By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
Business legend Jerry Pelham carried his title - "Auto Salvage King of the Midsouth" - into eternity as he rests in the bosom of Riverside Gardens Cemetery now, overlooking meandering Stone's River that runs through the heart of his beloved Middle Tennessee.
Before there was the nationally-acclaimed Arts Center of Cannon County, there was Pelham's Auto Salvage … a business that helped make Woodbury and Cannon County known throughout multiple states during the past half-century.
Mr. Pelham, who died Dec. 5 at age 69 with cancer and other illnesses, opened his junk yard, at age 13, during the mid-part of last century.
"There's no man in Tennessee, who has bought more junked vehicles than Jerry Pelham," confirmed Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick. "That's how he got known as the 'Auto Salvage King of the Midsouth,' which helped put Woodbury and Cannon County on the map too, before we became known as a tourist destination with places like the Arts Center and the Short Mountain Distillery."
Pelham's junk yard business has been known throughout the Southeast since 1958, when, he took out his first business license at the Cannon County Courthouse.
"That's when Jerry started Pelham's Salvage on March 13, 1958," noted Richard Bogle, Pelham's son-in-law who started working at Pelham's Salvage Yard as a young man when he married Amy Pelham, Jerry's daughter. "I was 21 when I married Amy, at age 17, when she finished high school. My first job was to pull an LTD Ford's trunk lid. I've worked at various other jobs that Jerry assigned me."
The Pelham legend lives on, since the family plans on taking Pelham's Auto Salvage into the new century.
"We plan on carrying the business forward, just like Jerry wanted," Bogle added. "His brother, Bill Pelham, still works the front desk with sales. My wife Amy and her sister, Angela, handle the bookkeeping aspect of the business. Angela and her husband, Billy Rogers, remain in the operation…our business going into 2014, employs 10 fulltime people, and one part-time person."
Jerry Pelham was known on multiple fronts in his native county, where he was born the son of the late Noah and Alice Phillips Pelham.
"I knew Jerry up close the past four years as a fellow Cannon County Road Commissioner," described Doyle Duke. "But I've known Jerry all of my life, knowing him as a generous man, sometimes to total strangers. With today's modern internet and computers, it's safe to say Jerry Pelham is known throughout the U.S., especially in the Southeast."
Jerry Pelham was first elected to a two-year road commissioners' term in 1974. He lost his bid for re-election in 1976, but was then re-elected in 1984.
"Jerry has served continuously on the road commission since 1984," accounted Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon. "He remained a road commissioner until his passing, and he will be greatly missed, especially for his generosity."
The following is only one of the legends born at Pelham's Auto Salvage, located at 3214 Jim Cummings Highway.
"Jerry's son Terry was in the back of the building while still in diapers," confirmed Bogle. "Legend has it that Jerry, the father, had sold an engine to this out-of-state man, and when they walked back to get the engine, Terry was standing there, in diapers, with wrenches in hand, where he had dismantled the entire engine. Jerry had to keep the engine that day. And Terry and his wife Sue remain integral parts of the operation."
Although known as a legendary businessman and as an elected official, Mr. Pelham is also noted for his charitable nature.
"Jerry Pelham helped out strangers, in addition to those he knew who needed help," Road Commissioner Duke added.
"Jerry Pelham is known for his generosity throughout our community," accounted County Executive Gannon. "No telling the dollars he gave away when folks he knew didn't have the $20 to pay for their used part needed for their farm truck."
"Jerry Pelham meant a whole lot more than just a road commissioner and businessman," added Mayor Patrick. "He sponsored a lot of events for youth especially. He's the type man who affected the entire community. And will be greatly missed."
Family and friends said their final farewell on Dec. 8 with his funeral at Woodbury Church of Christ, with arrangements by Woodbury Funeral Home.
In addition to his children, Terry, Angela and Amy, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joyce R. Pelham, plus siblings Faye Abercrombie of McMinnville, and Ronnie Pelham, Joe Pelham and Bill Pelham, all of Woodbury.
Grand and great grandchildren survivors include Britney Reynolds, Chase Bogle, Alexis Pelham, Cameron Bogle and Bryleigh Reynolds.
He was a Lindsey-Jennings Fellowship recipient of the Woodbury Lions Club. The Lindsey-Jennings Fellowship is the highest honor that the Lions of Tennessee use to recognize individuals who have demonstrated their unselfish service to mankind.
Donations can be made in Jerry Pelham's name to the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and Alzheimer's Association.