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August 15, 2012

Corbin mourns Hettie Owens’ passing

Funeral services for businesswoman, local leader today at 1 p.m.

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff writer

On the eve of her funeral, Hettie Owens is being remembered as a woman who believed in hard work, devotion to family and lasting friendships.

Hettie Wyatt Owens passed away Sunday at Oak Tree Hospital in Corbin after a long illness. She was 82.

Along with her late husband Roy Lewis “R. L.” Owens, Jr., Hettie was the co-owner of Owens Auto Parts and Garage on 18th Street in Corbin.

Her husband died in May of last year. Together Hettie and R. L. were married 60 years.

“She was a very hard-working lady. My mother worked 24/7. She believed you had to work to help yourself and to help others. She loved the family very much, and loved her grandkids. We’ll miss her dearly,” said her daughter, Betty Sue Surmount.

Hettie’s devotion to helping those just starting out in life was recalled by her daughter during an interview Monday afternoon.

“In the early 70’s, there was a high school student who wanted to buy some rims for his car. My mother set up an account for him to buy the rims, and he paid back $5 a week until he got it paid off. It was his first account. Today, he’s a prominent lawyer in town,” Surmount noted.

Harold Davis knew Hettie and R. L. for over 50 years. On Tuesday, Davis remembered when the the couple bought property from his uncle, which became Owens’ current business location.

“Hettie and R. L. always had a helping hand for us, first with our little body shop, then with our salvage business. From the time I grew up and the time I knew her, Hettie was a great person. Many a night, we’d sit around out there at Owens’ and her, R. L. and I would talk business for hours. Once, we were out there and the phone rang. She answered the phone and it was my wife, saying supper’s ready. I told her I’d be there soon. Then I’d go back to talking business with Hettie and R. L. for another hour,” said Davis.

If there was one special quality that would describe Hettie Owens, Davis added it would be her keen interest in people, and the quality of life in the town she called home.

“She was always interested in business and how to run it better, in her church, and being involved in the community. She was full of life. Hettie really enjoyed life, and she lived every moment of it,” said Davis.

Owens’ next-door neighbor, Marilyn Bunch, always looked forward to seeing her. For Bunch, that usually meant a big mess of food from Owens’ garden.

“She always liked to have a garden with lots of fresh vegetables. And we grew fresh fruit. Once, I had three pear trees, and I had a bushel of pears. Her and R. L. must have had a ball eating those pears. They loved fruits, and she also enjoyed blackberries, apples and oranges. She was always concerned about her health and her husband’s health, too,” Bunch said Monday.

Bunch and Hettie Owens were in the same Sunday School class at Central Baptist Church. And it was from there she saw one of the many talents Hettie possessed.

“That was music. Hettie always loved music. They had a piano and organ in their house. Our music tastes were different. I liked Classical Music, and Hettie loved Country Music. She enjoyed singing, and she really liked to yodel. But both of us enjoyed religious music, with one of Hettie’s favorite songs being “One Day at a Time,’” Bunch recalled.

Above all, she stressed Owens greatest quality was her ability to love people. And to give from the heart.

“During the holidays, there would be a Christmas program at the church. We’d have a real feast, and then she would open up her house to everyone…Hettie was a people person. She always wanted to know how everybody was doing in the neighborhood. She didn’t talk about anybody in a bad way. Hettie always saw the good in people,” said Bunch.

Of all those who knew and admired Owens, Rev. Ron Green understood her love of music.

“For years, she sang in the church choir. She loved to hear the great old classic hymns, and to sing them as well. I remember Hettie and I would  be at her house, and we would sit around her grand piano and play whatever songs she requested. Then she would talk about her faith. She was full of joy and full of inspiring words,” recalled Green, who is the Associate Pastor of Music at Central Baptist Church.

He said Tuesday morning Owens had two hymns in particular that were special to her.

“One was ‘How Great Thou Art.’ The other was ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ Those two were sung at her husband’s funeral last year, and I will sing them tomorrow. It will be tough to sing them,” Green noted.

He and Rev. Chad Fugitt will officiate Owens’ funeral service at Central Baptist Church, this afternoon at 1 p.m.

During the interview, Green agreed Owens spoke articulately about life in a very positive way. One of those moments struck a particular chord in his family. And for the Greens, those words were particularly comforting.

“We have a special needs son, and we had to make decisions about his future. Hettie gave us some encouragement on what to do with helping us. She had a calming effect on what we should do. She told us, ‘Seek the Lord and He will lead you.’ As a result, she was able to put things in perspective for us…She will be missed. Very much,” he said.

Another neighbor, Maxine Vongruenigen, also saw the qualities that endeared her to Owens.

“I always thought the beauty about Hettie was that she loved everything and everybody. She loved Corbin, and she didn’t fail to tell you that either. When she came inside the store, she always took her time…She was never in a hurry. When she shopped, Hettie came in and sat down and talked to everyone, as soon as they came in…And when she left, she always made you feel good,” Vongruenigen said Monday.

She also saw another side of Owens. A sense of style.

“Hattie always dressed well, wearing well-tailored outfits, and she wanted everything to match. She once bought a soft mauve pink suit, and it looked great on her. She’d want to find another one just like that. I told her that sometimes the styles change, and she would agree that’s what we had to do,” noted Vongruenigen, the owner of Maggie J’s on Main.

Sitting down in the store, Vongruenigen paused, then reflected on how Owens’ touched the life of many in the town she loved so much.

“Hettie was just top-notch. They (Hettie and R. L.) gave back to Corbin, and they shopped in Corbin. She’ll be missed, sadly missed, for a lot of reasons. For her family, her grandchildren, and what she gave to the city of Corbin. You looked forward to seeing her coming,” she said.

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