Seeing Charles Coolidge at the Heritage Center that bears his name has special meaning to me. I first met Mr. Coolidge while attending Kirkman High School downtown. I would wait on the Southern Coach Line bus at 3rd and Market Streets in front of Chattanooga Printing operated by the Coolidge Family. Mr. Coolidge’s office was right at the front.
One day this gentle voice said, “Young man would you like to have a Coke with me?” I entered his simple office with some of his honors hanging on the wall. When I left, he said come to see me again and we will have another Coke together.
I told him who I was. He said, "I went to Baylor School with your dad."
He began to share stories of how they car-pooled. Mr. Coolidge said they didn’t have much time for pleasure as both worked in their family businesses. The print shop was located in the 300 block of Market Street and Freudenberg Grocery was in the 300 block of North Market Street. We visited many times while I was waiting on the bus. I didn’t realize at the time he was giving me history lessons about his experiences in World War II.
Fast forward to after my serving in the U.S. Army. In 1974, I was invited to serve on the Armed Forces Week Committee and be the parade announcer, which I did for 30 years. I got to know Charlie and his wife Frances very well. Charles was in charge of the luncheon and Frances was the committee's secretary.
They got very involved in the Medal of Honor museum at 4th and Georgia Avenues. I visited with them many times at the museum as new items would arrive.
The Coolidges would invite the committee to their home for a meal after the parade. We would watch the accounts on TV. I was standing in the kitchen waiting to take another tray of sandwiches to the guests. In walks Mayor Gene Roberts. Frances said very abruptly, "Gene, don’t go anywhere, I have something for you, talk to Earl a minute." Frances went into her office and came back with a resolution she had found from the 40’s passed by the City Commission to build a park to honor her husband. Mayor Roberts took the resolution, read a little and responded, "Frances, I think it’s about time we get to work on this." Coolidge Park between the bridges is now a favorite place of many.
Mr. Coolidge believed in work. He went to the print company most every day until he was 95.
In 1986, Mr. Coolidge came on my radio program at WDOD and gave his story. It is now on YouTube and can be heard on the Happenings section of Chattanoogan.com. I was in the Coolidge home several times and ate lunch with them often at the Town and Country. Again, Charlie loved to share war stories with me and talk about his Army buddies. Ben Cagle took a picture of me relating the Coke story to my friend from high school.
Mr. Coolidge didn’t like to be called Mr. He was Charlie to everyone.
I remember the good times with the Coolidges, but there is a special memory. In 2000 I received an un-expected letter from my hero. I immediately called and thanked him. I told him I’d try to live up to what he had written.
Charles and Frances loved Ben Haden. They were regulars at First Presbyterian Church before declining health. He served on the church board and was a Sunday School teacher. He shared his faith with me many times. He said one time “he had to love the Lord, he died for me.” He told me how he loved his wife Frances and family. He was proud of them all.
For years Frances took him everywhere because walking became difficult. One day he got emotional telling me just how much Frances meant to him. He said he couldn’t wait to be re-united one day.
When I was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame, my friend called to congratulate me. He talked for several minutes although I remember his voice was very shaky. I want to thank Ben Cagle for making the picture with Charley, my friend. Notice his smile. I wish everyone could know Charles Coolidge that way I do.