By Dave Zuchowski
Even though he never matriculated beyond the first grade in school, Charles W. Horne, affectionately called “Billy” by his friends, left behind an enviable legacy of community good will.
Described as being intellectually challenged from birth and unable to read or write, Horne “knew his numbers” in the words of friend Megin Harrington, owner of Scenery Hill’s historic Century Inn.
“He could make change for the customers on his paper route,” she said of Horne who died Jan. 25.
For 33 years, Horne walked along Route 40 delivering the Observer-Reporter to customers in the village he lived in for 77 years. In an article published on the occasion of his retirement in 1999, he is said to have never missed a single delivery day, despite bouts of cold, snow, wind and rain. On collection day, he is said to have worn a hat and a three piece suit, putting his money for the paper in one pocket, his tips in the other.
Tragedy struck Horne at a relatively young age. In 1972, is mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver on busy Route 40 as she was walking to work. After the incident, Horne continued to live with his father in their Scenery Hill home until he passed years later.
Harrington said everyone in town tried to help Horne.
“Everyone tried to take care of him and loved him,” she said.
To help support himself, Horne cracked black walnuts, which he sold, collected aluminum cans neighbors left outside their door and grew flowers, which he sold to Harrington at the inn. He also donated vase arrangements of snapdragons, zinnias and gladiolas to Scenery Hill United Methodist Church where he had a nearly perfect attendance record for 59 years. As a parishioner, he passed around the collection plate and was in charge of ringing the bell between Sunday school and church.
He’s believed to have developed his love of flowers from his grandmother, Luverna Horne, and his aunt, Martha Horne. In the spring, he’d buy as many as 10 flats of snapdragons and turn the soil in his garden by shovel to plant them in the ground.
“In the summer, he made floral arrangements and took them to the county fair where he won many blue ribbons,” said Grace Mitchell, a cousin from Washington.
In addition to collecting and selling aluminum cans, he donated their tabs to Bentleyville Camp Meeting, which he attended for many years.
“Right now there’s a bucket and a half full of tabs in his house, which he collected up to the end,” Mitchell said.
Described as being a very social person, Horne was a member of Chestnut Ridge Grange as well as Scenery Hill Lions Club, where he served as a director and broom chair.
“During Pike Days and on election day, he’d display his brooms in an effort to make sales for the Lions Club,” Harrington said.
Horne also took delight in clothes. Around Christmas, he’d buy some new ones, hand them over to Harrington to wrap, then put them under his Christmas tree.
He also cherished his collection of blue ribbons he won at the county fair and the array Sunday school attendance pins he got from his church. Mitchell, now in possession of the pins following Horne’s death, said she intends to make a collage of them in his memory.
In Horne’s later years, neighbor Jack Bauer drove him to doctors’ appointments, took him to dinner and helped with his finances and personal affairs.
“It got to the point where anytime I went somewhere, Billy asked if he could go along,” he said. “He was amazingly social and a joiner. From the age of 14 he attended the Bentleyville Camp Meeting, and only missed last year because of the coronavirus.”
Harrington is planning a memorial service at the inn’s garden gazebo where she hopes many of Horne’s friends and relatives will gather to celebrate his life sometime around his Aug. 9 birthday.
“When Billy died, I got many cards and letters, some from people I didn’t even know,” she said. “If he had been born later, Billy would have had a much better education. If he had a better education, he could have done even more than he did.”