At 90, Troy Joseph continues to shape his beloved Liberty Hill
(Posted: Dec. 7, 2009)
Troy Joseph is a BINGO caller at the VFW Post 8200. He is also an auctioneer and regularly conducts auctions for charitable causes.
Troy (right) participated in this year's Veterans Day ceremony. He served in the US Navy during World War II.
Troy spoke to the Austin news media last spring when WCESD#4 commissioners voted to terminate the district's contract with the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department -- an organization he helped create.
Troy volunteers almost every day at the Liberty Hill Information Center. The expert on all things Liberty Hill, if Troy doesn't know the answer, he sure knows how to sidetrack you with one good story after another until pretty soon you don't remember the original question. Troy (second from left) is pictured here with his good friends and Info Center regulars Hollis Baker (left), Mary Baker and Joe Davis (right).
From a chair outside the Liberty Hill Information Center, Troy Joseph watches over his beloved hometown.
As the cars pass, he offers a friendly wave often hearing the tap of a horn in response. He can no longer see their faces, but he knows that sometimes a friendly wave will slow folks down long enough to give them a closer look at their community and hopefully bring a smile in the process.
As Troy turns 90 this week, his view of the world and his determination to impact his small corner of it are just as clear and defined as they were when he was a younger man. While his eyesight has diminished with time, his clarity of vision and his memories of the past continue to shape his beloved Liberty Hill.
He lost his right eye when he was five years old. And although 85 years have passed, Troy remembers as if it were yesterday.
Some boys were playing mumblety-peg outside the Rock House Store, about a quarter-mile from his house. An older boy hoisted five-year-old Troy onto the unstable shoulders of another boy who was seated on the ground playing the knife-flipping game. Within seconds, Troy tumbled off the boy's shoulders and landed face down on an open fingernail knife that was stuck in the dirt. The knife pierced his right eye.
Troy's father took him by horse-drawn buggy to Scott & White Hospital in Temple where he stayed for two months as doctors worked to try to save his eye. That year, he spent Thanksgiving in the hospital and celebrated his sixth birthday there. Just before Christmas, his father persuaded doctors to let his son go home for Christmas.
"Everything was fine until New Year's Day when the temperature dropped to -4 degrees and stayed there for almost 10 days," he said.
Still weak from the ordeal, Troy "caught a cold" in his eye and infection set in. His father took him back to Temple where doctors confirmed his eye had deteriorated. He could either spend more time in the hospital hoping against the odds for a slight improvement, or he could have an artificial eye. He chose to have his eye replaced with an artificial one, leaving him with sight only in his left eye.
Seventy-three years later in 1997, Troy was diagnosed with matricular degeneration in his only working eye and since that time his vision has grown progressively worse. Today, he is able to see movement, but is not able to read or distinguish details unless the object is about four inches from his face.
But from his post downtown, Troy sees a lot. In fact, he may see more of Liberty Hill than those with perfect eyesight. After all, age and experience contribute to one's ability to put things in the proper perspective.
"I believed that the world would end in 2000," he said. "I never dreamed I would live this long. My age and the passing of time never meant anything to me."
Troy was born Dec. 8, 1919, in a house next to where he and his wife, Norma, live today in what was once known as the Rock House community. He rode a horse to Liberty Hill High School where he graduated in 1937. And although he attended the University of Texas intending to major in sociology, his fondest memories of college days are from the Longhorn Waffle Shop in downtown Austin where he worked as a short-order cook.
In 1942, he left school and joined the US Navy where once again his talent for cooking was put to good use. As a galley cook and chief petty officer on the USS Grant, he was stationed in the South Pacific. He was there when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
"I don't want to think or talk about that time in my life anymore. It's just too sad," he said. "But I will tell you this, whoever says they weren't scared during the war, probably wasn't there."
Troy said he thought he would finish his education after the war, but instead returned home and went into the construction business. He worked for a company that renovated the State Capitol and later moved to San Antonio where he worked 27 years for another construction company. While he would later start his own roofing business, it was during the time that he lived in San Antonio that he met Norma, the person he credits for making his life a "grand adventure."
Troy said he was on his way to Liberty Hill from San Antonio one evening when he stopped at a local watering hole. The place was filled with soldiers from Fort Hood who were taking turns dancing with a few ladies. It took Troy several hours to summon his courage to ask her for a dance, but he finally did, and 31 days later, they were married. It was 1958.
Liberty Hill has changed dramatically during Troy's lifetime, and many of the changes have whittled away at some of the character of a community that had its roots in rural Texas. While it is quickly becoming known as an Austin bedroom community, Liberty Hill was once the epicenter of commerce and cultural life for dozens of smaller communities in Central Texas. Troy remembers a day when downtown Liberty Hill flourished with businesses, and on weekends became the social center of activity for young and old alike.
"There was a time when there were three cotton gins down here running 24 hours a day," he said. "And on Saturdays, there were so many people walking downtown that it was hard to get from one place to another."
He doesn't know exactly how things look downtown today, but he can still see it when it was at its finest. He remembers when there were three grocery stores within the same city block, and two banks. One cotton gin was on the lot behind what is now Parker's Corner Market. When he was a boy, he remembers all of the cotton pickers who would come to Liberty Hill on Saturdays. Sometimes, things would get a little rowdy, he said. He can still hear the noise coming from the gin, although today one would be hard-pressed to find a cotton patch within 30 miles of Liberty Hill.
For 12 years, Troy served as President of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce. In fact, among the many honors he has received, it is the Chamber's Lifetime Achievement Award of which he is the most proud. The framed certificate hangs in a place of prominence inside the Information Center downtown where he spends so much of his time.
Today, he is wary of newcomers to The Hill who come seeking to make drastic changes that he perceives to be mostly for their own financial gain. In his view, many of those changes negatively impact the quality of life here. In fact, he has such strong feelings on the issue that he frequently shares them with those who ask and even those who don't ask.
"When new people come in and tell me how much they like my town, I tell them if they want to come in here and change things, they need to get on out of here and go back to where they came from," he said. "This is my town.
"I think there's a handful of people who don't like me," he smiled, as he named a few individuals who he thought he had become cross ways with over the years. "But there's never any question about what I think. If I have something to tell you, I'm not going to send you a message."
Troy admits he may be one of the few life-long Democrats left in this part of Williamson County. For 27 years, he served as Election Judge and started Voting Box 207 in Liberty Hill. Sometimes, he still volunteers as a Poll Watcher. He said Liberty Hill voted Democrat until 1982 when judges and county commissioners switched to the Republican Party along with most of the country.
"I can tell you the name of every Republican in town, but I don't have to name the Democrats because I can tell who they are by listening to them talk," he said.
Troy has had his share of political discussions with folks over the years, and still has what it takes to go head-to-head on today's top issues. Some of his favorite political arguments took place over a few rounds of dominoes. While he misses being able to play dominoes, it hasn't slowed his ability to be a voice for the working people. Although he has a strong interest in politics, he quickly adds that he never had an interest in running for office. However, he enjoys serving as an appointed member of the Liberty Hill Parks & Recreation Board where this year he has worked on a plan to develop City Park on CR 200.
Today, he uses his voice mostly to make a difference in the lives of young people who lose their way. Frequently, he is asked to counsel with those in trouble and says his greatest joy is to celebrate with them as they overcome hardships.
"If I can help you and you don't ask, then it's your fault," he says. "My life today is all about helping children. I want to try to keep them out of trouble."
Over the years, Troy has gone the distance to help those in his hometown who needed his help during the most difficult of times. He has raised money to help pay for heart and kidney transplants for two children, and helped raise more than $43,000 for Mayor Pro Tem Charles Canady after an electrical accident several years ago left him unable to work for an extended period of time.
Years ago, Troy played a key role in organizing the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department. Although he was never a firefighter, he regularly helped raise money for the department. Today, he says he is disheartened by the actions of a few who have spent the past year dismantling the organization that he gave so much to help build. He wasn't surprised when his daughter, Suzy Joseph, volunteered earlier this year to serve on the LHVFD Board of Directors vowing to keep it in place despite a somewhat hostile and extremely controversial takeover of the fire department by the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4.
"I don't know where she gets it from," he laughs, referring to his daughter's exuberance for righting wrongs.
When asked to reveal his secret to longevity, Troy laughs and says he has no secret.
In fact, doctors say Troy should have died after his first heart attack in 1976. It was the day after Thanksgiving and he and his wife were on their way home from his mother's house where they had celebrated with his family. As he was leaving the house, he said he wasn't feeling well. Suspecting that something was terribly wrong, his sister called for an ambulance.
"It felt like bad indigestion," he remembered. "We stopped at a convenience store and I got a 7-Up. I remember hearing that siren getting closer and I prayed that it was coming for me. Sure enough, it turned right into the parking lot."
At the hospital, doctors determined "the bottom lobe of my heart just blew up, and then it closed itself up," he said. "It closed by itself, and I still haven't had any operation on my heart."
Troy said his world became a little shaky earlier this year when his partner of 51 years broke both hips. Four years younger than Troy, his wife's recovery has been slow although he says in recent months, she seems to be making more progress. Close friends and family came quickly to support Norma and Troy in October after they learned of the sudden death of their 30-year-old granddaughter whom they had raised. The Josephs paid for the funeral using some of their life savings.
A community that takes care of each other is the hometown that Troy Joseph helped build. That's why it didn't take long for his VFW family to step up and offer to help. On Saturday, the VFW Post is hosting a Fish Fry on the Josephs' behalf, hoping proceeds will help defray some of the costs of that funeral.
For Liberty Hill residents whose days pass in a hurried blur of activities, it's an opportunity to say thanks for the friendly wave and the ever-present reminder of what makes our hometown special.