- Cullman, Alabama

February 11, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: Chester Freeman remembered

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — It has been my great, good fortune to have met Chester Freeman — not as many times as I would have liked — but enough to know that I was speaking to someone I would remember for the rest of my life.

A  decorated veteran of World War II, Freeman was a candy salesman for 28 years, owning his own company for much of that time.

He was a humble man. He spoke softly, but what he said carried a great weight. He was Cullman’s biggest cheerleader, a man who worked tirelessly and selflessly for the betterment of the community which he loved.

He greeted every person he met with a smile and spoke to them as if they were the most important person he would meet that day.

He was member of the Lion’s Club, involved in St. Andrews Methodist Church, which he attended since 1948, was involved in the Cullman County Industrial Development Board, and the Chamber of Commerce. For 32 years he was Chairman of the Advisory Board at Wallace State Community College.

Freeman was instrumental in bringing industry and business to Cullman in the 1950s as part of a team of enterprising businessmen who had a passion for seeing Cullman prosper. They were known as the “Flying 50” and they traveled wherever they could to promote Cullman County and all of its attributes. Their accomplishments made Cullman what we see today, a thriving industrial, agricultural, recreational and business community. Without the vision of men like Chester Freeman, Cullman might have been just another little town along the railroad line.

He was also involved with the Parks and Recreation Department from its inception in the early ’70s,  and a member of the National Park and Recreation Trustees, which oversees the national parks in the United States and Canada.

He brought to Cullman the idea of a park for handicapped citizens. Having seen one like it on his trips for the National Park system, he thought to himself, “We can do this in Cullman…”

Freeman looked at several models for the Field of Miracles, but was adamant that the one in Cullman be center of activity, and not pushed to one side. He made sure that it was located in the hub of the park. He wanted no one left behind….

I once asked Mr. Freeman how in the world he raised the money for the Field of Dreams in such a relatively short time. “It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he replied. “People wanted to help. We had a lot of lunches where I would explain the concept, and everyone was anxious to be a part of the project.”

He was an advocate of so many worthwhile projects for this community. His work with Sight Conservation is legendary, and has helped many people. “I’ve been able to be with kids when they could see for the first time,” he said in awe.  

“I’ve had the privilege of working with really good people,” he said. “It’s been interesting. I’ve always appreciated the support from the community.”

And this community is truly indebted to Chester Freeman. He didn’t seek the public glory as some might have, he didn’t boast or brag of his accomplishments. He didn’t work to see his name above the gates of a park — it’s there because of his hard work and dedication behind the scenes — and because he was deserving of the honor.

He will be mourned and missed by his loving family: His wife, Hilda, two children, Carolyn, who is married to Dr. Bill Peinhardt, and Dr. Phil Freeman, and his wife, Patti, and six wonderful grandchildren whom he adored.

The world will be a lesser place without Chester Freeman. He was a gentle soul, a perfect example of the edict in the Bible that we should love our neighbor.

His spirit left us at the dawn of a new day. I like to think of him walking up to the pearl-studded gates, being greeted by a James Earl Jones voice that says “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I’m quite sure that Heaven is a little sweeter this morning, now that Chester Freeman has arrived.