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Welton Hance and his custom cane.
By John Mullen

November 12, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) - Welton Hance’s cane is a custom job the 95-year-old Marine built himself. The handle looks a lot like the grip of a handsaw and it sports a little platform with two custom items: a bubble level and a compass.
 
“I had to have a cane,” said Hance with a perpetual twinkle in his eyes. “I have a shop, I had a board and a band saw. I thought well when I’m going, I want to make sure I’m on the level and not tipping over. And I want to know what direction I’m heading.”
 
Wife Wilma added: “He needs one of those slow-moving triangle signs on the back.”
 
The sprightly Hance brought his infectious smile out on a sunny afternoon to enjoy a lunch of Tacky Jacks as a reward for his fundraising efforts at the restaurant chain’s Shrimp Festival booth.
 
“Tacky Jacks has been working with the Marine Corps League for several years to help honor veterans and to help us find recipients for our ActionTrack Chair giveaways,” Tacky Jacks’ Marketing and Events Coordinator Susan Sizemore said. “Mr. Hance, in particular, worked most of the day on Thursday, the first day of shrimp fest in our booth, rode the wheelchair around to promote it. We wanted to do something to thank him and the others that helped out.”
 
The chairs cost $12,500 apiece and Tacky Jacks has already presented at least three to deserving veterans. Donations are raised by guests taking pictures at marlin stands at three locations and at the Shrimp Festival each year. Tacky Jacks matches the donations and the Marine Corps League works to find the recipients.
 
But 95-year-old Hance won’t be needing one anytime soon. It might interfere with his busy work schedule. Or time in his woodworking shop.
 
“I make the best sawdust,” he grinned. “And wood chips. I make really good sawdust and wood chips.
 
Anthony McDaniel received a chair in 2016.
Hance also works 8-5, five days a week helping customers at the Lowe’s in Foley where part of his duties include making keys and working on locks. The store gives him a personal parking spot. Yes, he drives to work every day.
 
He’s become a fixture in the hardware department where he built some of the shelves.
“I’m a nut and I screw around,” Hance said of his work. “And I nailed the job. I take all of my problems with humor. Even with work, I take it with humor.”
 
Wilma says her 10-year marriage with Hance is a laugh a minute.
 
“He never meets a stranger and he’s everybody’s his friend,” she said. “Everybody loves him. Living with him, it’s just an experience. I never know one minute to the next what’s going to happen.”
 
Each had long first marriages, 62 years for Hance and 42 for Wilma. They met at Ryan’s Steakhouse when Hance was working as Santa during the holiday season.
 
“She was there to pick up her son when I met her,” he said. “I kept thinking about her. I found her son, gave him my phone number and said see if she can call me. The rest is history.”
 
Over his favorite seafood – fried shrimp – Hance shared stories of a life well lived that included serving two and a half with the First Marine Division in the Pacific in WWII, including in the pivotal Guadalcanal battle. He also served one and a half years in Korea.
 
“I was sworn in on the 17th of December, 1941, 10 days after Pearl Harbor,” he said. And the storytelling began.
“He’s a man full of stories,” Wilma said. “You just have to ask.”
 
He took a sip from his drink – Canadian Mist with 7-Up, very little ice in a tall glass, as ordered by Wilma – and recalled his first and last taste of beer during a stop in Australia.
 
“I didn’t lead that much of a sheltered life but I was 20 years old and had never had a taste of beer or alcohol in my life,” Hance said, recalling the day a truck rolled into camp laden with barrels of beer.
“I can remember to this day it was rainy and windy, I was laying in the mud and I couldn’t move,” he said. “Then I must have passed out because I don’t remember what happened after that. My memory relives that.
 
“No beer.”
 
After WWII, Hance learned to make and shape glass for neon signs and moved to South Dakota to ply his trade. He stayed in the Marine reserves but was on inactive status. Until he checked the mail one day.
 
“In 1950 a letter showed up inviting me to Korea,” he laughed.
 
During his service, Hance was stationed at several bases in the United States, went through the Panama Canal, Australia, New Zealand and several islands in the Pacific.
 
“Travel and adventure,” he said. “That’s what the Marine Corps promised me. And they kept their word.”
 
Check out Tacky Jacks' pages on the Orange Beach Community Website including the Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan restaurants, its Cigar Bar in Orange Beach and gift shops.