‘ANCHORS AWEIGH’: Naval veteran to serve as Veterans Day Parade grand marshal

In his 93 years, Steve Hopkins has worn lots of hats.

Farmer — been there.

High school and college graduate — done that.

Textile worker — check.

School teacher and principal — done both.

Real estate agent — accomplished.

Military service — affirmative – US Navy.

And that last “hat” has qualified Hopkins to wear a new one this Veterans Day … that of the grand marshal of the annual Stanly County Veterans Day Parade at 11 a.m. Saturday in Oakboro.

“It’s an honor to be picked for this,” Hopkins said when asked for his thoughts earlier this week. “I didn’t know anything about it, so it was a nice surprise.”

A Disabled American Veterans member for more than 50 years, Hopkins’ path to military service began along Bowers Road in Norwood on Aug. 14, 1930.

“I was born at my Grandmother Carpenter’s house,” said Hopkins, adding, “Dr. Hathcock from Norwood had come to her house to help with the birth. There were no paved roads in the area then, so Dr. Hathcock took a nap at the house until it was time for me to be born.”

Steve’s parents (Rev. and Mrs. Fred Hopkins) soon moved a couple miles up the road to the Porter community, where, at that time, there was a railroad station, store and post office.

As he grew up, he helped his father build a house on Porter Hill, picked cotton, helped with farm chores and eventually farmed 25 acres on his own in 1944 while still in school.

In 1947, with the help of friends Junior Hearne and Edna Burris, Steve and his high school sweetheart, Juanita Poplin, were married on Aug. 24 in Chesterfield, South Carolina.

“We kept the marriage secret for about a year,” Steve said. “Of course, I saw her as much as possible. We finally let the cat out of the bag in July 1948.”

After going to work full-time at the Norwood Collins & Aikman plant, Steve graduated from Norwood High School in 1948 and continued to work there until being drafted in January 1952.

“The Korean War was hot at that time, and I was drafted along with two friends, Charlie Helms and Robert Thorpe,” said Hopkins. “We had six weeks to join any other service branch, so we decided to join the Navy.”

The trio were sworn in on March 21, 1942 in Raleigh and immediately boarded a passenger train bound for San Diego, California and basic training.

“I always believed in mixing business and pleasure,” laughed Hopkins, who said some of his best times in the service were while he was stationed in California.

“We made sure to visit the Zoo, Hollywood and Knotts Berry Farm when we had free time while we were out there,” he said.

Steve Hopkins, shown here in 1952, served during the Korean Conflict. (Contributed)

After his time in San Diego, Hopkins was reassigned to Hospital Corpsman training in Bainbridge, Maryland, and subsequently transferred to Camp Lejeune, before receiving his honorable discharge on July 10, 1953 upon the end of the Korean Conflict.

Back home, Steve resumed work, both in textiles and helping his father build houses. He and Juanita became parents on June 27, 1954 upon the birth of a daughter, after which Steve took the next step in his career path that August, enrolling at Pfeiffer College and graduating in 1958.

“I was offered several positions teaching math,” Hopkins recalled. “I accepted a position at Endy High School because it was nearest to home for my family.”

As a teacher, Hopkins taught math, accounting, intro to business, and shorthand until Endy High was consolidated into the newly-opened West Stanly High in fall of 1962.

“When Stanly County Schools consolidated from 10 high schools to three, I was asked to stay at Endy and take the position of elementary principal,” recalled Hopkins, who attended UNC-Chapel Hill for two summers to earn his master’s degree and administrative certification. He continued as Endy’s principal until his retirement in 1986.

Speculating that his military service helped contribute to his toughness and dedication in the field of education, Hopkins also recalled, “During my time with the school system, I never took a sick day.”

For Hopkins, retirement from the school system was simply another career change, as he immediately began working with son-in-law Terry Smith and Albemarle businessman Henry Farmer in home construction and real estate.

“Henry, Terry and I developed College Park beginning around 1987,” he said, “and I worked for Better Homes and Gardens, Cozy Corner and Realty World as well.”

Although not as active as before, Hopkins still has his hand in the real estate market, operating four rentals, seven owner-financed homes, two personal homes and a small farm.

After 66 years of marriage, Juanita passed away in November 2013. Shortly afterwards, Steve sold his home on Hedge Road in Albemarle and moved into a smaller home on West Main Street in Albemarle, where he still resides.

As one would expect of the son of a pastor, Hopkins’ thoughts on his longevity and purpose in life center on his Christian beliefs.

“The most important action for us is to serve our Creator — that is to give our life to Him, worship Him and help others find Him,” he said, noting that in addition to his active service in his church (South Albemarle Baptist), he has taken part in eight short mission trips, the last being in the late 1990s.

And the fact that he is still active and living independently, is a sign to Hopkins that he still has work to do.

“The Lord has been good to me,” he said. “He’s still got me here for a reason.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.