F.L. McHaney reminisces across 92 years
F.L. McHaney has seen a lot of changes in his 92 years and is proud to have lived most of those years in his hometown of Leachville. He was in elementary school when his family moved from Missouri, and he became a Leachville Lion through and through.
His dad, Thomas C. McHaney, was a registered pharmacist but gave it up to move to Leachville to farm. He cleared the land and put down his roots. The homeplace where McHaney grew up with eight siblings is still in the family.
McHaney grinned when he said, "It has been through a lot of mortgages but is still in the family with the third generation living there."
Most people know him as F.L., the mailman; F.L. the basketball referee; F.L., the man who ran the clock at Leachville's home games; or F.L., the man who volunteered to read to Head Start children.
Many people may not know what his initials F.L. stand for. His name is Felix Lafayette. He was named for his grandfather on his mother's side who came from France to fight for the South during the Civil War.
McHaney played basketball and baseball during his school years at Leachville and always loved sports.
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II where he received training for his future career with the U.S. Postal System. After taking his military training in San Diego, he worked in a military post office in San Francisco.
After his service, he returned to Leachville and went to work for the Leachville Post Office where he retired in 1976.
"I enjoyed being a rural carrier," he said. "I knew my people. I knew when the babies were born or their parents died."
McHaney said the roads or the vehicles were not as good as they are today. There were no air conditioners in the cars and many times farmers would have to pull him out of the mud.
"Everyone was glad to see me coming with their mail," he said. "It was the way people kept in touch in those days. We didn't have computers with e-mail and many did not even have telephones."
His goal was to meet the mail needs of the people on his route.
"I didn't like being in the cage working in the office, I liked to be out in the country delivering the mail," he said.
He is also known for officiating basketball games throughout Northeast Arkansas and Missouri. He refereed with the late Trigger Wall and Kenneth McWhirter, both of Manila.
"It was good exercise and I loved the game," he said.
He officiated for local games as well as tournament games. His theory was to always call it fair.
"I called it like I saw it," he said. "We were taught to be in charge of all situations. Officials, whether it is baseball or basketball, have to keep control of the game."
Mari Hayden, his niece, remembers one of her high school ballgames. After the game, and Leachville had won, a player on the other team made the comment they won because her uncle was the referee.
"On that night, he had a niece on both teams," Hayden said.
McHaney's advice to anyone considering becoming a basketball official is to know and understand the rules.
"Rules change now and then and it is up to the referee to know the rules and always stay in control of the game," he said.
He is quick to admit he may have made a mistake occasionally but it was never intentional.
His son and nephew played on the same team for Leachville during their high school years.
"The high point of all of my association with Leachville basketball were the games when the Leachville Lions defeated Jonesboro," he said. "They were our big rival and we loved eating them alive."
When he retired from officiating basketball games, he started running the clock for the home ballgames at Leachville.
After he retired from the post office, he also worked at Nelson Henry Gin.
Another one of his hobbies was playing golf. He took up golf when Big Lake Country Club was built in Manila. For years when he visited his kids, he took his clubs.
"They usually beat me, but we enjoyed playing," McHaney said.
He and his wife, the late Martha McHaney, raised three daughters and a son in Leachville. His daughter Julia lives in Aiken, S.C.; Graddy "Butch" lives in Bertrand, Mo.; Margaret lives in Marion and Martha Jean lives in Augusta, Ga. He has seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
McHaney is a longtime member and deacon of the Leachville First Baptist Church.
He attributes his longevity to exercise. He enjoys walking everyday and is looking forward to the spring so he can walk outside.
His children gave him a 90th birthday party a couple of years ago and he said his next party would be to celebrate his 100th birthday and everyone is invited.