Wallas Hylton takes his 100th birthday on tour

Published 11:14 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

SALISBURY — A couple of months ago, a sign on the door of Troyer’s Amish Market said the store was hiring.

Never one to miss an opportunity for a good laugh, the then 99-year-old Wallas Hylton told owner J.R. Troyer he was applying.

Troyer loved the idea as much as Wallas. He told Hylton to stand behind the counter next to the cash register, took his picture and sent it to father-in-law Jeff Cook, who usually mans that spot.

“You’ve been replaced,” J.R.’s text to Cook said.

The men all laughed about it again Tuesday as the Wallas Hylton Birthday Tour hit full throttle with Wallas chuckling, hugging, shaking hands, chatting and eating birthday cake at every stop.

If you haven’t heard — and few people haven’t — Tuesday was Wallas’ 100th birthday.

There were three official stops on the birthday tour — Checkered Flag for breakfast, Troyer’s for lunch and Stitchin’ Post Gifts in the late afternoon.

At each place, friends, family and well-wishers surrounded him. There were stacks of cards, several gift bags, scads of balloons, too many stories and too much cake.

The tour started Saturday with a family gathering at Bethany Chapel Church on Stokes Ferry Road. It continued with breakfast at the Waffle House on East Innes Street, where Wallas always goes on Sunday mornings.

The Waffle House district manager made a point to show up. The staff presented Wallas an official employee identification badge that said he has been a “team member” since 1994.

“When I drive up and they see my car, they put my waffle on then,” Wallas said, explaining how he likes his waffle pretty brown — 5 minutes, 5 seconds, to be exact.

Sunday, he also received a company hat with the “WH” initials, which can stand for Waffle House or Wallas Hylton — your pick.

Through word of mouth and social media, folks knew they could catch Wallas on Tuesday at Checkered Flag, where he meets daughter Pam Hylton Coffield and son Bill Hylton every morning, Monday-Saturday.

If you didn’t catch him at Checkered Flag, Troyer’s provided the next opportunity from 1 to 2 p.m., then Pam’s business, Stitchin’ Post Gifts on South Main Street, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

There were six birthday cakes total since Saturday, including four on Tuesday alone. Pam said she was worried she hadn’t done enough for a 100th birthday, but Wallas wasn’t complaining.

At Troyer’s alone, the people stopping by included Nina Williams, customer service manager at his favorite Food Lion, and the owners of Father & Son Produce, where he likes to shop about once a week, especially for pickled beets.

Williams and cashier Annette Tate are two of his favorites at Food Lion, and he keeps up with their schedule, making sure they’re at work when he goes for groceries.

If Wallas decides to stay in the car, the Food Lion women walk out to the parking lot just to see him.

Matt Peachey stopped by Wallas’ table at Troyer’s to wish him well. Peachy was celebrating his 30th birthday Tuesday, and someone noted for the record that Wallas was only 70 when Matt was born.

Having a sandwich across from Wallas was a former co-worker of his at Goodyear Tire and the old Brad Ragan company, Bill Jones. They were trading several work stories.

“I’ve known Wallas for a little over 50 years,” said Jones, who drove over from Lexington.

A co-worker from their days in Salisbury, Elaine Shuping, made it a point to leave her job in Troutman so she could visit with Wallas at Troyer’s.

“He’s just an absolute wonderful man,” Shuping said. “They just don’t come any better. He’s just one of those people you never forget, and he’s touched people in such a positive way.”

Wallas Hylton isn’t your typical 100-year-old. He embraced the computer age. He has a smartphone and an iPad. He regularly uses email and sends texts.

He has a Facebook page and uses Quicken to keep track of his personal finances.

With the help of his children and caregivers Michelle, Bobbie, Teresa and Sheila, who also celebrated with him Tuesday, Wallas still lives in his Statesville Boulevard home.

He is both a cancer and heart attack (1998) survivor. In 2017, he tested the odds at 97 years of age and was the oldest patient to undergo a new procedure for replacing a blocked heart valve.

After that surgery and as a regular routine at 11 every morning, Wallas still does exercises that require him to move about every limb and joint. Pam said he also took seriously some speech therapy after recovering from pneumonia.

“He’s a very, very unique person, that’s for sure,” she said.

For walking, Wallas relies on a walker, cane, or sometimes neither one. He has stopped driving — though his license is good until 2022 — and he said maybe that was for the best.

“I think it was smart,” he said. “It’s hard for me to remember anything. I might forget where the brakes are.”

He laughed at that.

Wallas was born in Willis, Virginia, and he confides he doesn’t know how his parents came up with the name “Wallas,” which isn’t the traditional spelling.

“I guess my parents couldn’t spell,” he said, and Pam notes his name is misspelled on his birth certificate. Of course, people also want to go with the more common spelling of “Hilton” over “Hylton.”

“I’ve had to spell my name my whole life,” he said.

Wallas and his wife, Margaret, were married for 76 years before her death in 2017. He describes their years together in her words — wild, wooly and wonderful — and he credits a good marriage and a great work experience as good reasons he has lived this long.

“He laughed his way to 100,” someone at his lunchtime table said.

Wallas met Margaret in Roanoke, Virginia, when he was a sales clerk at a Montgomery Ward store. He later went to work for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. but was drafted in 1942 during World War II.

Wallas went off to basic training in Oregon, but the rheumatic fever he had as a child left him with a weakened heart and led to a medical discharge.

He returned home to manage a Goodyear Tire store in Covington, Virginia, then Lynchburg, followed by stores in three different towns in Georgia. Meanwhile, he and Margaret had three children — Warren, Bill and Pam.

Warren, who had a successful billboard business in Augusta, Georgia, died of brain cancer several years ago.

The Hyltons moved to Salisbury in 1960 when Wallas joined Brad Ragan and his growing Carolina Tire Co., affiliated with Goodyear. He became assistant general manager for retail in charge of the Salisbury store and six others in the region.

Pam, who opened her downtown Salisbury store in 1975, probably learned some of her skills as a merchant and merchandiser from her father.

“He’s still a sounding board for me,” Pam said, also describing that her father had a caring spirit and heart when it came to business, and that served him well.

Overall, Wallas Hylton had a 50-year connection to Goodyear tires. By the time he retired, his former Salisbury operation had moved to Charlotte, and he was carpooling there at the age of 79, actually having a blast on the trip every day, he will tell you.

Wallas is a big fan of President Donald Trump, and Pam was holding out hope that maybe the president would give her father a call on his 100th birthday.

She had made a request, but realized Tuesday morning that Trump has some big things on his plate. “I just heard he got out of the U.N.,” Pam said with a laugh.

But if anyone rates a call from the president, it’s Wallas Hylton.

Otherwise, be careful. He might apply for the job.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.