Union, SC

"The city of hospitality"

Young residents enjoying ice cream. (Courtesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com)

You won’t find a better small town that has adapted to welcome visitors, imports, and natives alike while extending a brand of southern hospitality you only read about in Norman-Rockwell-painting-inspired stories. Union is a town off the beaten path but growing and working hard to be the best it can be. We have an appreciation of our history while looking to grow and adapt for the future. Union is a “Mayberry” unlike anything you can imagine with people who truly know, love, and care for their neighbors. From the various houses of worship, to the small-town radio station that still does an on-air flea market every weekday. Union is a place that prides itself on the best of America, and refuses to let political party, sensational headlines, or overt fear and worry interrupt a vibrant, resilient, welcoming, and thoughtful community.

Residents gather for an event on Main Street. (Courtesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com)

Stories About Union

The story below was written by Anna Brown and published in 1998 by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. It’s a heartwarming story of how Union’s citizens came together to offer support to one of its most vulnerable residents. It’s reprinted here with permission from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com, where the article now appears. Obviously, the WBCU fund-raiser for Bill Brown has already occurred.

Main Street is Bill “Oogie” Brown’s home, but he needs assurance that he will have a place to sleep.

Brown, who has been mentally disabled since his birth in 1933, is Union’s adopted son, and the town has helped support him for years. With his short, stocky frame and jaunty walk, he has been a familiar figure on Main Street for decades. To help support himself, for a small donation, he issues receipts for “insurance policies” — tickets with a scribble mark.

Three years ago, Brown suffered a heart attack and he has been in failing health since. In March he went to live at Oakmont Retirement Center in Union but is having trouble paying his expenses. WBCU-AM radio in Union will sponsor a fund-raiser for Brown from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The goal is $8,000. Brown’s close friend, Don Shetley, said that the money would help pay for Brown’s stay at Oakmont and his other expenses for a year.

“He’s at the point where he has no relatives and there is nothing else he can do,” Shetley said.

Shetley said Brown applied for other supplements but was turned down because he earned about $20 a month too much and because Oakmont is privately owned. WBCU radio gospel show host Carlisle Henderson, another longtime friend of Brown’s, said Brown could have found a place in a state-run facility outside of town but that he wouldn’t be happy there.

Brown’s real name is William Ledford. His mother died shortly after he was born and his father left him with his grandparents, who had the last name Brown. He grew up in their boarding house off Main Street. When Brown’s grandparents died, he lived with Ollie McDonald, who was one of the boarders. McDonald cared for him until her death. Union resident Dot Fowler then took care of Brown after McDonald’s death several years ago. He was unable to return to her home after a hospital stay in March because of his health problems, including diabetes.

Shetley, who owns and operates Allstate Insurance in Union, has been Brown’s friend since the 1950s when they met at WBCU, one of Brown’s favorite hangouts. “We were worried he wouldn’t like the nursing home, but we were wrong,” Shetley said. “He enjoys it completely.”

Judy Malone, assistant director of Oakmont Retirement Center, said all of the employees love Brown. “He is special,” she said. “He likes to know he’s helpful. If he sees me going to the trash can, he takes the trash out of my hand and throws it away for me.”

“I like it,” Brown said.

Brown’s trips to Main Street have become less frequent, and in March he also had to give up his job as “jury boy,” (the person who picks jurors names for sessions of criminal court), Shetley said. But he still loves to come downtown.

“He loves Union better than any one person I know,” Shetley said. Each December, in honor of Brown’s birthday, WBCU holds a fund-raiser for him. Brown helps answer the phones. Henderson said the public is always responsive, and he hopes Saturday’s fund-raiser won’t be an exception.

“Bill Brown has more than paid us back over the years,” Henderson said. “With his sunshine and his smiles, he always gets us to laugh. At one time he was the main man on Main Street.”

Main Street, where Bill “Oogie” Brown used to cheer residents with his smile. (Courtesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal/GoUpstate.com)