Tom & Elizabeth Dodd, Jr.
Permission granted by JoAnne Mcknight to reprint this article & Photo.
In 2009, I interviewed Tom and Lib Dodd about their life in Semmes--about their memories, the changes, their contributions to the community, and what they received in turn. I completed the story and submitted it to the Mobile Press Register to run in our neighborhood news. Mr. Dodd died on May 7th, just before the article was to run. I postponed the story until I could talk to Ms. Lib; I was prepared to cancel it completely.
But over lunch at a Mexican Restaurant near Semmes, I apologized to Ms. Lib because the article did run before Mr. Tom's death. I asked her what she thought I should do with the piece, and the gracious, kind and generous Ms. Lib, the matriarch of Semmes, said, "Whatever you want to do is all right with me, honey."
With a few edits to acknowledge Mr. Tom's death, the story did run in MPR.
With the Semmes Camellia Festival coming up on Saturday, January 27 at Semmes First Baptist Church, 4070 Wulff Road, it seems fitting to, again, recognize the Dodds' contributions to Semmes' designation as "The Nursery Capital of the World."
It was 1941, and World War II was raging in Europe when Tom and Lib Dodd got married. He was a student at Auburn University, which she attended, too, in the summer.
They left school without graduating because of the war, and came to Semmes, where the Dodd family had a nursery business. And for 68 years, they were mainstays in the community they loved.
Tom Dodd, horticulturist, nurseryman and community leader, died at Mobile Infirmary in Mobile on May 7. He wasa 94. A few weeks before his death, he and Lib sat down in their dining room for an interview about their lives and memories, which read like a history book--a chronicle of a community on the move.
Tom Dodd was born in the Orchard community of Mobile, around the intersection of Cody, Howell's Ferry and Overlook roads.
"We moved to Semmes in 1920, when I was 5," Dodd recalled of his family. "My daddy's sister had married a nurseryman, and they (the sister and her husband) established a nursery in Orchard. When the husband died, Dodd's father became partners with his sister in Dodd and Welch Nursery. The elder Dodd later bought out his sister; the name was changed to Dodd Nursery and the business sustained the family for several decades.
In telling about some of his early life, Tom Dodd remembers going to school at age 6, attending classes in the little one-room 1902 schoolhouse that now sits back on its original site on Wulff Road.
"Mrs. Augusta Mizell from Wilmer was my first-grade teacher," Dodd said. School Board policy at the time forbade teachers from working in the communities in which they lived, so Wilmer residents usually taught in nearby Semmes and vice versa, he said.
One memory that stood out in Tom Dodd's mind--and the telling of which amused his wife--was the tale of "the custodian who smoked a pipe."
Not only did the cleaning woman show up at the school with a pipe clinched between her teeth, she brought her pig with her. Her name is lost to time now, but Tom Dodd remembered the janitor rumaging through for discarded turnip greens and biscuits. Even in those tough times, he said, students couldn't always stomach turnip greens.
"The pig," he recalled, "would sit there and eat, and if you came up and scratched its stomach, it would lie down (stretching out on its back to make the scratching easier.) When the custodian finished cleaning, she'd take her pig and go back home"
Tom Dodd graduated from Murphy High School about 1934. "My brother drove a car and we just filled it up with people who wanted to go to school. We even dropped off one student at Spring Hill College," he said.
Another recollection that tickled Lib Dodd is how her husband paid for the first year of college.
As he related the story, "It was the Depression. I went down to Spring Hill and told them I wanted to go to school but was waiting for my brother, Steve, to graduate so we could go to Auburn and room together."
He didn't have tuition, he said, but his family being farmers, he did have something to bargain with. "So," he said, "I told them 'I don't have any money, so can I trade syrup for school?'" He did that for two semesters. Some of the students complained, though, about having to eat syrup so often."
Tom Dodd went to Auburn's school of horticulture, but WWII cut short his college education. However, he did not serve in the military. He had six brothers in the service at one time, and he was deferred because he was the oldest and farming was important to the economy.
Mrs. Dodd worked in the nursery office Tom grew plants and built up the business.
"He really had a good eye for the beauty of a plant. And when he'd see something he liked, he would take cuttings and propagate it, introducing it into the nursery," Mrs. Dodd said.
Lib Dodd did all the things Semmes mothers did back then--helped raise money for football fields and playgrounds, volunteered in the schools, worked at the Camellia Festival.
But there were changes in Semmes--new roads, new schools. And the Dodds became concerned with how many historic buildings were being destroyed in the name of progress.
"We've lost some beautiful things out here, a beautiful old hotel," Lib Dodd said.
She, along with others of a like mind, balked at letting the old school that Tom Dodd attended as a little boy become just a memory. That century-old school, in continuous use for its entire lifetime, sits alongside a reconstructed Malone Chapel in Semmes Heritage Park on Wulff Road.
Though the Dodds had a love and appreciation for things past, they were just as thrilled with some of the changes that have taken place fairly recently--new schools, new library, a community center, a solid reminder of the community's motto: Remembering our Past as we Look to the Future."
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