Palmetto resident keeps full schedule

Palmetto resident keeps full schedule, even at 84

By CARL MARIO NUDI

carl@observernews.net

Jerry Church was a welder, barber, racehorse trainer, inventor, landlord, rancher and a lot more in his 84 years.

And that was before he died — since then, he has been just as busy.

“I died,” Church said recently in the living room of his home just north of Palmetto.

He told the story of when his wife, Stella, found him sitting in his chair not breathing.

CARL MARIO NUDI PHOTO
At 84, Jerry Church is still working as a barber at His Place Barber and Grooming Shop, 3711 U.S. 301 North, in Ellenton.

The paramedics took him to the hospital, and he was pronounced dead.

“I got to heaven, and it was a beautiful place,” Church said. “I got there and saw the Golden Gates, but they were closed.

“I saw my first wife (Evalyn),” he said. “She looked as she did when she was 25 years old.

“She was on the other side of the gate, and I wanted to be next to her, but she said, ‘just a minute.’

“Then she appeared right next to me and told me I had to go back.

“I didn’t want to, but she said I needed to tell her sister if she wanted to see Evalyn again she would have to become a believer,” he said.

Church said a funeral home worker came to the hospital and was going to take him away.

“He pulled the sheet back off my face and saw I was still alive,” he said.

After an operation to have a pacemaker put in, Church has just kept going.

Not only does he keep busy with his leisure activities, he works four days a week at His Place Barber and Grooming Shop, 3711 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton.

“His experience as a barber fits in with the shop’s old-fashioned profile,” said shop owner Wendell Thorne.

“And at his age, he’s lived in a lot of places and seems to enjoy life,” Thorne said.

For Church it was a matter of doing what was necessary at the time and what one likes to do.

He was born in 1933 in Homestead, Wis., near the Michigan Upper Peninsula border.

A photo from Jerry Church’s album shows his horse, Coat Tail, in the lead by a length and in the winner’s circle. The jockey was Roy Yaka, and wore Church’s unique colors of barber pole on the back of his riding jacket. The horse was purchased from the daughter of Cecil B. DeMille, the Hollywood mogul.

“My father ran a road grader for the county and was a business person,” Church said in telling his life story.

“During World War II there was a need for carpenters in Baraboo (Wisconsin),” he said. “So he moved there for work.”

Then the family moved to a town outside Madison, Wis., after the war when his father got a maintenance job at the University of Wisconsin.

While in high school, Church worked at an automobile repair shop welding mufflers.

When he got his draft notice from the U.S. Army after graduating high school, he decided to join the U.S. Navy instead.

“That was about 1951,” Church said.

Because of his experience, he was assigned as a welder at a Navy shipyard in California for his four years of military service.

Church said he married his first wife, Evalyn, while in the Navy, and she got a job teaching.

“We were married 53 years before she passed away,” he said.

They had two children, Robert, and an adopted daughter, Lisa.

When he got out of the Navy, Church looked for work around Redding, Calif., near where they were living.

“But I could only find laborer work in the local lumber mills,” Church said.

Then he saw an ad for a barber school, so he signed up.

With his barber’s license, Church decided to open his own shop.

Stella and Jerry Church sit in their living room of their Palmetto home with two of their rescued dogs. Jerry is a certified trainer for therapy dogs.

“The new Anderson Shopping Center was opening up in the town just south of us,” Church said, “and I thought that would be a good location.

“That was about 1959,” he said. “I was there for 30 years, and the landlord never raised my rent.

“Haircuts were $1.25,” he added.

Church said they eventually bought 10 acres in the area.

“We were both working,” he said, “and wanted to raise some cattle.”

Having worked with horses when he was in high school, he thought it would be interesting to have a couple of horses also.

“The cowboys would come into the shop and talk about roping cattle,” Church said.

Sometimes he would go to the 1/4-mile track at the county fairgrounds where local ranchers would gather to race their workhorses.

“I had no training in racing horses,” Church said, “but the two horses I had raced extremely well.”

With his experience in raising horses, he began riding them for 2 miles a day to train them for the race.

“Just a gallop,” Church said. “You don’t have to make them run fast because they do that on their own during the race.”

Church said he was very successful at the local fairground racetrack.

A photo from Jerry Church’s album shows one of the horse walkers that he designed and built. Constructing and renting the devises out to horse tracks became Church’s business after 30 years of owning a barbershop.

“We won about 98 percent of the time,” he said.

With his success, Church decided to try his hand at pari-mutuel horse racing at a track in Fairfield, Calif.

His two horses ran three races each over a seven-day period.

“I grossed about $10,000 in the first year,” Church said, “and the same in the second.”

After cutting hair for about 30 years, Church decided to sell his shop and retire.

He and his wife moved to Harrisburg, Pa., to be near their son.

But retirement was not for him.

“I couldn’t sit around,” Church said.

He decided to go into business building horse walkers he designed for his horses in California.

The device had four long arms crossed at a pivot that rotated.

A horse was tethered to the end of one of the arms so they could walk without someone having to lead them.

The walkers were unique because they had a variable-speed motor driving them.

Church got an order to rent 20 of the walkers to Suffolk Downs Race Track near Boston.

Eventually he was renting the track 40 a season and also renting them to other tracks.

“Then one of my workers offered to buy the business, and I retired again,” Church said.

CARL MARIO NUDI PHOTOS
Jerry and Stella pose with their year-round display of Christmas village buildings in their Palmetto home. Jerry built and wired the shelves above the mantle for the display.

During the time he owned his walker business, he and Evalyn would travel around in an RV.

“We loved to RV,” he said.

They also took up square dancing and traveled to various venues.

In 2005 they decided to move to Florida.

“The wife said it was too cold in Pennsylvania,” Church said.

After Evalyn died, Church decided to sell his RV and Stella was looking to downsize after her first husband’s death.

A friend told her about the RV Church was selling and eventually a deal was made.

Church, having another deal in mind, asked Stella, a retired nurse, if she liked square dancing, and the courtship began.

They were married in 2007.

Now they are enjoying life together raising their dogs and collecting miniature Christmas-village buildings.

And Church also restores and sells vintage barber chairs, just to fill in his spare time.

One of Stella and Jerry Church’s Christmas village buildings depict their love for square dancing. Jerry asked Stella to go square dancing with him on one of their early dates.

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