Terrie Sellers said her uncle Willie Oliver Jr., known for longer than anybody can remember as the mayor of Groover Hill, has so far outlasted 16 presidents and 26 wars.
Saturday, Oliver got a parade in his honor.
It came complete with several Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office cars and fire engines from the Bryan County Fire Department, their lights flashing and sirens sounding.
BCSO Maj. David Blige led the procession, and took to his loudspeaker to wish Oliver a happy birthday 90th on behalf of the sheriff ’s department.
“Please sit back and enjoy your birthday parade, sir, and congratulations,” Blige said. “I hope to get to be your age.”
The fire engines and squad cars were followed by a good portion of Groover Hill.
People rode past in cars, SUVs, golf carts and a couple of street bikes, with some in the parade circling back around to drop off gifts and wish Oliver happy birthday as he and his wife of 68 years, Estella, sat on golden thrones beneath a canopy on the side of Groover Hill Road near family property.
Young and not so young, family was everywhere. So were signs. So was laughter.
“It’s a good day,” said the guest of honor, then joked. “I’ve never been 90 before.”
The parade was a way, his daughter Carletha Oliver said, to show Willie Oliver how much he means to Groover Hill – a small community in Black Creek off Highway 280 not far from I-16.
“My father has been a father to this community,” she said. “My dad is communal. He taught us to love all people. Love God first, and then you love your family and then your community. This parade is about community.”
And so it was. Stories of Oliver’s kindness – and ability to be stern when it mattered – were told by his children and his friends. Songs were sung. Photos were taken. Cake was shared.
Oliver was born in 1931 and when grown went on to work at Union Camp until he retired, and then opened Oliver Nursery. His skill with fruit trees is legendary in North Bryan and beyond, as is his knowledge of plants and homeopathic medicines – lore he learned growing up and from studying plants.
But there’s more than that.
Oliver and his wife raised eight children and dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and family members who haven’t stayed in Groover Hill are spread out in Savannah and Pooler and Atlanta and Maryland.
Oliver’s oldest granddaughter, Miranda Smith, is one who lives in Atlanta. An artist, she talked of her grandfather’s knowledge of plants and his big-heartedness.
“I don’t think there’s a person who lives on Groover Hill who has not come in contact with Willie Oliver,” Smith said. “He is the bread and butter of our community, and he has always been there for everybody who’s needed him. He’s always dealt in leadership, he’s always pulled things together, and there’s never been a moment I can remember growing up when he hasn’t been there.”
And there was his garden, a lesson in growing goodness all its own.
Smith said she told college classmates she never went hungry because “all you had to do is walk across the field and walk into granddaddy’s garden and pick anything you want. He took care of everybody. If you were sick, if you were hungry, he was always the person everyone went to.”
“They still do,” she said. At 90, we are blessed to have them.”
Her father’s garden, Carletha Oliver said, was intentionally planted bigger than need be to take care of those who didn’t know he was taking care of them.
“At night, people are going to come out here and think they’re stealing from us,” she recalled Willie Oliver telling her when she questioned the need for such a large garden. “We’re planting enough for them, and for us.”
Saturday, Oliver, a philosophical man, said he planted “for three things.”
“I plant for the rogues,” he said. “I plant for the birds and the animals, and I plant for myself.”
He then recalled being told a man had stolen a watermelon from his field.
“I said no, ‘he stole the one I planted for him,’” Oliver said. “’I wanted to make sure everybody got something to eat.”
He did so out of love, Oliver said.
“We have tried so hard to bring pure love between people, and I think I’ve met every race in the world,” Oliver said, adding, “It’s important to love people, regardless of their condition. We must be kind to one another.”
And then Oliver paused.
“A lot of time I’ll be misunderstood, because my voice sounds like I’m fussing,” he said. “That is not my intention.”
There is a moment when Oliver alludes to hard times on Groover Hill, but those were times best left unmentioned Saturday, he said.
Life, he said, is better now. Everyone is human and part of one big family, whether they accept it or not.
“Communication is better,” Oliver said. “People are realizing we are all cousins, whether we want to be or not. If you got the same type of blood I’ve got, they can transfer your kidneys to me, and mine to you.”
At some point before the parade began, Oliver’s daughter Carletha – who drove down from Maryland to help put the parade together – said her father gave her and her sisters an abundance of blessings.
“Dad is a man among men, he has really shown me as his daughter how a man is really supposed to be and how a man is supposed to treat his wife,” she said. “He loves my mother, he honors the family and he’s given us a good name. That’s something I try to live up to.”
The parade was a way to say all that now, on a single afternoon, by people gathered to show their love for a man who wanted love to lead the way.
“He taught us to love all people,” Carletha Oliver said. “So all of us have a bunch of people we just love, because people need love.” Sellers, who shortly after the parade informed Willie Oliver that he was a “nonagenarian,” told him that made him unique on that piece of the planet on that Saturday afternoon.
“You are 90 years old, and nobody else out here can say that,” she said.
“You’re unique all by yourself.”
Editor’s note: See more photos of the parade online. And, below is a copy and paste of a story written by Carletha Oliver about her father. Enjoy.
Willie Oliver’s Jr. 90th
Birthday Willie Oliver Jr. was born on October 2, 1931.
He celebrated his 90th Birthday on Saturday, October 2, 2021 on Groover Hill in Ellabell, Georgia.
A parade was organized by Mr. Oliver’s 8 children, nieces, and nephews. A white tent was elaborately decorated with two beautiful gold throne chairs donated by his niece, Christina Singleton for the special guests. Mrs.
Mary Murrell decorated the tent with purple, black, and gold balloons accenting the frame of the background of the tent which provided a regal presentation which was fit for a king. Numerous family members wore black T-shirts with a gold crown imprinted on it with purple and gold writing which noted, “The King’s 90th Birthday.”
The Festivities began with a momentous parade as Mr. Willie Oliver Jr. and his wife, Estella Oliver of 68 year sat on their throne as the community drove by expressing their well wishes and providing numerous gifts. The procession was led by the Bryan County Sheriff Department who provided 5 police cars and two fire trucks were provided by the Fire Department to make this monumental event unforgettable. The Sheriff Department drove up in front of the couple and an officer got out of the car and provide an inspiring celebratory Happy 90th Birthday greeting to Mr. Oliver. Family members and friends cheered as they passed by. As the parade procession continued a host of family members and friends of the community drove by honking their horns and shouting, “Happy 90th Birthday!” A float with several of his great grandchildren passed by as they cheered and shouted Happy Birthday, Grand Daddy! Mr. and Mrs. Oliver were overwhelmed with emotions as they waved, smiled, and thanked everyone for all of their well wishes as they drove by. As the festivities continued, a tribute was made to Mr. Oliver from his niece, Mrs. Terrie Sellers. She reported that Mr. Oliver was a nonagenarian. Further, she said, “Uncle Willie has lived through 16 Presidents and through 26 wars.” The crowd was amazed at her statistics.
Additionally, a beautiful song was rendered by Mrs. Rebecca Heyward.
She sang a song titled, “I Love You.” Immediately, the crowd joined in singing harmonically while gathered around Mr. Oliver and his wife.
Afterward, the microphone was passed around to everyone who desired to pay a special tribute to Mr. Oliver. His nephew, Mr. Jamel Singleton sang a song titled, “I Won’t Complain.” Again, the crowd joined in as they all sang, together. At the end, Mr. Singleton stated, “Uncle Willie, I have never heard you complain.” The crowd clapped and nodded their head in agreement with his statement.
Mr. Willie Oliver’s 90th Birthday Celebration was a beautiful fun event.
It was reported that Mr. Oliver has been instrumental as a father figure to many people in his community. He has given countless advice to young men on how to manage their households and properly care for their families. Additionally, he has influenced and positively impacted at least 10 generations in his family.
On behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Willie Oliver Jr. and family, we would like to thank the Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office, the Fire Department, Bryan County News, a host of family, and friends for your acts of kindness and express of love.