When longtime Stovall resident Joe Willie Hollins was born in 1906, the automobile speed limit in the city of Jackson was 12 miles per hour for straight-away and seven miles per hour for turning.
Hollins turned 112 on Sunday, Aug. 19 and celebrated his birthday at the Tunica Recreation Center with family and friends on Saturday. He was a Master Mason with the Robert Grant Lodge 19, a Masonic lodge in Clarksdale and the organization honored him with an award.
The award mentioned the speed limit in Jackson when he was born, along with the fact that he lived through the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and Iraq/Afghanistan wars. It also said he lived to see the first black President and First Lady in Barack and Michelle Obama and how cell phones did not exist when he was a child.
Hollins loved to fish and garden until he moved to Memphis due to health issues two-and-a-half years ago where his granddaughter, Lee Ella Dilworth, is taking care of him in her home.
“He means everything to me,” Dilworth said. “I learned to love. I learned to fish. He always took me fishing with him when I got a chance when I was around him. I wasn’t around him as much, but when I was around him, if he didn’t spoil me for everything, he was the safe one.”
Hollins had nine children with his first wife, the late Arivers. They are the late Josephine, the late Ruthie D. Jones, Lueretta, the late Ida Mae, the late Beatrice, the late Louevenga, Irene, the late Walter and Eddie Mae Ratcliff. His current wife is Rosie and he is the oldest of six generations in his family.
“My family means everything to me,” Hollins said.
Hollins’ life has centered on hard work and service.
As a mason, he helped churches and people buy clothes. He was a Baptist and deacon at his local church, Oak Ridge Church.
When asked what the secret to living a long life was, Hollins said, “The blessing of God.”
Hollins’ grandsons Charles Brown, Roy Hollins and, Lester Ratcliff, and great-grandson Stanley Brown are also masons.
Hollins is originally from the Yazoo City area where he lived in the hills, then moved to Barksdale before coming to Stovall in the early to mid-1940s. He worked as a farmer where he drove tractors, took people to the field to chop cotton and drove a truck where he picked up people and took them to work. He raised chickens, hauled cotton for the Stovall Gin Company and was a mechanic.
Roy Hollins, who resides in Webb, said he rode the truck with his grandfather a couple of times.
“At the time that I was coming up around my grandfather, I probably was the only one who stayed around there most of the time,” Roy said. “He showed me how to have trust in God, believe in God, make sure that you try to get a good education and make sure that you were always a hard worker. He said, ‘If a man doesn’t work, he’s not supposed to eat.’”
Roy said his grandfather learned a man who does not work is not supposed to eat from the Bible. He also said his grandfather was not afraid to use the rod when someone misbehaved.
Lester Ratcliff, who resides in Stovall, agreed.
Ratcliff said his grandfather taught him “to fish, hunt, respect others and work on stuff. If you did wrong, you’d find out because he’s going to whoop that butt.”
Charles Brown recalled hearing many stories.
“He and I had the conversation about how he started traveling in 1919,” he said. “He was telling me how the train stopped, then he would get on the train, go to Memphis to get the part for his car, get back on the train and come back home.
“We farmed the land. He was in his garden every day. Then on May 1st every year, rain, sleet or snow, he planted his watermelon.”
Another grandson, Johnnie Brown, expressed similar sentiments.
“He used to take me fishing with him all the time,” he said. “We went and cut the grass. There were a whole lot of things we did together. We killed seven or eight hogs for the whole family. One time a year, everybody had meat.”