By MICAH HENRY
Grover Sharpe, age 88, of Hiddenite, recently retired from the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office after 48 years of service. Friends, co-workers, and family gathered to wish him well during a reception at Alexander County Courthouse on Friday, August 11, 2023.
In a recorded 2022 interview with Jon Carpenter, Grover told about his early life and his many roles of service to the community in manufacturing, fire service, and law enforcement.
Grover recalls an early memory of living in a home with another family when he was very small. The home was in Hiddenite near the James Paul Lucas mansion. Mr. Lucas was living at that time and had six beautiful bird dogs. One person who lived with the Sharpes had a cat and the cat went up along the top of the fence by Mr. Lucas’ house but it didn’t escape the dogs’ notice. “By the time the cat hit the ground, it was in 8 or 10 different parts; those dogs tore it all to pieces.”
One of his earliest jobs was catching rabbits.
“I sold that guy rabbits that lived there. If I caught them in a gum, I got 15 cents for them, skinned and ready to cook. If I shot ’em, I just got a dime, because it tore the meat up.”
He went to Hiddenite School and in high school played as second baseman on the baseball team. After high school, Grover worked as a curb hop in Hiddenite for 50 cents an hour.
An older friend of his worked in the mill in Stony Point, which later became Dickey Worsted Mill.
A job came open down there in the lab and he took Grover down there. Grover’s friend had told the manager that Grover was the best in his class. “Holy mackerel!” Grover thought. “The plant manager was a retired Army person. He made my friend nervous. The manager talked to me a few minutes. Then the manager called down to Hiddenite High School and checked on me.”
Thankfully, the principal highly recommended Grover and praised his math skills.
Grover apparently was always mature for his age. “I never was young. They said I was born old. I never did go through the teenage thing like everybody else does,” he said.
At the mill, Grover had to check moisture content and other lab specs, but he enjoyed the work. The first shift supervisor showed Grover how to do the layout of the plant and soon Grover took on that responsibility. A new superintendent came to the plant and liked Grover.
“I’d do anything they asked me to do. I was trying to learn,” he stated. “I’d been there maybe a month and they wanted me to start running their samples. We had to run a color that had a bunch of different fibers in it. Had to spin it into yarn and knit it into little sock-like things, and send it to the customer. That was one of my extra jobs.”
The next thing that came along, Grover had to figure out the best distance from one fiber roller to the next, to eliminate twists. He was able to do that, too.
About six weeks passed, and management asked Grover if he wanted to become a supervisor.
“I said, ‘I’m ten years younger than anybody in this whole plant!’” The superintendent felt Grover could do the job and wanted him to re-start the dormant third shift. Grover objected, saying he didn’t know anything about hiring people. The superintendent said, “You’ll learn.”
“I had sense enough to get experienced people when I could. If I had to train them, I’d either get an older person or a young person. The young people, nobody would hire because they were too young. The old people, they wouldn’t hire them because they were too old. But the old people make the best employees. What they do, they do right, and they don’t lay out, they’re always there,” said Grover.
After supervising for six to eight months on the third shift, the plant manager quit. They asked Grover if he would look after the job until they found someone else. He agreed, so he became the plant manager for about six months.
After that, every time the company replaced a supervisor, Grover would have to step in and do the job until a new one was hired.
“I just circulated all the time. And I was learning all the time,” Grover said. “I became friends with a guy that worked where the product started through the plant, in the blending process. He was tickled to death to help me. We stayed friends probably 30 years.”
“In the meantime, one of the superintendents they hired, he knew how to play golf, drink whiskey, and drink coffee, but he didn’t know a thing in the world about running the mill. One time, the superintendent went to play golf, played for a week somewhere.
“Of course, I had to run it while he was gone. He got a hand-knitting yarn order that lasted eight years, on the golf course. That plant was for wool yarn before that. We started making hand-knitting yarn, all different colors. Somehow, he convinced the owners that we could make that somewhere else cheaper than we could make it there. So we wound up starting a plant in Hiddenite, making the hand-knitting yarn. We hauled it from down there on big twister bobbins. We took it off that and made it nice, put it in little teeny skeins, and shipped it out.
The plant manager’s son went to college with a man whose family was in sales of hand-knitting yarn. “So, we got that business eventually. The older guy came up and we discussed things. We shook hands and ran the thing 48 years on a handshake. That guy sold everywhere. We finally got Walmart, five thousand stores. We would ship some days 400 cartons, some days 1,500 cartons,” Grover said.
The plant had to be flexible and fill the orders quickly, even the large ones. A trucking company kept an empty trailer there at the plant, ready for loading. Orders would come in by computer in the morning and would have to be filled and shipped out that night.
Grover had the overlapping responsibilities of running the Stony Point plant and was a full partner in the De Vries Brothers Company in Hiddenite for several decades. The latter plant made hand knitting yarns.
He also had a construction crew, remodeling and building houses. Grover started a furniture company, Community Furniture.
During the same time, Grover was a fireman for the Hiddenite Fire Department for 50 years, including 39 years as chief.
“I was the youngest chief,” Grover recalls. “They waited on me to be 21 so I could take over the fire department.”
He generally got along very well with the fire department board.
“They had a board of directors, who overrode me one time. I always liked a red truck. They had a new yellow thing come out, it was better, colorwise, for traffic. That was the only time they overrode me in all those 39 years.”
He was vice-president of the Alexander County Firemens Association, too.
Life as a deputy
Grover worked under five sheriffs of Alexander County: Tom Bebber, Ray Warren, Hayden Bentley, Chris Bowman, and Chad Pennell. Grover related that he first became a deputy about 1975 because sometimes motorists would run over the fire hoses when the fire trucks were on a scene and he wanted to prevent that. There were only three deputies to cover the entire county back then.
“I went to school, not to be a deputy, but I just wanted the authority to keep somebody off my [fire] hoses. But that didn’t last. The Sheriff, Tom Bebber, and his detective, Ray Warren, came down to my house one day and said, ‘We need you to be a deputy a while.’ I said, ‘I don’t have time to be a deputy.’ Bebber and Warren told him, ‘We just want you for 30 days. We have several young people and they need to be trained. We’ve got to have somebody older to do it.’ So, they finally talked me into it. Thirty days, new car, whatever I wanted. New outfits, belts, and everything. They gave me the rank of sergeant to start with.”
At the end of the thirty days, they asked Grover to stay another thirty days.
“I said, ‘My wife’s mad at me now. She never did get over that, me taking that job. She was afraid I was going to get killed.’”
He went on to work 15 years as a full-time deputy, even while working in the yarn plants, running the furniture business, and as Hiddenite fire chief.
“I can think of all that now and I can’t believe it myself,” said Grover.
Most sheriff’s office calls involved domestic disputes, he recalled.
“You didn’t have the trouble you have now,” he said. “They were decent people; they’d just get out of line once in a while.”
A solemn approach to his job helped get things done. “If someone had a warrant against him, I’d tell him to come in the next morning and take care of it, and they did. It wasn’t any problem.”
Throughout his law enforcement career, Grover only had to pull his gun twice, once was on his own friend, up along Vashti Road. A young man had run out of the friend’s house and Grover’s friend was hot on his heels, carrying a .357 pistol, shouting, “I’ll kill you, you SOB!” Grover hollered and told the friend to put down the gun, the friend refused and turned around, pointing the gun at Grover. But Grover told him again and he said, “You won’t shoot me.” Then Grover said once more, “This is the last time I’m telling you, lay it down.”
“I brought him to jail. And when we went to the café to eat breakfast in Hiddenite, he was there, and we talked,” Grover laughed. “But boy, that was a hairy situation.”
Another time, a fight broke out in the courthouse lobby. State Troopers and other officers rushed in. Grover ran up the steps and simply said, “Guys, cut it out!” And the men stopped, because they knew Grover.
One time, Grover stopped a car which was traveling 65 mph in a 45 mph zone. In the back seat was N.C. Governor Jim Hunt, who stated he was late to a meeting. Grover told the Governor, “The people of Alexander County will wait for you. You’re setting a bad example.” Grover didn’t ticket the driver, but warned him to slow down. Later that year, Grover went to Raleigh and played horseshoes with Gov. Hunt. Grover won two out of the three matches against the governor. The speeding incident was never mentioned.
Deputy Arthur Duncan recalls working with Grover on the same shift. Arthur began with the department in 1986.
One time, a man over on Rocky Face Mountain was shooting a gun and causing problems. Arthur and Grover responded. “I turned on the blue light, blew the siren, and got out. I heard this guy say, ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ I said, ‘Sheriff’s Department.’ He said, ‘I don’t care who you are. I’m gonna kill you.’ I said, ‘All right. You hold that thought for just a minute.’ I called Grover and said, ‘Are you up on the mountain road?’ Grover said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I got this guy that wants to kill me and I’d like for you to meet him.’ He said, ‘I’ll be there in a minute.’
Arthur kept talking to the suspect, trying to talk him down but making no headway. Grover arrived shortly thereafter, got out of his car, reached in the back seat, took out his shotgun, racked a round into the chamber, and said, ‘Let’s go get him!’
“Grover never did step back. He was with me anytime and all the time. We have been good friends for a lifetime,” Arthur related.
Politics and civic service
For a time, Grover served as Chairman of the Alexander County Democratic Party. He also held office on the precinct level.
Grover, along with running mates J.M. Lackey and Mack Treadway, (the latter two being incumbents) ran on the Democratic ticket in 1978 for Alexander County Commissioner but were unsuccessful.
He served on the board of directors of Alexander County Water Corporation and was county representative with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.
The family dog, Sergeant, liked Grover and his pickup. When Grover left to go to work, Sergeant would run across through fields and make a beeline to the plant in Hiddenite. If a trucker would come to the plant early, he wouldn’t get out of the truck because Sergeant would utter a growl and wouldn’t let anyone close to Grover.
Another family dog, Roxie, was very smart. She could be told to get in her lot and would run to the lot and sit there until someone came to close the gate. She even learned how to unlock the gate!
Grover was married to the late Shirley Morrison Sharpe. They had two sons, Tommy and Jeff. Lt. Jeff Sharpe retired with 29 years of service to the Alexander Sheriff’s Office a few years ago.