Probably no single family has assimilated more into the Athens community than the late Weaver Alonzo and Erline Tucker Greenhaw and their descendants.

Known to everyone as Big Daddy and Big Mama, the senior Greenhaws arrived in Athens from Lauderdale County in the 1930s to make a life for themselves and their sons, Jasper, Oakley and Dub. It would prove to be difficult.

Weaver had many jobs, working first in a livery stable with Frank Deemer’s grandfather and later in road construction. In the mid ‘40s, he and his three sons traveled to Mobile and helped build airfields and Navy bases. At the end of the war, they returned to Athens with materials to build three Quonset huts – two are still standing near the Veterans Museum and Archives – and went into the grocery business, operating out of a store and a peddling truck.

However, the grocery business came to a “screeching halt,” according to Dub’s son John Greenhaw, when Weaver was convicted of selling moonshine from his truck and spent a year in a federal prison in South Alabama.

“Big Mama liked to joke that Big Daddy had been ‘with the federal government’ for a while,” John said.

After trying unsuccessfully to make a go of a sawmill business near Elk River Mills, where Dub said rattlesnakes were “as big as my leg,” they got the idea to go into the furniture business. Initially two stores were opened in Athens, and the Greenhaw name became an official part of Limestone County history.

After the elder Greenhaws’ deaths, youngest son Oakley became the owner of Greenhaw Antiques, which he and wife Ruby Hill built into a thriving business that included an auction house in Huntsville. They made regular trips to the northeast for furniture. Oakley’s sense of humor is reflected in his favorite response when people asked him what he did for a living.

“I buy junk but I sell antiques,” he would say.

“In fact, they were some of the finest antiques on the market,” said Jasper’s son Jackie. “Many of the finest homes in Huntsville are furnished with Greenhaw antiques. People would line up at the auction house on shipment day.”

The Athens store was a favorite for women in Athens, too, and got many of them in trouble with their husbands. The late Margaret Raney liked to tell me how she and Jeannette Mason spent so much time at Greenhaw’s that Jeanette’s husband Jack forbade her to go there. So, on their next shopping trip, they warned 4-year-old Jackie not to tell her daddy where they had been. But, according to Margaret, as soon as Jack came in the door that night, Jackie began to quote “Geenhaw,” as she called him, and the secret was out.

With the opening of an auction house in Huntsville, the Greenhaw Auctioneers business was soon born.

“My dad was the first licensed auctioneer in Alabama,” said Oakley’s son Herby. Today, Herby and brother Jimmy hold the lowest license numbers (five and six) in the state.

Greenhaw Moving was a natural spin-off of the furniture business and, according to John, Greenhaw’s moved many of the scientists from New Mexico, California and Florida who came to Huntsville.

After more than 50 years as a successful business, the antique store is now used for storage for the moving business owned by Jimmy’s son Lanier. The auction business operates on a limited basis.

“When Oakley Greenhaw died, our church was filled to capacity for the funeral – the largest crowd I have ever seen at a funeral at our church,” said Juanita Campbell. “Oakley did a lot that most people were not aware of, giving money to people in need.”

Weaver’s middle son Dub had more than his share of tragedies, losing his first wife Margaret Crim to cancer and then daughter Barbara Lipham and grandson Hugh in an accident caused by a drunk driver. This week, his son Dexter, a retired teacher and minister of music at Friendship United Methodist Church, lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotropic lateral sclerosis or ALS).

After trying the furniture business with his father and brothers and the Tasty Bread business with brother Jasper, Dub decided in 1963 to open a restaurant. He and second wife Edna Smith became famous for Dub’s Burgers, which has two locations in Athens. Many customers still cannot imagine going for more than a few weeks without a Dub’s burger. Former resident Carolyn Vest Suddith of Colonial Beach, Va., who visited Athens recently after a 20-year absence, put Dub’s at the top of her must-do list when she got to town.

In 1983, Dub sold the restaurants to Herby and Jimmy, who also acquired Kreme Delight in 1985.

Even though Herby recently sold his interest in the businesses to brother Jimmy and wife Kitty, he hasn’t exactly retired. He sings in the gospel group Clear Title, teaches in First Presbyterian Church’s tutoring program, plays golf and enjoys his seven grandkids. He is the biggest fan of Jake Moore, Athens High football lineman, proudly supporting him all the way to the state championship. Wife Jo Ellen London is retired from teaching.

Jasper, the oldest son of Weaver and Erline Greenhaw, worked in many of the businesses with Oakley and Dub, but spent most of his adult life as a salesman at Wilson White Auto, Sweet Sue, Hickory House, Magnusson Motors and Thornton-Ruf Dodge in Huntsville.

“My dad sold the very first Volkswagen in North Alabama while a salesman at Magnusson Motors,” said son Jackie.

“Jasper could sell anything,” John said.

“Our grandparents were a big influence on our lives,” Herby said. “My grandfather was a hard worker and Big Mama was the matriarch of the family. She never met a stranger. We used to say that Big Mama never got a wrong number on the phone; she just didn’t get the person she was calling. And she could still carry on a 30-minute conversation with whoever was on the line.”

From Big Mama, the children and grandchildren learned about generosity as well as having fun.

“You couldn’t give Big Mama anything, she would give it away,” Jackie said. “If you gave her a piece of jewelry, it wouldn’t be long before you would see someone else wearing it.

“Big Mama’s home was always open to friends and family, especially the grandchildren,” Jackie said. “There were six of us grandkids about the same age attending Green University (the elementary school located across the street from present day Athens Elementary). My grandparents lived right behind it, and Big Mama would let us come over for lunch any day we wanted, and we could each bring one friend. On days when we all happened to go, it became a crowd. The thing is, Big Mama was not a good cook. But we appreciated the effort, and she did make good hamburgers and teacakes. When we were at her house for sleepovers she would often get up in the middle of the night and make cookies for us.”

“Big Mama grew up without a childhood,” Jackie said. “When she was 10 years old (the oldest of seven), her mother called her to her death bed to tell her that she would have to help raise her six siblings. I think that is why she had such empathy for us kids.”

Today, third and fourth generations of Greenhaws are still contributing to life in Athens.

Of Jasper’s children, Ginger, who is married to Reitzel Murphy, is retired from teaching in the school system but is a founding board member of Faith Christian Academy, teaches piano and directs the music program at West Highland Baptist Church.

Jackie, who taught school and coached, retired as a school counselor. He is now a businessman and a sought-after master of ceremonies. His wife Helen Miller is a retired home-economics teacher.

Dub has one living child, John, who is retired from the Alabama State Troopers, lives in Athens and is working on family histories. Dub’s twin daughters, Jane Patterson and Jean Sharpe, recently deceased, lived and worked in the community. Dub’s granddaughter, Tina Patterson Hicks, works in the vice president’s office at Athens State University. John’s son Shane lives in Athens.

Herby’s daughter Melanie Moore works at The News Courier in Athens. His son Greg is a football coach at Athens High School. His sons Chad and Clint live in Athens and work in the area.

Dexter’s son Ian lives in Athens and works at Bank Independent.

When members of the family were asked what it means to be part of the Greenhaw clan, Ginger Murphy said, “It is a circus.”

“We grew up in a family where we had a lot of fun at no one’s expense,” Jackie said.

“And we all have a little bit of Big Mama in that we like to laugh and talk.”

This article on the Greenhaw family is dedicated to the memory of Dexter Greenhaw, whose Christian testimony through his battle with ALS until the time of his death inspired all who knew him to be better.

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