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Auburn’s oldest living alumnus celebrates 105th birthday

And many mooooooore: William H. Holley, Auburn's oldest living alumnus, celebrated his 105th birthday yesterday. Here he is as an Auburn freshman in the 1927 Glomerata. Carpe Diem.

When he walked at graduation William H. Holley, like many before and since, shook the hand of the university’s president, Dr. Bradford Knapp. At that time the president lived in Cater Hall. The governor was Bibb Graves. Know those names?

The oaks at Toomer’s hadn’t been planted yet. Toomer’s Drugs was still competing with Homer Wright as the local top druggist. (Wright’s phone number: Nine.) S.L. Toomer simply referred to his place as The Store On The Corner.

Screen cap from a WDHN story on Holley's birthday party.

Obligatory sports references: George Bohler was coaching both the football and basketball teams that year. The football team was 1-8, beating only Howard College. Snitz Snider — Olympic track star and future high school football coach — was hurt much of the season.  Another key player Babe Taylor — who, as a tackle, dressed at 6-feet-2 and “around two hundred pounds” as a tackle (Auburn’s current punter is bigger) — also had nagging injuries during the down year. Bohler’s basketball team went 3-13. At least the baseball team was posting winning records! Cliff Hare Stadium? Hardly.

The Bank of Auburn, in the back of Holley’s senior Glomerata, advertised four percent on savings. Burton’s Book Store was the place to get your dusty tomes. J&M was decades away. Samford Hall, Comer, Mary Martin, Smith and Langdon Halls were all a part of campus. Ramsay Hall was brand new. Perhaps you’ll have heard of Holley’s dean: Bennett Battle Ross of Ross Hall fame. That building was still being erected when Holley graduated.

Holley's Auburn offspring: Elizabeth ('59) and Bill Jr ('71).

If those things don’t sound familiar don’t worry. Auburn’s oldest living alum has a few years on you. Holley celebrated his 105th birthday Wednesday at the Henry County Nursing Home in Dothan (Auburn stuff was everywhere).

His walk into the real world coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression. The 1929 graduate would work as a pharmacist in Abbeville and soon after helped soldiers get their prescriptions in France during World War II. When the Army let him go he settled with his wife and family in Headland, Ala. He became a pillar of that community where he handed out medication until he retired in 1973. His son Bill, a 1971 Auburn graduate, took over the druggist desk. His son has since retired.

But the elder Holley refused to slow down long after retirement. He has maintained two farms, one in his hometown of Samson, Ala. and another in Headland. He was famously building fence lines by hand well into his 90s. He has four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren in his life. He maintained his driver’s license well beyond his centennial, “just in case.”

His API diploma, which is made of sheepskin, still proudly adorns a wall in his bedroom.

As he told Auburn Magazine, learning about Newton’s first law in a physics class has played a big role in his long life. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Living Right, he said simply, is the key. He’d know.

For video from Holley’s party, visit DothanFirst.com; h/t @migueltrivino.

Kenny graduated from Auburn at the turn of the century. He worked in newsrooms across the region and then earned a master’s degree at UAB. He met and married a Yankee, who declared her Auburn allegiance at her first home game. She’s now on the faculty at Auburn. He’s finishing his PhD at Alabama and teaches at Samford University. And he’s an assistant editor at The War Eagle Reader. See him online at www.kennysmith.org and @kennysmith.

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