When not selling cars alongside his brothers and sons, Allen White makes sure operations are running smoothly at the local American Legion.
Q: Along with your brother, Paul, you have been a driving force (no pun intended) at Universal Chevrolet for many years. Is Universal the oldest business in Wendell, and is it difficult to work alongside family members every day?
A: “I am not sure if it is the oldest, but it is up there. Kannon’s and Perry’s have also been in Wendell a long time. We have been here for 81 years. I do know it is one of the oldest family-run car dealerships in the state. My father and his brother started the business, and my two sons, Travis and Bryan, also work with me. I wouldn’t say it is hard working with family. We all work in different aspects of the business and we do not work directly under one another, so it is not an issue.”
Q: You are also the adjutant of the local American Legion Post. What exactly is an adjutant?
A: “I kid that I am really the “agitator,” but I am in charge of the paperwork, the membership. I have been a member for 20 years.”
Q: Are you one of the founding members?
A: “No, it was started by some World War II veterans. The exact name is the Cedric Harris Post 148.”
Q: So, obviously, you once served in the military?
A: “I was in the Navy from 1969-1975.”
Q: Did you serve in Vietnam? Did you go straight from high school?
A: “I was in the Navy while Vietnam was going on, but fortunately for me, they assigned me to the other side of the world. I was stationed in Naples, Italy, assigned to the destroyer tender the USS Cascade. I was a store keeper. I was in charge of supplies. We supplied everything you could think of: clothes, food, munitions, whatever was needed. I also dealt with suppliers that went beyond our military sources. I graduated from Vaiden Whitley in 1967 and then attended Atlantic Christian College for two years. I got married in 1969, so my wife went with me to Italy.”
Q: And you became fluent in Italian?
A: “Not exactly. Fortunately for me, Italians speak with their hands (laughing) so I usually could understand them and they could understand me.”
Q: Working for so long with veterans at the American Legion, I am sure you have met some interesting people with great stories. Who made the greatest impact on you?
A: “That would have to be Mills Stephens. He has passed away, but he was a World War II veteran and had a Purple Heart. He saw so much. For many of the veterans, it is difficult for them to talk about what they saw. He was a medic, and he tells this story about how he was trying to save someone who had been injured. A first sergeant told him the man could not be saved, but he was determined. While he was working on the man, the first sergeant shot a sniper who had a bead on them. The following day, the first sergeant was shot and killed. I also like speaking with Robert Clark. He served in Korea, and I know it is hard for him talk about some of the things he has seen. All of our veterans are heroes. I don’t think they are appreciated enough for their sacrifices.”
Q: You grew up in Wendell. What do you miss from the Wendell of your youth?
A: “I would have to say the opening of the tobacco market. It was such a big event. The downtown would fill with people. It was like a carnival. We would have a parade – kids would ride their bicycles and I remember riding my pony down Main Street in the parade. I would have to say when that stopped, it was such a radical change.”
Q: Are there any businesses you miss?
A: “Britt’s Grocery Store, Stephens Hardware, Narron’s Store and Hunter’s Dime Store. I also miss Todd Electric.”
Q: It seems car dealerships are about the only local businesses you now see in television commercials, though some say they can be a bit cheesy. What is your take on car dealership commericals?
A: “We have done our share and it is all done in fun. I would dress up in a superhero suit – I was “Rebate Man.”
Q: Does your family enjoy any Christmas traditions? Haven’t you been known to don a Santa suit every so often?
A: “I have three kids and three grandkids. As long as we all get together, that is important to me. I did dress up as Santa, but that has been a while ago. That suit is too hot – I got to where I couldn’t take it. But it was nice to talk to the kids – they are so honest. I remember one little girl telling me that all she wanted was for her mom to come home from the hospital. If that doesn’t give you a lump, I don’t know what does. As Santa, you know not to make promises. I just told her I would do my best – that’s all you can do.”
Correspondent Dena Coward