1930s carrier reminisces at SNH
Published 11:20 pm Friday, May 16, 2014
Rhomie L. Heck Jr. admits that his first job — delivering the Suffolk News-Herald more than 70 years ago — wasn’t his idea.
“In our family, you worked as a kid,” said Heck, who celebrates his 90th birthday Saturday.
Heck’s father was the minister at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Suffolk in the 1930s. Heck was 14 in 1938 when he started delivering the paper.
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“(My father) took me in his car all over Suffolk, door to door, to establish my route,” Heck said. “Once he was satisfied I had enough customers, he put me on foot. Then he said, ‘I’ll show you how to manage your money, and once you save your money, you can buy a bicycle.’”
Heck visited the Suffolk News-Herald office on Friday with his younger brother, James R. Heck III, as well as children and grandchildren, who organized a visit to Suffolk and a trip down memory lane in honor of his birthday.
Heck, looking and sounding remarkably well for his age, regaled News-Herald staff with stories from his working days.
He delivered about 60 newspapers every day to neighborhoods including Saratoga, Jericho, Hollywood and up and down Main Street. The job lasted for about four years, until 1942, when he handed the route over to his brother and took a job delivering groceries.
His brother joked about discovering, upon taking over the route and reviewing the elder Heck’s records, that Rhomie Heck had been delivering papers for free to some customers.
“I was a softie,” Rhomie Heck said of customers who couldn’t pay. “I couldn’t stop (their paper). He’s still a better businessman than I am.”
Heck, who admitted he’s not a big animal person, said he had to ask customers to keep their dogs restrained when he came around to deliver the paper, which at that time was delivered in the evenings, seven days a week.
If they didn’t, he added, “I just didn’t deliver their paper.”
One Sunday — Dec. 7, 1941 — Heck and the other paper deliverers came to the News-Herald office, located on Main Street at that time, after church to deliver a special edition of the paper after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“We got extra money,” Heck said. “Little did a lot of us know at that time we would end up getting drafted.”
Heck was one of those drafted by the U.S. Army. He served in the South Pacific theater and was discharged in April 1946.
Upon his return, he attended Hampton University, which was then Hampton Institute, receiving his bachelor’s degree in education in 1952. He then started a 15-year career at Langley Air Force Base doing supply inspections.
He later returned to his alma mater and was assistant director of financial aid and placement. He later worked at Thomas Nelson Community College and retired after 20 years as the director of development and public relations.
For 23 years while working his other jobs, he taught tailoring — his major at Hampton before switching to education — and driver’s education at Norfolk State University, taking the ferry to work before the construction of the tunnel.
He married in 1949 and had four children and one grandchild. He counts meeting first lady Michelle Obama in 2012, a favor of his daughter Jennifer, who was among the volunteers chosen to decorate the White House for Christmas, as one of his favorite memories.
“I am just so blessed, at this point in my life, my main purpose is to please the Lord,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about serving the good Lord.”