Mr. Olan CryerSeptember 29, 1925 ~ July 22, 2017 (age 91)
Olan’s life basically was divided into 3 parts, each centering around a different location. The first was the Hartselle and Decatur area in Alabama, the second was Pontiac, Michigan and third was Apopka, Florida.
OLAN BOYD CRYER was born in Hartselle, Alabama, on 29 September 1925. That was in the middle of the Roaring Twenties, but only four short years from the beginning of the Great Depression. He was the oldest of 5 children: there was Olan (“Boney”), Aubie, Ollie (“Beauty”), Mildred (“Mert”), and Novil (“Sister”).
His parents were Homer Cryer and Delia Walker who married after both had lost their spouses due to childbirth and illness, respectively. On Homer’s side there was Mertal, Leroy and the twins, O’Lean and Paulene and well as Azalie. Delia had two children names Vida and Edna. So Dad had several much older siblings, but not much was spoken about them, except O’lean who was his Florida connection.
During the Depression the family lost almost everything, surviving through sharecropping and farming small plots of land they owned/rented. A cow, a hog, and chickens together with a garden for vegetables kept the family alive and together. There wasn’t much else. Dad mentioned once or twice that getting an orange was one of the few Christmas treats. Another huge Christmas gift would be a pair of shoes so he could walk to school.
Though Delia thought school was important, Homer emphasized work as more important: farming or picking cotton always needed extra hands to buy those things you couldn’t grow. As a result, after 8th grade, he stopped school.
In his teenage years, the Cryer and the Wiggington families became close--there were 13 children in the Wiggington clan. One in particular, Juanita Wigginton, became the apple of his eye. In 1944, when Olan was 18 and Juanita 16, he enrolled in the army. He, along with his 5 future brothers-in-laws--Arnold, Bill, Cohen, Charlie and Curtis--joined the troops who fought in World War II.
Checking dates on enlistment/discharge papers and marriage certificates, Dad went into boot camp (Texas, I think) in August of 1944, came home on leave in late October, asked for and was grudgingly granted permission to marry Juanita on Halloween of that same year. He was soon thereafter “shipped out” to Okinawa but luckily just missed the horrific battle of Hacksaw Ridge. He was there until August 1946 and got out of the Army in October 1946.
After returning from the war he apprenticed and became a journeyman carpenter. He worked on several construction projects around the Decatur, Alabama area until work dried up in the late 40s. Of course, I also came along in May of 1948 which probably added to the concerns about supporting the family. Sizing up the situation, in 1952 he headed for the factories in Michigan, along with about 8 to 10 other siblings, brothers-in-law, cousins and their families.
Dad began working for GM Truck and Coach in Pontiac Michigan in the spring of 1952. We lived in a total of 4 houses over a period of 30 years in Michigan. Beginning with a rental, he and Juanita saved enough money to buy a house. Every house had a garden filled with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and turnips.
Dad worked from 5:30 am to 2:30 p.m. and usually overtime. All the coaches (intercity and Greyhound buses) in the 1950s and early 1960s had linoleum flooring laid by Olan. When his hands and knees began to feel the stress of this work, he was able to move into Material Control. He finished his 30-year career coordinating the computer controlled storage and retrieval of engines and transmissions for the GMC and Chevrolet pickup truck assembly plant in Pontiac. When he finished work each day, he would load up the lawn mowers and cut grass as a side business. Mom also worked for a while at the Pontiac Motors Plant while I was in school but juggling everything was difficult. Mom was an excellent cook and we always had relatives in and out who were visiting, coming north to find work or just enjoying the mutual southern hospitality.
Mom started having health problems in the late 60’s which was related to cancer. We lost her in 1973 at the age of 46. It affected both Dad and I for years. We tried to keep busy though and life goes on. I was also meeting a nice young lady by the name of Barbara.
Dad also began dating again after a couple of years.
In 1982 Dad took the UAW’s “30-and-out” option and retired from GM Truck and Bus, as it was called then. But it was clear that Dad was looking for more of a challenge.
I can’t remember exactly what year it was, sometime after 1982 that he started visiting his sister O’lean, who had been living in Apopka, Florida, with her husband Charles George since 1948 (the year I was born). A couple of weeks stay the first year turned into a month stay the second year and then a whole winter. This snowbird stuff wasn’t too bad. Eventually, he sold the house in Michigan and moved full time to Apopka.
At first he rented a lot along highway 441 and bought a 5th wheel trailer to live in. I helped him (with our GM discount) purchase a beautiful Chevrolet crew-cab, dually pickup and he traveled the country. He eventually settled down and purchased a lot in the Yogy Bear Trailer Park and Campgrounds. But one was just not enough. He spotted other deals he just couldn’t resist. At the peak of his buying and selling, he had 15 lots and no doubt others in the pipeline. The art of the deal was his true calling; he enjoyed “wheeling and dealing,” as he called it, but also interacting with snowbirds, renters from all over the country and Canada who came south. The Park Community was welcoming and he loved talking and joking and helping out on potlucks and dances among other things. When dancing nights were organized he was sure to be found at the center of things, especially if it was a Country Western band. He was also a faithful worker at the Zellwood Corn Festival.
The final part of the fulfilling life he found in Florida came through participation in the Methodist Church Community in Apopka. He was proud to be an usher at the church for many years and truly enjoyed the wonderful community at the church, several were life-long friends. He never looked spiffier than going to Sunday Services, which he almost never missed.
When the challenges of life became a little too much to handle, he settled at the Brookdale Senior Living facility in Ocoee where he found excellent caretakers.
Almost anyone will tell you Olan was a unique guy who didn’t mince words; he was a born entrepreneur who loved gardening and interacting with others.