Faith stonecutter celebrates 100th birthday today

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2011

By Mark Wineka
FAITH — Wilbern C. Lingle is a product of the Depression, which is another way of saying he has always known how to make the most of every day.
A lifetime cutting stone. Roughly 50 years in the cotton mill. Serving his country in World War II. Every season, a huge vegetable garden. Devoted to his wife and two boys. Volunteering for his church and community.
“I know one thing — I worked hard all my life,” Lingle says.
This afternoon, some 160 people will gather at Faith Lutheran Church’s Family Life Center to celebrate Lingle’s 100th birthday.
The reception will last from 2-4 p.m., a sliver of time to recognize a century that has been solid as a rock.
The son of a farmer and stonecutter, Wilbern Lingle played as a boy with five brothers and friends such as Ty Barger, Jap Bame, Hick Bame and Claude and Leon Barger.
They climbed the boulders of eastern Rowan County and used their fathers’ discarded hammers, wedges and drill bits to practice cutting stone. All of them went into the business.
“All it takes is a strong back and a weak mind,” Lingle likes to say.
By age 16, Wilbern was cutting granite curbs for streets. By 19, with stone work drying up here, he headed with about 13 others from Faith to quarries in Georgia, finding work in Oglethorpe County in 1931.
The rooming house he stayed in happened to be across the street from Robert Turner’s family, which included daughter Annette Turner, a student at the Georgia State College for Women.
A romance developed between Wilbern and Annette. By September 1933 they married, and Wilbern already was showing his industrious side, raising a field of cotton besides working in the quarry. He sold it that November for 10 cents a pound and made an extra $44.
By 1935 Annette and Wilbern moved back to Faith and started a family. First came Ken, followed a couple of years later by Doug.
Wilbern Lingle still cut stone when the work was available, but in 1937, he also started manning the second shift at Cannon Mills Plant No. 1 in Kannapolis. Meanwhile, he and Annette bought a lot on South Main Street in Faith for $200, which they had to pay in installments to Cora Jones.
Wilbern soon set out hauling and cutting rock for a house, while buying other building materials from places Salisbury hardware stores. Receipts show — and Annette kept meticulous household records — that the Lingles’ new home cost $1,964 in materials.
Farmers and Merchants Bank gave the Lingles a $1,700 loan, which they paid off in five years.
The stone, which came from “Fisher Woods” in Faith was virtually free. M.G.M. Fisher said the only thing he wanted for a royalty payment was a bushel of Irish potatoes.
Lingle did everything with the stone for his house but lay it, a task left to mason David Fesperman.
The Lingles moved into their handsome stone house July 1, 1938.
Wilbern has said it will take dynamite for him to leave.
Ken and Doug remember their father would cut stone in the mornings, then come home for a lunch that often included a can of salmon, raw eggs in milk and something from the garden.
By 2:15 p.m., he was catching the mill bus to Kannapolis. The bus stopped right outside the front door.
He returned between 11:30 and 11:45 each night. In their teenage days, the boys knew that 11:30 p.m. was the “drop-dead time” for beating their dad home.
Doug recalls rushing into the house, retrieving a slice of cake from the kitchen and turning on the Jack Parr television show in the living room — all to give the appearance he had been relaxing at home when his father walked through the door.
At the mill, Lingle spent decades on a tenter frame, where the cloth for towels was stretched and dried as it came wet from the bleachery.
Lingle worked full-time until he was 62, then part-time for an additional 10 years to supplement his Social Security.
Lingle still draws a monthly mill pension of $45.37.
Because he was married, over 30 and with a family, Wilbern wasn’t drafted into World War II until April 12, 1944. He never had to leave the States before the war ended, but the Army left a serious impression.
During a training exercise, he was injured when a field artillery gun misfired and the explosion punctured an eardrum, causing a loss of some hearing.
His ears also absorbed the constant pounding associated with the machinery at Cannon Mills — years of industrial pollution, Ken says. Wilburn recognizes that he always has spoken louder than most people as a compensation for his deafness.
After the war, Wilbern remembers, people were building a lot of brick homes and wanting to finish things off with stone steps, sills, coping and mantels. They naturally came knocking on Lingle’s door, given his reputation for stonecutting.
“They were about to work me to death,” Lingle says, and he eventually gave in to his wife’s suggestion to visit their doctor in Salisbury. The physician told him to slow down and at least give up one of his jobs.
“I got to turning them down,” he says of all the visitors to the house. “Finally, by me turning them down, they quit coming.”
That doesn’t mean he stopped cutting stone for others completely. He cut his last bird bath for someone about 10 years ago. He cut the stone for the sign at East Rowan High. His stone handiwork fills his own backyard — the picnic table and stools, a gazebo, bird baths, flower pots, flower bed borders, walks and even the garage floor.
The gazebo is similar to one he built for Nazareth’s Children’s Home. It stands between two boulders — a monument he fashioned in 1983 and dedicated to “the young boys who drilled these holes learning a trade.” The boulders are filled with holes made by youngsters who were learning how to cut stone.
Wilbern always seemed to be doing something with stone.
“When I quit this job, I’m going to throw my tools in the well and quit,” he would always tell Annette, who knew it was a fib.
Ken Lingle credits his father’s longevity to good genes, staying active and a lifelong fondness for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Basically, it was hard work, a good, clean lifestyle and the support of a very good wife,” Doug adds. He also loved to fish.
The Lingles always had an incredible vegetable garden — about 1.5 acres, leading Wilbern to set up a small produce cart in a vacant lot across the road from his house.
He would put a cash box next to the produce and trust people stopping by to leave money for whatever they wanted.
In 1980, the Rowan County Agriculture Extension Service held a contest for the best vegetable garden in the county, and Lingle won. The prize was $45, donated by local garden shops.
Always fit from always moving, Wilbern Lingle has never really faced serious health issues, beyond high blood pressure. Doug says his father suffered a minor heart attack about three months ago, stayed in the hospital for two nights and was sent home to return to his daily routines.
“He was pretty well marked by the Depression,” Ken says. “He doesn’t throw anything away.”
Wilbern Lingle’s basement, attic and storage buildings are filled with things, even a 35-cent washboard Annette bought when they were first married.
“Mom and Dad were great accumulators,” Ken says.
When Ken and Doug say their father has good genes, they’re not kidding.
There were six Lingle boys and three Lingle girls. Wilbern, Ervin Jr., Marcus and Vernon Lingle survive among the brothers. James Lingle died in a 1979 traffic accident, and Elvis Lingle also has passed away.
Ervin lives right down the road from Wilbern. Marcus resides in Kannapolis; Vernon, in Elizabeth City.
Of the girls, Edna has died, but Virginia lives in Faith and Gilla in Columbia, S.C.
Today Ken lives in San Antonio, Texas, and Doug moved back to Rowan County last year after a career as a software engineer for Westinghouse in Maryland. Ken served 28 years in the Army, mainly with the Army Medical Department that included three years at the Pentagon.
Annette Lingle died in 2000 at the age of 88, leaving a void with Wilbern Lingle. It was a marriage for the ages — rock of ages, if you will.
“He says he still thinks about her every day,” Doug says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or