school reunions.
“At the time, not all the churches had fellowship halls and not all the schools had gyms, so it was a place for social activities,’’ said June.
And it has never been old hat for Earl Pace, a man of many.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.